Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Jelalluddin Mewlana Rumi.

I was born in Lviv, Ukraine. I graduated Lviv Musical College and Lviv National University- English Language and Literature Department.

I started painting in 2004 as a vocation. My first exhibition took place in 2007. In 2018 I changed my name into Sofiia Kulchytska due to personal reasons and under this name I created solo project Ultramarine Skies. But in 2020 I returned my name Natalia Bartkiv.

My paintings are in private collections of Ukraine, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, Canada, the Usa and Spain.

Interview for Art House magazine
Julia Pahomova

Natalia Bartkiv is a bright artist, whose spheres of creativity and preferences include painting, music, philosophy and philology.

Her painting is characterized by a bright recognizable style that combines the features of naive, expressionism, “accessible symbolism” and intimacy.

The color palette is bright but harmonious. The composition is a still frame that captures the ideal world and, following the example of folk art, shows a life full of celebration and pleasure. The first thing to feel in the image of the interior or still life is the moment, “here and now”. When we see an open window, carelessly thrown things on the couch, or trifles on the chest of drawers.

Each landscape, according to the artist herself, is an “inner landscape”, filled with peace and happiness, light and joy, the harmony that each of us tries to find in himself. These paintings pulsate with energy; every inch of the picture is alive. Such an effect can be achieved by applying several layers of paint, especially with thin brushes.

The desire for harmony and perfection is a natural human desire, and although we can condemn redundancy of the material world, it is one of the manifestations of the search for our inner paradise.

The deep symbolism of the paintings is combined with ease of perception, thanks to the artist’s erudition. Thus, working on a series of works, Natalia explored the cultures and mythologies of the peoples of the world, identifying certain common archetypes. One such symbol is the cult of the tree and the concept of paradise.

The artist embodied these findings in the following iconic series of works: “Sweet Escape” (2013), “Everlasting Garden” and “Sea Unlimited” (2017). In total, Natalia has more than 30 solo and group exhibitions.

In March of this year in the “Tu_Es” gallery in Lviv, the next exhibition of N. Bartkiv “Return to Paradise” took place, where the works of the previous series were presented.

During the opening we managed to talk to Natalia about her artistic path, travels and inspiration…

How did this switchover from music to painting take place?

While studying in the 4th course of the music college, I met a girl whose father was an artist at the M. Zankovetskaya Theater. Then I saw an easel for the first time and heard the smell of oil paints. But it is impossible to say that I did not see painting until I was 18, because I visited museums and galleries wherever I went, because painting always impressed me. At that time, it was already, in fact, physical contact with painting, and I felt that it was mine. These first works were drawn at a time of active music lessons, because I had eight hours of classes a day, and even more. It was a moment of preparation for the state exams, and I was drawing at that moment! I passed the exams perfectly, and it so happened that I did not go further in this. I completely forgot about drawing to such an extent that when I met my group mate when I was already drawing in 2004, I told her that I had started drawing, and she told me: “You were already sitting drawing roosters and flowers while we were all taught pedagogy and drilled a piano!” Then I really found one of my first works among the notes…

Does music inspire you to paint?…

My painting is not about the image of the outside world; it is the inner landscape of the soul. So music is not paramount, because of those images – I already have them. I came to this world with them. Of course, music is in every person, even folk songs that we have “in the firmware”, whether we want it or not. The cultural layer in which a person reflects the musical taste affects all spheres of life. I believe that music is such a great blessing that is given to a person.

How did your Lviv artistic environment perceive your works, since your style did not fit into the tradition of the “Lviv school” of painting? …

My first exhibition at “Green Couch” was called “Two Palettes”, where I was paired with a professional artist. Of course, I was a little nervous, because an exhibition is when you do something, expose it to daylight, expose yourself metaphorically, and yes, you have to be ready for anything. Art critic and collector Andriy Dorosh came to the opening of the exhibition. All artists were afraid of him because he was always very direct and frank. The main essence of his speech was that “Lviv art needs to come here and learn.” It was very powerful. The teachers of the academy came to the exhibition, brought their students to show something fresh, and new. Of course, to be the leitmotif from professional artists always sounds like “… you’re happy that you didn’t go through this meat grinder, that you have your fresh strong vision, it’s your blessing”…

I don’t think that I missed an art education at all, because I have a musical education behind me, and that is harmony, polyphony, and analysis of great musical forms. Plus, visiting all the most prominent museums and galleries in the world, such as the Prado Museum, where I was three times, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, where I went as soon as I arrived (it has just opened behind it). There is a powerful collection of all the achievements of mankind, a very interesting exposition, which is a combination of cultures: paganism and Christianity, Islam with Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. These are all different facets of the same thing.

There is a lot of symbolism in your works, but historically, symbolism is not easy to perceive as a style…

There is probably my mission as an artist because my background is quite powerful: music, philosophy, psychology, and philology (seven foreign languages, and these are seven matrices of other cultures, because, learning the language of another people, is impossible not to dive into its culture, otherwise you just will not learn it). Therefore, all this powerful cultural mass makes it possible to draw even a simple picture with an open door so that a person does not pass by, but stops and freezes because there is something close. My mission is to convey the full power of the symbols of our culture with simple images that reach the soul of every viewer. Although, of course, there are signs of the outside world that are clear to everyone. For example, the beach, open or closed doors, ladder, key, still life, but in fact, it is all a reflection of the inner landscape.

