Painter Ellina Chetverikova is premiering 100 pieces of work she's created over the past five years at Indian Hill Gallery titled "Cincinnati Through the Years: A Collection of Paintings from 2017-2022."
The paintings feature calm yet emotionally stirring depictions of Cincinnati's cityscape that show the congruence of nature and manmade structures. Among the many Queen City depictions in the collection, there are also several paintings of Chetverikova's native Severodonetsk, Ukraine, which was almost completely destroyed as a result of Russia's ongoing invasion of the region.
CityBeat: When did you move to the US from Severodonetsk?
Ellina Chetverikova: I moved to the United States from Ukraine 15 years ago. I came as an exchange student and studied in high school here for a year, because at that time I had already graduated from high school in Ukraine. I arrived here knowing very little English and there was a very intense learning curve. I felt like a child trapped in a teenager's body because I couldn’t understand much of the language — I spent so much time translating my handouts and economics homework. My first experience with the American education system was going to and graduating from Lakota West High School.
CB: Did you formally study painting?
EC: I studied in art school while growing up in Ukraine. The school was a 5-year program and gave me a very solid foundation to continue studying art and painting. I had great teachers there that inspire me still. I like to mention their names in interviews to give them respect and remembrance — one of them is deceased. Their names are Goroshenko Yurii Viktorovich, Pogoreliy Viktor Nikolaevich, Polejaeva Elena Ruslanovna, Shmatko Leonid Evgenievich.
After graduating from Lakota West I got my bachelors at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and my masters at Rochester Institute of Technology. After receiving my MFA at the Rochester Institute of Technology I came back to Cincinnati and taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, University Of Cincinnati, DAAP, Manifest Drawing Center and Baker Hunt Community Arts Center. I have just recently switched to pursue a full-time career as an artist.
CB: Do you credit any particular artists with inspiring you to start making your own art?
EC: I looked up to my teachers in Ukraine. Even though it was a children's art school my teachers had studios at school. It was a very traditional education in drawing and painting. They really prepared you for higher education there. I loved that school and spent most of my time there after primary education public school.
One of my teachers, who is deceased — Goroshnko Viktor Nikolaevich — spent lots of time in his studio creating amazing work. His studio was right by his classroom and he painted lots of cityscapes, which were one of the biggest inspirations to me. Viktor Nikolaevich created figurative narrative works and they were at such a high level. Even at that young age I clearly understood my luck to have such amazing teachers and under their tutelage I soaked up their knowledge like a sponge.
CB: How would you describe your painting style?
EC: I don’t like describing my work mostly because I feel that it’s not my job or place to do so. My job is to make paintings. But, if I had to describe my work in a couple of sentences, I would say it’s a crossover between naturalism and impressionism. I am a big fan of 19th century painting with a contemporary twist. I do all kinds of work and lately have been concentrating on landscapes, but I enjoy painting portraits as well.
CB: Are there any particular favorites in your collection that you’d like to say anything about? If so, what about them stands out to you?
EC: Some of my favorite paintings I’ve done are from life on the roof of the parking garage here in OTR. It's tall enough that you can see a lot of sky and, for urban areas, that is unusual. It is a great spot to watch the sun set. Some of those pieces are “Quickly Setting Sun,” “Purple Cloud,” “Clouds" and "Full Moon On the Rooftop.” I loved spending time there and watching sunsets and seeing the tops of the roofs of many buildings glow. Those are some of my favorite paintings that I created through the years.
One of my absolute favorite buildings in Cincinnati is Old St. Mary’s Church. It’s a gorgeous white building that was built in 1841 - it reminds me of churches in the old Ukrainian city Lviv, which I got to visit frequently while living in Ukraine during the art school competition trips. There is a large piece of St. Mary’s Church in my exhibit, and is of the church all lit up during a cold winter evening with the trees layering over each other as if they were laced over her.
CB: What’s your process when painting? Do you paint on site or capture a photo to then paint from as reference?
EC: I do both – I paint on plein air and I also paint from photography — either one of the other — I don’t combine both. My process is simple, I take a walk in downtown Cincinnati and I just look at things. I usually walk around close to sunset because my favorite light happens during the sunset and twilight. I don’t have much pressure to complete the painting, I just enjoy my process but have my paint ready with me or a phone for the photos. When I see that moment that I want to paint — depending on how long the natural light will last determines if I will paint from life or a photo.
If I feel like I have at least half an hour (before the sunset) — I will paint from life. It’s a wonderful process of trying to capture the impossible, trying to capture the light, shadows, color, or certain design or composition I see. The camera, even a really good one, doesn’t catch the color relationships that the human eye sees, that is another factor for me — that painting has to be painted from life, if it’s too cold or too wet outside gouache (water based paint that I use) is sensitive to humidity and temperature.
CB: Do you see any similarities between Severodonetsk and Cincinnati?
Definitely no similarities, apart from they are two cities where I have lived the longest out of all the places. To give you a better idea of Severodonetsk, to create a vivid picture, it’s a very similar city to Pripyat where the Chernobyl accident happened. Severodonetsk was a city that emerged after a huge chemical plant was built.
My grandmother proudly worked at the chemical plant Azot for 45 years. Many, many people held jobs at the chemical plant. The city had two man-made lakes where people would spend time in the summer on their sandy beaches. Severodonetsk is surprisingly sandy. It would get very warm in the summer, it almost felt like a small version of Los Angeles with pine trees instead of palms. There were great, beautiful pinewood forests surrounding the city for the purpose of purifying the air to counter balance the pollution emitted from the chemical plant.
Another reason for the pine forests were that not much else grows in the sand. We had great music schools and art schools for kids and teenagers. Severodonetsk had a population about half the size of Cincinnati. I wish one day to create a book with illustrations showing off Severodonetsk and telling its story. Because of the Russian invasion my city is nearly destroyed.
CB: Is there anything you’d like CityBeat readers to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
EC: Ukrainians are a very strong people and Russia has been trying to erase Ukraine for several hundreds of years, but here they are louder than ever. It’s insulting when you hear “This is just one man’s war.” We don’t need to just stop Putin, but Russia. We all just need to help with anything we can, even with just positive thoughts. One more thing: “Russian warship go f yourself.”
CB: How does painting enrich your life?
EC: Painting is my life. Everything I look at, I am almost consistently painting in my mind, or trying to figure out how I would do it. It's inseparable. Even when I am not painting — I am painting.
CB: Would you like to say anything about the gallery exhibiting your collection?
EC: I love Indian Hill Gallery. They have been by far one of the most generous and wonderful galleries to work with. I hope that this article helps urban people to learn about them since they are in the heart of the suburbs. This is not only a gallery but a conservation and framing shop as well. It’s a small gem in Indian Hill.
Chetverikova's collection premiers Jan. 27 and will be shown through Feb. 18. The public opening reception will be held opening night from 6-9 p.m.
Indian Hill Gallery, 9475 Loveland Madeira Rd., Montgomery, indianhillgallery.com.
Coming soon: CityBeat Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Cincinnati stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.
Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter