All images courtesy of the artist.

Based in Auburn, New York, Victoria Savka has established her practice as an illustrator, ceramic artist, writer, and teacher. Immersed in the countryside of Upstate New York, the artist usually finds inspiration in a bucolic world where cows, sheep, and ducks live freely while inhabiting her work and stories. Curious and playful, Savka incorporates different artistic influences into her practice. From French Impressionists and Post-impressionist painters to Brazilian Modernist architects, she absorbs and reinterprets their methods into her own contemporary style. 

In a world where most people incessantly record their everyday life with cameras and cellphones, the Oswego artist decided to patiently capture her memories and experiences with pictorial methods. With a series of bright and colorful drawings and watercolors that she calls mindmaps, her work becomes a reminder of the importance of allowing time in the art-making process. My Mindmappings is a body of work that the artist has developed since 2015. Depicting moments of remembrance during her childhood, her travels, and her daily life, these intricate and lively maps might include a record of images of food or even car rides with friends. 

From New York to California early in the year, I spoke to artist Victoria Savka to learn more about her practice, her relationship with time and memory, and the work she recently exhibited at the Kinetic Gallery at SUNY Geneseo. 

Claudia Pretelin: Victoria, can you talk briefly about your background and when you realized that you wanted to be an artist?

Victoria Savka: My family loves to read. When I was young, we would go to the library at least twice a week where we would take out books. I find stories to be marvelous gateways. I still remember the day I signed my first library card – it was the key to endless stories!  To this day I enjoy inventing stories as I create. While my hands are busy, my mind invents stories about the work I am making. I deeply desired to share my stories with others at a young age. Each time I see my work savored by others it is a joyful reminder that being an artist is a necessary part of the world. 

CP: Since 2015 you have embarked on preserving your memories as drawings and watercolors for your Mindmaps series. Can you talk about the importance of time in the way that you capture moments of remembrance in your work?

VS: One eye open to the world, one eye open to your mind, or to say it plainly, we use our experiences to understand and process those to come. Our past experiences place tremendous weight on our lives. 

I see my mindmaps as a means of recalling not only my experiences, but my emotions, feelings, and ideas.  Photography is beneficial and magical, but I wish to explore my experiences beyond what the world can see. These are my feelings, my tones, my colors, and my hidden stories.

In terms of process, I tend to jot down words, phrases, jokes, and thoughts that may have occurred to me during the event that I wish to recall.  On the other side of my notes, I begin my mindmap.  They do sometimes require a bit of research if they are drawn a few days after the event occurred – I look through post-it notes, photos, calendars, to-do lists, receipts, etc.  They tend to refresh my memory if I have an inkling that I may be forgetting something. 

CP: How has your Mindmaps project evolved from the beginning until now? Are you planning to continue this project indefinitely?

VS: My mindmaps have fluctuated in medium from watercolor to colored pencil and back. I see different mediums as an opportunity to develop a new approach or style – to expand and explore, even to take a break and play.

During this process, I have become smitten with watercolor painting. The gradual layering of transparent layers to develop an image is beautiful. You can see the complete process from the finished image. Nothing is hidden as it is all layered in a transparent, genuine fashion. The lightest of gestural strokes and pencil lines remain visible while the finished details are layered with confidence with a signature. They are raw and genuine, much like our perspectives and experiences.

All my mindmaps are of an intimate size. A small part of my life, like an entry in a journal. I have considered the possibility of increasing the size and exploring painting my works on canvas, perhaps I will do so, we shall have to wait and see.

CP: In our previous conversation, you described how some of the moments you capture in Mindmaps can be hard to recognize or remember at times. How do you incorporate storytelling into creating your visual memories?

VS: The abstracted and playful nature of my mindmaps lends greatly to the importance of ambiguity and memory. As I build upon my drawings I dissect and abstract them. It can take weeks to complete an image. As I focus on the colors and composition of the drawing as if they become abstract images. The ambiguity varies, but I find it intrigues me – almost like a test!  A test of my memory to recollect the drawing I made. I am an overthinker.  Sometimes I see these moments as overthinking a drawing – overthinking it to abstraction – did this memory exist or happen? Have I remembered it differently? 

