In the studio with Anastasya Martynova

To kick off the new section ‘In the Studio’, I visited an artist who specialises in wood carving and gilding, Anastasya Martynova. I’d been looking for a London-based artist to interview for a while, and specifically for a painter since this is the medium I use. But when I found Anastasya’s Instagram profile, even though it was not paintings, I was, like, “this is it”. I immediately fell in love with her work and even though I had zero clue about wood carving or gilding, I knew that I had to learn more about her.

Anastasya Martynova in her studio at Peckham Levels

Anastasya Martynova’ studio is at Peckham Levels, a shared space for creative people and small businesses. If you haven’t been there I highly recommend it. I went on a Sunday afternoon when no one was around and it still had a very strong community feeling.

This was my first interview ever, so I was a bit nervous, but Anastasya is so calm and welcoming that I immediately felt comfortable in her studio. As soon as I walked in I inhaled the sweet smell of a burning, scented candle. A set of gilded glass samples stood against the window, looking over pine trees and a row of bricked-roof houses.

View from Anastasya Martynova's studio

With a background in set design for film and TV I wondered how she got into the rare crafts of wood carving and gilding.

‘I was searching for something without realising it and the opportunity manifested itself in the form of a course that was introduced to me by a friend, someone I hadn’t seen for years. He showed me a few pictures of his woodcarving work on his phone and I was like “what is this?” This is like travelling back in time. Everyone works on a computer these days and it’s all about graphics and interior design and I’ve not seen this before. I didn’t even realise that sort of thing existed in London. It was so exciting, I was like, god, I have to see for myself what they do over there… And of course I went. ‘

Anastasya then met the Head of Carving at City & Guilds of London Art School, to show examples of her work, and next thing, she was enrolled on the next semester to do wood carving, with a course on gilding.

‘I like the idea that I’m doing something that’s being passed down and I’m keeping an endangered craft alive.’

Anastasya Martynova and wood carving tools
Anastasya Martynova’s wood carving tools
Gold gilding leaves
Loose gold leaf booklet

What drew me to Anastasya’s work was her aesthetics, but it was becoming obvious that her work was only part of a universe.

‘My environment is really important to me. Whether it’s my work environment, my home environment, or wherever I am. I think it really can change the way you feel, and respond to the world. That’s why I’m interested in creating things for interiors, whether it’s commercial, residential or even my own, because I can genuinely sense that it changes your mood. […] I’m interested in how a multisensory environment can affect people’s moods, that’s why I like the scented candles and plants’.

And an environment she does create, as she runs three businesses! In addition to gilding and wood carving, she collaborates on interior design projects and also works with a company called Museea with her brother, an exhibition design and curation studio in Barcelona.

If you check out Anastasya’s Instagram page you will see that her current artwork uses patterns, which reminded me of Islamic art, yet she is not using that same kind of planning ahead of her work.

‘I am really interested in geometry, both its use historically in religions such as Islam but also in nature. But I don’t really want to do too much research into that, I don’t want to just replicate tiled patterns from those sort of historic references. The way I approach this, I almost want to have no mind when I’m doing it. I just start in the middle of the panel and the pattern almost magically appears before me. In the beginning I thought I’m going to plan this out, but it didn’t feel as authentic. It wasn’t about me thinking, oh this is going to be a really good one, people are going to love this – it just needs to happen, and I can’t think about it. And this is what makes it really playful and fun to do. I start with either an octagon, or a hexagon. So pretty much most of these shapes start with one or the other in the middle, and I think this is what creates this balance, because you can’t necessarily see it, but it makes the structure.’

On a wooden working surface lay one of her patterned, blue and gold pieces, that I recognised so well from her Instagram profile. Looking at it, I got a meditative sense of calm and beauty.

She explained to me how she started working on it:

‘I had a vision of what I understood to be what the Creator, or God, or higher power to look like, and for me it was surprising that it was geometric and was shown to me in infinite blackness.

She referred to the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as an example of what her vision looked like.

Image from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

‘It was an infinite blackness, I couldn’t see where it ended or began and it was colossal, I couldn’t see the top of it and because it was so dark I couldn’t see how far out it went. The colours were very clear, they were these very dark navies, dark blues, and it was made of many different geometric shapes. They were highlighted with accents of gold, so the way the light hit it highlighted the shape, so I could kind of make out what I was looking at.

Initially, I was overwhelmed by this thing, I didn’t really want to see it, and since I’ve come back to it, I’ve seen it several times now, but then I left that idea for a while… one day I just thought I have to recreate this. But what’s weird is that at the time when I saw it, I also got a message that it’s infinite and it’s perfect and you’re human, so you’re not capable of recreating perfection. So for me it’s ridiculous that you would even try… So it’s about the impossibility of perfection, it has taught me a lot about that because it was something that was plaguing me before. It’s also definitely sort of a meditation, so the main thing with it is that I try to create a sense of calm.

Also what I find really interesting about working with gold leaf is the way it interacts with the space, so in the daytime it has a delicate quality and reflects light and in the evening it has a warm glow that is very comforting…

I thought I had to put mother of pearl in the middle, and afterwards I read about that and the symbolism of it and actually how it’s supposed to bring you clarity and it’s associated with water and all these things and somehow it ties together even more and makes sense with the message. So I think we use such a small part of our brain and the only way I can explain it is that I sort of tap into another part of my subconscious that there are things that make sense but I’m not aware of.’

I always want to know if artists have tips to share, because life is so much about failing and learning and I feel that we can develop so much through collaboration and learning from other people. Here is Anastasya’s tip for artists:

‘I find it very helpful to honestly sit down with yourself and say at what points of the day am I most productive? When am I feeling inspired? And actually when I did that I had certain times in the day that I am particularly creative. And I really get into a flow and there’s other times that I’m distracted, and I can’t focus and I make any kind of excuse to do anything other than that. Basically say to yourself, what would my ideal day look like, and write that down, and then what would my ideal week look like, and write that down, and then as part of that question what are the hours I want to work, and I think even though it’s not directly a technical question I think it’s sort of a sanity question because it’s easy especially if you’re working on your own to just be like, I’ve forgotten to eat, I’ve forgotten to drink I’ve just got to lock myself in my studio and torture myself into the result, and I really don’t believe that at all anymore. I think that’s a really unhelpful way of working and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist or you work in an office or whatever, it’s honestly knowing when that time is. What it made me realise is that, actually if I’m that productive in such a short space of time, because I tried it… and I got everything done in half a day, so I had the rest of the time to go and inspire myself, to see friends, because that is very important as well, you can’t just lock yourself in and squeeze out a result.’

In addition to her current artwork Anastasya has two big projects coming up this year, she is producing large scale installations for an exhibition about the Arctic and climate change in Sweden, and a project that she can’t reveal much about yet but it will involve these 3D printed models and public sculptures. She is also working on a large scale commercial commission, creating intricate gilded screens, a commissioned collection of her “Shape of God Series” for a cruiseliner and hopes to open a design studio in Barcelona with her brother this year.

Finally, Anastasya’s priority is to plant trees, as a way of giving back to the materials that she uses for her art. She works with a company that plants a tree everytime you make a sell. More information will be available on her website soon.

Visit Anastasya’s website
Visit Anastasya’s Instagram

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