Ksenia Fedorchenko shows the impact of COVID on her art

Being a visual arts practitioner is often a lonely job. Ironically, the shutdown of the world due to COVID-19 has led to an explosion of exhibitions by artists who, freed from the distractions of work and social interaction, have used the pandemic to explore new avenues for their art.

Ksenia Fedorchenko is the latest to reveal the results of her blocking activities with “Roving Perception: A Plein Exhibition,” on display January 10 through February 28 at the Beaumont Art League. A free reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on January 13.

Fedorchenko is an Associate Professor of Graphics and Painting at Lamar University. Her previous solo exhibition featured prints that incorporated and reused old engraving plates. The work was certainly unconventional and avant-garde.

So it may come as a surprise to see the small oil-painted landscapes that make up her latest show. But Fedorchenko said she is returning to her roots at Connecticut’s Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, where she earned her bachelor’s degree.

“It was a very traditional program, it was all direct observation work,” she said. “There was that dirty word ‘imagination.’ We’ve always been taught that you can’t imagine something you haven’t seen or studied. We draw our images from sources that are available to us – we can’t imagine anything that is radically brand new.

“I think my graphics came from a place where I wanted more, to see what I had.”

Fedorchenko said her career has been going well for 20 years with printmaking and painting and pushing the boundaries of media and processes. Then COVID happened and she found herself teaching from home.

“(I thought) it’s the worst case of cabin fever or the best case because all of a sudden I really didn’t have my mess, you know, my work mess,” she said. “And at the same time, my whole life was in this house. So I had to get out and I had to do something.

The artist tried to walk in Cattail Marsh, but found the paths too crowded and felt uncomfortable with the lack of social distancing. He needed a place where he could sit outside his house. So, she decided to try painting again.

Fedorchenko bought a few small panels and oil paints — just a limited palette to begin with, she said.

“I went out there and sat down with a little something on my lap and drew something,” she said. “And I was present at that moment. It all kind of fell out. There was no noise. There were no people around me. Birds were singing and it was beautiful.

“At the same time, I found myself engaged. I didn’t remember how to draw and it was exciting. (It was) exciting to discover the negative forms. It was exciting to find color mixes and marks and just do it in the moment.”

“En plein air” painting, a French term for painting outdoors in nature, offers the challenges of changing light and weather, meaning that Fedorchenko has limited time for each work, unlike the measured printing process.

“I found that very refreshing,” she said. “It was a faster, more intensive way of doing work. So, I think there was also a sense of play, just immersing myself in that experience and then the experience is over.

Plein air painting has become a weekly activity, something that Fedorchenko continues after COVID.

However, the process-oriented part of her psyche has not left her. Fedorchenko experimented with different techniques and materials. She no longer uses what she calls the triple threat of chemicals — linseed oil, turpentine and dammar — after developing an allergy. Now she uses lavender oil, which smells nice, she said. It thins things differently and has a different drying speed.

Fedorchenko pauses and apologizes for the “boring answer because it’s all chemistry.” But it is important because changes in media affect how the image is produced and what the image looks like.

“Over the last few years, my paint layer has gotten thicker,” she said. “I find ways to keep my workspace open longer and make smaller decisions.”

The work also allowed Fedorchenko to develop the paintings in a way that teaching did not allow. In a drawing demonstration, she blocks out simple shapes and usually doesn’t have time to go beyond that while working individually with students.

“So it’s really the process of taking that initial intuitive, often fresh and kind of honest, sketch and turning it into something more without losing that energy, without falling apart, without second-guessing some decisions,” said she. “It was a challenge.”

Despite his previous style, Fedorchenko said he did not consciously seek to make the paintings contemporary.

“I think the goal is to capture something right from each specimen,” she said. “It’s not necessarily about realism. It’s about the process. It’s about refining edges. It’s about how textured or smooth something is. It’s about all those technical aspects of painting. I hate seeing things look like a flat painting that doesn’t really use paint, that relies on just one layer of decision making. All these things are so important to me.”

Fedorchenko said he obsessively returns to certain places, different nooks and crannies, to explore the possibilities of the image.

“I would be delighted if someone looked at my art and found a small moment of delight or surprise,” she said. “You know, sometimes you get close to a painting. You see it from a distance and it’s a certain thing, and then you get closer and you find something, whether it’s an unexpected color, an unexpected brushstroke, something like that.

Visitors to Roving Perception will discover the corners presented in a new way. A breath of fresh air, you might say.

Beaumont Art League is located at 2675 Gulf St. For more information, visit beaumontartleague.us.

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