Artist Alla Broeksmit Q&A
Where were you born?
My roots are in Kiev in the Ukraine. I grew up with art. My maternal grandparents had a few lovely pieces that had a huge influence on me, some of which my family still has.
I have a landscape that shows a hillside in the fall in an Eastern European country. It’s painted on very rough canvas, almost sackcloth, but it’s very painterly with huge brushstrokes and great colour sense: muted terracottas, mauves, blues and greens, which still appeal to me as a colourist.
There was also a portrait of my grandparents painted from photographs that I loved but my grandmother disliked as she felt it too close to the original, capturing one moment in time, rather than a whole life up to that moment. I still have the photo but the painting has been lost. I saw the painting differently as I found the composition, rendered ably in paint, so telling: my grandfather, a powerful figure, was looking at the wife with whom he was enchanted and she, in turn, was looking at the photographer and, therefore, the viewer.
Many years later, as part of a project at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, I incorporated an image of my grandfather into my imaginative composition. Painting his image helped me explore my roots and overcome the separation from my country and my family that occurred when I emigrated to the US.
Outside of my grandparents’ window in Kiev in the Ukraine I remember seeing one of several old churches that were closed by the Soviet regime. When the doors opened for storage deliveries, I would sneak in and lose myself in the vibrant ceiling, wall and altar frescos of iconic religious scenes. The dramatic onion dome architecture felt like something from a fairytale, outside recognisable time and space. I still have that feeling of timelessness and transcendence when I encounter pieces of artwork that captivate me – or when I lose myself painting in my studio.
How did you come to live in New York?
When I first arrived in the US I lived in Chicago but moved to the New York area after I married. For many years I ran my own Interior Design company based in Short Hills, New Jersey. My background in interior design, and my association with art institutions, allowed me to develop an artistic eye. I always incorporated art into my designs. It’s where I really developed my sense of composition and colour. From that grew a desire to construct my own art forms and explore my instinct to create.
How did you become involved with art institutions?
I studied interior design in New York at Parsons School of Design and art history, and modern art history in particular, at Christie’s, as well as connoisseurship and the history of the art market. This appreciation of art informed my decision to get involved with art institutions to support the contemporary arts both in New York and London.
What triggered your wish to become a figurative artist?
Coming to London and seeing contemporary British art – particularly the work of one of the greatest contemporary figurative painters Francis Bacon at the Tate in 2008, as well as the portraits of Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud, at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012, inspired my interest in painting figurative art. As I was already associated with the Royal Academy, I began life drawing there and then took a formal Portraiture Diploma and the Post Diploma at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, where members of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and Walter Sickert trained.
What is it that most interests you about painting people?
My technical training in figurative art has allowed me to produce compositions that are present, immediate and impactful. I love to experiment with the texture of oil paint in capturing the fleshiness of faces and nudes. I focus on capturing human figures to communicate layers of experience – both my own relating to my history and my artistic education – and that of my sitter.
Do you also enjoy drawing them?
I have studied life drawing and believe it is essential to map out one’s work.
As you were born in Russia, lived in New York as your family were growing up and now live in London, which art culture do you think most influences your own art?
I am a mix of all these cultures and fuse their influences in my art.
How are you involved in the greater artworld?
I am dedicated to art and have made it my life’s work. My studio practice consumes growing amounts of my time. I am an aficionado of art, reading art periodicals, visiting exhibitions worldwide, speaking with curators and conversing with different artists.