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I was born and raised in Novosibirsk, Russia….what Americans know as “Siberia”.

When I was growing up in my small town, I didn’t have access to the type of resources and opportunities my children now have, and so never had a formal way of pursuing my passion for art. But I was always involved in some kind of art project for my own enjoyment… whether it was a painting, collage, dolls, photography, digital art, knitting, sewing. I loved it all.

I moved to the United States in 1998 to pursue a career in architecture. But in 2009, with a small child and another baby on the way, and a husband who was self-employed, I was laid off. This was devastating to me and my family. I took it as a sign that I needed to change my path in life, so I took a clay class near at the art center my house. I had never worked with clay before, and as I began working with this new substance I found faces just started popping out my hand… faces that were happy, sad, silly, excited, nervous… all kinds of human emotions. I loved it! Desperately craving more training, I sought out and began taking classes by well-established artists. The more classes I took, the more I wanted. I just loved this substance and the way it allowed all these emotions to flow through my fingers and create wonderful snapshots of human expression. Since then I was published in numerous magazines and won awards.

My work focuses on the emotions that make us all human…….and centers on facial expressions as the representation of those emotions. My ideas typically come from a phrase I heard or a picture I saw, or a “moment” I observed. And for as much as I enjoy creating these facial expressions in clay, I also enjoy seeing the emotions and expressions brought out in people when they see my work for the first time. Especially laughter. I love it when one of my sculptures makes someone smile!

 

Artist Statement

 I portray people’s emotions, expressions, and human nature through clay. Through clay busts, I evoke the human experience of smugness, carelessness, drunkenness, joy, sadness, melancholy, or sullenness. My intention is for the observer to find humor in my work, while recognizing the truth of the emotions expressed. To me, emotions are what makes us human, and facial expressions are the voices of those emotions. I use clay to express my observations on the basic humanistic qualities that surround me and that surround us all.

 

You say growing up in small town in Russia, you didn’t haveaccess to the type of resources and opportunities your children now have,and so never had a formal way of pursuing your passion for art. Tell me more about that, how did it all start for you in the world of art?

Zhanna: Growing up in Russia, I did not have a lot of toys and my sister and I often made our own dolls and dressed them up; we were always making something out of what we could find around. Now I realize the value of that experience. I also loved painting, drawing, and anything creative. But at that time I did not fully understand that what I was doing was “Art”.  I just knew it as things I loved doing.  And “Art” was certainly not a professional career path known in my little town. So I wound up going to college in Russia for Architecture.

In hindsight, I realize how lost I was in Architecture. It did not fuel my passions. Feeling unfilled, and looking for something more, I decided to move to the United States in 1998, after receiving my degree in Architecture. And I continued to work in Architecture still feeling very unfullfilled.
When the financial crisis came and devastated the architecture and construction industry in 2009, I was laid off. My husband was self-employed, we had one small child and were expecting another. My lay-off was devastating to me and my family. I took it as a sign to change my path in life. One day I saw an ad for a clay class at the art center near my house. I never worked with clay before. As I was working with it I started seeing faces  popping out my hand… faces that were happy, sad, silly, excited, nervous… all kinds of human emotions. I loved it! Desperately craving more training, I started taking classes from well-established artists. The more classes I took, the more I wanted. I just loved playing with clay and the way it allowed me to let all these emotions flow through my fingers and create wonderful snapshots of human expression. But when photos of my work started appearing in different art magazines and I won some awards, I realized that I could professionally pursue my passions…. in what is known as “Art”.
Martin Zhanna_Captured Gaze

What is the process from start to a final artwork, do you envision it from the beginning or is it a different process?

Zhanna: In my early days, when my technique was still in a raw stage, I never knew what the final sculpture would look like. I would just let my hands flow, and see what/who would come out in the end. I liked not knowing the outcome. Later, when I started to feel more confident in my skills, I started to work from sketches, and that’s how I work now. I have control over the final product and the results are usually very close to what I have envisioned.
Zhanna Martin_Eugine

What challenges have you faced in your creative work?

Zhanna: At the beginning, there were too many to count, and there are still a few that arise. The challenges are mostly related to the technicality and structure of the item.  After I build my new piece, I have to cut the whole thing into a few parts in order to hollow them out to 1/2 inch thickness, then I connect all clay pieces together like a 3D puzzle. The connection of the parts is a very critical step, because if there are any gaps or air bubbles left in the piece, it can just explode during firing. That danger is always present. That is why every ceramic artist, myself included, prays to The Kiln Gods for successful firing.
Zhanna Martin_Gabrielle’s joy

Who are your biggest influences?

Zhanna: From the old masters it’s Lorenzo Bernini, Antonio Corradini, Franz Messerschmidt. I have an extensive list of modern figurative sculptors, but my teachers have influenced me in their own way: Tip Toland, Curt Lacros, Philippe Faraut, Debra Fritz, Kelsey Duncan and Kevin Rohde.
Zhanna-Martin_Grandmas-knitting-grandmas

Your art is very unique. What are some of the tools you use to create a distinct style of artwork?

Zhanna: Thank you! Mostly my hands and just a few basic clay tools, nothing fancy.
Zhanna Martin_There is somebody for everybody

How do you seek out opportunities and, what is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?

Zhanna: I exhibit my works at SOFA Chicago and apply to various calls for art when the theme is appropriate for my style.  I have not been doing a lot of outreach programs, I mostly share the pictures of my work on my instagram account @zhannamartin,  and  post videos of process on my YouTube channel.
Zhanna Martin_Woman with a bird

What are your plans for the future with regards to your style? Are you considering other themes or subjects, or some other mediums?

Zhanna: I have so many ideas and plans, enough to keep me busy for two lifetimes, but multimedia with found objects and resin is my next step. As for the new theme – I have started making my first animals (dogs).
Zhanna Martin_Yuri

You say your intention is for the observer to find humor in your work, while recognizing the truth of the emotions expressed. Are there any secret messages you are trying to send with your art?

Zhanna: Life is about the joy we feel. We have many talented artists who cover deep, provocative, dark or intense sides of human nature. I just want to spread joy and smiles. My stories are about the emotions (mostly happy) of regular people. My art pieces are intuitive and are about life and daily living. “The secret message” is to recognise every little joy coming your way.

Zhanna Martin_Knitting Grandma

What is the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on the most?

Zhanna: Making my little pug Quinn. It was a lot of fun!

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Zhanna: To recover ASAP from the COVID freeze in the art world. I want to work every minute I get, to attend live events, art shows and workshops, to reconnect with fellow artists and to enjoy life. I am open to new opportunities.

Make sure to check Zhanna’s website

Thank you!

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