Visual Arts

Gallery Hop: Icons inspired artist to ask 'deeper questions' after her mother's death

Why by Ludmila Pawlowska, part of her exhibit, Icons in Transformation.
Why by Ludmila Pawlowska, part of her exhibit, Icons in Transformation.

When Russian artist Ludmila Pawlowska's mother died 14 years ago, it forever changed Pawlowska's life — and her art.

"I began asking deeper questions," she says, "and I have been able to work through sorrow with help of my painting."

Pawlowska's work retreated from its focus on nature as she turned toward her Russian Orthodox faith for inspiration and guidance. Her deep relationship with one of the cornerstones of the faith, the religious icon, formed the basis of a decade-long artistic conversation about concepts so existentially deep and challenging that her work soon belonged in the realm of the church rather than the gallery.

Pawlowska uses the traditional icon as inspiration for creating contemporary artworks of the same spirit, works designed to illuminate, to invite contemplation, to take the viewer on an inner journey of the invisible.

"It is a journey of seeing," Pawlowska says of the more than 100 works featured in an exhibit at Christ Church Cathedral.

The works comprise a mammoth exhibit, Icons in Transformation, which has toured the great cathedrals of Europe, where it was so well received that it drew the likes of Britain's Prince Charles to view the works and visit with the artist.

The exhibit makes its North American debut in Lexington on Friday before traveling to other cities.

Pawlowska is inspired by the icon, but she makes no attempt to replicate its traditional form. She uses its spiritual function as a starting point for creating her own spiritual dialogue, which she hopes will translate to others on their own spiritual journey.

"What fascinates me most in the art of icons is the deep sensitivity they radiate," she says.

Working on plywood blocks, Pawlowska builds layers of paint and sculptural elements, such as copper or limestone, to create abstract iconlike works that invite the viewer to focus on a deep, personal reflection of the divine, a concept that often manifests itself in her use of color and light.

"The icon has a spiritual power which comes from the icon itself, a kind of light," Pawlowska says. "To create and capture a light has always been the most difficult and greatest challenge to artists through the centuries. This exhibition is my attempt to capture it in my own way."

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