My grandpa, Vilya, worked as an engineer in the Soviet Space Program, but he didn’t know how to fry an egg. I found this out when I was five years old, and hungry. We were traveling on our own, without the women who fried our eggs and made our world go round. We had just let ourselves into a tiny little apartment in Leningrad, belonging to an old school friend of my grandparents. Inside was a comfortably cookie-cutter version of every other Soviet apartment. Daylight pouring in through lace curtains, crowded bookshelves, a china cabinet full of shiny little figurines and intricate China, an unused ashtray on the coffee table. In that room there was also an old couch where my grandpa and I would sleep for weeks, foot to foot.
Why were we on this adventure together, you ask? Well, a nuclear reactor had exploded about 100 kilometers from our home in Kiev, and my family was doing all they could to keep me safe from the fallout.
I would spend months bouncing around the Soviet Union, each of my relatives taking all their vacation time one by one to travel with me. We would visit many crowded, lace-curtained apartments and meet many kind old friends who would serve us tea and toast and smoked fish.
"Waltz with Lemons" Colored Pencil on Paper
My memories of this time are full of playgrounds and museums and wonder. How the sun never set in Lithuania, the colors of the Red Square in Moscow, the fountains around Leningrad. I have thought about that time a lot this year. I was blissfully unaware of the suffering, pain, loss and fear all around me, or of the very reason for all this adventure. But what must it have been like for my family?
I’m not saying that Covid is just like Chernobyl, but there are some obvious parallels. Like the years following the explosion, this year has been full of loss and anxiety and fear. People have lost loved ones, lost their health, and lost their livelihoods. Children are going months on end without playmates, or without learning in a proper school, stuck indoors with their stressed out parents, or even worse, alone if their parents are working on the front lines.
"Morning" Colored Pencil on Paper
But, you know how sometimes experiences can feel totally different in the moment than how we remember them? For example exercise (or childbirth!) -- miserable while you’re in the middle of it, but when it’s over you remember it fondly.
How will we remember the Covid era?
"Reflection" Graphite on Paper
This year has taught me to slow down. Despite the marathon of managing distance learning for my exhausted children, the chaos of sharing a workspace with my husband, the pain of missing my family across the country, and most of all of not being able to say goodbye to my grandpa, Lev, I have learned to savor moments of quiet reflection and appreciation. The question is, how do you paint those moments in your memory? The Intimate Moments Collection has been my way of answering that question. In this series of pieces, I chose to paint the memories in rich, vibrant colors, in delicate shades and tones, and in tiny little pencil marks.
"Blue Period" Colored Pencil & Watercolor
Learning to focus and control attention is a constant challenge, but also a gift. I have learned to appreciate the strange time warp pace of this year, and to notice seemingly mundane experiences in a much more profound way: tea with lemon in a delicate Russian cup, the softness of my comforter on a lazy fall morning, the way my six year old laughs so hard that she makes no sound, the many shades of flowers in my neighborhood, the sound a colored pencil makes as it scratches the paper.
Gratitude does not come easily to me. To be grateful for something, you first have to admit you have it, and if you have it, you’re opening up the possibility of losing it. This collection is a meditation on gratitude. The Intimate Moments Collection has taught me to work slower, and that you don’t have to know where you’re going when you start out. Like 2020, it was made one detailed instant at a time, and only later, when I hung it all on the wall and stepped back, could I see the big picture.
The Intimate Moments Collection opens to the public on December 4! If you want access 24 hours early on December 3, make sure to hop on The Collector's List.