Interview with Russian fine art photographer and multimedia artist Natalia Drepina: tenebrous emotional portraits
The fine art photography of Natalia Drepina explores human frailty, fears, and melancholy, often in cold, quiet dreamscapes with a tinge of ominousness. Her conceptual realm is reminiscent of dark fairytales, conveyed through a soft, gloomy, painterly aesthetic. Darkness, a sense of sorrow, and lyricism are also the distinguishing marks of her multimedia art pieces- showcasing a mixture of poetry, voice-over, videos, as well as haunting sounds and instrumentals. Whilst her projects are deeply intimate- metaphors for her soul, portraying aspects of the human condition, the poetic message conveyed is disguised, symbolic, just as dream imagery. We had the chance to find out the thoughts behind the art, as well as getting to know Natalia beyond her artistic persona, as she was open to revealing more about her lifestyle and her views on inspiration and mortality.
DM: Where does your fascination with melancholy, sorrow, and the darker aspects of the mind spring from? Is melancholy a dominant emotion in your real life as well as in your artistic world?
ND: I’m truly a melancholy person. My sadness, which has been living in me for many years, has become my friend. I learned to see a special beauty in these emotions and draw inspiration.
DM: What is Natalia like in everyday life otherwise and how do you think your loved ones or people who know you best would describe you? Would they associate you with the same feelings you evoke in your projects or are these feelings purged through your art?
ND: People often tell me that I’m weird. Perhaps this word best describes me. I would also call myself inspired and pensive, because I’m always between two worlds – imagination and reality.
I’m rather unsociable, I prefer solitude and silence, rather than meeting and talking with people. But sometimes I also like talking with animals, birds, insects and plants. Nature is a place where I feel happy and calm. People scare me a little.
Of course, in everyday life I’m not always sad, I’m familiar with the spectrum of human emotions, but nevertheless, even in moments of happiness, I feel a strange longing, as if beauty and happiness also hurt in their own way.
I believe that my soul speaks the language of poetry, because true poetry combines pain and beauty, giving rise to a special feeling, a special vision of the world.
DM: The aesthetic of your photographs is characterised by a sombre and cold colour palette. It seems that you have a special connection to the cold seasons; and you also have a great grasp over the “winter of the soul”. There is a quote by Andrew Wyeth saying “I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape – the loneliness of it-the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it -the whole story doesn’t show.” This epitomises the enigmatic mood and alluring aesthetic of your photographs as well. Do you feel more inspired during the cold seasons since they are often associated with the emotions underlying your work and do you have a special bond to your birth month?
ND: Yes, I’m a child of November, a child of Autumn. Fall is my favorite season, at this time all my feelings are aggravated, my dreams become more bizarre, I create a lot of photographs, music, poetry, needlework. Also I keep a diary every fall – I call it “The diary of wilting”. Every day I write my thoughts and add some leaves and plants filled with autumn colors and a foreboding of death. Autumn nature fully reflects the landscapes of my soul.
As for winter, it depresses me. I don’t like this white cold world. And I can’t sleep – insomnia visits me. However, most of my music is composed on winter nights.
DM: Do you think your photography is influenced by your native Russian roots and do you feel any emotional connection to your land?
ND: Perhaps the only connection with the Russian mentality that I feel is “Russian toska” – it’s ache of soul, longing with nothing to long for. This feeling is reflected in my works.
I’d call myself a resident of the universe. For me, the homeland is not a city or country, it’s a planet, its forests, fields, rivers, sky. I really love the nature that surrounds me, but I know that I’d also love nature in other parts of the world.
DM: Do the characters in your photographs embody parts of your identity, or are they vivid aspects of your imagination, inspired by the world around you or fiction? How do you breathe life into them?
ND: My characters are woven from fragments of my personality, fiction and dreams. They seem to live in parallel reality and sometimes come to visit me in a dream or wake up in the subconscious.
DM: Some of your projects are eclectic: you create music, poetry, and video art, interweaving these creative threads to give birth to beautiful and evocative atmospheric pieces. Describe your creative process as a multimedia artist.
ND: It is always very difficult for me to describe this process. Because all this happens mostly spontaneously, in a fit of inspiration. I don’t have any clear structure, plan. Sometimes I feel the need to supplement my visual creativity with music, poetry and I just do it.
DM: Do you make a living entirely out of your art or do you have any other side occupations?
ND: Art is my only source of income.
DM: Some of your visual stories -both photographs and videos- unfold like dream fragments, often of an unsettling nature. Your art gives the impression of resurrecting elements from the unconscious mind – repressed fantasies, desires, and imagery. Is the visual symbolism borrowed from your own dreams, or nightmares?
ND: Yes, I write in my diary all interesting dreams and nightmares, and then use this material for my art. Dreams really inspire me to work.
DM: Do you believe in the concept of Soul as something separate from the body, and in the immortality of the soul? Some of your photographs have a macabre aspect, do thoughts of death scare and sadden you or do you embrace mortality?
ND: I’m not sure what I believe. It seems to me that the soul exists, but I don’t believe in immortality. It seems to me that death is a black void that will envelop us. It is like a dead dream, without images and visions, when you simply plunge into nothing.
Death does not scare me. Especially my death. I have long accepted and realised the fact of my mortality, and I’m fine with that. I would not want to live forever, to be honest. But the pain of losing close to me creatures – people or animals – scares me.
DM: Your Schizophrenia, your musical project, is such a moody, hypnotising piece of art. On the one hand, as we don’t have an understanding of Russian, we think we would like to hear an English version; on the other hand, Russian is such a beautiful-sounding language, it seems it contributes to the lyricism and the compelling, atmospheric nature of the project. Have you ever thought of creating English versions of your musical poems?
ND: The Russian language allows me to express everything that I feel, because of it I use it more often in my project. For my listeners, I also add translations (especially on Instagram) so that they can understand what this song or dark tale is about.
I also have poems and songs in English. For example:
We are dying with falling leaves
The lyrical fatigue
And in the near future I plan to release a book with translations of my poems and dark tales.
DM: What made you decide to go for the title, “Your Schizophrenia”?
ND: Partly it is connected with the person (schizophrenic) I knew and who influenced me in a certain period of my life.
Schizophrenia also includes hearing voices, delusions, social withdrawal. Your Schizophrenia is a character living in my subconcious, as if I transmit her thoughts, whispers, tunes, fears and sorrows.
DM: Do you believe an artist has to face the darker side of life and of the mind, being guided by chaos, darkness, and/or sorrow, in order to create valuable art, or can worthwhile art be generated by a peaceful mind, or in peaceful moments infused with happiness too?
ND: I think that art can be born by darkness and chaos, but also in peaceful moments. I think that each of the emotions can be used as inspiration for poems, paintings, photographs, music. Creativity is multifaceted. What is more important here is what inspires You, makes You feel. It all depends on preferences as well. In my soul, dark art and painful beauty find a greater response. It is like that strange feeling before the storm, when the breath stops and the heart beats so loudly…
Images © Natalia Drepina