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Is it the intense colors or the larger than life forms that catch my eye? Is it the light in the sky, or the simple intimacy of her work that draws me?
I am referring to the bold and beautiful artwork of Margarita Sikorskaia. I keep coming across her images and have to pause each time that I do. The first Sikorskaia painting I saw was of a dark-haired woman in a large, dark blue shawl holding her four children close. The mother exudes a sense of strength as she protects and cares for her children with both confidence and compassion.
The next painting I discovered features another large mother in a light blue dress huddled over her infant, she is either breastfeeding or cuddling her baby. In either case, this mother seems to be deeply engrossed with her babe.
These, and most of Sikorskaia’s paintings, are set outdoors under bright skies and arid landscapes. Sikorskaia was born in Russia and has lived in Minnesota since she was 22, yet the colors in her paintings reflect the classic color combinations of southwestern desert paintings of vast sunsets and stunning rock formations. Perhaps it is the intensity of emotion that links her paintings to these incredible expressions of nature.
After seeing these two images, I was curious about what else Sikorskaia had to offer. Finding her online gallery, I found more intimate moments between mothers and babies, tender times between fathers and children and passionate moments between lovers. Her work is so large in structure and form, yet so intimate in emotion. Sikorskaia’s work really began to speak to me. So I decided that I needed to speak to her.
March 4, 2014 I had the privilege of interviewing Sikorskaia. We talked about her work, her birth, the birth of her son and her thoughts on nature.
I first asked Sikorskaia about the major themes of her work. I had a long list of anticipated answers prepared, she gave me one word, Love. The love her images portray extend to herself, her friends, her family and to nature. “With giving birth, my priorities changed,” she said, “What seemed to be so important became unimportant. What was unimportant became important, such as a connection to the earth, to each other, to love.”
“I put on the canvas what I am feeling.” continued Sikorskaia. She explained that once she had given birth she had to begin making sense of who she was both as a mother and wife, but also as the woman she was before giving birth. Her intimate images between lovers depict these feelings. “After I had a child, I had a desire to remind myself of (my) body independent of a child.” She said this helped her get her sexuality back, a struggle many couples experience when a new baby arrives on the scene.
In her paintings Sikorskaia addresses not only the changes she experienced in motherhood, but also the changes she saw in the men around her. Of her paintings of big men holding small babies, Sikorskaia said she wanted to capture the emotion she saw in men’s faces as they would pass around her baby. “'I am a strong man holding this precious thing in my arms'...it transforms a macho man into a protector and a magical creature,” said Sikorskaia.
As her son’s birth brought Sikorskaia plenty of inspiration for her work, I asked for her son’s birth story. Her son was born on March 8th, internationally known as Women’s Day, after an 11 hour labor. She was at a birth center and had wanted to give birth in the water, “but I was so relaxed that my labor stopped, and so I got out.” She was told to lie down but explained that it was so uncomfortable she had to get up. Sikorskaia said that after several hours of labor, she was worried her midwife and birth team would want to interfere. “But they were so patient and there was nothing to worry about. And I was so thankful for that” she said. In her final reflections of her son’s birth, Sikorskaia said, “actually gravity helps. I tell everyone I know to use gravity to assist.”
I asked Sikorskaia if her Russian heritage had any impact on her attitudes towards birth. Like everything else, “Russian birth is changing rapidly,” she said. But Sikorskaia followed that comment with, “One-hundred percent, I am a Russian birth mom. Labor is just a part of life you go through. You just sit down or lay down and have a baby. I delivered on all fours." The story of her own birth carries the same casual tone. She explained that her parents had guests over and when they left her mother began to tidy up as she realized it was time to have the baby. Sikorkaia’s mother and father then walked to the birth center, which Sikorskaia made clear to distinguish was separate from the hospital in Russia. As men weren’t welcome in birth rooms at that time, Sikorskaia’s father walked home and was notified that his daughter had been born by the time he got there.
While both birth stories took place indoors, Sikorskaia said she tries to keep her characters in a natural environment, “where they belong.” She explained that the human experience often leaves us feeling disconnected. But being in nature helps us feel connected and allows us to be in the moment. “I like the beauty of the vastness (of nature), you can be the only figure and not feel lonely,” she said. Sikorskaia continued by explaining that when her outdoor characters are "embracing, kissing, holding,” they display “love and affection, being in the moment, a sense of peace.”
Sikorskaia’s work has certainly raptured me and transports me to those very particular moments that make up the beauty of a mother’s experience. Although the emotions she has expressed are frozen in time by oil pastels, Sikorskaia’s paintings have still more stories to tell. “When people look at my paintings and tell me what they see, I really like what they see,” said Sikorskia,“and it expands the painting. If they put their own story on it, it makes the painting bigger.”
Take a moment to browse Sikorskaia’s work, what stories can you tell to make her paintings bigger? Please share.