Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Final Semester as an MFA Candidate at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Daria Souvorova Bacchus Comforting Ariadne
Bacchus Comforting Ariadne. Oil on linen. 64x44in. 2013
Throughout my final semester, I continued to pursue my interest in still life and pattern, which was reawakened through working on Judith and Holofernes. I was trying to address the disconnect between viewer and subject – to allow the figures to be more absorbed in each other and more natural – surrounded by objects that appear to be contemporary. I readdressed my color palette, and began to work with a slightly cooler, more chromatic palette, focusing on swelling fields of color more than the localized color forms. I recognized a disconnect between all of the objects in my narratives and attempted to create a sense of atmosphere that was more attainable in my smaller drawings from life.

At this point, I also became interested in working from life with other figures, and began to make portraits of other people to extend my character vocabulary, and build my interest in other body types. I hope to pursue this side project in conjunction with my invented narratives until I reach a point where the two bodies of work seamlessly correlate into one.

Daria Souvorova the Soprano
The Soprano.  Graphite on Paper. 22x30in. 2013
My last semester and my ASE exhibition are dedicated to pursuing a large, consecutive narrative project. I was interested in the story of Ariadne: her narrative allowed for a piece on abandonment and another on redemption. I wanted to explore how one figure could react differently in varying spaces and situations.

Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and half-sister of the Minotaur, watched as her father subjected fourteen youths to be slaughtered to the Minotaur. She fell in love with Theseus, one of the intended sacrificial victims. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of golden thread  – to guide him in and out of the maze – and a sword – to slay the Minotaur. In exchange Theseus promised to marry Ariadne. 

Daria Souvorova Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus. Oil on linen. 56x52in. 2013
Having slain the Minotaur, Theseus took Ariadne to the island of Naxos, slept with her, and abandoned her in her sleep. Ariadne awoke to find herself deserted and alone and grieved for her foolishness. For the sake of love, she abandoned her country and family, she gave up everything and was left alone to suffer for it.

My first image addresses Ariadne abandoned on the island.  I wanted to describe her reclined on a temporary bed of linens, either just realizing her abandonment or calming down from the first wave of terror at her betrayal. I wanted her to feel trapped – as if she is inhabiting the maze from which she rescued Theseus. Her reclining figure is abutted by a dark wall, shaded by plants, as if a solid gray field is keeping her from extending far into the interior of the image – she is trapped. The serpentine, flowing movements of the fabrics turn into waves, carrying small boats away from the shore – mirroring Theseus in his abandonment by sea. The entire shape of the figure mirrors the small boats that surround it, perhaps signifying Ariadne's correlation to the empty vessels surrounding her.

Daria Souvorova Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus. Graphite on paper. 40x44in. 2012
I wanted to stray from the literal image of a tiny boat leaving on the horizon, and chose a more metaphoric, and symbolic approach to the narrative. I became really interested with still-life objects during the creation of this composition, pulling meaning from the toy boats, ships in bottles, and bottled messages that would never be read. I wanted to address solitude and the inability to communicate, so the idea of sending out messages that may never reach their intended audience resonated well with this narrative. I wanted to have some semblance of the past presence of Theseus, a ghost acting as a character who no longer occupies the space. An old glove, holding the golden thread, represents the hand that once inhabited it and reminds us that the occupant of the glove was once present, but has since departed.

Daria Souvorova Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus. Pastel on paper. 20x30in. 2013
In the painting of Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus, I wanted to focus on creating a new color scheme. I was reaching out and attempting to forge connections with the contemporary art world through any venue available to me. I tried to stray away from local color. I began with a pastel color study, focusing on blending of series of colors to create color harmonies within shapes as well as between them, in an attempt to work less locally.

I changed my entire color palette, noting the pigments in each pastel I used, and then purchasing a new set of oil colors. I put away all of my cadmiums and began my work. I began using a stand oil – based medium, working out the entire composition in underlaying colors and reworking the final color composition on top of the contrasting hues. This allowed me to create more variation in the fabric and skin tones, to stray away from modeling with one or two colors in order to build volume. 

Daria Souvorova Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus. Detail
As the painting reached relative completion, I began to question the pose of the figure. I repainted each feature, hoping to give it more character, to take away some of the classical Idealism that was inherent in the pose, and create a more personal Re-Idealized form. I appreciated some of the figure's languid qualities, but wanted to bring it away from a posing model to a more reactionary figure.

