One of the famed artists that refer to Los Angeles, California as “home” is Zhenya Gershman. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Gershman experienced envious success at the young age of 14, when she had her first solo exhibition in St. Petersburg. Today she is the creator of dozens of portraits; she uses oil and canvas to uniquely interpret the presence and nuance of that which she adores. From the XII Apostles to Bruce Springsteen, her bold and uninhibited use of color and stroke strike a chord in even the most staid of observers. Her latest show, Larger Than Life features portraits of up to 7 feet; portraits which have been inspired from the outside in—from photograph to paint vs. from the living model to canvas. This method is a continuation, albeit reversal, of her family tradition which started over a hundred years ago when her great grandfather boldly presented cutting-edge photography—life sized. Where he pioneered the capturing of the human spirit and delicate moments via a photograph, Gershman takes the photograph and presents its essence and presence in stunning portraiture.
The Larger Than Life collection includes multi-faceted studies of celebrity faces, public figure countenances and visages of her intimate family and friends. In commenting upon her work she shares the varying emotional dimensions of capturing the faces of those with whom she shares no marked sentiment, contrasted to the influence that inherent intimacy has upon her work. Gershman interestingly points out that different parts of the painter’s brain are energized when the artist is objective (there is no personal connection) as compared to when they have a subjective experience of the person.
In some ways the dynamically immense portraits resemble sculpture; Gershman used huge brushes, sponges, squeegees as well as palette knives to create her art. The Art Career Project was fortunate enough to speak with Ms. Gershman and learn more about her fascinating creations.
Did you choose art as a career or did art choose you?
It happened naturally; it was not a “choice”. I was born as an artist at the age of 10. I remember the day, the hour, the moment. It was when I made my first conscious work of art to express the deep feelings that had no other way of manifesting. It was a profound non-verbal experience that changed my art and life forever. Upon reflecting on my scribble – my mother called me an artist, and I realized that my path was clear to me.
Please tell us about your childhood. Did you come from an artistic family?
I was born into a loving family. My grandfather was an extremely respected poet and song writer. He wrote the world famous song Moscow Nights. Our family was surrounded by art, artists, music, film, great conversations and always delicious food! I thought that was normal and that everyone thinks of art as part of your everyday necessity!
When did you begin your artistic pursuits?
I worked every day since age 10 – always creating. My first solo exhibition was at age 14. It was an important experience that shaped the way I think about the process of being an art professional. There are these extreme phases that an artist goes through, from being a hermit in the isolation of the studio, to the public exposure of exhibiting the work. One must be prepared, art path has no middle ground – rather the extremes of introvert and extravert states of being. A contradiction that makes sense.
What inspires you?
PEOPLE – US, ME, YOU are my inspiration. Who we are, where are we from, and where we are going. An artwork is part of the living experience for me – it is not a passive object. It participates in the conversations and insists on being heard and listened to.
Please tell me about your educational journey.
I began with a mentorship by two famous academic Russian artists Orest Vereisky and Leonid Saiphertis. There were at least 65 years difference in our age. These two impressive artists took real love and care of my art and direction as an artist – always supportive and minimal in their criticism. They helped hone my inner voice as an independent artist. Later I pursued my undergraduate degree at Otis Art Institute and my graduate studies at Art Center College of Design.
What would you consider your greatest challenges?
I was from another country (born in Russia) – with a different set of aesthetic and cultural values. Our visions often clashed with the mainstream ideology of Art Schools. But there were always exceptions – brilliant professors who could see out of the box and supported my individual voice.
What is special or rewarding about working in your field?
EVERYTHING. Once you are an artist all areas of your life are creative – it is never boring.
What would you change about this specialty to make it better?
Please – have art supplies be affordable. Keep in mind that artists rarely make big bucks!
Oh, and why do most art dealers treat artists as inferior beings? Time to let artists dictate the art world; not the other way around.
What one thing do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your career?
No regrets. No “I wish I could have done that.” And mostly – live to the times when art matters again – the way water is integral to our survival.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Never compromise your artistic vision – it’s all you’ve got. If you give away your authenticity what’s left?
If you would like to learn more about a career as an artist, then read our article How to Become a Painter.