Interview: Anastasia Karelia (Russian illustrator)

It was quite unique how I got to the art of Anastasia Karelia, a friend of mine who now lives in Europe told me about her. She had met her in Valparaiso and found that we had things in comon. So I got in contact with Anastasia and  we started a long history of friendship and work with my project Kasa of Orates, and I have seen how it has evolved his art until today.

                                  By Jorge Yacoman & Manuel Knwell. 

-Tell me a little about your beginnings as an illustrator and graphic designer.

Since I was a child I loved art and drawing, but thanks to the education system of Russia in 90s, I was violently forced to stop it at the age of 6. Everything was about science and especially mathematics. I was completely unhappy thanks to that, until at the age of 15 when I finished high school in Russia and went as exchange student to USA I was finally able to rediscover myself artistically. Afterwards when I was studying at the university in Madrid I got a lot closer to the world of design.

– Where did your style come from?

To be honest, I do not know. I still don’t manage to see my own style even though many people told me that it is present. I seek answers more than a style. It’s fundamental for me, and art helps me to find some.

What are your references? Whether they are other illustrators or perhaps photographers or filmmakers?

There are many creators who inspire me, including: Robert Venosa, Victor Vasarely, Buckminster Fuller, Jean Giraud, David Carson, M.C. Escher, Gilbert Williams. I love the work of a russian photographer Polina Washington. I do not have a favorite filmmaker but films that I love, for example: The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly), Contact (Robert Zemeckis), Another Earth (Mike Cahill), Waking Life (Richard Linklater) y Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) that I absolutely loved.

– Did living in different countries have an influence on your style?

Yes, a lot. It’s what made me the person I am. My experiences and the conclusions I drew from them.

-What life aspects inspire you the most in your art?

Anything can inspire me. Mostly it’s nature. Music of course is a huge source of inspiration, sounds in general. People, in an attempt to understand them and decipher the patterns of their conscious and subconscious. The pain. The light. My experiences in general.

– What has been your greatest challenge artistically?

Right now, I still have that challenge. It is a book I am writing, illustrated by me. At first, I considered it as a book of science fiction, but as I move forward it becomes more difficult to define the genre.

– Is there a message you want to convey through your designs?

Sometimes yes, especially when I work for a client and we agree on a very definite concept. Other times with personal illustrations, I do not realize what I am creating until it’s finished and I analyze the result. Usually I find a message from within for myself, it always surprises me. It is a very intuitive process but when I see the final image I discover the symbolism that it has incorporated. In best case scenario I even get this floating feeling inside, as if my internal organs do not obey the laws of gravity for a couple of minutes. That’s how I know that I did a good job.

– What role does magic and esotericism play in the way you create your illustrations?

I do not like the word “magic” too much, I find it a very outdated concept. I think that quite a few of the things we define as magical or esoteric are actually science that we simply do no comprehend yet or may have even forgotten. I am very interested in the unknown, it could be different fields. Either quantum physics, esoterism, neuroscience or meditation etc. Science inspires me a lot too.

– How did you come to tattooing? Do you feel comfortable doing it and is it something you would like to further develop?

I always loved the art of tattooing. So, it was not very surprising when I wanted to learn. Yes, I feel very comfortable and I enjoy it, for me it is like a rite, the whole process in itself. From connecting with the person until seeing the final result, however, I have it very abandoned. I am in a process of internal decoding and recovery right now. These last two years I had a very withdrawn lifestyle and I enjoyed solitude a lot, which is not compatible with being a tattoo artist. I think it’s something that you must dedicate yourself to completely, in order to become a good one.

– How do you achieve to express in your illustrations the ideas that the music artists propose?

My way is to listen only to the music for which I’m creating the graphics, during the process. Obsessively. Just that album. For maximum synchronization, to tune with the channel that this music was created through. Quite a trip. I enter in some kind of trance and only listen and create. It’s a state of absolute happiness for me, as a way of meditating, without any thoughts, just working with information and expressing. It also helps to open my mind to styles of music that I am not used to.

– I understand that you have traveled almost throughout whole Latin America, for you, what is the biggest problem that this part of the world has in relation to Europe? Not to mention the things one already knows and are obvious, but the ones that have to do with the most ingrained and orthodox idiosyncrasy, whether for good or bad?

Not all of it, but I have traveled a lot there and it was an unforgettable experience, and a very hard at times as well. I was very surprised by the shame that some people felt when it cames to accepting their true roots, discrimination by physical appearance, extreme classism. The gap formed in society by these absolute stupidities strongly impedes progress and positive development. It is a pity that after all the violence and bloodshed that the continent suffered, full advantage isn’t taken from the incredible strength that its inhabitants have in their unity, to generate effective change. I am fascinated by the powerful connection latin americans have with the planet, the soil. I’ve been traveling all my life, but I have never seen anything like this. I learned a lot while being there and met some very outstanding people.

-I understand that you studied in Madrid, did studying there influence your style a lot? Or you had a concretized style before?

The years I lived in Madrid were very influential on my person in general, not only when it came to professional formation. When someone asks me: “After all the countries you lived in where is your true home? “The answer is always – Madrid. I can’t explain why, but for me it has always been the place that inspired me the most and charged my batteries. My favorite city. I consider myself a russian but from Madrid, haha.

– You have collaborated with various chilean bands. How was that experience and what is your opinion on music from Chile in relation to what is being done in other countries?

Generally, it was very good, but I had different experiences to be honest. There are very talented musicians in Chile, but also there are very envious people who instead of supporting the art or the underground enjoy hindering its development or taking advantage of others. It is a pity.