I also questioned the relative lack of use of the upper quadrant of my painting. I decided to introduce another version of the golden thread. Ariadne was known as the weaver – some say that she is Arachne and the spider originates from her name. I wanted to symbolize the idea of Ariadne giving up her power to Theseus. She gave him her golden thread, and as he, the new spider, spun her web and left on the boat, Ariadne, represented by a bird, is left trapped in the golden spider web that she once controlled.

Daria Souvorova Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus. Detail
I wanted to create a distinction between the two compositions – Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus and Bacchus Comforting Ariadne – and I decided that more emphasis needed to be placed on the arrangement of figures on the page. The painting was almost completed, yet I added a second panel to the bottom to extend the space, and remove the figure from its role as a centralized focal point. This change will make the figure feel trapped towards the top of her composition, allowing for a differing feeling and atmosphere from the second composition.

The ambiguity of the Ariadne drawing was a very positive turn in my work, but I noted that there was still a stage-like presence to the composition. I wanted to change this with the second half of the consecutive narrative.

Daria Souvorova Bacchus Comforting Ariadne
Bacchus Comforting Ariadne. Graphite on paper. 44x30in. 2013

Ariadne is not left to grieve her solitude for too long, as Bacchus, the god of wine, sees her and is amazed by her beauty and stoic nature. He comforts the weeping Ariadne and later marries her.

Daria Souvorova Bacchus Comforting Ariadne
Bacchus Comforting Ariadne. Oil on linen. 18x12in. 2013
I wanted to address the viewpoint in this second narrative – Bacchus Comforting Ariadne. I wanted to force an interaction between the viewer and the two characters, possibly making 
the viewer take on the role of Ariadne, empathizing with her in that moment. I chose to keep the same setting as the first composition but flipped the viewpoint and orientation. We are no longer seeing Ariadne as if we are watching her on a stage in a theatre, rather, we are floating over the couple, and gravity forces us to interact with them.

The symbols that were so vital to Ariadne in the first composition are scattered and folded into a discarded bit of fabric on the lower right. Bacchus is present, and the symbols that represented Theseus are no longer vital to the narrative. I wanted to focus on the gestures and absorptive qualities of the figures – I wanted them to be individuals, yet to feel like they are part of each other. A dark pelt sets off the light of Ariadne's skin yet helps to connect her to the relative darkness of Bacchus's bending form.

I continued to add elements that resonate with the contemporary audience. The arrangement of hair and less classical pose, especially of Bacchus, as well as his boxers and black socks help ground the figures. The fresh stripes of the mattress deflect from some of the classical features in Ariadne's reclining form.

Daria Souvorova Bacchus Comforting Ariadne
Bacchus Comforting Ariadne. Detail
In conjunction with the changes in the final composition Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus, I wanted to give this composition more of an airy feeling. I wanted to portray the presence of space and life beyond the maze-like wall. I was really attached to the tension of Ariadne's foot against the bottom of the canvas, so I chose to add extra space to the left and top segments of the canvas. Seeing the two final compositions set up next to each other gives them the opportunity to communicate and allows the placement of figure to add to the narrative.


In my journey through this collection of narratives, I have come closer to grasping the origin of my imperative to create these complex and frequently tiresome compositions. I am searching for an understanding and empathy for my characters and continue to explore different venues of attaining just that.

I recognize my love for the human form and for creating narrative compositions and continue to seek parallels between my work and the world in which I reside. I fail to give a final justification for my
endeavors – for – I do not know, but I have decided.

Third Semester as an MFA Candidate at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Daria Souvorova. Judith and Holofernes.
Judith and Holofernes. Oil on linen. 46x68in. 2012.

I began the fall semester with a large scale drawing and painting on the theme of Judith beheading Holofernes. This composition, and the transition thereof, reflects my thinking process over the summer, and the evolution between the roles of heroes and villains in my life.

Daria Souvorova. Judith and Holofernes.
Judith and Holofernes. Graphite on paper. 50x72in. 2012.
Instead of choosing the traditional moment depicting Holofernes struggling for his life, I chose to show him in the moment before he is beheaded. I drew him fluid and slumping onto the Fury’s grip. He is delirious and in denial. Smiling, in fact. He is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions and does not even understand his punishment.

The fluid movement between the figures in this work became important. The lighting also played a big role: Holofernes is almost completely in silhouette, which separates him from Judith who is brilliantly lit against the darkness of the wall behind her. Fury wields the sword that pierces the space. It points toward the bed and alludes to the nature of the punishment. A sliver of light follows the edge of the sword and is mirrored by the silhouette of the woman on the bed, that Holofernes was just dragged off of.

