To kick off our month-long celebration of women artists, we first sat down with one of the most empowered women in web3 art we know: Nadiia Forkosh.
Nadiia, a Ukrainian artist, is currently based in a small Ukrainian town immediately bordering Romania, where she’s been since she escaped Kyiv in February 2022, at the start of the war in Ukraine. Normally someone who works across physical and digital mediums, Nadiia — having been forced out of her Kyiv studio — is lately working exclusively in digital.
MP: What city are you in?
NF: I’m in just a small city. I live in Kyiv, but I left my home and studio in February. It’s the last city on the border of Romania. It’s just almost 20 meters and you’re on the border.
MP: Despite the war in Ukraine, your recent artistic output hasn’t turned notably darker. How would you characterize art as escape versus encouragement in dark times?
NF: I will try to explain in the simplest way I can. The war experience isn’t something that you can imagine. You have to be there just to imagine it. I want to show people a reason to be human. If we turn to revenge, it will be impossible for artists to be artists, for humans to be truly human.
About escaping: I’m not sure that I agree that art is an escape. Art touches reality — it should connect with reality, even if it’s rough and unpleasant. You should make sense of it and create a conceptual artwork about this reality.
The darker pieces of mine, like a Portrait of Starvation and Revenge — it’s not bright artwork, but it’s not like “I’m scared, so I draw it.” I digest an experience, I build a concept, and then I create the artwork as a response to the reality.
The reality can be rough, as I told you, but it can also be — at the same time — something that we leave for hope, for our kids, for ourselves, and for humanity. That’s my position.
MP: How would you say that the war in Ukraine has affected your art in the last several months? I mean, obviously, you’re not in your studio. So there’s that component, but as far as conceptually, your subject matter?
NF: It’s influenced me, especially in understanding what I’m doing, especially in my main work connected with family, with the home, and with the things that are very important to me.
I’m a phygital artist. I like to work with canvases, but I had to close my studio and leave Kyiv, so that’s impossible for me right now.
What I’m doing as an artist — I help people with my profit because I know many homeless people. People who have lost everything, even down to clothes and food. So I help the families that I know.
And I organize with my colleagues. We organized Mint for Ukraine and got profits for a maternity hospital in Kyiv to help them to buy equipment for newborn babies.
How has it me influenced personally? Personally, it’s hard. But it’s hard for everybody. The work helps me to meditate. Sometimes I almost forget about it, a little bit. It’s just about the process. The idea will always be influenced by and connected to reality, but the process helps.
The work is a meditative process, but the conceptual idea always touches reality. If I show an idea, like in Portrait of Starvation or The Voice of Social, it’s a complete form. I’ve made a thousand sketches and tried thousands of colors. Nothing is accidental. That’s not the meditative thing of it.
For me, as a woman, I work very intuitively, but there’s always a logical connection there. So these dark scenes, it’s always my response to reality. It’s a true form, very simple and understandable. And if you open to it, you find this feeling in yourself.
MP: What is your relationship to lightness and darkness, and how do you use color?
NF: Okay, let’s start from the light. Because I’m the product of Caravaggio. When I was a student, I would copy his work. I adore his genius with light and shadow. I don’t bother too much with perspective in my work. For me, I use contrast and light to give something noticeable to emphasize.
But you asked also about colors. It’s a complicated question. I’m still looking for my right colors. I may need a decade to find them. I’ve found a style, but I’m still in progress.
I want to connect this question with oil painting and digital. What is digital? It’s a kind of electricity, you know? It’s active colors, but when you see a digital work, viewers can be passive. With digital, I can add music or movement, things not possible with oil painting. With oil painting, the colors are passive and the viewers must be active; they need to make an effort to understand the textural elements and even the smell.
This is why I think casual viewers can more easily appreciate digital and more experienced, thoughtful viewers can better understand and prefer canvas.
But I’m not sure we should divide these two worlds. For example, digital music and live music can be taken separately, but when we combine the two, we get this immense, powerful experience. It’s a variety of forms and compositions. That’s why I work with canvases. One idea can exist on canvas and in digital, sometimes with animation, sometimes across two pictures.
