Saving Trees through Art with Nikolina Kovalenko

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Nikolina Kovalenko is an artist not only inspired by nature but personally involved in nature protection. She did several trips to the Amazon, both to capture its beauty and to contribute to saving its trees. Once back in NYC where she works and live, she devotes herself to bringing awareness about the situation of the amazon forest. Her project Saving Trees Through Art combines the fingerprints of trees that were cut and those of the volunteers who plant new trees to try to repair the damage done by others. 

I’ve had the chance to work along Nika for a few weeks at Mana Contemporary where she was awarded an Artist Residency by the ESKFF and I could appreciate the scale of her talents. Thanks Nika for sharing about your endeavor!

How did you become a painter?
Both of my parents and my grandfather were artists, I always knew this is who I wanted to be growing up. And now I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I feel like creating art is my core, my strength and something no one can take away from me, it makes my gray days brighter and I always find peace and harmony with myself when I paint.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 4.52.14 PMHow would you describe your artistic approach?
My inspiration always comes from something I see. There’s always a reference, and usually it’s nature, especially tropical flora. My work is about our fragile connection with our environment and climate change, so I chose vulnerable ecosystems as my subject matter. Before I start a painting, I travel deep into the jungle looking for something that awes me then I draw it on the spot, and photograph it for additional details later. Once I’m back to my art studio, I need couple of weeks to digest, and then a new body of
work starts coming together, like multicolored pieces in a kaleidoscope, every memory starts coming together forming a clear plot, like a series of short stories united by the writers pen.

Who are your influencers or artists you admire?
Oh, probably too many to list..But I most frequently find myself drawn to artworks where skills and intuition come hand by hand. Also color palette is also very important to me. I love Goya, Matisse, Gauguin, Rothko, Adam Fuss, Neo Rauch, and Robert Longo among many others.

Your work is related to nature and you just came back from the Amazon. Can you tell us more about this trip?
Saving Trees Through Art is my environmental art project dedicated to the Amazon rain forest. In a nutshell, I went to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to sketch the remains of illegally logged trees. For me a stump left after the extermination of a tree resembles a fingerprint. Indeed a tree has a unique identity, formed by a distinctive pattern of age rings and other unmistakable marks drawn from the tree’s life experience. Firstly, I took the “fingerprints” of the trees (by placing a paper on the cut and rubbing over it
with graphite). After capturing this ongoing devastation, I was interviewing several environmental NGOs and independent activists committed to the restoration of the rainforest, and took their fingerprints. The final artwork will be diptychs pairing my drawings of every cut down tree with a fingerprint of a volunteer planting a new tree. I view this as the yin and yang of the world, recreation striving to balance out destruction. Each person I interviewed works tirelessly (and often without any compensation) on saving the rainforest which as we all know are the green lungs of our planet. From volunteers planting trees, families buying land from the government and creating natural preserves to save the primary forest, professors who teach forest engineering and management, sustainable farmers, to scientists who study the genetics of the local seeds to ensure the healthy and rapid grow of the secondary (replanted) forest
and big organizations like Idesam whose mission is to promote the valuation and sustainable use of natural resources in the Amazon and to find alternative solutions to environmental conservation, social development and climate change mitigation. Along with their fingerprints I asked them to write couple of lines about WHY do they care for nature and what motivates them to act. Ones the series is completed I will be looking for an exhibition space, as I’m going to donate part of the profits from the artwork sold to
the local communities in Brazilian Amazon to help fund reforestation projects.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 4.53.47 PMYou launched a special edition of your paintings on silk scarf. Can you tell us more about this new project?

I felt like silk is a perfect material to convey the vulnerability of nature. Also, it brings out the colors in a new, seductive way. I like the idea of making art approachable for everybody, incorporate it in our everyday life, hence wearable paintings came like a lightbulb in my head.

What do you like the most in your job?

Art makes me happy it gives my life meaning. I’m never bored or depressed or feel like I have no purpose. Because of it’s meditating quality of helping to stay in the moment I never feel unbalanced or anxious, it grounds me and fills me with light.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 4.52.32 PMDo you have an art anecdote that you’d like to share? 

Not an anecdote, but it always surprises me how people unrelated to the artworld seem to think that artist’s days look like this: 21 hours-waiting for an inspiration. 1 hour-painting 10 paintings because you’re so inspired. 3 hours-sleep dreaming of inspiration. Repeat. Like Picasso said “inspiration exists..but it has to find you working”.

What is the question you’re asked the most? 

Probably when people look at some of my most detailed works they ask: “How long did it take you to do it? You have a lot of patience!” and “Were you really alone in the jungle?!”

What is your dream project? 

I would love to team up with more environmental NGOs and make the world a better place together. In the near and not so near future I’m planning on exploring other consequences of global warming such as coral bleaching and melting ice cover and try to find a way to convey these issues through art so everyone can see it. Sometimes words just don’t get to us, we need to visualize it.

What are your projects for the coming months / year?

Right now I am working on Saving Trees Through Art-the art/environmental project I went to the Amazon for. Parallel to that I’m working on a series of drawings based on the ruins I stumbled upon in the rainforest. The building used to be a hospital, then a prison, then a school, now it is being swallowed by the jungle. Trees are covering the walls with a whimsical web of roots and arching their branches to form a dome of Nature Cathedral. I loved seeing nature taking back what was taken from it. How long would it take for all man made structures to disappear without trace?

To know more and follow Nika


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