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Nina Koltchitskaia

"Athens has a certain chaos that makes it infinitely charming and rich".

Artist and painter Nina Koltchitskaia constructs a colourful and poetic universe entirely of her own. Born in Moscow to a family of artists, she now lives in a city befitting of her dreamily romantic inclinations: Paris. Along with a new photo-poetry book, she is currently working on a solo show in Seoul, South Korea, which is due to launch in autumn.

Photography EFTIHIA STEFANIDI       Interview HOUSE OF SHILA

HOS: You’ve spent a week in Athens. What do you find inspiring about this city?  

NK: This was my first ‘real’ trip to Athens, as it was the first time I got to spend more than two days here, and just really wander around, get lost, and feel the city’s vibration. I was absolutely mesmerised by its colours, the softness of the pink air, the music of everything. Athens has a certain chaos that makes it infinitely charming and rich. A chaos that embraces everything with beauty, equilibrium and gentleness. A city full of surprises, where ancient meets the immediate in a beautiful romance. It’s a loud city that moves all the time; it reminded me of a beating heart. I loved it.

HOS: Tell us some highlights from your Shila residency.

NK. It was such a unique place to stay and to create in. I would wake up with the birds, at sunrise, and just let my mind dance on canvas. There is a very specific energy at Shila that makes you feel at home, yet in a magic timeless castle, surrounded by beautiful art pieces from other artists, by stories, kindness and poetry in everything.

HOS: From jewellery to poetry books, you often use old and antique objects in your work. What is it about these materials that fascinates you?

NK: Words, poetry, books: they are my ‘dreaming tools’, my weapons of love and war, they make me travel, dance, feel. The words guide the features of my drawings, and the pages of old books are the supports of my works on paper. A paper that has already lived, that has already travelled in time, that has had millions of lives before being painted on. I love the idea of painting something immediate, new, on something old – it is the ultimate ‘roundness’ of time.

HOS: How do you approach the idea of memory?

NK: I have a great obsession with the idea of stretching time. I often speak about the idea of the roundness of it, and the fact that everything is maybe already there. We feel what we haven’t experienced yet: melancholy and joy, heartaches and tenderness. I like to feel everything strongly, to imprint feelings, always. It stretches time and makes it more interesting to observe. It makes everything more alive.

“Words, poetry, books: they are my “dreaming tools”, my weapons of love and war”.

HOS: How does the experience of different places, and the transience of travel, inform your work?  

NK: I transform my realities, and move, isolate and observe them. I listen to dreams and to light, I listen to colours. That’s my language. I surround myself with music that makes me travel, and I try to transpose on paper the immediacy of the feelings that go through me. I also need to surround myself with magic talismans to create, as they are protectors of the poetic vibration. So I recreate my ‘room with no walls’ everywhere I am, when I work with my books, my objects that are dear to me – my little shells, Polaroids, little sculptures that I find in my travels or that are gifts from people I love. I need them all to surround my work space. It’s my best way to escape. I need to travel in my head (how many world tours have there been already?) and then it becomes important to travel outside of it as well.

HOS: You come from a family of artists. What was your upbringing like in terms of shaping your relationship with creativity?  

NK: My parents always let me be free and encouraged me to feel, and to trust the way I feel to lead me somewhere interesting. They taught me that it might be difficult and hurtful, from time to time, but to live this way is always worth it. It’s what will always make me feel alive, and nothing is more precious than the vibrant feeling of being truly alive.

HOS: Can you tell us more about your journey into photography, and then onto painting? 

NK: When I was little, I used to travel with my parents without ever really settling down. It turned out I was always missing someone or something, so I was always afraid to forget. It pushed me into photography, and gave me the desire to create my own universe out of it, to keep my loved ones and loved places close to my heart, perhaps to fill an emptiness. The idea of memory again, I guess. So from a young age I’ve always carried a photo camera to record and capture people’s feelings, and mix them with my own. As for painting, I at first painted and drew just for me, in secret. And then, much later on, I started to show my work, and it felt right. It felt like the next step of my emotional and poetical journey.

HOS: Where do you find moments of beauty?

NK: Everywhere. All the time. I truly believe there is beauty everywhere. This eternal idea of stretching time is a powerful tool to seek for beauty.

HOS: Your work often expresses fragility, for example ‘Left-Handed Lovers’ is about the happy clumsiness of a new love. Do you think vulnerability is key to artistic expression? 

NK: I think it takes a lot of strength and courage to be truly vulnerable.


“Colours are little gems of freedom, they open doors to feelings, to imagination.”.

HOS: What is  your relationship with colour?

NK: Colours are little gems of freedom, they open doors to feelings, to imagination. I need a lot of colours in my work, most of the time. I never really plan how and when I will use one colour or another, it comes pretty much instinctively. The idea comes in and I just try to feel it, and show it. Colours are also often driven by music, and I am always surrounded by that too.

HOS: Walk us through a day working in the studio.

NK: Coffee, music, dance, love! Then paint.

HOS: If you could save only one work of art, which one would that be?

My son’s painting that I love and is hanging above my desk.

HOS: Your living space is also your studio/ set. Walk us through a day in your life.

MR: I wake up early, walk my dogs and meditate. I eat. I’ll start desk work and that’s usually the most valuable part of the day, the morning. I’ll have a late lunch, walk my dogs and meditate again. Sometimes I jog in the forest. Later I’ll read and watch a film after dinner. If I’m shooting, I’ll set up the shot all morning and shoot it after lunch. Because I work alone, one set-up a day is enough. And if it’s good, I feel like I accomplished a lot. I’m taking a little break because I just finished working on a film for a couple of years about my modelling days.

HOS: If you could be a character in any film or book, who would it be?   

MR: Could I play Gia who moves to Grey Gardens and has an experience like one of the women from Persona?              

HOS: Tell us a secret.

MR: What feels like a secret and something that always makes me smile is when someone asks what kind of camera I use. And I have to disappoint them and tell them I’ve been using the exact same basic Canon all this time. Maybe one day I will grow up and get something fancy.