Leila Ataya is a Russian born artist who later migrated with her family to New Zealand. She graduated with a BFA and a PGDip in painting from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. Leila’s work infuses doe-eyed female subjects and animals such as cats and insects with fruits and other intricate classically ornate objects creating a menagerie of beautifully constructed paintings. Her work feels ghostly and glamorous yet fantastic and imaginative allowing our eyes to dance from one object onto another taking in meanings and references from a world that Leila knows so well. We asked Leila a few questions about her childhood in Moscow, Russia and the significance of reoccurring objects within her paintings. This is what she had to say:
You were born and raised in Moscow, Russia till 1996. What was art like for you in Russia before your move to New Zealand? Where you ever exposed to contemporary art growing up? Art in Russia, especially Moscow, is very diverse; Anything you can think of from Russian traditional art like Matreshka dolls, miniatures and many other styles of decorative art to amazing one off artist made jewellery, cubism, impressionism etc. There are so many museums and galleries that you can find any art style/era of art that you are interested in.
As I lived there in the 90’s during the Perestroika times I saw a very strong traditional art revival including Iconography and really old types of decorative art that would date to pre medieval times. I personally was really intrigued by many of them and trained in Iconography, Palekh – lacker miniature, and a few different types of decorative painting styles on wood. I also had a lot of training in classical art like drawing, watercolour, and oils.
Your female subjects often look as if they were torn from old celluloid screens or antiquated magazines. They have a glamorous appearance much like old Hollywood starlets the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Where do these female figures come from and whom do they represent? Sometimes they are the spirits from a magical world (forest) where female like creatures reside along side with other forest creatures. Sometimes they blend in with the ecological structure or become a part of it e.g. ‘The Nesting Lady’, ‘Sporeling’, ‘Dangers of the Forest’. In another group of paintings they become a representation of a female soul traveling through time and each painting represented an era with it’s own burdens and pleasures. At times they talk about the fragility of life and beauty but they are never the representation of a real woman – they are the embodiment of a spirit/soul of a being or even a situation, their big eyes project the mood and emotion while their thin, long bodies strip these characters of earthly, human connections.
When taking in your work, I saw certain objects reappear continuously in your paintings. Unattached pearl necklaces and bright red strawberries were among those objects that really caught my attention. What is the significance of these beautiful objects in your work and why emphasize on them? Most objects in my paintings are symbols, they can embody different meanings in different paintings like for example an apple in one painting can represent a bleeding heart with pins going through it while in another work it can be a forbidden fruit.
The ones that you nave picked up on are quite interesting and probably are the most constant. Pearls are called the tears of an oyster so depending on the painting or where they are placed they symbolise tears, sadness, nostalgia or sometimes they can just be exactly what they are – jewels. Strawberries most commonly represent bait or desire, like for example when you see a strawberry on a fish hook with hat pins going through it, the first thing that viewers usually notice is how ripe and beautiful the strawberry is and how golden and jeweled up the pins are and only on the second or even third glance they start to realise what it actually is and what would happen if you went for the bait.
Leila has been granted numerous awards including The Morpeth Canada 2008 Art Award (People’s Choice Award) and the Waitakere Trust Awards (Popular Choice Award) in 2007. Her work has been exhibited all over the world including galleries such as Dorothy Circus in Roma, Italy, The Artist Room in Dunedin, New Zealand, and the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, California. Leila is one of eight artists who will be featured in Flower Pepper Gallery’s ‘Ever Surreal’ show in August of 2015. If you would like to see more of Leila’s work, visit her website at www.leilaataya.com or you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.