In conversation with Nadiia Forkosh

The Ukrainian artist shares her experiences and talks about using her art to support her community.

Nov 16, 2022 Art

2 weeks ago
I had the pleasure of chatting with Nadiia Forkosh, a Ukrainian artist who explores the intersection of traditional art and NFTs. Born and raised in Kiev, Nadiia’s life was turned upside-down after Russia’s invasion in February. Yet, even as a deep, wordless pain flashed through her eyes during our Zoom meeting, I was moved and humbled by her bravery, her positivity, and her faith in the healing power of art. Not only is she optimistic, but she has also proven to be selfless. Nadiia shares the proceeds from her NFT sales with fellow displaced Ukrainians, and plans to continue for as long as it’s needed.
RE: Thanks so much for making time to speak with me! I understand that you’ve had to leave your home in Kiev since the war began; where are you now, and are you safe?

NF: I’m in my friend’s home, so the internet connection is good here…no sirens now. I hope there won’t be any this hour, because life these days…sometimes we just stay in the basement, and you can’t do anything.

I’m on the border of Ukraine and Romania. It’s a safe place. I live and I was born in Kiev, but since February I couldn’t go back there, so I’ve been here.

RE: Have you been able to retrieve any of your canvases from Kiev?

NF: Sadly, no. I will not be able to return to my art studio…I lived on the 22nd floor in Kiev, and it’s really dangerous to be there right now.

RE: I’m so sorry that you had to leave your home and studio behind. How long have you been an artist?

NF: Since I was born I started to draw, so I’ve always been an artist. I’ve done some nameless work, I’ve worked in advertising and in traditional art, so I’ve done a lot of different projects over the years.

What I like is digital and traditional art together; I’m not going to split these. NFTs allowed me to be a digital artist. To me, that means that I create both physical painted canvases and unique NFT works, and I see it as a possibility for me to bring art to a new level.

It’s like music. We have traditional music, and then later we developed digital music. But when we unite them, we have something more unique, something special, and that’s what I do with visual art.

RE: So it sounds like you’re working to create a hybrid of the two styles.

NF: I’m here to engage the viewers, it’s how they participate and how they can take art in as an experience. I think about how visitors react in a gallery when they see a canvas versus how they react to digital art in a gallery.

I think in traditional, when you see a canvas, the viewer has to react to the canvas to understand it more. But when you see the digital form of art, there can be so much there: animation, music, sometimes you can touch and smell the exhibit…it’s easier to eat, is how I describe it!

What I’m investigating, these reactions: this is the way I move in art.

RE: I realize this is a sensitive subject, but have you found it difficult at all to create art and find inspiration during your displacement?

NF: For ideas [to make art], no. In my work, the most important thing is the human. I investigate the human, it’s what I’m interested in. So for me, there’s been no problem finding inspiration. It’s more an issue of time because I’m preparing documents, moving around, raising funds, helping others. You can’t avoid it now.

What I’m doing: I never ask people to hate other people…even if I don’t like what they’re doing, as is the case with this war. When people look at my art, I ask them to look at the humanity at the heart of a situation. It’s harder painting canvasses right now of course; it’s not possible to have paint delivered currently.

The most important thing right now is resuming the profession, finding work wherever I can. 

RE: It’s interesting that you say that, because I was struck by the amount of color and hope that I saw in the work you have posted on SuperRare. It seems as though your work has not shifted so much stylistically, would you say that’s true?

NF: I’ve had different experiences in my life. Hope and belief and positivity can create miracles. That’s my relative experience; I’m a positive person. And sometimes a situation is really hard and people say ‘this is too bad, I can’t possibly hold all this,’ but we have to. We have to live, we have to believe.

It’s the core of my energy, the well and source of what I’m doing. No matter what happens, I will be who I am, I’m fighting for it and yes, it’s really hard. It’s exhausting, really.

But no one promises that it will be easy.

RE: I’d like to talk a little about your work with NFTs now; I understand you were minting them before the war. When did you start minting your art as NFTs?

NF: Since 2020. I got an invitation and for me, it was a unique experience.

For me, the NFT is the possibility to create canvasses that exist in another dimension: a digital dimension in its original form. It was a blow-up for my digital art so I was ready to take it and go on, it’s a new step!

I think there was a step to the moon, and now here’s a step to the digital, for us artists. It’s just such a powerful form, I think you could argue that it’s the most powerful thing that has happened to the art world since the Renaissance.

I’ve been in an exhibition in London. They took twenty-one of my painted canvasses and twenty-one NFTs. So it was a canvas, and then a screen, canvas, screen, and people could interact with both forms of art at once. 

People were saying ‘wow!’ It’s so unusual to see digital that you could see and touch, and smell, it was something people didn’t expect. This is the way I want to move: to make more interesting things that viewers can interact with in more powerful ways. That’s what I’m doing with NFTs.

That was in London, it was February 2022 and as soon as I got back the war started.

I’d been organizing it for two years, to get the canvasses together, to put everything in the right place. It was a great event and then I was back to this—horrible situation.

RE: So how long does it take for you to create a piece of artwork that you’ll mint as an NFT?

NF: Usually I have albums, sketchbooks, and each day, I create an idea in sketches. But I’m not usually satisfied with them, for one project I might make ten sketches, all different forms. For me, to create a high-quality NFT, that usually takes three weeks. Three weeks until I’m satisfied with the quality that I have. I know some artists can create them in two or three days, much faster. But I’m not satisfied with the result and the clarity of the idea. I’m looking at clear form: an idea that can be absolutely understandable for viewers. 

