By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk with Alena Liapko
Courtesy of Alena Liapko
Alena Liapko | watercolour with oil pastel on canvas | 36 in x 96 in (92 cm x 244 cm) | 2014
What can we learn from this work?
Alena Liapko’s semi-abstract Infinity is deceptively realistic and representational. It is a mosaic of recognizable Ottawa streetscapes, assembled in a shape of the infinity sign, or a horizontal eight.
“I love Ottawa, and I am wishing by this symbol that the place where we all live will stay beautiful and safe for everyone for as long as it is possible,” says the artist.
Infinity stands in sharp contrast to another colourful semi-abstract ‘landscape’ we have looked at. Eliane Saheurs’ Enchanted Space VI, at first glance doesn’t appear to contain any recognizable elements, forcing us to look harder in order to spot rocks or cascading water among the seemingly random patches and smudges of colour.
When looking at Liapko’s work, however, we have to put just as much effort to tune out the recognizable cityscape fragments in order to notice the abstract element – the infinity sign. The familiarity of the everyday street scene – especially for those of us living in or having visited Ottawa – creates a blind spot of sorts and helps create the illusion that Infinity is a realistic landscape.
In Infinity, like in most of Liapko’s landscapes, we see rich, deep, jewel-like colours. This rich palette is a considerable departure from the subtle, nature-inspired, watered-down, if you will, colours we are used to seeing in watercolours, and so are the night scenes.
“I often hear about how boring streets look in daylight and how everything changes with sunset,” says Liapko. “A dramatic effect of a light, show, night, and how everything changes with it. It reminds me of a theatre scene.”
Despite the unusual colour palette, there is something very familiar about Infinity, other than the familiar Ottawa sites. It is the deep blue of twilight or a moonlit sky that adds to this sense of familiarity. Other than being the colour of the night sky, it is also the colour that many of us associate with stained glass church windows.
Inspired by batik and stained glass, Liapko started experimenting with oil pastels in her youth. She now combines transparent watercolour and oil pastels to give her paintings that intense and colourful look, and to help her include a great level of detail without loosing the watercolour effect. The technique is similar to that used in creating designs on fabric.
“Watercolour is very fluid and can flow in all directions,” explains Liapko. “The ability to control it is one of the important skills. You need to be able to stop the paint flow where you want it, not allowing the paint to go where it can go. Oil pastel helps with this a little bit. The principles are like in batik where the colour doesn’t go through the drawn line. In my work it is oil pastel, in batik – beeswax.
“To reach the same effect of detailing without oil pastel, I would need to paint in a dryer manner, which would affect the end result by limiting the watercolour effects like flowing of colours and taking away some freedom of expression.”
Art is a form of dialogue between an artist and a viewer, which is very important to Liapko. By making something beautiful or ugly, funny or scary, an artist has the ability to trigger certain emotions in the viewer. Liapko creates her works with that interaction in mind.
“I would like to pass to the viewer a feeling of excitement and beauty of a place where we all live,” she says. “I’d like people to relate to what they see in my paintings because it is not just a view of an abstract beautiful city, it is Ottawa, and many of us can recognize places, where we walk every day, familiar intersections, buildings, street lights. And when people like what they see in my paintings, I am happy.”
Monday to Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The artist uses oil pastel and watercolour to create illuminated landscapes of Ottawa and its surroundings. The main goal is to capture the transformation of well-known places into something unusual, characterized by unique colours, shades and reflected light.
Passionate about art since childhood, Alena Liapko graduated from Belarusian Academy of Arts, where she also taught drawing. In 2003 she moved with her husband to Canada where she became interested in watercolour and developed a technique of using transparent watercolour and oil pastel to give her paintings an intense and colourful look.
She lives near Ottawa and enjoys spending time outside with her family, an activity that inspires her vibrant landscapes of Ottawa and the Outaouais Region. Her artworks can be found in private collections in Canada, Poland, Germany, Belarus, as well as in the Art Collection of Belarusian National Gallery of Arts.
Learn more about Alena Liapko and see more examples of her work: