Artist profile: an interview with Toma Stenko

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Represented by Katrine Levin Galleries, Toma Stenko’s exhibition, How Love Feels, is an examination of love from the female perspective.

Before taking the exhibition online, the exhibition had a full and exciting week at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, 1-5 Flitcroft Street, in central London.

View the exhibition catalogue here.

See a short film about the artist by the renowned Georgian filmmaker, Irakli Kvirikadze here.

Is this your first exhibition in London? Can you tell us about some of your other exhibitions?

I am happy that my first solo exhibition as a painter took place in London. It is a special blessing for me! If we draw an imaginary line from the venue selected by Katrine Levin Galleries, then in exactly 235 metres we will arrive at St. Martin’s Academy. I crossed the threshold of St. Martin’s many years ago, to study fashion design, and this historic place and its people shaped my life ever since. For me, the exhibition is also a return to St. Martin’s, a place that constantly inspires and nurtures me. And whether I’m doing fashion design, directing documentaries, or painting, St. Martin’s is the root of my creativity!

What does your exhibition, An examination of love from the female perspective, seek to achieve? If this is a societal or even emotional commentary, can it be universally understood/engaged with (i.e. both by females and males)?

This is first and foremost a search for form, line, different angles. Love is so multifaceted, that one can talk about it endlessly or one can say everything by silence. My aim wasn’t to highlight specifically the female perspective. For me, love does not have a gender, there are only feelings and these are the notes that I try to play in my art. 

The notion of love is usually portrayed as a happy emotion. In your art, you seem to portray a range of emotions. Can you take us through some of your unusual works in this exhibition that perhaps portray a different side of love?
I am always interested in the characters in my work, their tension, thoughts, interaction. I would very much like to say that love is always happiness but it isn’t so. It is only through overcoming, and sometimes through pain, that we find what is most dear to us, or at least inch our way closer to it. Love is contradictory, all encompassing. It is a rainbow, dew, whispers, fear, jealousy, and again love.

Your art work embodies a sense of cubism – or as the catalogue describes it, ‘Picassomania’. Is this how you would describe your work? Have the Cubists always been an influence on your style?

My love for Picasso can be compared with ball lightning! It changes you forever. I bow before his lines, colours, his endless search of self in painting, graphics, love … a man who was not afraid to take risks. I think taking true risks is one of the most important things in art and something that we lack now.

Is there a particular artwork of yours that is your favorite? If so, why?

At the moment, it’s “Through” which for me is about the power of interaction, how we connect, change, and overlap with the outlines of each other’s lives. But my favourites change depending on the phases of my work and what I’m focused on exploring.

If your art had a nationality what would it be?

When I am painting, I do not think of nationality, I want to overcome boundaries and nationalities. I love to wander the world and soak in its aromas and colours … Although when I look at my works, I see characters from my childhood. I guess no matter where I travel, these characters jump out of me of their own accord, whenever and wherever they like.

If art is a window to the soul, what would your art say about you?

It seems to me that artworks expose you, take off your clothes, masks, conventions. You become naked. This is not a comfortable feeling, there is nowhere to hide, you remain yourself. What would my art say about me? That I am less interested in the external world like specific facial features, the colour of the eyes, the shape of the lips; I am focused on the internal world.

What are your thoughts on the intersection of art and fashion? Where do you draw the line between the two?

This question tormented me when I was studying at St. Martin’s, it was a painful search. I constantly wanted to move away from silhouettes, to examine different shapes. It was like running a race where you need to stop just as you begin to accelerate. When I was studying with Louise Wilson she explained my torment very simply, saying with a smile that “fashion is not art, it’s business; but to do it, you have to be an artist.” She recommended that I paint; she liked my sketches and loved my colours. She said that I was searching in fashion design for something that was not part of it but that in painting I would find it in abundance.

Toma Stenko’s exhbition can be viewed virtually here: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/482633/

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