A Path Carved with Passion
A Path Carved with Passion
Unconventional, but totally committed, the Russian-born artist Liudmila Panenkova is following her dreams, while delighting new audiences with her unworldly, magical artwork
If it hadn’t been for Liudmila Panenkova’s burning passion for art and determination to follow it through, she may well still be working on engineering projects today rather than preparing for a forthcoming solo exhibition.
Fortunately, however, determination is something that Liudmila possess in abundance, although she admits that making the professional jump from engineer to artist was far from straightforward.
“Art was not considered a serious career choice in Russia, where I was born and grew up,” she says. “It took almost 28 years of patience, self-tuition and self-belief, on top of trying to convince my family that I was making the right choice, before I set foot on a new path.”
Liudmila explains that her dilemma was exacerbated by the fact that she comes from a family of highly-regarded academics, which includes biochemists and interpreters. “They’d never had any links to the world of art and had no understanding of how it worked,” she said. “They also felt that Russia faced challenging times ahead, so were particularly insistent that I gained an education in a field that guaranteed a safe, secure career, such as engineering.”
Despite complying with her family’s wishes and forging a successful career, Liudmila, who first began drawing aged just three, dreamt of devoting herself fully to her art. That dream began to materialise just three years ago, when she summoned up the courage to leave her job and move to Paris to focus on her first love.
Liudmila admits that her first solo exhibition in 2015, titled Transit Point, represented a major milestone, both for its significance as a career landmark, and as a successful homecoming of sorts, given that it took place in Russia. “Daring to present my art to an audience in Moscow was a huge moment for me,” she explains.
She needn’t have worried; the series of 35 artworks that she produced for the show sold out and she’s never looked back, notching up achievements that include a follow-up solo exhibition in Dubai, where she now lives.
The success of her first show also helped to allay some of her family’s concerns over her career choice. Liudmila admits that today, her mother is proud of her work, although, she adds with a smile, “She still doesn’t always understand the way that artists work.”
Known for her refusal to conform to convention or tradition in her methods of expression, Liudmila believes it’s fair to describe the route she has chosen as a conscious decision to rebel.
“As a self-taught artist, there was a great temptation to use traditional techniques and follow the rules of composition instead of developing my own vision,” she acknowledges. “But while inventing your own ‘bicycle’ takes time and effort, it also eventually brings much more satisfaction.”
In the early days, Liudmila began developing her style by recreating the engravings of Gustave Dore and Francisco Goya. “I wanted to understand as much as possible about the rules and learn about proportions and composition,” she explains.
As she sought to carve out her own niche, Liudmila moved to working in ink on acrylic. She cites Salvador Dali and M.C Escher as among her major influences.
“Their art is ‘intellectual’,” she explains. “Take Dali; his artwork forces us to think, while the way that Escher used the golden ratio for proportions and harmony amazes me.”
Many of Liudmila’s subjects are immediately recognisable, though they have a magical, unworldly feel to them. They are also characterised by intense detail, whether a horse, head turned, complete with slightly melancholic doe eyes, or a tranquil stretch of water, edged by bushy trees, rich with foliage.
Liudmila’s fascination with religion is also evident across her work, which includes a diverse range of places of worship. “Studying theology is one of my hobbies and reading the holy books, whether the Bible, the Quran or the Torah, always produces both emotions and ideas,” she said.
Theology was a major source of inspiration for Liudmila’s first solo exhibition, while her second, titled ‘Emotional Alphabet’ and held in Dubai, had a different theme.
“I wanted people to pause and undertake a bit of searching internally, away from the issues that tend to dominate our lives, like religion, politics and money,” she explains. “The idea was to encourage them to focus solely on their emotions.”
Liudmila is currently working on a project inspired by the story of the Garden of Eden, which she plans to exhibit in the autumn. “I wanted to explore the concept of being taken out of your comfort zone and felt that the narrative, with its theme of exile, touched on that,” she says. “I like to give people food for thought.”