A Life as Vivid as Her Art: Kristina Ulanowsky

– by David Charlesworth

Kristina Ulanowsky is an artist with an amazing story. She’s enjoyed commercial success on two continents and been commissioned to paint for Zach Efron. Colosoul spoke with her recently about her inspirational life.

Artistically inclined from an early age, Kristina was born into a creative family, with a musician father and architect grandfather. “As long as I can remember, I have always been drawing, designing, writing. I did my first oil painting at the age of 14. Although I had no certain intention to become a professional artist, I’ve always felt the need to express myself through something,” Kristina says. “One day my father got my sketches to [Sukhumi Art College] and they liked them so much, I was told I could skip the entrance examination to apply to the college.

“That was very surprising to me. I had never taken my passion for painting seriously. It’s safe to say I’m self-taught because pretty soon my education was interrupted by the huge devastating conflict that happened in my homeland.” Kristina grew up in the contested Georgian territory of Abkhazia, living within the firing range of the conflict. Luckily, she was able to escape it. From her experience, Kristina drew new insights into human nature which she threw into her artwork.

“It’s hard to survive through times like that. No electricity, fresh water, or food. You are afraid to close your eyes at night. If you hear a bomb falling, you’re considered fortunate–it’s near you but not targeting you,” she says. “During that period of my life I learned a lot about people’s nature. While some people you’ve known your entire life are arming themselves to rob and kill their neighbours, while there’s blood, death, and violence around you…others show acts of great kindness and support each other to make another day. My family started trading my art for food when there was nothing left to sell, so we could go for a year like that until we got the chance to escape the warzone. What amused and encouraged me on so many levels were those people who found the ability to stay sane, and appreciate the beauty through the ugliest times: help each other not to lose hope.” 

Kristina painting her portrait of Zac Efron.
Kristina painting her portrait of Zac Efron.

Kristina lives between Russia, to support her family, and the United States, where she came into contact with actor Zac Efron. “A good friend of mine, Gary Kohn, introduced my art to Zac, and he asked me to do his portrait. After some time he decided to buy another artwork I did that he liked, a bigger painting, guy in a fur hat with cigarette, of my friend and writer Konstantine Kristovsky.

“I saw not the handsome man only,” Kristina says, “but a person who knows what struggle is. You can call me empathic, but I‘ve got this ability to detect what others feel. I want to show what really is hidden behind the surface, the happy smile, success, money, fame, whatever, and try to bring it outside while working on my art.” 

Using an eclectic mixed style, Kristina is inspired by a plethora of artists. “I love to play with different media in mixed techniques: I would call it contemporary art, and recently I’m trying digital art, as it gives you a lot more possibility. Paul Gauguin’s paintings influenced how I play with colours; Hieronymus Bosch, with his dark worlds of metaphorical creatures; Banksy, as a voice of society. I’m trying to avoid modern influences. Of course, you can’t fully escape that, but any artist has the same weak point – [we] are like chameleons. I think in order to save your unique vision you’ve got to isolate yourself a bit.

“There is always a story behind all my artwork, whether a personal emotional experience or people’s shared stories. Stuff that is hard to put in words, which reflect the reality around, is what I’m trying to visualise in my works. It’s really great to see how many people can relate to it.” 

Kristina's finished portrait of Zac Efron.
Kristina’s finished portrait of Zac Efron.

Kristina has also brings her love of gaming into much of her work. “I have always been a gamer. I wish I had more time to play!” she joked. “I was inspired by the Sucker Punch game inFamous: Second Son and ended up winning 1st place with their fan art contest. The past few years’ video games have become more than entertainment, but art in their own right. Games affect me same as movies, music, and literature, as an inspirational source–though I can’t say they influenced my style in general.”

She has taken advantage of the modern age, using Instagram, DeviantArt, and Facebook to share her work with the world. “It gives you opportunities an artist would have never imagined 20 years ago. You can communicate with fellow artists, show your work to the whole world, become recognisable and get immediate feedback. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Though an undeniable success with her traditional artwork, Kristina enjoys working in a variety of areas, including designing her own jewellery range. “Anywhere I can use my creativity, I go for it,” she says. “I have my own jewellery line with stuff I design personally. I work as a fashion stylist sometimes, too. I’m one of these rare people who really love to work!” she laughs. “I’m [currently] working on a series of illustrations for a book. The process is fascinating! You can give shape, colour and individuality to fictional characters–that’s amazing.”

“If you’re raised being open-minded, free-spirit person, inspired by artsy people around, to become an artist comes out naturally I guess,” she muses. “I love the way I can show others what bothers me without verbalising it.”

Kristina's work based on the video game 'Infamous: Second Son."
Kristina’s work based on the video game ‘Infamous: Second Son.”
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