Tania Rivilis’ plywood portraiture explores the consciousness of the characters she paints, depicting our identities and the relations between them. Her bold colours and brushstrokes create rich characters whose lives expand beyond the frame. She speaks to Steph Kunkel about making sense of history, and why she does it via NFTs.
Who am I? Tania Rivilis aims to answer this fundamental question through her art. While immersing myself in her NFT collections, I began to explore the broader notions of identity and purpose as well. Maybe I’m the subject of Tania’s art piece, or perhaps my true self is trapped inside her paintings. Her work is reminiscent of the poet Emily Dickinson, who once wrote “I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too?”
Through a lens of coloured portraiture, Tania creates a romantic speculation on the human body, connectivity, and our relationships. The subject of her paintings are everyday people, but every person has something unique to them. “I want to show the beautiful uniqueness of every person who roams the earth – with the idea that we are all connected to each other.”
Influenced by a modern interpretation of classical and impressionist styles, Tania paints primarily male portraiture. Her use of gradients, vibrant colours, and defined textures (all of her paintings are on plywood) helps Tania express a reflective mood that examines human nature. Her works typically include a solitary subject or small groups, and Tania attempts to reference other characters within the piece or illustrate emotions to build a story, allowing her artwork to serve as a gateway through which viewers can engage with her work.
“Without creating these relationships, my portraits would just act as an external reference of features. My portraits would be empty shells without a soul. When we see this person's emotions and connect to them through a story, it makes them human and not just a flat painting.” Her pieces express romantic melancholy. “I want people who look at my paintings to feel as though they’ve lost something, in a good way, and that each moment, like each individual, is unique and precious.”
In turn, web3 gives her paintings even more layers, making it easy to find and collaborate with animators, poets, musicians, and other artists who have embraced the independence of web3 creativity and the ease of smart contract royalty payments. Allowing her to combine different mediums, Tania creates art as NFTs that she never would have been able to create with a brush alone.
Tania’s work is sparked by a curiosity that she was born with. “I grew up in a little village, on a farm in Ukraine. It’s practically destroyed now… but I was very adventurous in nature and a curious child.” This childhood curiosity bears a strong influence over her artwork, and she is most inspired by bringing her subjects to life through the rich colours and imagined backstories that she first experienced growing up in eastern Europe.
Much like Jan Baumgartner, Tania begins her creative process by finding – and photographing – a person who inspires her. She'll happily ask strangers if she can photograph them; if not, she works from memory. “I paint with a feeling and try not to just copy the photograph. I use the photos as reference points and try to abstract from reality.” Tania exclusively paints on plywood which adds layers of texture and depth to her artwork. “It’s a very capricious but beautiful texture. I spend much time preparing it, but it is part of my aesthetic.”
“I want to show the beautiful uniqueness of every person who roams the earth – with the idea that we are all connected to each other.”
— Tania Rivilis
But it hasn't always been. For a long time, Tania wasn’t an artist. She first picked up a paint brush eight years ago after meeting her husband at the age of 27. At the time, he said that he “saw a sadness” in Tania and bought her painting materials. “I had something inside of me to express, but I didn’t know how.” Tania reveals that when she first started “my hands would shake while painting my portraits, but now I confidently experiment with crazy colours and wide brush strokes.”
When she first came to NFTs, Tania was shocked that people would pay so much money for digital art. Her Foundation genesis, Poet from St. Moritz, met its reserve within an hour, ultimately selling to a pseudonymous collector by the name @shilldianajones. “You can create whatever medium of art you want and someone will enjoy it.”
“I had something inside of me to express, but I didn’t know how.”
— Tania Rivilis
Upon entering web3, Tania admits that she was stuck in her traditional views of art: that it had to be something you can touch or hang on a wall. In time spent amidst the open forum of web3, Tania has grown to appreciate that there are no limits to the mediums and collaboration an artist can pursue. Recalling what NFTs have done for artistic individuality and simplified royalty splits, she notes that “you almost never see such impactful collaborations and mixed mediums in the traditional art world, but web3 makes it possible.”
Embracing NFTs has let Tania think outside-of-the-box, experiment with digital art, poetry, animation, and music, and collaborate with other artists to explore what she describes as “unlimited human imagination.” She’s collaborated on projects with Laurence Fuller and Val Kilmer, whilst her work has been collected by the likes of Cozomo de Medici, who bought her piece Kupka’s Dog, winner of the Royal Portrait Society's William Locke Portrait Prize. “It’s amazing how even just one year in NFTs can act as a springboard for artists. You don’t have to die poor and become famous after your death.” As artists are discovering across web3, “you don’t have to suffer.”
Since entering web3, Tania’s career trajectory has accelerated, with upcoming exhibitions across the United States in New York, San Francisco, and Miami, for Art Basel. Tania aims to continue building her NFT artwork and collaborating with artists, “using multiple mediums and collaborations to build something entirely new and beautiful.”
Looking to the future, Tania hopes for the traditional art world to begin to integrate web3 technologies into their operations, simplifying the processes for copyright enforcement and royalty payments. More broadly, she says that “I’m looking forward to the progression of web3, NFT collections, and technology in reference to the landscape of our ‘in real life’ society.”
“You don’t have to suffer.”
— Tania Rivilis
Tania’s artwork is defined by creating imaginative stories around real people. Her characters act as barriers, breaking through into a new world and connecting with those who stare in awe at her paintings. She seeks to explore the human form as we know it and create something to resonate with your soul. “In this way, I attempt to make sense of history and discover life at the intersection of psychoanalysis and semiotics: the lack of fixed integrity of the human self. In the interconnectedness, I express the necessary search for a reliable support to define, to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’”
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