CP: Color is an important connecting thread in your work. How do you choose color and texture to express your artwork’s tone, feeling, and sentiment?

VS: Language has always been important to me as I grew up bilingual, speaking English and Portuguese at home. I find clear communication to be a point of peace. Without clear, direct communication ideas falter. Whether it be communication between those who do not speak the same language or those who do but do not understand one another’s ideas. Communicating with those who do not speak the same tongue you find that gesture and tone are the most important steps. 

I use tone and gesture as the building blocks of my process. Tone is important in communication, even in visual communication. I use color, stroke, and gesture as my tone. I use my drawings, doodles, and painting as my information. All together they are the building blocks of my stories, the building blocks of my artwork. 

CP: In Mindmaps we can see the influence of Brazilian landscape architect, Burle Marx. Your mother is originally from Brazil and you mentioned you’ve traveled to the country a few times. Could you talk more about how your family roots have informed your practice?

VS: The merging of nature and abstraction in Roberto Burle Marx’s work resonates greatly with me. With my love for plants, gardening, and nature I found his work to be of great inspiration.  Marx’s work inspires me greatly as I believe your environment can shape you – his love for shaping nature into different landscapes, gardens, and cityscapes is astonishing to me.  

My family instilled the importance of surrounding yourself with friends, objects, ideas, and stories that would make you a better person. I believe that all your experiences change the way you see the world and who you become. My visits to my family to Brazil were eye-opening as they are to any individual traveling internationally. Travel allows you to expand your bubble to see different ways of being, embracing, and learning the new surroundings.  

CP: You’ve described your work practice as process-oriented and organized. Are there any challenges to this kind of process versus a more serendipitous way of working?

VS: The beginning of the mindmapping process is quite structured. I am a detective searching for memories through notes, lists, photos, and more. Once I start drawing the process shifts to a free for all. I become absorbed deeply in my work. It is a reflective and considerate process that gives me time to consider each color, each stroke, and each building block of an image. I believe raw gestural marks are beautiful. I begin my work with loose mark-making. A raw gesture is like a first impression – loose and messy. Direct communication is raw and direct. I get to know the image as you work on it and as I explore it. I allow myself to get to know the work beyond the physical piece by asking questions about its purpose, its story, and its future.

CP: You have embraced a sort of bucolic lifestyle that has impacted your art and subjects. What is your relationship to nature as an artist?

VS: Living in an area with different muses and inspiration like the fish of the lake and the geese and ducks who honk throughout the day have found their way into my work.  The world around me will always be in my work as they are the stories I know. 

Nature always presents new moments and interactions that I can observe. There are beautiful consistent patterns like the seasons, growth in spring, and even the songs of the birds, but I love finding how creatures interact with one another.  Watching a story unfold and be created.

Stories displaying the whimsy and beauty of the world are favorites. The beauty of the world and the mysteries of nature should be admired and revered. 

CP: What’s your favorite Instrument of Memory?

VS: To-do lists, grocery lists, agendas, and post-it notes provide so much insight into the small thoughts.     

CP: Thank you, Victoria! 

Victoria Savka is an interdisciplinary project-based artist who savors the challenge to present a story waiting to be discovered.  She gravitates towards mediums of paint, printmaking, writing, and ceramics, but is always eager to learn new methods. Victoria’s approach to her work begins with meticulous consideration to process and ends with carefree ebullience. She dearly admires the simplicity of American Folk Art, the whimsical humor of Staffordshire pottery, the moral and sometimes ethereal nature of fables and tall tales, the twisted humor in Ronald Dahl and Guy de Maupassant’s short stories, and the poetic color palettes of Les Nabis. Victoria holds a BFA in Illustration, BFA in Fine Arts, and a Masters in Art Education from Rochester Institute of Technology.  She has done residencies at Main Street Arts, The Yards, and is happy to say her work is found in happy homes throughout this wide world.  Victoria currently works and teaches in Auburn, New York where she cherishes afternoons with the ducks and geese who greet her with their own unique songs. 

If you are interested in learning more about Victoria’s work, check out her website and follow her on Instagram @victoriasavkaart / @savkaclay & @mymindmappings 

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