Anya Roz: “I’m Inspired by Art’s Ability to Blend Reality and Fantasy”

Anya Roz The Art Sprinter
Photo by Markus Reuter

New York based artist and photographer Anya Roz works in a very unique format that she calls “photographica.” A mix of photography and painting, this creative experiment grabbed attention of The Art Sprinter judges and helped Anya to become one of the Emerging Jewish Artists Awards finalists. Together with nine other talented artists from across the globe, Anya will present her photographica pieces at the One Art Space gallery on June 3, 2015. Meanwhile, in this interview for The Art Sprinter Blog Anya talks about what inspires her to create art and shares her thoughts on the creative process.

Please introduce yourself to The Art Sprinter Blog readers. What is your background in art/photography? When did you start experimenting with your camera?

Originally from Moscow, I grew up in a family of artists and, like many kids, started drawing before learning to talk (visual language as a native language, of sorts). I’ve spent years experimenting with many kinds of media—painting, graphics, collage, murals, video, graphic design—before finally picking up a camera.

Anya Roz Photographer
Photo by Daniel Lev

Do you have a formal art education? In your opinion, is education important for artists (and why)?

Yes, I did study art and design. I think education is great, but it’s mostly a matter of finding the right teacher. It’s not about the amount of information, but finding out exactly what you need to get you on the right path. For an artist there is a constant race between skill and thought; imbalance between the two is never really good. When your technique is lacking, it makes you inarticulate, but when it outruns your idea, you end up with a gimmick… I struggle with this back and forth, myself, most of the time.

How can you describe your art? What do you expect viewers to explore in your photographs?

My pictures are stories – childhood impressions of old paintings, perhaps. (Our museum in Moscow had Art History classes, so I spent a lot of time there). As a kid I was in love with Verrocchio’s David (snubbing the one by Donatello), and was mesmerized by the medieval angel’s creepy smile. Rembrandt’s Esther and his Balthazar’s feast – were all there too, among many others, it was a good museum.

A lot of stories that intrigued me turned out to be Biblical, so my fascination with Jewish history, superimposed on this childhood love, has developed into this attempt to recreate those early infatuations using the means available to me now. It’s hard for me to say what others would find in them, hopefully something of interest.

Anya Roz, Abraham and the Angels (39″ x 33″)

Which creative medium do you prefer to work with and why?

My favorite medium is somewhere between photography and painting. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with both, and I am still working out the most satisfying mixture of the two. I call it “photographica” for lack of an existing term.

What is the message that you are trying to present through your works?

Anya Roz, Judith and Holofernes (27″ x 23″)

If there is a message, or rather, a recurring thought — it’s that the world is unstable, ever changing, and unfathomable. The only constant visible to us is its perpetual cycle, measured out by our individual lives. Each is unique and valuable as a universe, but is also an echo, a mirror, a recurring theme. End of the world narratives are as old as our world for a reason – each of us in turn goes through a personal, conclusive apocalypse, each is born on the ruins of other existences.

In this ever changing reality, this pattern of coming and going, perpetual repetition of human experience, it seems the only discernible solid element is as, “a beach towel spread over shifting sands.” Stories that crystallize this repeating pattern, linking our individual experience to that of the previous generations, become global, archetypal, revered. Those stories, echoes of the distant past, interpret and even define our individual experiences – providing maps to our common subconscious.

Tanakh is a family history of sorts, describing the lives and adventures, physical and spiritual struggles of our ancient tribal ancestors. The stories themselves are often filled with details so personal they breathe with authenticity, while their archetypal nature and inherent relevance inspires to create endless interpretations.

What inspires you as an artist? Who is your favorite artist (maybe, photographer) and why? Any old masters in particular that you enjoy?

I’m inspired by art’s ability to blend reality and fantasy to bring another world into being. To be convincing, fantastic visions need realism to ground them. As far as painters go I love early Renaissance –Flemish, Dutch, some Italian… Bruegel, Cranach, van Eyck, Dirk Bouts… To me, these artists bend reality and vision in a way that makes them perfectly convincing. I love some surrealists, too. Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst’s collages (Une semaine de bonté is one of my great favorites).

Lots of other art — Faum portraits, with their spirit of perfect authenticity. Medieval Russian iconography. All kinds of tribal art – African, Mexican, Australian. But the list is very long…

What do you think about the Jewish artists movement in New York? Are there enough galleries, events, and projects working with Jewish artists?

As someone who’s preoccupied with the subject of Jewish history and art, I do appreciate an opportunity to share it with people with similar interests, and have a chance to collaborate and exchange ideas. Since becoming an active member of this community, I’ve met so many talented artists that I feel like there can always be more galleries, shows, and events for us to create, promote, and engage in.

Anya Roz, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (30″ x 27″)

According to your artist resume, you are also a fellow of COJECO BluePrint Fellowship. Please tell us more about your project and what you learned from that experience.

Мy original BluePrint fellowship project explored the relationship between family history and identity. I’ve created a series of portraits that were based on (and exhibited with) a picture of each subject’s ancestor – most often a grandparent, illuminating familial resemblances, underlying the changes added by time and cultural transformations. I’ve always been fascinated by how a photograph can establish a bridge between generations, reveal hidden connections, tell us much about those parts of our identity that are inherited from our ancestors and link us to the time beyond our personal memory.

The “tribal stories”, an ongoing series, originated in a Blueprint alumni project, as well. The project helped me to formulate an idea I was starting to work on, assemble the groundwork into what became our group’s project website, Stories from the Tanakh and a collection of artworks used to illustrate these stories throughout the lengthy and diverse history of biblical art. An artist’s approach to the Torah study, you could say, a way to familiarize with the Jewish origins of the whole fantastic history of biblical painting.

On the whole my Blueprint experience was very rewarding—starting with a modest project, it expanded and developed into a number of collaborations, projects, exhibits, and brought me in contact with whole new groups of people, establishing many connections with other creative professionals.

Anya Roz Artist New York
Photo by Daniel Lev

What is your connection to Jewish culture and art? What are some of the Jewish artists that inspire you?

It’s a funny question that I’ve struggled with before… I’m inspired by a large number of Jewish artists, but whether what appeals to me is some manifestation of Jewishness or do they just happen to belong to the same tribe, is still a mystery to me… What is the common thread between Modigliani and El Lissitzky? Not the style or subject matter, for sure. Among the unofficial Soviet artists I love (some of whom I’ve been discovering just recently), this number is entirely disproportionate: Pavel Zaltzman, Mikhail Shvartsman, Oscar Rabin, to name just a few — all very different, and is there a common thread?

A simple way to answer would be to think of someone exploring a similar subject — one such artist who comes to mind is Adi Nes, a contemporary Israeli photographer, whose Biblical series reinterprets iconic imagery and examines the subjects of Jewish and Israeli identity.

Do you find art contests helpful for the artists? What would you suggest to the artists who are thinking about participating in The Art Sprinter competition?

Sure, a contest can be a great opportunity to share your work with other professionals in your field, meet artists, and engage with a new audience. Pieces worth submitting are the ones that represent you best, those you enjoyed creating and consider worth sharing.