-I have understood that Karelia your last name is a pseudonym, for the forests of north-west Russia. What had inspired you to travel to the Carretera Austral de Chile, to see similar forests?

Karelia is a republic of Russia to the north-west of the country bordering Finland. In fact, it is divided between Finland and Russia. I was born there, so at some point I decided that it was a very good pseudonym, that way I will always remember my roots. Something that is of great importance to me. Karelia is an amazing place, with immense strength, very Nordic, full of ancient extensive forests, rocks, lakes and rivers. It is a very mystical and pure place. I feel very identified with it. The truth is that Patagonia looks very similar. I also loved it, but energetically it is different, at least for me. While being in Chile I was told about this place so I decided that I had to see it with my own eyes. I traveled by hitchhiking which allowed me to get to know that magnificent place and its hospitable inhabitants really good. What amazed me the most was to see the city of Chaiten after a volcano eruption.

-What are your favorite foods that you have tasted through all your travels around the world?

What traumatized me the most was to see how the octopus was cooked in Spain, and all kinds of seafood and sea creatures in Latin America. My culinary taste is not capricious, what I enjoy the most are some green olives with a beer or a dry red wine with a cheese that goes well with it.

– How did you get to work with the mythical Japanese band of the 70s, “Acid mothers temple”? And do you have more plans to work with them?

I talked to Makoto Kawabata, he really liked my work and they needed a poster for the european tour. They are very good and special people, one of the most pleasant and connected to the universe clients that I had. I received lots of positive feedback from the band members and their fans for that poster. Yes, I would love to make another psychedelic design for them, AMT is one of my favorite bands.

– Is there any of your favorite bands that you would like to make a design for? What bands would that be?

It would be a huge list but to name some: Neurosis, Wardruna, Sleep, Dark Space, Gojira, SunnO))), Black Sabbath of course, Elder, Om, Slowdive, Carbon Based Lifeforms, L7, YOB, Earth, Fever Ray, iamamiwhoami, Red Sparowes and many others. If Eyedea was alive I would’ve loved to work with him, he was a very unique poet.

-Tell me what are the 10 best covers in your opinion?

I really like:

Tame Impala – Currents, Angakok – Self titled, Locrain -The crystal world, Mastodon – Crack the skye, Gojira – Magma, Snakerider/The Moon Mistress – Obsessed by the cursed wastelands, Young Magic – Melt, Pink Floyd – Pulse, Atlas entity – Enceladus, Dreadnought – Bridging realms.

-Recommend to the people 3 books that for you were important in your life.

Incomplete Nature. How mind emerged from matter – Terrence W. Deacon, Childhood’s end – Arthur C. Clarke, Open veins of Latin America – Eduardo Galeano.

-You are part of a country that decades ago was one of the two most important powers in the world, how do you see Russia in 20 years more in relation to the political-social aspects? And its relationship with USA and its neighboring countries that have had problems like Ukraine?

Russia is a very unique, contradictory and strong country. As I see the situation now, in 20 years if it continues that way it can become very advanced, and stable. It is developing a lot. However, it may turn out to be quite a closed country. It all depends, the future is never certain. I think the greatest power of Russia is strong, fighter spirit of the people. And about Ukraine I am sure they will find a way to solve it peacefully, at least I hope so. USA is a box of surprises, I think they have enough internal problems, especially now.

– What things disgust you and why?

Totalitarianism, violence, war and indifference to them, for obvious reasons.

– Do you consider yourself a worldly woman, and if so, what would be those greater “sins” that you like in this life?

There are different epochs. I was always very hard on myself, studied a lot without leaving any space for life outside of learning. So, when I finished college for a while I lived a very earthly life enjoying all the pleasures at once, I only experienced the enjoyment, although it did not help me to be happy at all, it was a way to escape the intense pain I was in at that time. Afterwards I spent several years of extreme asceticism, traveling, in search of myself. And now I’m trying to get a personal formula for a non-rigid, fluid balance.

-A mental opening without fear of the unknown, leads us to appreciate different musical and artistic styles, and in general life is fuller of shades, how was your childhood and what is your relationship with more experimental and dark arts and music?

The key word to describe my childhood is “solitary.” But not so much because of the absence of someone to share with, but more by choice. I spent most of my time alone with myself, discovering the mysteries of nature, hiding in the woods, climbing trees for hours. Everything created by nature that I saw on this planet fascinated me, how the ice melts in spring or how the wound heals. As I grew older I became obsessed with understanding the humans around me, I became interested in psychology for a while, but I could not answer all the questions I had. With the arrival of the internet (I think I was 9 years old) it was all much easier, there were no filters nor boundaries. I started to absorb music of all genres by selecting what seemed more unique and with what I felt identified. At 12 I read some books by Castaneda and Crowley (although I must admit that I did not like the second author much) but it opened my mind a lot. And that’s when I began to experiment with the unknown capacities of the mind. Also at that age I went to Europe for the first time, and I saw a reality very different from the one there were in Russia at that time, especially in the 90s. Since then I didn’t not stop traveling.

-Have you felt influenced by the techniques such as engraving, and if so, what artists are your referents, such as: Gustave Doré?

I love the symbolism of Albrecht Dürer, if I had to name a favorite work it would be Melancholy. The whole series of Apocalypse is incredible too. In general, I enjoy the hidden symbolism, and the engravings of Dürer are full of it.

-Have you seen the movie “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”? If so, what would you do if something like that happened to you?

It would be a very tough but interesting experience. I suppose I would investigate in my mind and practice all kinds of techniques to obtain extracorporeal experiences.




Main picture of Anastasia Karelia by Yerko Espinoza.


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