Four Dames at Spoke Art in San Francisco is a group exhibition featuring new works by San Francisco-based artists Eliza Ivanova, Nadezda, Karla Ortiz and Ximena Rendon. This four-woman show is a dynamic and immersive experience filled with still-frames from each of the artists’ imagined worlds - populated by mystical and macabre characters and narratives. Exhibiting a mastery of each of their materials, anatomy and classical training, each dame has created darkly beautiful scenes of human expression and decay imbued with a sense of mystery. A harmonious blend of traditional techniques and contemporary sensibilities have combined to create oil paintings and graphite drawings that are at once familiar and secretive belonging to each artists’ unique and imaginative realm.

Nadezda’s recent oil paintings are gesturally expressive in both her mark-making and the composition of her subjects. Her figures offer a veiled glimpse into her timeless narratives. Karla Ortiz’s delves deeper into her craft as a painter withe her new pieces, sharing a similarly un-placeable era with the other dames. Ortiz explores “capturing an aesthetic moment in time, as technically accurately and as beautifully as I can, while also expressing that which I cannot say in words."

Eliza Ivanova’s new drawings provide a counterpoint to the darker and dense works of her fellow dames with open white-space, yet still share a cabalistic sense with the accompanying work. Ivanova’s drawings create a tension between detailed renderings of human expression and the brevity of her composition. Ximena Rendon’s immaculately detailed oil on aluminum works explore death and mortality. Tendon’s with the surface materials direct reference to mortuary slabs.

Could you begin by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about how you got started as an artist?
Eliza Ivanova: I'm currently an animator at Pixar Animation Studios. My artistic upbringing began back when I was twelve at a small atelier in Bulgaria where I was born. I was a classically trained draftsman and painter well on my way to the Bulgarian Art Academy, when I decided to get involved in film and combine my passion for drawing with that of cinema, which resulted in a love for animation. However, I never abandoned my fine art journey; in fact, while in college at Calarts, I continued expanding my skill set, sensibility, and design sense. A decade later, I'm combining the talents from both classical fine art and of animation in sketch form and with paint.

Nadezda: Art has always been an essential part of my identity – the only thing that has been changing throughout the years was the means for its expression. It started with drawing on wallpapers, bed sheets and my own body when I was a kid, transformed into music, theater and poetry during my teenage years, found its way into concept art for film, and now it is residing in my paintings and drawings.

Ximena Rendon: Throughout elementary and middle school we regularly had school plays and events where we were required to sing and dance. As a shy kid, this was a profound source of agony until I realized that I could get out of it entirely by helping to paint the backgrounds for the events.

Karla Ortiz: I was born in the island of Puerto Rico on a Halloween morning. Ever since I could remember I was drawing. My mother likes to say I drew before I spoke, but I think she also likes to exaggerate a bit! But I've been training ever since I was a child. My later education came briefly from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and more intensely, at the Safehouse Atelier in San Francisco (now in LA) under the tutelage of painter Carl Dobsky.

How did you originally meet the other dames?
N: Karla and I met at the Safehouse Atelier during its San Francisco chapter (now located in LA) – it was more than a school with a strong art program, but an art sanctuary where I first realized the importance of artistic brotherhood, which nowadays, thanks to online presence, expands internationally. This is how I found out about Eliza’s beautiful work. Ximena has been a very good friend of mine, who I am blessed to have known for many years – back in the days we happened to study at the same Academy of Arts in San Francisco.

EI: We were introduced through common friends, and needless to say our friendship took little to no time to flourish! We have so much in common in terms of taste and philosophy about art, that it's therapeutic talking to these ladies for hours.

KO: I met Nadezda when we were both in school at the Safehouse. We used to draw every morning and get lunch afterward. Throughout the years we became good friends, today she means quite a lot to me as she is not only immensely talented and inspiring but also a very unique and lovely human being. I've recently met Ximena and Eliza via Nadezda, and I'm happy to report they are equally talented, wonderful and lovely!

XR: I first met Nadezda seven or eight years ago through my husband, at the time we were all in art school. A couple years later I met Eliza, also through my husband - they are both animators at Pixar. Finally Karla, I met at a drawing party hosted by Nadezda and Jeremy Mann.

