(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, September 3, 2011)
Sveta Dorosheva‘s fantastical art could be to a brilliant dream collaboration among noted artists, for whom the goal is a visionary book of enchanted tales. Imagine an artistic hybrid comprised of the intricately-lined illustrations of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, the luxurious art deco magnificence of Romain de Tirtoff (Erté) fashion plates, and the beautiful-on-the-verge-of-grotesque visages drawn by the enigmatic Alastair .
But! In this imaginary scenario, the artists realize there is something… some je ne sais quois… missing from their efforts. They entice illustrator Sveta Dorosheva to join their endeavors: she flits in, and with a mischievous smile and a gleam of amusement in her eye, announces “yes, yes, this is all very beautiful… but let’s make it FUN!” Although comparisons to the above-mentioned artists may be obvious upon first glance, the sense of enchantment, whimsy, and joyful wit present in Dorosheva’s work ensures that one not only appreciates they are gazing upon something technically pleasing or beautifully rendered; one also genuinely delights –and even emotionally invests– in the engaging imagery as well.
Though born in Ukraine, Sveta Dorosheva currently resides in Israel with her husband and two sons. She has worked as as an interpreter, copywriter, designer (be certain to peek at her Incredible Hats or Fashionista portfolios!), art director and creative director in advertising, and is currently pursuing her lifelong dream of academic training in art. Dorosheva recently spoke with us about her lifelong love of fairy tales, and her inspired, imaginative new project, The Nenuphar Book, which will be published in Russia this autumn. See below for her illuminating ruminations and a gallery selection of her extraordinary illustrations.
Your work is clearly heavily influenced by fairy tales, fables, folklore, mythology – what are some of your favorites in this vein? Certainly you have some beloved stories from your childhood and I would love to hear about that… but I imagine in researches for illustrations and so forth you have developed a fondness for some more obscure or interesting new tales along the way?
Sveta Dorosheva: You are right. I AM heavily influenced by fairy tales and mythology. Even in adulthood I am most fascinated with things magical, mysterious and fantastic: medieval emblemata and bestiaries, weird and kooky sciences, antique circus, eccentric personalities, odd books and creatures, etc.
When a child I had very weak health and spent a lot of time in bed covered with mustard leaves or cupping-glasses. Dad read me a lot of fairy tales. As an immediate result, I was the best storyteller in the yard and kinder garden. Nannies loved me. They would put me in front of other kids to retell scary fairy tales (I loved them scary, the didactic tales I would just forget – they were ‘nuisance wisdom’) and attend to their own business for a couple of hours.
Those were mostly Russian fairy tales, but later in life I read all there were to read (before the Internet was available where I come from) and even my thesis research was dedicated to world fairy tales and mythology (I studied languages and world literature).
I feel lost when trying to pick specific tales as my favorites (you know, thesis and all that knowledge…), I wish I knew less of and about them, so that the choice wouldn’t be so distressing. But actually fairy tales of all nations have both a magical, wonderful and a scary, uncanny side. Sometimes monstrous – well, before civilized societies started to adapt them for children (which I personally regret). Before television and such, fairy tales were an entertainment for both kids and adults. They are just captivating stories about things eternal, with plots polished to perfection by centuries and centuries or story-telling. Most successful modern Hollywood blockbusters like “fifth element” and such have the structure of a classic fairy tale, only valorous knight is substituted with no less valorous bruce willis, evil dragon – with evil mr. shadow, beautiful princess with beautiful leeloo, etc…
I guess Russian fairy tales are the strongest influence from childhood, but I don’t mean that in the ‘sarafan&kokoshnik’ sense:) I mean they were full of wonderful and scary things, events and creatures, and that influenced my picture of the world for life. I remember that when a kid I took all of it for granted – evil stepmothers that wanted to eat their stepsons’ hearts and brains because he who eats them, would become king and spit golden coins…talking wolves and fire birds, immortal skeletons, frogs and birds throwing their skins and feathers off and turning into beautiful ladies, dead water that puts the pieces of a hero chopped by treacherous brothers together, and live water that then makes this frankenstein body come to life, witches with poison pins that turn people to stones… none of them were ‘terrible’ or ‘wonderful’ – they were just part of a fascinating plot. I guess childish perception is different from adult – it does not divide things into monstrous and beautiful. It just absorbs it all without labels, taking it all for granted.
I remember my three-year-old son seeing a dead bird in the street once in December. He insisted that we go and see its metamorphoses every day. I felt rather ill at ease, but he was INTERESTED, because he did not KNOW it was ‘disgusting’… To him bird-turning-to-a-skeleton or frog-turning-to-a-prince is the same type of natural metamorphosis that makes the world tick and such an interesting place to observe, there’s no good or bad, there’s just infinite variety and wonder. And that’s the thing about fairy tales. They booster imagination through metaphor when one is still open-minded, with no moral or social blinkers on (very useful, very reasonable blinkers, but still limiting).
Your book to be published this fall- ‘The Nenuphar Book’ – is described as “… a book about people and human world, as seen through the eyes of fairy-tale creatures. They don’t generally believe in people, but some have traveled to our world and have collected evidence and observations about people in this book.” Can you tell us more about this upcoming work and the observations contained within?
