Maria Kanevskaya is a Russian-born photographer still very much in her youth, specifically twenty-six years old, and only a year into her career as a professional artist. She currently resides in Oakland, CA, and recently got a TV, so she doesn’t have to play Monopoly all the time.
We, Wee Children
It was a Thursday afternoon, right at the precipice of slanting light. It’s a time when color and hue are saturated, and every side is a good side. Strangers and movement become poetic and slow with shadow silhouette. Downtown Oakland was in brief dance.
I met Maria outside her home studio. She took me through the winding corridors of her building, until we finally got to her personal space.
It was intimate, minimal furniture, but the pieces seemed to be alive. Alive with history, nostalgia, texture, tone, smell, and in all sense sensory memory. It was as if every object in the apartment was a worry stone, riddled with exhaust emotion and decorated signs of use.
Props from Maria’s sets were scattered in the space.
“There’s a story,” she began, “I don’t know if there’s a translation in English, but I remember from my childhood…a story, a man, he wasn’t a prince, just a poor guy, he would play a flute and rats would follow him…I got these mice from the Halloween store, I dyed them in white because I thought I would decorate.” But, like many of the things Maria buys from party supply stores, they eventually became part of, if not the inspiration for, her shoot. After the fake mice, “we got live mice too, I thought (the model) would play the flute and they would follow her… but mice aren’t that cool. They were so jumpy and stinky.”
I asked about her process, both in concept and technical craftsmanship.
“I do a sketch, it looks terrible…the bees, this was the sketch for it”
She continued, “I found the bees at a toy store. I’m just going to get them and see what we can come up with.” We is a collective reference to her and her declared partner-in-crime Nicole, a professional make-up artist and an imperative part of her artist-cohort. “I’m so lucky (to have them), extremely blessed, I don’t know how it happened.” “So, yeah, I drew a sketch and talked with (Nicole)…she was like, I don’t know what (the concept) is, but I’ll do whatever you want…”
Maria paused, adjusted her hands, and spoke louder, “We are like children, we want to play all the time. I’m 26, but I feel like I’m 15.”
It became clearer and clearer, as I talked with Maria, that her artistic process was about finding and happening. It was once considered that genius was exterior to the self, in Latin roots, genius (verb form: gigno, genui, genitus) was tied to guiding spirits and tutelary deities. Creativity would, sort of, descend via epiphany onto a person. Inspiration was a ghostly given. I have no doubt that Maria Kanevskaya’s talent comes from within, but because she is, self-described as new and awkward, ideas, images, concepts consistently surprise her. For her, she is just beginning to speak with passion.
“Sometimes I look at my pictures and I can’t believe I created them.” “For my self portrait, I was alone at home. I had this beautiful dress…I took three shots.” “The subject was more about the rose and the photo. It was the first flower my fiancé, boyfriend at the time, gave me. He found that photo in a thrift store…on the back was George, his name is also George…it was mystical.” “Things were so fast, in the beginning, with him. I wasn’t using my head…(you should always) follow your heart and the objects around you.”
Even when she first moved to the United States, Maria decisively followed in an effort to understand herself and others. “I didn’t know English before, I decided for myself not to hang out with Russians, only Americans and Internationals.” “Before I would just nod and say yes, I got into a lot of troubles, a lot of adventures because of that. Like that movie with Jim Carrey, Yes Man.”
Again, her art is inspired by the act of impromptu, finding, whimsy, and reflection. She literally lives, because of her home studio, with her art, pre and post-processing.
“I try to shoot a new concept every week, (though)…I never take my camera anywhere, I never take any pictures outside, I’m too stressed and confused.” Maria’s portraiture is inherently immersive and intimate because she sits, stews, and carefully sleeps on her ideas and then personally builds the sets for her shoots.
It isn’t all calculated though. She recounted, “we were shooting the photo for the boat, and they were doing makeup, but I was like, “can we stop for a second, I need to glue these butterflies,” then I took two shots and there.”
When I asked her the typical question of how her style was evolving, she said, “…seeing work around me, I get inspired to create something different. Maybe it’s getting more wild…I would like to illustrate books though.” “It’s all personal,” she said, and from her resolve I can only imagine that it will continue to be personal, private, and strictly hers, even if she does expand into a wider sea, whatever sea that may be.
Interview and Photography by Britt Goh
Maria’s Opening Reception at CROWN NINE will be held FRIDAY, March 1st from 6-9pm. DJ, Food, and YOUTH BUILD will be present for an inspiring evening.