On an unseasonably hot April afternoon I sat with Yulia Pustoshkina on her balcony in Berowra Heights. You could see and smell the smoke rising from controlled burns being conducted in Berowra Vallery National Park. It is within this landscape, which permeates through sound, smell and vision, that Pustoshkina has been able to develop her particular style of folkloric surrealism, bridging the styles of her upbringing and artistic training with her place on the edge of the Australia bush.
“Probably the biggest inspiration is my background, which is Russian background, and so I'm painting since when I was born,” said Pustoshkina. The faces of the animals that make up most of the subjects of her paintings have within them a lifelike quality, a sense of personality more apparent than in her human figures, which often play supporting roles. Being in constant contact with animals, both wild and domesticated, gives Pustoshkina her creative inspiration for these animals.
“I'm here now so here I meet new animals, I have wallabies coming in the back yard and the neighbours are feeding them with carrots. They're so cute standing with the carrot eating it. Birds, I always liked parrots. So I paint what I see.”
However, Pustoshkina’s works are by no means just life-like representations of flora and fauna. Her surrealist angle is also always present, both in the composition of the works and the vivid colours which characterize her oeuvre. Giving these creatures a personality further takes Putoshkina’s works away from landscape or representational paintings.
“I assume that animals are like us,” muses Pustoshkina. “Like people they experience feelings, emotions and they talk. I talk to my own dogs and they actually understand me and reply, I mean they don't reply, but I see it in their eyes.”
While Pustoshkina’s has retained the influence of her training within the Russian Palekh and Loubok schools of art, she has also incorporated figures that give her work a uniqueness.
“You see distinctly Russian animals like a winter forest hare, or squirrels, and I'm mixing them up with Australian animals and birds. You can see a mix of international animals and I think it's good. It's a bit confusing but that's what makes people actually stop and look.”
In her upcoming solo show at m2 gallery in Surry Hills, Pustoshkina is also engaging with the relationships between animals and the nations or regions they represent, however not in any conventional way. Pustoshkina has devised a series for this show that places animals in settings with different types of tea, a global commodity and a drink consumed around the world.
“So the idea behind it, because I like tea, in Russia everybody drinks tea and people drink tea from all around the world and I thought I'll make a collection that's featuring every type of tea so when people come to this exhibition they will find the one they like.”
Here meerkats drink English Breakfast tea from fine china with a distinctive red background, while possums are surrounded by floral chamomile buds. Playing with common assumptions and associations is a characteristic part of Pustoshkina’s work, and one that is brought to bear in this latest collection.
Pustoshkina herself has not had the most traditional of artistic trajectories. Immigrating to Australia in 2001, it would be ten years before Pustoshkina would pick up the tools of her trade again.
“I was doing little bits and pieces at home just for myself, like crafty but nothing like big and serious,” reflected Pustoshkina. “It's only from 2010 that I started painting, it probably took me ten years to assimilate. It was not always easy.”
Connecting the place of her birth and her adopted home has not always had the seamless symbiosis that we see in Pustoshkina’s paintings. Pustoshkina has had to rely on her memories from Russia for her artistic work but, as she notes, “what's happening here now is a totally different thing because when you're born in a different country, it's like a totally different world. It feels like I'm leading two different lives.”
Perhaps this transplantation has contributed to Pustoshkina’s penchant for the surreal, which has often been used to bridge the seemingly foreign world of the imagination and reality.
However, the combination of folklore and surrealism has been a successful one for Pustoshkina. Her works have been exhibited in Sydney and New York and received critical acclaim. The upcoming show will be her second solo show and builds on the ongoing relationships she has developed with her audience.
“So it's not like one person bought it and forgets me. I notice they're coming back. I have many clients who already have four or five pieces which is good because since they like it they keep on making up the collection.”
Imagine as if …, Pustoshkina’s solo show, opens on April 26 at m2 Gallery and runs until May 1. You can find more information and a gallery of Pustoshkina’s work here https://www.evilrabbitart.com/