Yet meanwhile they should have perfect composition, perfect shape, so I can’t make it in a few minutes. It might not be great for popularity because I don’t have a huge quantity, but I prefer to have an image that I’m really happy with when I upload it and when a collector buys it, I’m sure they can estimate what it’s worth.

RE: You’re clearly very inspired by the metaverse that NFTs have established for artists. How did you use proceeds from your sales to support fellow refugees in Ukraine?

NF: Firstly we organized a public fund. We sold several NFTs through Solana currency. We sent some of the money to a maternity hospital because there were newborn infants living in the basement there.

With my sales, I’ve been sharing the profits since then. You’re around so many homeless people that have nothing—I’m ten kilometers from Bucha. They have nothing there, just clothes, what they fled in.

So we provide them with bread, food, clothes. I always share when I make sales. These aren’t just strangers, they are families that you know, members from your community and their children. So I always share some part of my profits to people who need it.

I have a soul, so I have to share.

You understand that you could be in their place—they lived like you down the street, and now they need clothes. It’s not possible to avoid this in these times.

The problems in Ukraine, there’s a lot of corruption now, some groups have organized funds and collected money—and then they don’t share it with those who need it; they buy things for their own purposes. So I have found that it’s better to buy food and medicine directly so the money doesn’t ‘fly away.’

RE: How do you choose where to send the funds to? GoFundMe, or through PayPal, or do you just bring funds directly?

NF: All of those. For example, my friend called and said a family with three kids she knew, they were trying to travel somewhere more safe, they had no gas in the tank of their car, no food. So she asked me to bring them what I could; bring them food, give them some money for gas. Necessary, emergency things. If somebody needs you, you go!

RE: What an amazing unity you’re describing amongst the refugees and civilians from Kiev.

NF: Yes, you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who could use some help, so everyone comes together.

RE: Have you worked with other artists to raise funds?

NF: I’ve helped some Ukrainian artists, explaining what freelance is. Many people have lost their jobs and are now turning attention to their hobbies, so if they’ve always liked art, they want to try and create some to sell. So I’ve explained in free lectures, people can show up, or tune in online and I explain how to create NFTs, how to get signed up.

Everyone now has the Internet. Even if it’s hard, I really try to work with a schedule. I decided to just make a free lecture so people could access this information for those who have jobs and don’t. I explain the risks, scams online, I get it. I was hacked several times. I explain how to avoid it, how to be careful, how to create work that can be sold in the future.

RE: Tell me more about the challenge of ‘remaining human,’ as you described it.

NF: When it happened first, of course, I was in shock. Everyone was in shock. For a week, I was in shock, it was not possible to deal with, it sounded like a washing machine, it was a scary sound, hearing too many ‘booms.’

Then I realized, you have to work. It’s really helpful when you dive into the work, when  you communicate, for example, like the SuperRare community, a lot of them have been asking how I’ve been doing, they’ve organized a workspace. It’s really good to dive into.

Because the news around you, it’s absolutely horrible. You hear every day that people are dying, bombs are going off. In this case, the work has really helped me to stay alive. To be human. To concentrate. Even when you’re working with a digital template, you’re able to forget for just a little bit what’s going on around you. So thank god I’m fortunate enough to work, it’s been great.

RE: I’m sure that the person you were before February 24th and the person that you are now are two separate people. Do you sense any change in the art that you’re creating, or is that a constant for you?

NF: Of course it’s changing; it’s changing and the humanity in my work, I go on with it. I want people to understand each other through the visual. Nowadays, people dread what you’re going to say about the world, nobody has time to themselves, no one wants to concentrate, because there’s too much information, that’s normal today. But I think that people need to hear each other.

Try to understand, we’re in a different mentality. Just trying to understand what another person is going to say: that’s much more important. Biologically, when there are a lot of species in one place, we get angry, it’s normal.

But I believe that we’re not just creatures, we have something that can’t control us, something that we can call human. I’m going to emphasize in my work more and more that we are not just a crowd; we have a point of view and we have to listen to each other because that can prevent more war in the future. That’s my standpoint and I want to make brighter things in my work, make things bright like they were before the war. 

RE: What is next for you? Do you plan to continue working primarily in digital art and NFTs?

NF: Yes, I’ll go on my way with digital art. I want to continue to create NFTs to sell on SuperRare.

All my life, before NFTs, the galleries would plead with me. I worked with galleries that worked only with canvasses, and I’ve worked with galleries that only did digital forms. I want to show that nowadays, an artist can exist in a unique form and those styles shouldn’t be divided. We’re contemporary! If you’re a contemporary artist, you can be in both dimensions—in reality with canvasses and oil or acrylic, and also with animation and superimposed music that can exist as a core of this metaverse.

RE: Do you have any advice for other creators out there who are trying to break through into NFTs, or just to create new art in general?

NF: I don’t think I have anything new to say that artists haven’t heard before, but I’ll try to extract from my experience. Firstly, never give up. Learn, and learn the new.

These days, there are so many new computer programs. They have so many new opportunities to work with 3D sculptures, animation, try everything that you like! Try and complete something, don’t just try. Even if it’s hard, you fear you’ll have no time—see a project to the end. I really believe that creating is making you better.

Thirdly, read about, and go to exhibitions. When you see these works, you’re immersed and involved in it, you digest it a little, and that’s how a new idea is born. I’m not saying it’s copying what you’re seeing at exhibits, just that new ideas get you moving forward and creating better as an artist.

That’s my way, and this formula is working. 

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Rebecca Endres

Rebecca Endres is a freelance writer and office administrator working in New York City. She currently lives on Long Island. She is the winner of the 2018 New School University MFA Chapbook Contest in Poetry. Her poetry has been published in Thin Air and The Best American Poetry Blog.

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