Artist Interview with Skidmore Contemporary Art
Skidmore Contemporary Art: If you could choose a different medium to work in, what would it be and why?
Alexandra Averbach: Since I was a child, I have always loved working with colored pencils. Whether just sketching or doing more labor intensive and intricate drawings with many layers, my drawings would occupy me for hours at a time. I find that they have a tactile quality to them that is very satisfying.
SCA: How would you describe your creative process?
AA: I almost always photograph my subject matter in direct southern light, taking numerous photos of different configurations. In order to get the reference material to my liking, I often combine photos and have recently started using photoshop in order to either combine or change specific details of the subjects to my liking. I do not strive to depict the subjects exactly as they appear in my photos but seek to enhance and stylize them with more color, contrast and vibrancy.
Even then, however, I make adjustments as I paint. Sometimes the color is not quite right, or there is a detail that needs to be altered. My paintings never truly look like the reference photos. They are usually much more colorful and exuberant.
SCA: Has social media impacted your work in any way? If yes, how? If not, why do you think that is?
AA: I think social media has impacted my work in a positive way. It has given me a stronger drive to deliver original artwork and expand my horizons. My aim is to paint more interesting and creative art, using more of my imagination in the process. I also find motivation in seeing what many other professional artists are accomplishing.
SCA: What is your most memorable museum experience? Can you briefly describe it?
AA: I have always loved 17th century Dutch Art/Flemish Art and have a Master of Arts degree in the subject. While visiting The Netherlands, I was particularly amazed with splendid Dutch art collection of The Mauritshuis in The Hague. Seeing the wonderful works of Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and many others left a lasting impression.
SCA: What is something unexpected that has impacted/influenced your artistic style?
AA: I like minimalism and I think the main thing that has influenced my style outside the sphere of art would be minimalistic interior design. Simple arrangements and seamless transitions in value are intrinsic to my paintings as a whole.
SCA: If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
AA: Before I was an artist I worked in finance and have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Economics. While I am good with data and working with numbers, I quickly learned that I need something creative to be fulfilled. I began baking while working my transition into the art world, and though I don’t have much time to do it, I find it to be an extremely fulfilling and gratifying activity, as long as I find someone to eat the sweets afterwards!
SCA: What city/town/geographical location has provided the most inspiration for you?
AA: I have lived in New York City for the past sixteen years and it has been a constant source of inspiration. There are botanical gardens and countless museums and galleries to see.
SCA: Were you professionally trained as an artist? Tell us about that experience.
AA: I have taken many private art lessons throughout my childhood, and even some college art courses, and began my undergraduate experience in an art school, but quickly realized that a professional art degree was not for me. While working in finance, the art world was always in the back of my mind. Attaining a degree in art history gave me the push I needed, after a hiatus of ten years, to get back into painting again. While it hasn’t always been easy, I now realize that creating art is extremely fulfilling for me, and I thoroughly enjoy every step of the process, from making the canvas to packing and sending the painting.
SCA: If you could sit at a dinner table with 3 famous artists, who would they be? Why?
AA: If the artists could be dead or alive, my three would probably be Jan Steen, William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Michelangelo. I would love to know the creative process of Jan Steen and find out the intricacies in the creation of Bouguereau’s masterful women and girls. I read a fascinating biography of Michelangelo and was not only amazed by his talent, but also his perseverance and tenacity in the process of creation.
SCA: What challenges do you face as an artist that people might not expect?
AA: I think people that are not in the fine art world have an idea of artists as working on their own schedules when inspiration strikes. Most artists, however, simply cannot afford to work that way. Time management has been a very critical challenge for me, especially since I had children. I work every day of the week, sneaking in time when I can during the weekends. My process is slow and methodical, and every minute of painting is important in achieving the goal of the completion of a painting. I love my work and what I do, but it is definitely work and takes time, patience, and perseverance.
Realist painter Alexandra Averbach's body of work is most notably identified by her details and stunningly executed still lifes. Inspired by her study of seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish artists such as Johannes Vermeer, Pieter Claesz, and Dirck de Bray, Averbach's use of oil paint, color and shadow demonstrate a modern-day take on classical realism. Her oil painting Kindred Peonies exemplifies her style in her use of saturation and contrast. The dark blue background emphasizes the various pink hues and gives them more vibrancy. Similarly, her piece Indulgence speaks to her simplistic yet masterful technique. The subject is a mini-cheesecake topped with an exquisitely detailed strawberry. Deep, rich reds of the strawberry and jam are so elegantly executed that an everyday object becomes a perfected and extraordinary sight, creating the illusion of a gracefully crumbling cake and inviting viewers to take a bite.
Originally from Moscow, Averbach immigrated to the United States as a child. She studied finance in college, yet soon realized that it didn't fulfill her. "I basically knew even when I was in college studying finance wasn't right, Averbach said. "So when I started working in finance it felt like I was going against my character." However, Averbach finds similarities between finance and fine art—particularly in her approach to the creation process. "In finance, with numbers, everything has to line up. With art I'm the same way. I'm not free-flowing without any thought or reason. I'm very structured."
Before painting on canvas, Averbach photographs her subjects. She looks for two main characteristics when photographing: lighting and composition. Oftentimes, Averbach takes a series of photographs, shifting perspectives and angles. "I have to combine a lot, so if I don't like the composition or if the lighting isn't right, a lot of times I have to change it." For Averbach, the subjects that she chooses aren't meant to be copied. Instead, they are references for her own creation. "I call my work contemporary realism. I'm not trying to recreate a photo, I'm just trying to make it realistic to my own view." Yet even in her own personal reproduction, her still lifes, whether flowers or pastries, are just as breathtaking and mesmerizing on canvas as that of reality. Averbach's body of work mostly consists of florals, mainly because she "just loves painting them." Their patterns, shapes, and color combinations inspire Averbach to reproduce their structures. "I get lost in them when I paint them. To me, flowers are the most soothing subject. I can paint them for hours, more than anything else. I find them very beautiful, especially when the sun hits them just right." Averbach captures a specific moment of absolute beauty, and recreates it for viewers to not only find artistic value in, but personal serenity as well.