an interview with painter iryna lialko

ancestor of heavenly pilgrims

Iryna Lialko made her first big splash in the United States a year ago, in Tennessee, where she played the role of a sand artist in a show about a girl at the Theatre, along with acrobats and horse riders. Combining Lialko’s unique creative energy, her radiant spirituality and physical beauty, the two-hour long performance told stories live on stage, created by Iryna with sand, each 3-5 minutes in length.

She quickly returned to her core metiers, creating paintings and photography, and continuing her rise; she has entered more than 50 international exhibitions and competitions, with many top prizes to her credit.

New in 2015, Iryna Lialko presents her most recent series of artworks, inspired by yoga. She also plans to offer her yoga-inspired paintings as a calendar, postcards, prints and gifts.

At first, Lialko’s new paintings are so deeply sensual that it is impossible not to be lost in the kaleidoscope of suggestive colors, textures and shapes.

As you begin to pull away from the superb, intricate, physically tangible detail which covers the body and clothing of the meditating devotee in Lyalko’s “Agni Meditation,” and your gaze shifts upwards from the undeniable, voluptuous beauty of her root chakra, fluted flows of prana (life force) compress the purely physical elements of the painting into energy whose increasingly human passions are suffused back into light only when you gaze into the woman’s expressionless features and find yourself delivered gently into her background aura and its intimations of new life.

As you move through an online gallery of her art, you want to know more about the person who imagined such dazzling new worlds. We had a wonderful conversation in which I said very little, and she was most generous and eloquent, while answering my questions, including one of my favorite subjects: painting while listening to music.

Laurence Vittes for YOGI TIMES: Iryna, I am sure In different countries people pronounce your name differently. How do you feel about it? !

Iryna Lialko: It is true. In different countries I am called differently and I feel good about it. I feel like a citizen of the world, and still comfortable in a unfamiliar countries, and with peoples of different nationalities and faiths.

Perhaps my ancestors were heavenly pilgrims: when I began to travel in 2005, roads opened to me all over the world. America is my thirties’ country; I have previously been to the countries of Asia, Europe, and the United Arab Emirates, and to some in Africa. I love ancient cultures, like the Indian and Chinese, but technology also fascinates me.

LV: Where were you born?

Iryna Lialko: I was born in the Central Ukraine city of Dnepropetrovsk, famous for its steel production with a population of one million. We lived on the eighth floor and from my window I could see distant views of the sky, the setting sun and the river, and at night, the city’s lights. I saw how the big white ships came into port, and watched them sail away over the horizon. All my childhood I wanted to see what was there, beyond the horizon. I wondered what sorts of countries and adventures lay there, what kinds of ships and where they went? All the seas and oceans, I imagined, and so I grew up and, as soon as possible, went beyond the horizon.

As a young girl, during Soviet times, I spent summers in the country with my grandmother who lived in a house with lots of flowers and trees. A river was nearby and I use to run there with bands of kids. It was like the life you see in the Petrykivsky folk art style that is popular in Ukraine with its sunny, bright colors and joyful energies.

Both my parents were engineers. They always treated me as an adult, always valued my opinion. Even more, they always told me that it was valuable not only to have but to express my own opinion, and this instruction to a serious young girl in her early childhood took hold.

I was always asked my opinion about movies, books, plays. My father was a true intellectual: he liked complicated, sophisticated movies about human relationships, French, black-and-white, Fellini, and Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. My mom was the opposite type; she liked nature, and soft, gentle things.

LV: Where did you get your creative DNA?

Iryna Lialko: My family was not acquainted with Art. I did not hear or understand this word until I saw the paintings on the stamps my mother collected, which included paintings by Kiprensky, Bryullov and Repin, and also birds and flowers, and horses; she had several albums of them.

At the same time I also began noticing the paintings on my grandmother’s wall; they were in the Lubok style, sweet and folk like. My grandfather was a master woodcarver, and I loved the sounds and motions he made while carving elaborate scrolls.