Daria Souvorova. Judith and Holofernes.
Judith and Holofernes. Pastel on paper. 20x30in. 2012.
The slashing of the blade became a very important movement in the composition. I wanted to emphasize it. I originally composed a three-figure grouping –  the bulk of the right panel. I added a second panel to the left to allow room for the blade. This was the first instance in which I began to reconsider the symmetrical rhythm of my compositions. The figure's silhouette is the only light on the bulk of the left panel, and as the figure disintegrates almost entirely save for the sliver of light that mirrors the sword, the figure proves unimportant outside of its role of identifying the secondary villain.

It is at this point that I began to make portraits in conjunction with my narrative pieces. Having struggled for so long to create narratives and understandable fables, I forgot  my fervent interest in looking at objects and depicting them. Working on a self-portrait, I drew and redrew myself until I stopped focusing on the Idealized shapes that could be pulled from my form, and began to be more interested in the melting aspect of the light, and the qualities of one shape folding into the next. I forced myself to consider the space between my outlines.

Daria Souvorova Melancholy
Melancholy. Graphite on paper. 30x22in. 2012.
Returning to the Judith and Holofernes painting: I became interested in segregating the hero and villain through taking advantage of pushing some figures towards Idealization, and others towards Characterization.  I created more specificity in the gestures and features of the figures, and began to find interest in the spaces that surrounded them.  The angle of the doorway and the groupings of figures that
Daria Souvorova Judith and Holofernes
Judith and Holofernes. Oil on linen. 46x68in. 2012. Detail.
 melted away into the light began to be considered as narrative devices, as much as representations of the main characters.  I was thrilled to paint the chair and the fabric that envelops it – the violet folds of a yellow pillow became characters of their own right. I repainted the composition in halves and was delighted at the improvement of each section yet continuously dismayed as previously successful areas appeared inferior in comparison. This painting took over three months to complete and became a representation of the progress of my narratives.

Looking at the completed Judith and Holofernes in conjunction with my drawings and the portraits I have been working on, I was surprised at the stark difference between the drawings and the painting.

Daria Souvorova Tom Reclining
Tom Reclining. Graphite on paper. 30x22in. 2012
Judith and Holofernes was a very black and white composition for me, created at a time when I was focused on morality and a strict intended narrative in my works. Seeing it set against the relative subtlety of the portraits made me realize the level of theatricality in the image.  At this point, I began searching for more earnestness and connection between the viewer and my images.

Samson and Delilah is a story about power and trust. God grants Samson unlimited strength, so long as he does not cut his hair. Samson wins all of his battles and tramples his foes with ease, yet soon he grows vain and foolish.  Working for his enemies, Delilah comes to Samson and seduces him. As they lie in his bed, Delilah plies him with drink and asks him what his secret is – he lies. Thrice she asks him and thrice he gives her a lie, but finally he breaks down and tells her that if his hair were cut, he would be as weak as any other man. Delilah waits for him to fall asleep, cuts his hair and allows his enemies to capture and blind him. It is the moment in which, albeit drunkenly and rather foolishly, Samson puts his trust in Delilah.

I returned several times to this composition over the past two years. When I was working on the preliminary drawing, I yearned for connection and earnestness, that despite our seeming closeness, I was lacking.

Daria Souvorova Samson and Delilah
Samson and Delilah. Pastel on paper. 38x50in. 2012

Thus, my story is not what it appears, as the villain and the fool are misplaced, but the concept of trust remains. Samson, in his drunkenness, feels himself loved and safe and gives away his secret: he gives up his strength and power for the sake of intimacy. This composition is a conversation about
the relative values of earnestness and secrecy.

It was important to me that the figures of the two characters merge into one shape, as an embodiment of trust and surrender of mind. They form a loose triangle, which is enveloped by the angles of the fabric
hangings surrounding the grouping. Series of literal and compositional stripes represent the slashing of a pair of scissors, foreshadowing the cropping of Samson's hair.  A sharp ray of light lights a green table with an open pair of shears and Samson’s face and golden hair, twisted in Delilah’s fingers: this moment is meant to represent Delilah at the precipice of deciding whether to save Samson or to seal his doom.

Daria Souvorova Tom as Bacchus
Tom as Bacchus. Graphite on paper. 22x30in. 2012

This composition was finished at the tail of the Fall semester, check back in for the continued narrative in my next entry about my Spring semester.