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Interview with artist Leyla Rzayeva


 leyla rzayeva studio

Whats a normal day like in your studio?

My studio is 5 minutes from my son's school. I drop him off and head to the workshop. I work on several pieces at once, paying attention to see which painting comes through and where my approach is more playful. Then I focus on completing that piece over a period of a few weeks, returning to it each day. 

What mediums do you work in?

Oils, ink, gouache, color pencil. 

Whats your favorite tool or process?

Oil paint has remained the most useful in my experience. Oils can carry a lot of emotional and tactile information as a medium.  

What are your sources for inspiration for painting?

Found imagery and direct sketches in the garden. Direct observation often helps me when I get stuck and cannot resolve a painting

Tell us a little about how you grew up? How does your experience living abroad and coming from another culture influence your work?

I was born in Moscow. Mom and dad always did really great stuff like long retreats in the Caucasus and Tien Shan, publishing, astrology and religious studies. And my summers were split between Baku, Azerbaijan and Stavropol, Russia. Very rural, a lot of hikes without supervision, it was something that really let my imagination grow. 

Tell us a little about your time in Baltimore, Azerbaijan and New Mexico?

In high school I attended Baltimore School for the Arts. Flexible curriculum and environment there built a lot of confidence in young adults. As students we had a lot of time for self-directed play and inquiry. After graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico studying collaborative printmaking at Tamarind Institute. The importance and memories in the rock, color and land are very visible there. (from Tent Rocks Monument in northern Arizona in photo below)

I travel with my family to Azerbaijan every other year. (from Baku, Azerbaijan in photo above) Its funny a experience to be uprooted. I think my emotional understanding has stayed connected with Azeri culture and sensibilities. Its the only place, at least for now that I can return to and take a breath of fresh air, in a sense that it will nourish my mind and body without any effort on my part.

NM was my first experience of the southwest in 2008. The watercolor paintings you picked to frame were done in Sedona. The two oils titled Could-forms are an on going series I started in Fountain Hills, Arizona. The light is very inspiring there. Its easy to explore the color in that area. Everything becomes very exaggerated and transparent. 

What other projects or fun things have you been working on?

I split my time between my own practice and working with other artists on the printing press. I help artists produce limited edition original lithographs and monotypes. I see the artists I work with as peers not clients, that way the collaborative printing experience is always a teaching experience for me.