Dreams On The Wind: The Incredible Sand Art of Kseniya Simonova
There is a permanence to art, based in the idea that something can be wrong or right based on what the artist envisioned. Art has the reputation of being timeless, made to last, and this is reinforced by museum walls full of carefully maintained masterpieces from centuries past. Kseniya Simonova, a Ukrainian-born artist, has discovered the way to make art that is constantly in flux, and the creative process of the art is as important as the final product. Her chosen medium is volcanic sand, her canvas is a light table, and her main genre is as niche as it gets - sand stories.
The image above doesn't look particularly notable, maybe just a charcoal sketch of a waterway in Prague, but consider that image is made entirely of sand, dropped delicately from the closed fist of Simonova, then orchestrated by her nails and fingers into the image you see there. She does not use brushes or tools other than her miraculously talented hands and the force of gravity.
Looking at a blank canvas is part of life for most visual artists, and making that first mark can be intimidating. If the brush stroke is too long, too hard, or too wide, it must be corrected, but the relative permanence of oil on canvas or pencil on paper can still make that first line a challenge. Most artists would love to simply move the paint effortlessly with a simple touch, nudging it to the precise spot, or shift the misplaced pencil stroke without having to erase and re-draw.
Watching Simonova work is like watching a riveting performance, in fact, she regularly shows her sand stories as performances everywhere from national television to the Olympic Games to the palaces of European royalty. To the common viewer, the process seems random, and the images develop in a similar way to photographs in a dark room; splotches of color, suggestions of shapes, and then finally, the resulting triumph of delicate shading, intricate detail, and whimsical splashes of life and symbolism.
Describing her work with words is like trying to taste chocolate with your hands, so instead, see Kseniya Simonova at work (and play) as she creates this "sand story", called Alexandra.
As you can see, her work can hardly be classified as an exclusively visual form. It is poetry as much as it is art, storytelling made flesh, so to speak. The permanence that most other artists strive for is irrelevant for Simonova, because much of her work is meant to be dynamic and progressive, one image or idea blending seamlessly into the next, like slow panning shots on a film set, or quick set changes on the darkened part of a stage during an actor's soliloquy.
These sand stories are the epitome of ephemeral art, except when they are recorded like the one above. Most artists battle against transience with sketchbooks, notepads, and even stacks of "bad work", but Simonova has no such storehouse of failed experiments or referrable material. Some of her most beautiful work will only ever be seen by her, or those lucky enough to be present during one of her shows.
Aside from her amazing sand story performances, Simonova's visual art as a singular image is also compelling. The fludiity of the images within the work is difficult to classify in terms of art movement or style, in the same way that Chagall was said to belong to no movement. Interestingly enough, Simonova is from the Ukraine, a close neighbor to Chagall's Russian origins. Some of her work is reminiscent of Chagall's disembodied heads, floating lovers, and simple scenes embedded with layer upon layers of symbolism. Chagall was everything, Symbolist, Surrealist, Cubist, Fauvist, and anything else he so desired in the moment.
Simonova's genre is just as difficult to assign, because her unique style of creation and her fluctuating imagery and subject matter shows a spontaneity and a passion that is somehow couched in masterful control and brilliant draftsmanship. It is impossible to believe that she plans every stroke ahead of time, predicting the way that each grain of sand will lay next to another. Therefore, while she may have the story in mind, she must be as flexible as her medium, and be ready to change and re-direct her artistic flow in an instant.
The other artist that jumps to mind when you see the dream-like quality of her sand stories in action or her single-frame visual art is Salvador Dali. He lived and died by the power of his dreams, and manifesting them on the canvas is what set him apart from any other artist of his time, and what made Surrealism such a significant movement of the 20th century. Simonova has a similar flair for the bizarre and cerebral. Much of her imagery is overlapping, impossible, and strange, as though plucked from a wisp of inexplicable dreaming.
A castle growing out of someone's head is decidedly Dalinean, yet Simonova has a streak of something completely unique in her work as well. Knowing that her work could be be swept away by an errant breeze breeze makes it precious and fragile, yet she is the one who destroys and re-creates her own masterpieces hundreds of times over. This makes her art impossible to possess, like live music, and makes her an unorthodox artist whose power lies in visceral yet ever-disappearing emotions, rather than impactful symbolism that will mystify generations to come.
Her first major sand story that got her noticed on "Ukraine's Got Talent" was entitled You Are Always Nearby, and shocked the judges, and the nation. No sand artist had ever done something so intricately beautiful or lengthy in that sort of entertaining and rapid way before. It swept the country by storm, racking up 24 million views on Youtube in the first two weeks. Here is a video of Simonova performing her work on that show.
Simonova has received worldwide acclaim for her stunning sand stories and her graphic works, and continued to work all around the world, in high demand to bring her unique talents to every corner where art fans may reside. Whether she is creating memories of her travels or telling sand stories of joy, sadness, hope, and fantasy, Kseniya Simonova is a gifted and visionary artist, who reminds us that some things are not meant to last, and must be appreciated in the moment, before the winds change.
Still Dreaming About Art? Read more about my favorite artists who work Outside The Lines.
All images are subject to copyright by the artist.