Artist of the Month: Luba Kostenko

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Sep 29, 2016 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

An artist of an inspirational talent, Luba Kostenko was branded an art prodigy whilst still attending Secondary School of Art in Leningrad, Russia. She entered the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Leningrad in 1965 where she was taught by the distinguished professors E. E. Moiseyenko, I. P. Veselkin, P. T. Fomin, D. A. Shuvalov, and A. A. Mylnikov. 

Artist Luba Kostenko
Artist Luba Kostenko 

Copying the Old Masters at the Hermitage, the Russian icons and the works of Manet and Kandinsky at the Russian State Museum formed an integral part of Kostenko’s training. In her final “diploma” year in 1971, Kostenko had already ventured outside the boundaries of traditional academic painting. Her works demonstrated maturity, attributable to an established master, and displayed a profound understanding of the difference between blind imitation and the conscious pursuit of academic traditions within the artist’s own aspirations.

Workshop in Wageningen. Artist Luba Kostenko
Workshop in Wageningen

In 1973, Kostenko was invited to participate in an important exhibition at the State Tretyakovskaya Gallery in Moscow entitled “Self-portrait by Russian and Soviet Artists of 18th–20th centuries.” Her work was exhibited alongside the outstanding artists of the past, and was praised for its technical strength and innovative vision. In 1975, portraits by Kostenko were selected for an exhibition “Portraits of Contemporaries” at the Russian State Museum in Leningrad. Already recognised as a strong portraitist, Kostenko painted portraits of known musicians, actors, and artists. Portraits of Evgeni Mravinski, Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev, and Alexander Kantorov occupy an important place in her work. 

A composition called “The Orchestra”, inspired by the Kirov theatre orchestra and painted in 1980, was acquired by the State Museum of Fine Arts in Rostov-on-Don, where it remains part of the museum’s permanent display. A number of other art museums have acquired paintings by Luba Kostenko. Her composition “Family” is at the Pskov Museum of Fine Art, alongside paintings by Vassily Kandinsky. The “Conductor,” along with two other works by Kostenko, appears next to Kazimir Malevich’s work in the Serpukhov Museum of Fine Arts. Kostenko’s paintings have been acquired by the State Tretyakovskaya Gallery and the Russian State Museum in St Petersburg, and have been included in the Encyclopaedia of Masterpieces. A large collection of her works can be seen in the State Art Museum of Altai Region in Barnaul, the Theatre Museum in St Petersburg, and the Museum of History of St Petersburg.

Described by art historians as having the vitality of Kandinsky’s palette, the boldness of Modigliani’s style, and the virtuosity of the Old Masters, Kostenko’s works are always recognizable thanks to her sharp, and, at times, paradoxical outlook on the world, and her ability to see the special and the unique in what she depicts. Kostenko’s trademark style has evolved over the years, and has earned her a reputation as an established master with a distinct personality. Her highly expressive sculpturesque language, be it in paintings or works on paper, flows from her confident ability to combine linear composition with a sharp perception of colour.

Atti and her Horse, 1997. Artist Luba Kostenko
Atti and her Horse, 1997

Since 1990, Kostenko has had dozens of solo shows and participated in numerous exhibitions. She has been living in Western Europe painting, teaching, and inspiring people to open their hearts to art. Her art lessons focus on the ability to bring out an inner sense of colour, which she believes every person possesses. She has created her own artistic style called “lubism,” which forms the essence of her unforgettable works of art and provides inspiration to young and accomplished artists. Kostenko is sought after by private collectors and receives regular portrait commissions. Her paintings appear alongside the masterpieces of some of the most renowned artists of the twentieth century.

And with all the traditional forms and places for her art, I first discovered her on Instagram! Yes, truth. From the start, I was intrigued by her art, and kept returning again and again to her page to devour her art, her colors, the beauty she shares with the world. I knew our Wandering Educators would love her art, too, and was lucky enough to be able to interview her, to find out about her art, places she creates, inspiration, the details of working, and more. Here's what she had to say...

How long have you been an artist?
I have been an artist all my life. I began formal training in 1958 when I passed entrance exams to a prestigious Secondary School of Art, where I studied until 1965. This was followed by 6 years at the Academy of Arts. But I remember feeling that I was an artist already in early childhood. My parents always encouraged me to be creative. In fact, at the tender age of 3, I covered most of the wallpaper in our apartment with drawings. My otherwise strict mother never told me off for that. Although I became a painter, I am no stranger to other arts, at some point aspiring to be a sculptor. I also love music, which occupies a prominent place in my heart, my life, and my work. 

