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Wandering Through Yevgeniya Mikhailik’s World

Imagine if you could create a place – a physical place that is vast and varied but reflects your specific sensibilities and interests – it grows, moves and evolves, just as you do. This place incorporates your fascinations, favorite colors, and treacherous physical and emotional challenges that only you could imagine for it. Irvine-based artist Yevgeniya Mikhailik has been creating places with stories through her artwork for some time, but starting on February 2, in her largest solo exhibition to date, she has above and beyond, creating an entire landscape that is her own and yet, is also for everyone. This place, covered with peach and sand mountains and dark caves to explore, reflects the mental and physical shifts in Mikhailik’s life. Mikhailik is welcoming the public to come and visit this place while it is on view at Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana through April 14, 2019.

A full-time artist and part-time instructor at California State University, Long Beach, Mikhailik creates abstract and hypnotic works of art that bend time and space while they play with concepts of location, scale and emotion. Many of her works drift in and out of abstraction and realistic representation, incorporating tidbits of familiarity and nostalgia while finding new landscapes and geological foundations to explore and unfurl for her viewers. Her studio, in the historic Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana, is covered with doodles and found objects of her adventures locally and abroad. As she prepared for “A Slow Conflict,” we were able to visit with her and take a peek at her process and work for her solo exhibition. The show is a significant event for Mikhailik, as she used to work at Grand Central Art Center, from 2006 to 2014. This year also marks the 20th anniversary for Grand Central Art Center, which adds to the excitement and emotional significance of the event.

The visual fascination with space and place comes from her decorated travel records. Originally from Tomsk, Russia, Mikhailik and her family emigrated to the United States through a citizenship lottery back when she was 13 years old. A now outdated practice, the United States would invite different populations into the country for citizenship when things seemed unbalanced across cultures in our little melting pot of a country. The U.S. Embassy would put a call out for a chance to move to America, in a lottery. Additionally, many of her family members, including her parents and brother, are architects, which has instilled a constant interest and familiarity with the idea of designing a sense of place and not just stumbling upon it.

Mikhailik has, in turn, been quite enamored with studying maps as a visual language, how they transform a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional visual description. Today, her fine art often touches on our emotional and physical relationships with place, with home and with the natural world. Having moved around quite a bit as a young person, Mikhailik’s interest in the search for her own space and a sense of home can be seen in her exploration of created homes and fictional places. Because of her familial relationship to architecture and studying three-dimensional landscapes and expression of said landscapes in two-dimensional form, it is not surprising that she is enchanted with maps as well. She incorporates visual components of maps into her fine art, but incorporates them into a realistic looking created place made by Mikhailik that may also have intriguing geological details and growths that seem otherworldly. Her creations are often imbued with a sense of familiarity, utilizing analogous or complementary color schemes, realistic natural wonders and idyllic physical elements to draw viewers in and give them a feeling of déjà vu or nostalgia.

With a background in illustration, and an affection for experimenting with media, there are large and small areas that seem to go off on visual tangents in her work, showing viewers her fondness for drawing with a variety of materials and painting with her instincts guiding her. With meticulous details of tiny homes climbing the sides of a peach-colored mountain or with tiny stilts holding up over-sized geological formations, she always finds a way to incorporate the human imprint in her landscapes.

“A Slow Conflict,” her new exhibition at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, is a kind of exploratory study of parallel challenges for the Earth and for us as humans. Our own development as humans is slow-going and can only be truly dissected, studied and understood from afar, often looking back on time after it’s passed. The Earth similarly moves too slowly to study and see clearly in real time. We must step back and observe from afar, speeding up time to see patterns and reactions. By drawing parallels between geological events and personal-scale changes as experienced by humans, “A Slow Conflict” evokes empathy toward the evolving natural world in the same way we empathize with each other. Through Mikhailik’s drawing and painting, we can study the natural forces of this planet and attempt to understand its processes, and in turn, observe the ways in which our involvement in and disruption of our world has a lasting effect.

The main massive installation and title piece is a fictitious place, but fully developed with details incorporated to allow viewers to understand its development, evolution and the effects of human intervention. Other smaller works are scattered throughout the gallery as well, occupying a human scale, allowing viewers to have a more intimate and personal experience with each piece. Although each artwork is different from one another, they all seem to bring clarity and personification to the larger-than-life forces in our natural world as well as the similarities and connections that exist in growth.