The Nenuphar book is a compilation of drawings, letters, stories, diaries and other stuff about people, written and drawn by fairies, elves, gnomes and other fairy personalities. Generally, fairy creatures do not believe in people – they just scare their small ones by humans (‘If you don’t eat well, a MAN will come and grab you!”) But some of them have traveled to the human world in various mysterious ways and this book is supposed to 1) prove to other gnomes, fairies, elves, giants, witches etc that people do exist; and 2) collect observations and impressions about human nature and world.
In short, the Nenuphar Book is about people and human world as seen through the eyes of fairy tale creatures. Their observations may be perplexing, funny and sometimes absurd, but they all present a surprised look at the things that we, people, take for granted. Draft excerpts can be seen here – https://www.behance.net/gallery/The-Nenuphar-Book/970281
Imagine looking at our world through the eyes of an alien from outer space – it’s the same thing. How do you explain money? love? language? work? dance? music? cities? people’s everyday behavior? poetry? clothes? anatomy? books? Imagine someone who does not know anything about this world. How do you explain people talking to small boxes at their ears and then seriously stating they have talked to someone they know and informed them of something? They are talking to spirits! How do you explain a box on the wall in every home, that shows little animated copies of people fighting, crying, laughing, singing, throwing cakes and bombs around… and most importantly – how do you explain the people watching those little devils all the time and even making them do what they want by pressing a small rectangular amulet in their hand? Why do people say things like “my heart is singing” when they seriously think their heart is made of flesh and blood and some strange tubes of something? Well, people are strange.
Or, where do people come from? It is quite shocking, but it turns out that big people come from small people. In other words, all people were once 20 time smaller and completely different both in appearance, manner, character and world outlook! People are shape-shifters, that is obvious. That is why they have ‘passports’ – it’s a special little book with pictures of various creatures that a man has turned into, so that he can remember that that smooth elf-like long-haired and wide-eyed creature and this big bold grumpy ogre are the same person… Okay, big people come from small people through a series of metamorphoses. But where do small people come from? Evidently they cannot come from sex, as people themselves state, because this is plain stupid. In the first place, none of the fairy creatures have seen this sex (well, it could be that people are hiding, but then they extol sex as the highest pleasure and crown of love, so why hide something so remarkable? no sense whatsoever, must be a lie.). And in the second, well this is really absurd – let’s say, two people are bumping each other with their stomachs and moaning, shouting and otherwise going crazy because of that, okay… When exactly does a small person appear during this performance? Does he just jump from under the bed or something?
To fairy creatures people are great magicians – they make gnome metals fly in the sky and move on the ground with a magical potion called ‘fuel’. They create personal suns on the ceilings of their homes and make them shine with a tap on the wall in a special place. They call it electricity, but no one can really explain how this ‘electricity’ works without consulting a magic grimoire “Physics, Grade 7”.
But it’s not all funny. Some pieces of the book are poetic and serious, depends on the author (each chapter is written by a different creature). For example, there is a chapter about poets in the ‘Language’ section of the book. Fact is, the world is written in many languages: hidden and obvious messages are everywhere – encoded on flower petals, fish scales and feather patterns, in cloud forms in the sky, on wings of beetles and dragonflies, in the heart of a cut strawberry, everywhere… Fairies communicate in the language of flowers, perfume and dance; gnomes – in the language of stones and gems, etc. People use the language of words and mostly neglect all other languages the world is written in. And this gets them into a lot of trouble, because despite all those myriads words people have invented, they still fail to understand each other very often. But there are exclusions. For example, people have interpreters from other languages, who translate the beauty of the world into words: poets.
Or, say, people in love are another exclusion – they are very bad in the language of words. To them words are bewitched. They talk in awkward silences, incidental touches, turned away glances – they talk with their mouth shut with beckoning secrets.
What an absolutely fascinating concept! How did you dream this idea up and what sort of ideals and philosophies were you hoping to leave the reader with? This certainly seems an engaging and charming way to tackle the complexities of us human creatures, with all of our amazing qualities as well as our not-always-very lovely behaviors and actions.
I was hoping to entertain them in the first place. A different angle is always amusing. If lucky, I want to leave them with the feeling of ‘what a surprising world we are living in, it’s full of wonder’. Isn’t it?
As for how I came up with the idea… Initially I worked on a completely different book – a book of fairies. It was intended as an activity book for kids – one fairy per day all year round. Today ‘the dandelion fairy’, tomorrow ‘fairy of freckles’, etc. And it was turning out quite lovely, but I was beginning to run out of ideas for fairies and activities and the project slowed down. Some time passed and I decided to pick up with it. I leafed back through my scrapbook with quick ideas and drawings and found a year-old line saying “maybe this fairy should keep a journal of her observations about people’s world”. And it suddenly struck me as a completely independent and very promising idea. I couldn’t believe I wrote it down a year ago and never noticed it’s huge… So, to my regret, I upset my publisher and quit that activity fairy book and wrote a new one in a couple weeks.
It went smooth and fast and overflowing with more and more ideas for everyday things, that would look surprising to a ‘newcomer’. Well, writing was smooth. Illustrating it took three years. It’s HEAVILY illustrated. I still can ‘t leave it alone. I hope the book finally gets published this fall and we part as friends:)