My first experience with professional art world was unhappy, however; it took place when I was 11 or 12, and my father took me to a famous art teacher who quickly concluded that I had no talent, and that furthermore, I had a character that was impossible to train or teach.

My parents did not give up. They saw that I had talent-or at least an unusual mind-and tried to put me in an art school. But I was not accepted there either.

It took three months for my father to convince them. Then I quickly became the top student in the school and won first place in my first international art exhibition in Europe, for my Ex Libris bookplates.

After that, I tried to enter an art college and again my first experience was a rejection. Then, when I was accepted, I was asked to pay, but all the teachers wrote the administration asking to transfer me into the top free program because I was so talented, and I was transferred.

Because I didn’t “know anything” about Art, compare to kids from art backgrounds and professors’ families, I listened attentively and absorbed everything with my eyes, ears and even skin. I blossomed from absorbing all these ideas, and still maintained my inner, pure vision.

LV: What influenced your choice of the Art Academy in Kiev?

Iryna Lialko: It was a good classical education for artists. The best Art Academy in Ukraine. I also worked on bookmaking by hand, and restoration.

LV: When did you decide to become a “pure artist”?

Iryna Lialko: I woke up one day when I was 16 and discovered a new abstract style which became my art language. And while I know I am often a vessel for external energies, I also have my own ideas which combine in a half-conscious, half intuitive crucible of creation.

LV: When did your art become involved with yoga?

Iryna Lialko: About 10 years ago in Kiev when I was at the Art Academy, I enrolled in a good yoga center where each session was two to three hours long, very active, very intense. Besides doing Hatha yoga, during which I felt like I was burning up inside, my teachers taught the theories of what channels work in yoga’s Asanas. I also have read famous books about yoga, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Ayurveda and Integral Yoga. I have always been interested in self-knowledge and inner development, and use yoga as a good tool for inner change.

After yoga classes, when we did the Shavasana posture where you lie flat and rest, that’s when I started seeing images and pictures behind my closed eyes; they were very elaborative sometimes, like paintings.

It was then that I started painting those visions, what I call my astral visions, and which sometimes looked like strange cities. When I began traveling I realized that many of the places I had seen in my visions were real. One of those first yoga-based paintings was of the blue Buddha in lotus posture, describing the moment when you’re not moving and not thinking, but finding the way inside, the way to yourself.

LV: Why blue?

Iryna Lialko: Colors are so important to me, and occur spontaneously in my visions. When I went to Asia recently I saw the blue medicinal Buddha everywhere; but when I had first used that blue I didn’t know. My blue Buddha [“Indigo Meditation”70cm x 50cm, paper, acrylic. 2009], for example, was painted in Kiev long time ago. There are other colors and temperatures in my paintings.

My “Agni Meditation” [160cm x 140cm, canvas, oil, gold. 2015], of course, which is a different meditation, is devoted to the Sanskrit concept of flame and fire. When I painted this, it was like a conversation, or meditation, on the theme of Agni yoga, and then colors spontaneously appeared: reds, oranges, and shapes like flames. It was a period in my life when I needed to burn the past and rebuild my faith in myself, my hope, my future.

My “Mystical Lunar Dance” [152cm x120cm, canvas, oil, 2015] was influenced by American nature, the abundance of blossoming flowers; I was contemplating my womanhood, and my development as a woman. The core nature of a woman is more plastic, more feminine, and her energy, in my case, is changing with age. 

LV: I have to ask you my favorite question: Do you listen to music while painting?

Iryna Lialko: I always paint listening to music. Anything but pop. I like interesting music, modern tunes with vocals and tempo and lyrical at the same time, with a touch of the East-like Buddha bar playlists. Music is more than just sound, music has color, flavor and taste. I might tell friends and CD sellers I’d like something with a little tartness, rough and warm, with cinnamon and coriander, or something with a bit of lime-people understand me.

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