Home Magazine Olga Nikitina and the Underwater World

From scuba diving to art - Olga Nikitina tells her story on how she combines her two passions on a day-to-day life. 

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Kooness: Hello Olga and first of all thank you for letting us interview you. Our first question is where are you from and how does that affect your work? 

Olga Nikitina: I was born in Chuhuiv, Ukraine. The place is quite unfamiliar yet it is known for being the motherland of the great artist Ilya Repin. I grew up there and left when I was 12 years old, when I moved to Russia with my family. I have been painting since my early childhood. When I was in school, I used to go to fine art classes and traditional Russian folklore painting such as Askhokhloma, Geustovo, Gzhel, Kudrina- which you can see on «Matreshka» usually. I have a degree as an interior designer from Ulyanovsk State University, where I completed six years of academic drawing and painting lessons. However, I haven’t painted for five years after completing my studies, yet managed to get my inspiration back when traveling to Africa. I completely fell in love with the underwater world and scuba diving, too! I started enjoying underwater nature while taking aquarium design classes. I was so impressed by tropical fish and their natural environment full of colours, species, and endless coral gardens; it really blew my mind. In 2008, I did an open water license in Marsa Alam, Egypt, and as so, my diving travels began. I’ve visited many countries, and dived in numerous seas and oceans. I drew so much energy and inspiration from the sea as well as marine life that I had to express myself and my emotions in my art.

K: What are you inspired by and where do you find inspiration?

ON: I am a crafty person who can combine two passions together. In fact, the beginning of my career was by putting diving and art together. Being a scuba diver in the Red Sea, I managed to get inspiration and desire to create art above and underwater. The Red Sea is a unique place - with its corals and amazing marine life. The empty, monotonous desert landscape makes the bright colors and rich underwater life stand out. But it's not a secret that the marine environment is endangered nowadays, and we, as responsible citizens, need to care for and protect our ocean. Scuba Divers witness the changes happening in the ocean – and can be among the first to raise awareness towards the matter. Nowadays, most scuba divers have underwater cameras to record the treasures and tragedies happening underwater. Art, too, is a very effective tool and medium to communicate these messages. My inspiration is drawn by being in this environment every day. I can see the seascape all day long through different lenses, according to the Suns position. While scuba diving, what I see goes through my eyes first, then my heart, soul, brain and creates images in my mind. I started creating underwater as very often I do not have the chance to deliver my thoughts on canvas immediately after scuba diving in order for me to express my feelings and emotions in the present moment.

Olga Nikitina. Tropical Coral, 2020. Courtesy of Art Voyage Gallery

K: What is underwater painting and what does it represent to you?

ON: It was challenging to dive into this practice as the underwater artist community is very tiny, there are just a few people all over the world who practice it. There were no books, manuals, videos, or any kind of instructions about how to get started and just a few other artists to speak with. In fact, I learnt the practice by doing it. First, I looked for the materials to use for the underwater world. Then, I have to handle and take care of the challenges underwater during the painting session. These can be time, depth, decompression limits, changing colors and contrast perception, as well as the underwater ocean conditions. Throughout the whole process, I made many attempts, and through mistakes and discoveries, I managed to reach my goals. For instance, I found out that the most convenient technique was oil painting on canvas with a palette knife. Another important thing to me was to be able to paint underwater are the colors, that should be water insoluble and stick to canvas. Of course, my concern is that all the process is environmentally friendly, and that nothing runs into the sea: what I bring underwater comes back with me after. Concerning my painting style, I started painting still life such as seascapes and amazing reef wall and evolved to paint human or animal portraits. As soon as I improved my skills, I decided to focus on my feelings and emotions, as I noticed that underwater makes you experience some kind of trance. It is very exciting to reflect on that mood and perception of that reality.

Olga Nikitina. Red Fish Expression, 2019. Courtesy of Art Voyage Gallery

K: What is the purpose of your artworks? What is the goal of your artworks?

ON: My art is my language. I want to make people more human, and more spiritual. The purpose of my artworks is to let watchers find their souls, love, and kindness through the reunion with nature. Many people are suffering from the modern model of our society, doing a job they don't like which takes 95% of their time not leaving a lot of space or time for family, friends, or themselves. The concept is that this life leaves people with no time to leave and no time to enjoy mother nature. I believe every individual has its own creativity, and with my art I would love for everyone to be inspired and be able to make it blossom rather than bury it under the so-known "important" things. It is crucial for everyone to develop their own creativity and I realised through travels in smaller towns where people live among nature and many artists reside. I wish that, through my tecnhique, more people will fall in love with the different aspects of nature and be inspired to create. I would also love that watchers became more involved in the protection of our oceans for future generations to enjoy.

K: How has your style changed over time?

ON: In the beginning of my art career, I followed my learnings from my university studies. My artworks were mostly a reflection of what I saw underwater such as fish, corals, seascapes, and sunlight. I attempted to make signature paintings of specific dive spots. However, with time, I trusted my gut instinct and made my feelings take the lead. Underwater painting sessions are very unique to one another, as the settings and the atmosphere are ever-changing. I tried to capture moments and reflect them on canvas as accurately as possible. Sometimes artworks look fresh and unfinished, but it gave a special charm to the painting. Now, as I mentioned, I work with my emotions therefore I paint intuitively. By all means, I use palette knife impasto technique and my style transformed from realism to underwater expressionism.

Olga Nikitina. Soft Coral was created underwater, 2020. Courtesy of Art Voyage Gallery

K: What is the artistic process behind your work?

ON: While scuba diving, we breathe compressed air, and our body saturates with nitrogen. Under the influence of nitrogen, the diver has confusion and reactions tend to slow down; giving a feeling of euphoria. In very deep dives, you can notice your brain slowing down. For instance, during a advanced open water courses, we do math exercises at 30 meters depth. Often, divers get confused and it takes longer for them to answer correctly. While I do underwater painting, even at a depth of 5 meters, I feel how my brain is more relaxed, with fewer thoughts and less distractions. The sound of rhythmical breathing puts me in a state of meditation, increasing my creativity. I try to finish the artwork in one session because I never can dive twice in the same atmosphere. It sometimes takes up to 120 minutes. It is physically very tiring but totally worth it.

It is significant for me to be in a good mood and have ideal weather conditions when working. The most enjoyable and surprising part is to see the artwork on the surface. The colors always look different, and it is hard to pinpoint all the details while underwater. One of my favorite parts of the underwater painting to express Sun lights' movement at the surface because of waves with all their shades and glares.

K: Thank you so much Olga, we have so many more questions for you! We will surely dive deeper into your technique. 

Cover Image: Olga Nikitina. Jelly Fish, 2020. Courtesy of Art Voyage Gallery.

Written by: Kooness

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