For many artists, the year of quarantine was very special…

Now, during the quarantine, I made 4-5 paintings, but it is very little. Painting is a complex art. It is easy to perceive, but when done it is very time-consuming because you can copy the top layer, but there are more other things. The inner world of the artist and what stands behind him. It is not copied… This year I set up the piano, and I play every day again. I renew my knowledge.

During the pandemic, everyone was faced with the issue of isolation, and then try to search for a certain inner comfort, their little paradise, and this is another powerful symbol of your creativity…

Yes, it is a place where the soul lives, not the body or social norms. It is a sacred place that everyone has inside. There is neither happiness nor peace in the outside world. Therefore, those people who have an inner sense of peace, prosperity, and happiness, will be well anywhere on the planet, and others will gather around them, because it is felt, and you want to be near such people.

Therefore, with my paintings, I want to reach everyone and show that we have this paradise in us. While working on the “Everlasting Garden”, I explored the mythology, the concept of paradise, the trees of paradise. It is written in the Torah that God did not expel people from paradise, he expelled paradise from people’s souls, and therefore people go around the world and look for this place outside, but they do not look there… This is my philosophy as an artist and as a person. This is the layer on which our civilization rests, no matter how proud we are of modern art or space travel. Trees exist in the primary mythologies of all peoples, Scandinavians, and Slavs in which animals and people live.

Some works are depicting specific places. For example, in 2018 I painted several paintings: “Bosphorus Bridge”, which I presented to the Islamic Center in Lviv, or Villa “Shahrezada”, which is in Dubrovnik. The painting “The Great Venetian Laundry” was at the exhibition “Home Where You Are”, this exhibition was visited by the British Ambassador to Ukraine, because I was giving the painting to a charity auction. He looked at my Venice and said, “I don’t know if it’s Venice or Manchester….”

That is, it is an internal state that can be externally reflected in someplace, but it is more comprehensive. There are no boundaries for it.

Please tell us more about the works from this exhibition…

The “Everlasting Garden” appeared in 2016. First, the “Tree of Life” was born. It was a pomegranate tree on a dark background. Then, my friend-ceramist Olga Pylnyk made an exhibition, there were trees, and she called it “Fruits of knowledge of good and evil”. It was her interpretation of heavenly trees, and then I also wanted to make an exhibition on the theme of the eternal garden.

In preparing this exhibition, I explored the images and myths of trees in different cultures. For example, in the Evenks culture, the tree of life looks like a ladder, and the Slavs always depicted bluebirds next to the tree of life or in its hollow, and the sun always rises. The very word “paradise” from Persian, means “place behind the wall.” I was in Dubai and saw the walls, the villas, behind which bloom paradise gardens with roses.

This picture, “The Place Behind the Wall”, turned out to be very symbolic. We don’t really know if we get to heaven, because the conditions that are set do not seem very real if you want to be a person and not a saint. Therefore, life is that in front of the wall, all life is where we are. And what’s behind the wall? There are some symbolic palm trees, but it is not known what is there. This is a daily picture, that is, during the day it looks like this, but you can put a ladder and climb into this eternal garden at night and enjoy these fruits of pleasure, so a pair to this picture is “Ladder to the sky.”

There was an orange wedding tree at that exhibition. I drew another orange tree, but this time it is honey because after the wedding there is a honeymoon. There are small bees painted, they can only be seen up close. This painting was in Abu Dhabi at an exhibition at the Ukrainian embassy, ​​it hung just under the portrait of Taras Shevchenko. One Muslim said that tulips are a symbol of Allah, that the shape of a tulip flower resembles the word “Allah” in Arabic, that is, this picture was close even to them.

The picture “Spring. Hope”, from the cycle of 4 works “Seasons”. There was also “Winter. Faith” because in winter you need to have faith that everything will be fine. There is an interesting story with it. The picture was ready, and in the corner of the picture I did not know what to draw, there was no animal that would fit there. It was at that moment when I just bought tickets to Istanbul and walked in Gulhane Park, admired the tulips and saw a stork! This is it. I had to fly to Istanbul to complete this picture! Everything happens for a reason …

Painting “Wedding” from the exhibition “Sea Unlimited”.  There is a wedding ritual of land and sea in spring, in all coastal cultures. At that period bouquets of flowers are let into the sea. Fruits, dance, and sing are everywhere. People light bonfires so that the sea was kind to them, gave them a lot of fish, and did not take away their husbands.

There was a time when I really wanted to go to Cyprus, but I looked at my budget and realized that I was missing. But the desire was so strong that I decided to draw that dawn for myself, and after three times in Cyprus, I found this place in the picture (it was painted in 2015, and in 2018 I was invited to Greece, to Corinth on the plein air).

The painting “When the Earth and the Make Love” symbolizes the unity of water, heaven, and earth, and the church is a spirituality, which, in fact, unites the earth and the sky, unites our earthly nature with the heavenly. The theme of the ladder to the sky does not leave me, and although the ladder is in the picture. It means that there should always be a way out.

In general, I realized that art gives protection and resistance. It connects the lower world with the higher, without the lower there will be no higher in reality. The one who thinks that the heavenly is good and the earthly is not is an illusion. The heavenly does not exist without the earthly, everything is united.