Kukula

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Lonely Opulent Things

Nataly Abramovitch, aka Kukula, makes extremely delicate and gorgeous paintings in a classical multi-cultural heritage style. In tune with her obsession for dolls, her playful ultra feminine characters look super hot, cute and girly Lolita-like. Next to this, she has a wide range of interests and tries to divide her time between her passions.

Nataly was born in a relatively isolated and small village about an hour north of Tel Aviv. Her few neighbors were mostly retirees, many of them Holocaust survivors. As a result her childhood imagination was nourished by equal parts princess phantasies and World War II horror stories. Thus the attempt to reconcile real life horror with phantasy life sweetness emerges as an almost constant theme in her work.

At the age of eighteen, instead of enlisting in the army as she was supposed to, Nataly decided to study art in America. In her own words this was "because the army wouldn't let her bring her dolls along to basic training". After receiving her degree in illustration in 2003, she decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area, and currently she is still based there in Berkeley.

Under the artist name Kukula, she has held many successful exhibitions, and her paintings have been highly respected and sought for by many.

Her paintings center on feminine, doll-like figures, often surrounded by objects with sometimes clear, sometimes obscure symbolic meaning. In her figures' poses Kukula recalls classical portraiture, yet the style is manifestly modern and pop-influenced. Next to that, her artworks disclose her personal struggles as mediated by a rich multi-cultural heritage.

Interview: Alexander Moust

In this edition we have the honor to see some of your new paintings that haven't been shown yet but will at your coming solo exposition in the Corey Helford Gallery in L.A. It's quite a different style, also absolutely gorgeous and beautiful: so where did this inspiration come from?

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I was inspired by 19th-century Americana, especially a children's aesthetic as it appears in Mark Twain's adventure stories or the nostalgic illustrations of Holly Hobbie, which were popular in the 70's. But the main noticeable thing is that all my girls are dressed in Ulyana Sergeenko's recent designs. She's an upcoming couture fashion designer and I think the stories she tells through her collection work perfectly with my concept for this show.

For quite some time you had a passion to publish a book, you are a collector of antique books and a fan of Goethe. How is this process going along?

It's going well but I had to take a break from it for this show. In the meantime we've decided to have a little show catalog and later to include this new work in the book. I'm happy we're doing that.

When you were a girl you fantasized about being a princes in a world where grown ups were filled with cruelties of the WO11. Did those stories turn you into a princess and how were you inspired by them?

That is an interesting way to look at it but this is not exactly right. I was a very unpopular kid and so had to play alone a lot, which is why I took the part of the princess for myself. There was no one else to fight with me about it. I was very much into ballet and opera as a kid so that inspired my sense of drama. All my neighbors were Holocaust survivors and as a kid with no friends I hung out with them in my afternoons. At about the age of 5 my mom explained to me the horrors of WWII and so I had a strange mix of reality in my head.

Apparently you're inspired by the 18th century, Manga and you love fashion which has an amazing result in your paintings. Does every girl in your paintings also contain something of yourself? Are these emotions or experiences?

Some people think I paint myself. I don't think so, but it must be a little true. I sometimes paint my girls inspired by actual girls. For this show, for example, I painted Mira Duma and Lena Perminova. I found their sense of style inspiring.My work does reflect an emotion more than a story. But I think there's also a story in every painting I make.

Where does the name Kukula comes from?

From a TV show I liked as a little kid about cute tiny elves who live in the forest. There was a little baby elf that was very opinionated and her name was Kukula and she was my favorite.

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You use quite a lot of symbols, keys, octopuses and other things in your paintings. Can you tell a bit more about that?

I use these symbols in the same way I'd use a word in a sentence to convey a certain meaning. My work is a form of communication with the viewer as well as a form of self-expression. The symbols are my language.

What materials do you use and when or by what do you get energy to paint?

I paint with oils, mostly Sennelier or Gamblin. I paint on fiber board because I like its texture and canvas is boring. To fuel myself I drink a lot of green tea and eat chocolate and berries.

Do you remember what your first paintings were like and how you felt making them?

Yes, I was about three and I painted a little house on a paper plate in kindergarten.

I have noticed that for those who have survived the holocaust or have lived with people who have survived wars, things such as art, drugs, sex and opulence in various forms became (and often still are) an escape from reality. A way out and a safe haven from the traumas they still carry inside. For many the war has never ended in their dreams and daily life. Would you care to elaborate on these topics in relation to your private life, dreams and work?

This is an interesting question. As a person who's obsessed with the subject of the Holocaust, I always wondered how it is that I'm also so obsessed with materialistic things—the world of beautiful objects—and I realized that's because I believe I have a right, as a living person, to indulge.

It seems to me somehow disrespectful to deny yourself pleasure when your freedom can be taken away from you at any time. If you have the opportunity for a good life you should live it. But at the same time I think it's only okay to indulge if it doesn't come at the expense of others.

How has your work and techniques developed over the years and do you feel they have reached a stage where they can start to move in another direction?

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I think I have my specific style which I developed and I am still developing so that I can have a clear voice people notice. I think my work will continue to change without my noticing as it has until now. It's my own artistic evolution.

What does it mean to you to be an established artist and have you tried to express yourself in other art forms like performance, music or dance?Do they influence you much?

When I was in high school I played piano, sang in a choir and took drama classes. I liked it all and knew that one day I'd have to choose. The one thing I didn't take was art class. I guess it wasn't at the level I needed. After high school I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer but got scared by the people I met at the entrance exams for fashion school so I decided to study illustration instead. It was the easy choice in some way.

What is the most outstanding remark anyone has ever made about your work?

People have told me many times that my work has a lot of soul in it and I think this is the best compliment I could get.

Do you have muses, like men or woman that you feel close to whose lives have been elementary in developing your personal style?

I'm inspired by the idea of being a woman who is attached to her inner child and by being a woman in general. I think it comes through in my work.

And: have you ever been to Amsterdam?

I was once in Amsterdam between flights for eight freezing hours and I loved every minute of it. I went to the sex museum and the Rijksmuseum and just walked around a lot. I can do a lot in eight hours if I'm motivated. I have this idea in my head that the Netherlands got it right about a lot of things that are wrong in the world. I would love to explore it more.

Any chance you're coming this direction in the near future?

Why not! I would love to show in Amsterdam one day.


 

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