Ten Questions for Oksana Berda

Oksana is a Toronto-based painter working with mixed media. She holds a Master of Arts from the University of New Brunswick in Creative Writing, which informs the narrative quality of her work as she explores our emotional relationship with landscapes. Berda is an avid hiker and gets her inspiration from trips to various parks surrounding Toronto and spending time on Lake Ontario. We are very lucky to have her work here at Guildworks.

G: Where do you look for inspiration in your work? 

OB: I was a literature and writing student for many years and am deeply inspired by stories and language.  And I love being outdoors, the colours, the textures, the movement. The same way I can dive into a story through a book, I find I get swallowed up in being outdoors. As an abstract artist I am always thinking about language and experience, and how I can shift the viewer to feel deeper, to think differently, to challenge their own perspectives. So as long as I stay engaged and do that for myself I am always inspired. I also believe in the idea that inspiration comes everyday at 9am when you get into your studio. Consistency and discipline are super important to me.

G: Name 3 artists who inspire you and why. (Alive or dead)

OB: My all time three are Frank Stella, Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko. But I also love the work of contemporary artists like Jessalyn Brooks, Kathryn McNaughton, and Pedie Wolfond. I love the idea of obsession in art. I like seeing an idea being pushed out of its own seams and I think all the aforementioned artists have that in common. I like a lot of different art but I am partial to painters. There is so much skill to work with paint and so much imagination required to make it new.

G: How do you balance the creative urge with the business side of being an artist?

OB: It changes depending on what I’m working on and the season. For example, I prefer to paint in daylight so in the winter time I try to schedule myself to paint during the day and then do my admin after 5 o’clock. I keep an eye on the weather and if a nice day is coming up I will reserve it for errands whereas bad weather is good for staying indoors and working. I have an entrepreneurial spirit so I enjoy running a business. The more I embrace both creative and business sides of it the more fun I am having. There is also something very steadying and humbling in a task like sorting and logging your receipts, you can actually finish it too - which I can’t ever say for painting haha.

G: How has your work evolved?

I find my work evolves over time with my own personal growth and life changes. I’m in a place of evolution right now as I am working so much more with canvas. The process is a lot slower and more cerebral than the way I work on paper.

G: What are you working on now?

OB: Right now, I am working with canvas, specifically raw canvas. I’m in a really great place where I have set my parameters and focus so I can now break my own conventions and push my technique and explore. Stay tuned!

G: What are you reading right now?

OB: I am reading a few books at once. At the moment it’s the 3rd book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, a book on marketing and I am rereading for the millionth time a book of poetry called For and Against  by my favourite poet ever Sharon McCartney. 

G: Has social media or technology impacted your work, positively or negatively?

OB: Positive, for sure. I believe that it’s important to embrace and try everything new. There are so many tools at our disposal that were inconceivable even 20 years ago. As for social media, ultimately it wants to bring people together and that’s what I focus on in the way I approach and use it. For artists it can give incredible autonomy that we have never had before. You can get your work out there and connect with other creatives all over the world. I think it’s wonderful. That being said,  being self aware is super important and you have to catch yourself if you’re developing bad habits. I usually keep my phone on airplane mode while I am painting otherwise every notification will take me out of what I’m doing.  

G: What would you say to artists who are just beginning their careers?

OB: You have to be proactive in your studio practice first and foremost. Work to make sure what you’re making is of strong quality and consistent and that your voice is clear. Don’t wait to be rescued by anyone. Don’t wait for opportunities to find you, go out and get them. You decided to be the boss so you have to learn to act like one, define your vision and set your goals, roll up your sleeves and start making them a reality. Learn to pivot and be loose, few things will work out exactly how you want them, the beauty will be in how things fit together when you look back. 

G: At Guildworks, 75% of our artists are women working at an exceptional level, many in mediums traditionally viewed as ‘male.’ Has the fine art world changed for women?  If so, how?

OB: I did not know that - I love that! Changes are occurring, but there is still a long way to go. For me, it is super important not to take the vantage point of the victim and blame the establishment. Nothing is permanent and change is inevitable. We know that there are less than 20% of women getting shows, representation etc. So the goal is clear. It means that we as a collective have to make direct action: apply for jobs in the arts, send out portfolios, put on shows yourself, ask until you get a yes. Some of our achievements may feel small to us but the sum of the whole is what tips the scale.  

G: Cat or dog?

OB: I love them all truly. But I am a proud mother to a perfect cat son, named Marlowe. He is my studio companion, my alarm clock, mini heater and a best furry friend a girl could ask for.

View Oksana's work here.

10 Questions is our new, ongoing series where we ask artists at Guildworks questions about their work, life and inspirations. So you can get to know them a little better, and love them as much as we do. Got a burning question? Email us and we'll ask it for you!

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