Popova is dancing a ‘primordial, cosmic dance’

Joan Sullivan
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“At school I had to follow a structured set of rules, but even in those early days I would find my hand sometimes going outside the lines.”

“Dreamlike” by Elena Popova. — Submitted photo

Elena Popova is standing amidst her new solo exhibition, “Dreamlike,” composed of 13 monotypes. Works like “Dancing in the Dark,” “Tulips” and “Spur of the Moment” pulse with beating hearts and erupt with flower petals and cascade with calligraphic weaving, woven lines. The realism she once studied has morphed into something drenched with tactile sensations. There is both dynamism and cohesion, and narrative embedded in an electric palette. The activity fills the frame, yet retains a core.

“Now the thing is there is no such thing as a starting point in the practice of art, in my opinion. There is just the irresistible urge to start creating. For me these days it often starts in a dream, waking up with the irresistible urge to go to the studio.”

As an abstract artist, Popova is engaged with emotions and concepts as opposed to the strictly representational.  

“This is a process of attempting to say something, to sing about the material, to dance about the material. I don’t have a particular image, but ideas and feelings, and I just start.”

Her work, from inspiration to realization, is hung in the gallery, and Popova prefers to let it speak for itself. She hesitates even to craft an artist’s statement. “I’ve been asked many times to interpret my work, but I’m reluctant to do this, especially lately. Because I firmly believe that, just like a dance or a piece of music, great art shouldn’t be expressed verbally. I don’t mind talking about it in front of an audience, but I believe my work should be recognized as meaningful — or not — by the viewer. The essence of art is something that you should be able to take and stand on a wall and the viewer should be moved — or left indifferent.”

The energy of the works is not incidental, as making them is a very physical process. Popova usually sets to without a specific starting point in mind, and the physical movement from there is part of what propels her along.

 “Bruce Johnson (a former curator at The Rooms) once mentioned I was really a dance choreographer. I regret there is no candid camera in the studio while I worked for this show,” she says, joking, “because I’ve been dancing this primordial, cosmic dance. This show is playing with those categories, the subject and the image start somewhere in there, and then keeps dancing. In a lot of the work you can see the movement of my body.”

Additionally, all this motion conveys a story. To Popova it is a kind of intrinsic, human, tale telling, of exploration and witness, that seeks “to dive deeper and see more.”

The prints vibrant hues, with even the darker tones offset by gold or lilac or azure, cast joy. “They are happy, harmonious. There is the subconscious desire to give light, warmth, food, ideas.” She quotes a favourite Italian poet, ‘“The best anybody can do at the end of the day is to know you own only what you have given away.’ Life is worth living. I don’t mean to sound cheesy. But sometimes it seems we can just give up. This is a homage to not doing that.”

Popova has many artists she returns to, appreciating their mastery and generosity and sheer and timeless freedom. Among them, always Rothko, and of course Picasso.

“And I am always recognizing, especially in my life as I am aging, that there is so much talent in the world, it’s overwhelming and beautiful, and we are so collectively creative.”

“Dreamlike” continues at The Red Ochre Gallery until April 12.

Organizations: The Rooms

Geographic location: Red Ochre

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