At the opening of Ksenia Levina’s first exhibition I was lucky enough to be given a tour by the artist. A history of art student at Christ Church, Ksenia describes herself as “interested in representational art made with traditional techniques”, and this certainly comes across in her beautiful portraits in a variety of media.
The longest Ksenia has sat with a model was for three hours a day for a month, to produce ‘Sylvia’, an oil on canvas portrait painted whilst she was in Florence. Ksenia explains her methods: first she draws her image, then transfers it onto the canvas, before blocking in the shadows on the face and completing the portrait. She aims for a three-dimensional look, so naturally creating the contours of her subject’s face is of high importance. ‘Sophia’ is a portrait of a model whom Ksenia met in an airport and subsequently painted in four and a half hours. She extolls the strength of her model’s face, and the striking features which make the portrait so compelling. Here the influence of Vermeer, whom Ksenia cites as an inspiration, is clear.
Ksenia draws on the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially admiring the work of Rodin, CarrieÌ€re and Schiele. Her technique of ‘fading in and out’ is taken from this period. It is prominent in pieces such as ‘Struggle’, a charcoal on paper work drawn from life and then photographed because, as Ksenia says, the pose would be much too difficult to hold for long enough. ‘After Work’, a pencil on paper portrait, is wonderfully calm and soothing, and its position on the peripheries of the exhibition makes it something which should be sought out for fear it is left unnoticed. Here we can again mark the fading technique, where the image appears to disappear at the edges and blur away. Other striking pieces include ‘Red Painting’, a dramatic work with a passionate red background that stands out from the rest of her art.
Ksenia manages to combine her degree with such a marvellous passion and talent that it is impossible to deny her the utmost admiration. She describes the collection as “an exploration of the idea of the power of the gaze”, and one can certainly note in her art the sense that one is entering a different world and someone else’s experience. Her portraits are engaging and convey a true understanding of the character behind the faces.