I had an exhibition in London where the canvases were displayed alongside the digital artwork. I got to see how viewers reacted to what they saw on the screens versus the canvases. The feeling is absolutely different. That’s why I balance between these worlds and want to unite them.
MP: How has your digital practice informed your physical art practice?
The color. When I work, the color is the base for everything. When you work on paper or on canvases, the perception of color is different than when you work digitally. You can work with yellow in both, but it’s a different yellow. Physical is just different. Digital is electricity, it’s not earth.
So for me, as experienced, is understanding the physics of the colors interacting with the artists and the viewers. That’s the core when you work in both dimensions. So actually, you can predict how the viewers will understand these colors in different dimensions. And also, you can predict the viewers’ reaction when they see yellow on a screen and when they see yellow on a canvas. This can help to push the idea more powerfully. So it’s like a completed performance of an idea.
Even the style doesn’t matter when you’ve got the idea and put it in all dimensions. You can fill an entire space with the idea so viewers can’t hide anywhere.
When you find the core of the idea and translate it from one dimension to another and unite these domains on one topic, it’s immense. I hope I’ll manage to go on this way.
MP: How does language function in your art? Your titles are much more informative than many other artists who work with abstraction.
You know, I’m trying to be honest with viewers. It’s an important feature of my work. I’m not trying to hide something with many details or complexities. It’s like a sign with nothing behind it. It’s just what you see. And to build this form, you need to involve colors, animations, canvases, stretchers, to get a clean idea with very few words.
When you see a stop sign, you stop. You totally understand what it’s about. If you see Voice of Social, you shouldn’t ask yourself what it is. The same for Portrait of Starvation. You know what it’s about. It’s a clean conceptual form. It takes time to build this conceptual, primitive, naïve sign as an understandable form.
For some artists, it’s up to the person to dig to understand what they feel. Not for me. It’s absolutely clear. So the titles don’t need many words at all.
MP: Your various series all have a strong allegorical feeling — I’m thinking especially of “Fairytale,” “Life of Mechanicum,” or “Life of Marionette.” How do you think about storytelling from piece to piece?
NF: It started with Francis Bacon. He built one object from different sides, as in his diptychs and triptychs. So there’s one object from one side and then from another side. It gives viewers a line to follow to understand the full story of the idea.
I do the same. I give viewers this invisible line that goes on from piece to piece so they can understand the full object of the story. So I take your hand and go from one piece to another, and you take a different perspective from piece to piece until you completely understand what it’s about. It’s like a mosaic.
The most important thing for me is that viewers understand what I’m doing, because if they don’t understand, then it’s just lines, colors, and shapes.
MP: That makes a lot of sense, especially considering the abstraction in your work, that you would find other ways to communicate rather plainly.
NF: I’m moving in this way, indeed. You’re right. It’s still a little bit complicated for me to dive into abstract shapes, but I’m sure it’s my future. Intuitively, I feel it’s my next level.
I have the series “Fairytale.” It’s like a memory about something that I need to clarify and show to viewers. But it will be finished soon, I’m sure, and I will just leave it. It’s like a lifecycle. It will just be completed as one story.
When it’s done, I will recreate it as a book — for kids and adults. The book will connect directly to the NFTs, with animation and music that you pull up with a QR code. That’s the idea. I hope I can find financial support for the project, but that’s how I hope to finish this fairytale story.
MP: Because the theme of the next month is supporting women artists, would you care to shout out any women artists that you admire in this space?
NF: I’m scared to forget somebody, but the ones that come to mind are Ceren Yüzgül (Hair of Medusa), Diana Coatu, Patrícia Costa, Gala Mirissa, Indrani Mitra, Camila Nogueira, and Eka Lestienne.
I admire their intuitive feeling of color and shape. They are brave. They make a decision. They make an effort. They learn. I’m happy to see their faces every day on Twitter and Instagram. For creative people, I think this is the best time in history.