What is a typical day in the studio like for you? Any rituals, warm-up exercises, music or background noise that help your process?
XR: My day starts with an early morning hike with my dog Eli. This is crucial for me (and Eli) because once I get in the studio, I'm pretty much in hermit mode for the rest of the day. I like listening to podcasts for a bit of background noise. Lately i've been listening to a show called "Lore" - it has a great melancholic mood. I've also been listening to lectures and podcasts that deal with the concept of death in different contexts: from philosophical and religious perspectives on dying and the afterlife, to historic lectures about the Black Death. Pretty uplifting stuff…

N: By any means I try to avoid “typical” – I find stagnation in repetition, so I start every day with a cup of coffee, good stretch and a thought “What is the day going to bring?” Even though it surely brings a variety of creative endeavors in the studio, covered in charcoal dust and paint splatters, - every time I like to think of it as a new adventure from the start. When I am in the studio, I make it an immersive experience by involving all five senses in the creative process. The sage smudge sticks are lit and smoldering, the music is in its full splendor, strange artifacts and curiosities watching from the dark corners of the room – all to inspire, derive the energy from and channel into the single art piece, exposed in the studio’s spotlight.

EI: During the day, my free time is dedicated to my 3 year old daughter. Night time is drawing time. I like the peace and quiet of the night, and ideas usually start pouring in once the daily tasks are taken care of. I always need music to work to (even for animation), so I have my playlist ready; then it only take 10-15 minutes to zone out. Sometimes I do warm ups but other times it's all about getting lost in drawing details from the get go.

KO: A typical day in the studio starts around noon for me and ends around 8-9 pm. I have morning rituals of going to the gym or taking very long walks. They help me think and prepare for the day ahead. Once the work day begins, I usually like to start with a bit of silence, but will quickly turn on some great tunes to get me going! Unless I am drawing, when I draw I like the silence (or at least songs without lyrics) to help me focus. I tend to take short breaks throughout the day, as it's important for your body to do so! I do forget sometimes, and can usually work straight for about 2-4 hours before my body reminds me to take a break!

With such a strong background in concept and film work amongst the group, how do you feel your work relates to or differentiates from work (your own or your colleagues/fellow dames’) in that field?
IE: I’ve been in the field of animation for 7 years now and I notice that I apply principles of animation to my fine art now- principles like flow of motion, straights against curves, squash and stretch, and clear silhouette. Even though the same concepts are applied to live action as well, in animation they're usually pushed or exaggerated. When I approach a traditional sketch with these principles in mind, it becomes a blend of a grounded drawing with a solid foundation mixed with playful design elements that add flow and contrast to the piece.

N: Concept art for film is an important part of my artistic character – it taught me one of the best traits an artist can possess, which is an inquisitive nature about the world. While working in film I learned how to ask the right questions and be honest during the internal dialog that happens in an artist’s head throughout the creative process. In my artwork for film, I did a lot of character design, which carried over to my personal work as I have always been interested in human nature and the human condition.

KO: I think the work I do for myself tends to be more personal than the work I do for film. I am also attracted to different subject matters that I don't often get to work in a movie. Usually, I paint superheroes and villains, and it's quite fun! But for my own work, I'm attracted to subtlety, beauty, animals, life, death, myth, the old and the new. Subjects that reflect my views on the world, something that again, is personal. I think that alone makes my gallery work be its own entity.

XR: In this case I'm afraid I am the odd Dame out, my background is strictly fine art.

There is a strong cinematic and narrative style within each of your work, do you have a character or story in mind before you begin on a piece or do you let the story evolve as you work?
XR: What drives my work is usually a theme more than a story. I think for this reason my work is less narrative. Currently I'm exploring the theme of death and mortality and its place in our culture. It has become a bit of an obsession.

KO: A little of both. Some paintings are continuations of a previous tale, while others take shape as they are created!

EI: Yes, I normally do. Sometimes there is a story I want to illustrate and I just need to find the right references. Other times, it's the reference that invokes an idea for a drawing.

N: Every piece I create is an excerpt from an imaginary short film, residing in my brain’s library of many. It is a form of escapism and my artwork is an excerpt from it – cherry-picked, painted, framed, hung on the wall for others to have a peek and make their own conclusion of what the rest of its plot is.

