Slice of Water: A Conversation With Sophia Belkin

Sophia Belkin, Pearl River Raindrops, 2022, Digitally printed textile and embroidery on linen, 20 x 24 x .75 in (50.8 x 61 x 1.9 cm)

New York City’s Dinner Gallery is excited to present artist Sophia Belkin’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, titled “Slice of Water.” The exhibition is scheduled to run from March 9 to April 22, 2023, and an opening reception will take place on March 9 from 6 to 8 pm.

Belkin’s captivating art is centered around exploring the interplay of energy between organic and inorganic materials in the ecosystem.

She takes photos that are digitally printed on fabric and then creates collages with ink-dyed textiles. The finished products are images that resemble the specimens one would see when looking through a microscope lens.

From a distance, Belkin’s work seems abstract. When viewed more closely, though, it’s easier to pick out images of tangible, everyday objects.

Sophia Belkin, Between the Brambles, 2022, Digitally printed textile and embroidery with dyed linen, 18 x 15.25 x 0.75 in (45.7 x 38.7 x 1.9 cm)

Belkin’s newest exhibition, “Slice of Water,” was inspired by the time she spent in New Orleans, Louisiana — an area of the United States that has a unique and often complex relationship with water.

The relationship is positive, in some cases, because the water supports the city’s infrastructure. However, water has also destroyed the city through hurricanes and other dramatic weather events.

With her art, Belkin demonstrates her commitment to the environment and sustainability. She recycles fabrics and images and looks for new ways to change the state of existing materials. She also encourages viewers to consider how their possessions live on even after they’re no longer part of their lives.

Belkin was born in 1990 in Moscow, Russia. In 2012, she earned a BFA in drawing and printmaking from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Since then, the artist has showcased her work internationally across the globe, from Louisiana to Slovakia. She has also completed residency programs in Russia, Estonia, Norway, Vermont, and Wisconsin. At present, Belkin resides and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

Those who want to see Belkin’s work can visit Dinner Gallery from March 9 to April 22. The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday from 1 pm to 6 pm (and by appointment).

Interview With the Artist

Unveiling the Creative Mind – A Portrait of Artist Sophia Belkin

Before we delve deeper into your art, can you provide us with a summary of your ongoing showcase at Dinner Gallery?

For “Slice of Water,” I continued to work with dyed fabric and embroidery to create collage-like paintings that explore the abstracted natural world. In this exhibition, I drew inspiration from my time in New Orleans, a city defined by water where the infrastructure has been shaped, supported, and eroded by it. Many of my paintings include embroidered photographs that I took while walking around the city and its surrounding nature.

I’m curious about the meaning behind the title of your exhibition. Could you shed some light on that for us?

I enjoy playing with words, whether it’s solving crossword puzzles or creating anagrams in my sketchbook. I find that manipulating letters provides a unique sense of satisfaction that differs from rearranging images and materials in my studio. I like to think of my titles as poems, and “Slice of Water” is a little poem about attempting to measure and define something that cannot be contained.

For inspiration, I often look at scientific illustrations that isolate a single part from the whole. When I visualize a slice of water, I imagine a geological diagram where the water is segmented and sliced to describe the underlying layers of earth and rock. Similarly, my paintings could be seen as specimens or fragments of a larger whole. “Slice of Water” refers to the natural world and our efforts to depict, quantify, and understand it.

How did your experiences in New Orleans influence the artistic decisions you made in the project?

I draw a lot of inspiration from the vibrant color palette and tropical flora of New Orleans, as well as its unique geography.

Water is an ever-present force in, around, and beneath the city. The air is so humid and thick with moisture, which affects how things appear. The combination of intense sunlight and humidity in Louisiana alters our perception, making things appear simultaneously more saturated, blurry, and vibrant.

As I worked on these pieces, I reflected on how working with water and dye on fabric is similar to the way water spreads geographically through and within the land. Water and dye follow their own path, and it’s often challenging to control their movements. While creating my dye paintings, I feel like I am trying to harness and contain something that is always trying to escape. Water generally follows the path of least resistance.

For “Cloud Burst” and “Prism Peel,” I envisioned the appearance of peering through a water droplet suspended in a rainbow. This feeling guided my approach to these pieces, resulting in cloud-like textures and a full spectrum of vivid colors.

Sophia Belkin, Prism Peel, 2022, Digitally printed textile and embroidery on dyed linen, 33 x 27 x 1.5 in (83.8 x 68.6 x 3.8 cm)

Your artwork merges micro and macro views, creating a blend of abstraction and representational imagery. Could you discuss your approach to achieving this effect?

I achieve this effect by combining dye painting and photography, utilizing appliqué techniques that I create on my embroidery machine. Beginning with a dye-paint background, I use embroidery to form organic, often floral-like shapes in the foreground, which I fill in with photographs. The photos may capture microscopic plants or broader landscapes. My goal is to create an illusion by juxtaposing delicate shapes on the canvas with views of bigger worlds. I strive for a balance between abstraction and representation, allowing the imagination to roam while still staying anchored to discernable details like a blade of grass or a gill of a mushroom.

Your art involves the use of various materials and techniques, such as photography, digital printing, and embroidery. Could you discuss how you approach working with these different media and how they contribute to the overall message of your art?

I enjoy challenging myself to recreate physical phenomena with different materials. For example, I use dye to paint light, reflections, or shadows, or incorporate photographs into embroidered shapes, transforming them into flat patterns.

I believe that the combination of various surfaces creates depth and distance within my paintings. The process of arranging and rearranging the photos and dye paintings feels like alchemy to me, where combining two pieces of fabric can suddenly reveal a portal into a new realm. This fleeting magic is what I strive for in my work.

Can you share with us a particular artwork in the exhibition that holds special significance to you and explain why?

For me, “Pearl River Raindrops” is a standout piece in this new body of work. It represents a clear departure from my previous paintings, and it was the first piece in which I fully embraced the motif of water droplets on tiny leaves. This motif has carried through into other paintings in the exhibition, including “Eye of the Atmospheric River.” Although my style has evolved gradually over time, creating this painting was a landmark moment that signaled a new phase in my artistic journey.

What message or feeling do you hope viewers will take away from your exhibition?

I hope that viewers will take their time to explore the paintings, much like a young nature enthusiast examining a tide pool, a mossy rock, or a creek bed. My goal is to elicit a sense of excitement and discovery, as viewers uncover the various patterns and textures within my work.

Sustainability and environmental awareness are central themes in your practice. Could you elaborate on how you incorporate these values into your work, and how you believe art can contribute to promoting sustainability?

In my practice, I strive to be as self-sustaining as possible. For instance, I make sure never to waste any fabric; if I am not happy with the result of dyeing it, I will either bleach it, embroider over it, or set it aside until I can repurpose it in a new way. I also often use photos of my paintings as materials, which I then print and collage into new works. The natural world is a significant source of inspiration for me, and I see my studio as its own little ecosystem, where everything grows and disintegrates in harmony with one another.

How do you see your artwork evolving in the future, and what new themes or techniques are you interested in exploring?

My recent solo exhibitions have each focused on a specific facet of the natural world. In 2021, I created a show inspired by the Brood X Cicada emergence, followed by a show about a butterfly and its native bog. My most recent exhibition explores the poetry of water. I’m not sure what’s next, but something about bugs, nature, and landscape is a safe bet!