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Student Spotlight: Apolloniya Vlasova

Friday 23 December 2016
Words Spindle

Originally from Russia, Apolloniya Vlasova is currently studying History of Art at Edinburgh College of Art. In addition to her studies, she creates beautiful, intricate ink drawings, and practices photography. She works in monochrome for both forms, and leans towards street photography when she picks up the camera, capturing the cities she visits and the people she observes with great insight. Although she works across these two different mediums, they are unified by her use of black and white, and both have a distinctive style that feels specific to her. We caught up with Apolloniya to discuss her studies, her artwork, and how she plans to develop it.

What made you want to study History of Art at Edinburgh College of Art?

Having grown up in a household of art dealers and artists, I have always subconsciously known that my life is going to be connected to art in one way or another. My parents own a gallery in Moscow, which exposed me to the art world since early childhood and made art dealing and art appreciation a substantial part of my education. In high school, I considered many careers, including that of a neuroscientist and an architect, but eventually settled for Art History as something that, as we say in Russia, I feel like “a fish in water” with, and as something where I can express all of my abilities.

Art History is an incredibly complex subject that can take any form depending on one’s interests – it has a purely academic implementation, a practical art dealing one, and an artistic and materially creative one, which is what attracted me a lot when choosing a subject. Concerning the choice of a university, the University of Edinburgh has always been on my list as one of the best educational institutions in terms of its research capability and the excellence of lecturers and tutors, as well as its Art History programme that allows a wide range of fields for study.

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As an artist, you create both ink drawings and photographs. Why both, and what do you like about each?

For me, black and white photography and ink drawings are very similar forms in their technical nature. They both focus on shape, composition, and often light and shadow. The grey colour scheme lets one explore these aspects in more detail and has a different effect on the viewer, too. When I was just beginning photography, I often switched between the coloured and the black and white version of a picture to see the difference it made, and I always noticed how the features of a person’s face pop out when you lose the colour. Both ink drawing and photography attract me because of the opportunities to explore and trace shape and light in the frame of a composition.

Why do you choose to practice street photography? What draws you to the form?

Street photography intrigues me with its spontaneity. You never know what shot you will see in a minute – people’s expressions change and new subjects appear. You can walk around a city for hours without a good shot, and then out of nowhere appears an incredibly photogenic old man or a child. That element of intrigue keeps you involved in the ‘game.’ It’s almost like gambling. And capturing facial expressions and poses without the subject posing specifically for your picture is a whole amazing art in itself because you have to react quickly and build the shot immediately before it changes. It is just very exciting.

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How did you develop your skill and style at drawing?

To be absolutely honest, about three years ago I was hanging out with my friend in a drawing studio at our school while she was finishing a project. I got bored so I decided to draw a cup that I was drinking from, and that is how it all started. I never really studied drawing or developed certain skills academically – I just tried and did what felt right. I have always been interested in architecture for its structural beauty and aesthetic, which is why I kept drawing over and over until I developed a certain style that felt most natural to my hand. I am now practising the same ink and quill technique with portraits and nude life drawings.

Where do you look for inspiration, and what or who inspires you?

I am mostly inspired by the historical or natural aesthetic of a city or a place. I am usually enchanted by old architecture and one could say ‘vintage’ looking people, and I try to capture them on paper or camera. There is something almost comforting for me in sitting in a cosy, retro style cafe and sketching the building across the street, or walking around a small island in Greece and photographing people preparing for a traditional church celebration. The aesthetic of the older generations really touches me in a certain way.

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Is there a photo or drawing that you’re most proud of?

The answer to that would be that there are both. Although a lot of us don’t admit it, what artist does not have a preference for some of their works? My favourite photograph is ‘Bohemian Moment.’ I took it in Oxford the other summer, across the street, right before a busy line of traffic blocked the view of the other side, which made me feel quite adventurous. The subject of the photograph seems interesting to me – the expression, the posture, and the personality makes the viewer want to study them. My preferred drawing is that of the Old College. It is one of my latest ink drawings, and despite my often impatient nature with art, I have managed to give detail to it without speeding the process up and making it inaccurate.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently experimenting with nude life drawings in different techniques, including ink, charcoal, and graphite, and well as continuing practising architectural drawing and some photography. I have been recently inspired by Durer’s prints and now I am preparing several life model ink drawings for an exhibition.

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Where would you like your art to take you?

Physically, I would like my art to take me all over the world, as from personal experience I know how diverse and uniquely gorgeous people and architecture can be in different countries. Even in different regions of a country – as I found while travelling across Spain – facial expressions can vary a lot. In terms of inspiration and development, I hope to develop several techniques to more or less perfection. My current concern is printmaking and detailed ink drawing, as well as more dramatic street portrait photography. I expect to continue practising those, and perhaps they will direct me towards new means and subject matter.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt as a student?

Frankly, I do not remember a time I was not a student. Even during vacations and schooI, I was always learning something through experience and practice. But in recent years, I think the most valuable thing I have derived from the student experience is the balance between hard work and rest, and the understanding of what is important and what is not so much. When I attended a boarding high school in the US, I used to go back to Europe for ballets and exhibitions. My counsellor considered it a waste of school hours, but I saw it as a rich life experience, After all, without all the museums I have visited and places I have been to, I would not have the same outlook I have now. Thus, by balancing studies and the rest of my life, I have learned to prioritise and to consider a situation from multiple perspectives.

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Do you have a dream project for the future?

I do not have a certain dream project, but I do have aspirations for the future. I would like to develop a free and close to impressionist technique and style, aside from my traditional one. I intend to attempt creating more abstract pieces in drawing, and going deeper into portraiture in photography – perhaps exploring new angles and compositions, hopefully in new countries or cities.

View more of Apolloniya’s work at: apolloniyavgallery.wordpress.com.