Nude model, 2000, watercolour/paper, 50x40. Artist Luba Kostenko
Nude model, 2000, watercolour/paper, 50x40

Is your art your full-time career?
Yes, I am a professional artist and always earned a living only from painting. I cannot imagine being anything else or earning a living in any other way. Although being an artist has shaped my life and is certainly a full-time career, it is also a way of life. I never stop working in a sense that I always see, look at, and feel things around me through an artistic prism. Being an artist is indivisible from me as a person. For example, I love portraiture as a genre and every person I ever meet is, on a subconscious level, a sitter for a portrait to me. I look at beauty from the point of view of a painter, and I look for beauty and harmony in everything.

Anya, 2004, watercolour/paper, 70x50. Artist Luba Kostenko
Anya, 2004, watercolour/paper, 70x50

Julia on the Swings, 1981, oil/cardboard. Artist Luba Kostenko
Julia on the Swings, 1981, oil/cardboard

Where do you work? How long have you been there?
I have recently moved from the Netherlands to Central Italy, thereby ending my 25-years in Northern Europe. Although I love Holland, somehow, I always knew that the later part of my life would be in Italy. Everything is steeped in culture here. Every little village is a natural museum, both historical and artistic. It seems that everyone born or living in Italy has this deeply rooted understanding of beauty, harmony. 

I work in a studio. It is important for me to have a working space which is separate to my living space. A space which is my world, where I don’t watch the time, where I am free and serene. 

Italia, pastel. Artist Luba Kostenko
Italia, pastel

Red Trees, 1996. Artist Luba Kostenko
Red Trees, 1996

Do you have favorite places you like to create?
I have been fortunate to have travelled expensively. This gave me my “bank” of images, impressions, inspirations, which I use in my work. Although I love travelling, nowadays I am happy to sit in my studio and paint, draw, and create from all those memories. I have never travelled without a sketchbook, and now I have hundreds of visual diaries which capture the essence of a place, my mood at the time, the smells, the sounds, the colours, the lines. Stretching through the years, the different places and countries I lived in and visited, all the Seasons, the happy times and the sad times. It is a story of my life, but also a story of the world around me, how it has changed and yet stayed the same, how I have developed and changed and yet stayed the same... 

Moulin Rouge, oil/canvas, 1995. Artist Luba Kostenko
Moulin Rouge, oil/canvas, 1995

What does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
No day is the same. I do not have a routine now. When I was studying, I had a very strict routine. It is important for an artist to fully develop and then polish their skills. It matters not whether you are a figurative or an abstract painter. Skill is very important. One has to be professional in everything one does. Painting requires a great deal of skill, otherwise, an artist will be limited in how he or she can express him or herself. Skills give you freedom to do anything you like in any way you like. Like a virtuoso musician: he or she can play the most difficult Rachmaninov pieces and the Chopin-Godowsky Etudes and be fluent in jazz, rock, and soul. 

When I was at the Academy and before that at the Art School, I spent hours copying the Old Masters, the Impressionists, the Expressionists, the Cubists. Some days I would be at the Hermitage or another great museum as soon as the doors opened and would leave when the doors were about to be shut, spending over 10 hours painting. Hours of hard work, of looking at all these great painters and thinking: can I achieve what they have achieved? It was daring to compare myself to them. Even a little obnoxious. But this way of thinking set very high goals so that I never stopped working on my art and on myself.

For many years after I had graduated, I would spend days and nights at my studio. Working, being inspired, being very critical of what I did. I took many commissions, but I have always also painted without commissions, just because I felt this incredible urge to paint, to create. When I don’t draw or paint for a few days, I begin to feel that something is missing; I become restless and sad. 

Portrait of K.M.Petrov-Polyarniy, 2006. Artist Luba Kostenko
Portrait of K.M.Petrov-Polyarniy, 2006

What materials do you prefer?
I work a lot in oil, pastels, watercolours, occasionally in acrylic. I also often sketch with colour crayons. I now even use various i-applications, such as i-pastels, which open the door to new experiences and impressions. I cannot say that I prefer one and dislike another. Art materials to me are like the Seasons. Each – beautiful and inspiring in its own way. Much depends on my mood, on what I am going to paint or draw, on where I am and sometimes it is “just because.”