With such vivid imaginations in this group, I really wonder what you guys were like as kids. Have you always created your own worlds to explore?
KO: I was a very quiet but easy going kid. While I made friends easily, the neighborhoods I grew up didn't have kids around, so I would often retreat to drawing, toys and video games as a way to entertain myself! I used to play with my dinosaur toys (my favorite!) in the backyard, and then run back inside and draw a moment from when I was playing earlier! Everywhere I'd go my mother and father would bring drawing materials, just in case I got bored!

EI: My most vivid childhood memories are from the town and house my grandparents lived in. There I spent my careless summers, drew the most, and the whole city was our playground. Cars were scarce at that time and our games were always outside and with whatever we found, so, as subject matter for my pieces, I'm drawn to cultures that genuinely prefer a simpler, quieter lifestyle.

N: When I was six, I remember standing on a chair in a hallway for hours in front of a big mirror, pushing it, touching it, breathing on it, trying to figure out the way to get on “the other” side. Not much has changed – I am still trying to get through the looking glass, with the only difference being that I think I have now found my way to get there.

XR: I was just a quiet kid that liked to draw. I'm afraid that's it. I didn't get into the arts in a serious way until much later.

All four of you utilize a traditional handling of materials and an obvious mastery of drafts-dameship, anatomy and your craft. What part of your education (formal and informal) do you think has influenced you most?
N: Both formal and informal backgrounds played a great part in gaining confidence with the tools, but the main skill was to realize the way my own brain works. Understanding yourself is a lifelong endeavor and one of the most difficult. After you realize how your mind works, the tool just becomes a delivery vehicle – if the idea is strong, it can be carried out with a stick in sand.

EI: The two most influential figures in my artistic development have been Garo Muradyan, who taught me the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and of anatomy, and E. Michael Mitchell at Calarts, who showed me how to break the rules in ways that enhance the art form and reach that next level with the technique and ideas. My work is a constant play between the two mindsets, where applying and breaking the rules complement each other.

XR: I know for a fact that my drawing and painting skills were acquired during art school so the influence of my formal education is undeniable. I continue to be interested in learning as much about human anatomy as possible - I collect Anatomy books and sketch from anatomic reference whenever I can.

My informal education is an ongoing process. Nowadays, I try to be proactive about being exposed to art and different artists by visiting galleries and museums while also talking about art with friends. Luckily, most of my friends in the Bay Area are artists. Social media has also made it very convenient to be exposed to artists around the world.

KO: Hands down, my atelier training. Drawing the cast, blocking in skeletons, and painting the human body, every day was the most illuminating year and half of training I've had! I recommend traditional atelier training to all who are interested in learning the craft!

Is there a particular piece, theme or use of material that you are really excited about for the show?
EI: I limited myself to one medium, which is graphite. I was most excited about applying it in different ways and playing with negative space, which you'll see in all of the pieces for this show. Subject matter-wise, I am fascinated by folklore costumes, so a lot of the pieces carry a feeling reminiscent of the past.

KO: Oils, oils, oils. The medium I'm most known for is pencils, but I felt it was time for a change. You see I never considered myself a draftsman, always a painter. So I'm slowly transitioning to showcasing mostly oils, and this show will be a big step towards that! N: I am excited for the show’s energy as a whole – I feel a strong creative spirit behind each of the dames. Bringing it together in one space will be a treat not just for the audience, but also for each one of us dames.

XR: I'm just really looking forward to seeing everyone's work in one place. I'm honored to be showing my work along such talented ladies.

Anything else you would like to add or touch on?
EI: I’m beyond excited to see my pieces in the company of the amazing work that Nadya, Ximena, and Karla are preparing. It's going to be an ensemble of beautiful artworks that represent each one of us but also create something else that is powerful when seen all together, in harmony.

KO: I believe our show will be incredible! Four young women who have dedicated their lives to making imagery that makes us feel, think and dream. Four women who have incredible talent, united and leading the way to what is possible in art. I myself am dedicated to continuing the tradition of capturing an aesthetic moment in time, as technically accurately and as beautifully as I can, while also expressing that which I cannot say in words, only in visuals. I am very excited for what lies ahead but especially excited for this upcoming show.

Four Dames opens Saturday, March 4th at SPOKE SF located at 816 Sutter St. San Francisco with an opening reception from 6 to 9. All four artists will be in attendance.