I still prefer priming my own canvases. As I got older, the task became more and more trying. My hands are not as strong as they used to be. But the feeling of starting from scratch is very satisfying: the raw, unbleached canvas, the beautiful material – sometimes very coarse, other times – soft and silky. Shop-bought canvases are just not the same, although I do use them.

One from Ipastels. Artist Luba Kostenko
One from Ipastels

Where/How are you inspired?
I am inspired by lines, shapes, colours, by different cultures, by beauty, by interesting and talented people. I have been to many places: each has left an imprint in my mind, an impression. I draw inspiration from those memories. France, Spain, Russia, England, Australia, India, Italy, Portugal, Asia, America – I saw amazing landscapes, breathtaking views. When I think of all these places, I imagine not only what they might look like now, but I dream of what they will be like in the future, in decades and centuries. Artists like to imagine, to dream, to create something that connects their work to the present, refers to the past but always has a channel to the future. Sometimes I imagine things I have never seen but which have been created by the collective experience and impressions.

I am often inspired by people. Listening to someone talk passionately and with a deep knowledge of the subject is tremendously inspiring. Seeing something created with great skill and love is a great inspiration. Watching the flower buds opening up and the plant being grown from just a tiny seed is just amazing. 

Maestro Gergiev, 2003, oil/canvas, 100x120. Artist Luba Kostenko
Maestro Gergiev, 2003, oil/canvas, 100x120

Piano Practice, 1991, oil/cardboard, 50x40. Artist Luba Kostenko
Piano Practice, 1991, oil/cardboard, 50x40

How do you know when your piece is done?
Sometimes it takes years to finish a painting, other times – one sitting. I am often asked: “how long did it take you to paint this?” My answer is always: “my entire life.” Indeed, every work is the result of many years of studying, working, looking, seeing, thinking, painting… Like a ballet dancer – the performance may last a few minutes, but the hard work is all behind the scenes. The performance must not be heavy, it should look and feel effortless, despite the blood and the sweat required to achieve it.

I could also compare the process of painting to performing a musical piece: it has an overture, cadence, a finale. At times I leave a painting, thinking that it needs more work. Several years later, I look at it again and I see that it has “matured,” has acquired the finish I wanted merely through the passage of time. This is why I seldom sell works shortly after they have been created. They need to live in my life, to absorb their surroundings, to “age” in a good sense of the word. But sometimes, after the passage of time, I decide that a painting is not good enough. I then destroy it. I do not want these works to be left after I have gone. I know that for art historians, seeing everything that an artist has produced is interesting, but I do not want the public ever to see what I do not consider a good piece of work by me. So I am critical of my art, but recognize that sometimes I need time to see whether it a painting is a true work of art or not.

I am also not afraid of leaving the virgin white canvas in a painting, an unpainted, untouched surface. There is no correlation between filling all the space and the sense of a finished work. It is not about that. Painting is not colouring in all the surface. I wish teachers would remember this when telling children that their drawing is not finished because they “missed a bit.”

Maurice Murphy, 1986, oil/canvas, 70x75. Artist Luba Kostenko
Maurice Murphy, 1986, oil/canvas, 70x75

Do you work on one or more pieces at a time?
Yes, all the time! Because I am fortunate to travel so much and to have several “home bases,” I always have several works in progress. Because I paint people, landscapes, flowers, towns and cities, seascapes, and even intangible impressions, I keep switching between them as the mood takes me.
Sometimes also I need to stand away from a piece, let it live before I go back to it.

If you were not a painter/sculptor/photographer, etc., what would you do?
I could have been an architect or someone working with nature. The process of creating something from nothing mesmerizes and fascinates me. How a tiny seed becomes a plant, a mighty tree. How a pile of dust can be transformed into the most beautiful of architectural creations.

Ceremonial Self portrait, 1971. Artist Luba Kostenko
Ceremonial Self portrait, 1971

How can our readers find and purchase your art?
I am on Instagram: @ubakostenkoart and @lubart_gallery or you can email me through my website www.lubakostenko.com, and on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theartoflubakostenko/
My website is currently being updated – I will be telling a story of my journey through my art, so watch this space…

No name (self-portrait), 2006 . Artist Luba Kostenko
No name (self-portrait), 2006

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Luba Kostenko