Thursday, 02/11/2023 10:55

Ukrainian artist fuses precision and cuteness in her first exhibition in Việt Nam

By Trần Khánh An

“I physically can not draw ‘not cute’ things,” Ukraine artist Anastasiia Kuusk said about her first solo exhibition in Hà Nội – Illo Elysium.

Illo Elysium is Anastasiia's exhibition of her imaginary creatures devised while she lives in Hà Nội from 2020 until now.

This self-driven series of illustrations is not part of any commercial commission; she amusingly referred to the exhibition as "for fun, not for commission."

"All these characters, the imaginary and real places, and objects are just falling, leaking, swimming out of my head onto paper,” she said.

Anastasiia Kuusk (left) in the opening of Illo Elysium - her first exhibition in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Work Room Four.

The exhibition's centrepiece, however, is not merely its compelling adorableness. 

Illo is an abbreviation for illustration, while Elysium describes a place or state of ideal happiness – a paradise. The exhibition Illo Elysium figuratively brings visitors to the alternate universe of Anastasiia’s vivacious inner world. 

“Illo Elysium is an exquisite glimpse inside an exceptionally lively mind,” the gallery introduction to Illo Elysium notes

“A perfect imagined reality, unique in character and definition. With unwavering humour and unavoidable 'cuteness', all carefully invented, dreamed and executed with a distinct dose of reality and extraordinary precision.”

The illustrating pieces on display represent her rich and electrifying inner world – a harmonious symphony between true-to-life surroundings and fictional characters. 

These illustrations are rooted in not only her day-to-day experiences but also pop culture aesthetics from around the world that seep into her art. 

Visitors were captivated by the meticulous descriptions displayed at the exhibition of how Anastasiia created her chirpy characters from astute references to culture, literature and films throughout the world.

Woopsies', a series of coloured-pencil illustrations, was inspired and painted after Anastasiia watched the film Chungking Express by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai. Photo from the artist's archives. 

For example, the illustration series Woopsies' was piqued after she watched the film Chunking Express by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai. One of the illustrations in her Cabaret Kaban collection has an oddly noticeable Japanese Ghibli-film influence, Porco Rosso, and the French theatrical entertainment – Cabaret.

"It is fascinating to see a mix of Eastern and Western culture and arts in illustrations," she said to Việt Nam News

Her artwork is packed with exquisite details, despite its overall initial impression of cuteness. Anastasiia embraces traditional techniques, drawing exclusively in watercolour and coloured pencil by hand. She enjoys drawing miniature sketches with meticulous details and strokes.  

The gallery's brightfront space is occupied by a gigantic sketchbook with a selection of sketches from her ordinary A5-size sketchbook. 

Visitors can witness and admire how immaculate each detail and drawing stroke is in her illustration. 

“I was initially concerned about the concept of printing my tiny A5 format sketchbook pages into a large layout, but it turned out to be a wonderful idea,” she said.

The exhibition is full of Anastasiia's miniature drawings, detailed descriptions of her references, and a gigantic version of her sketchbook. Photo courtesy of Work Room Four.

Anastasiia first used watercolour when she was fifteen, but it was not until 2022 that she used coloured pencils in her artwork.

As a child of the Ukrainian homeland, she was profoundly devastated by the Russia-Ukraine war, but found that drawing with coloured pencils offered her comfort.

“When the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, I was so depressed to the point I was paralysed and could not draw anything. It was not until a few months later I tried coloured pencils and evolved an interest in it,” she said. 

Anastasiia and her husband initially visited Việt Nam at the end of 2019 at the suggestion of a friend of a friend. However, because of the COVID-19 outbreak and then the Russia-Ukraine war, they have not returned to Ukraine since. 

“My husband and I arrived in Việt Nam in 2019 with only one suitcase, and we have stayed here for four years, still with that suitcase,” she said.

Yet, Anastasiia does not want to describe their situation as “stuck in Việt Nam”. 

“Instead, I and my husband extend and enjoy our time here,” she said.

Currently, Anastasiia works full-time as a freelance artist and occasionally teaches illustration in Hà Nội. She also markets her cute creations on printed items such as stickers and postcards.

During her free time, Anastasiia loves journeying around Việt Nam. This summer, Anastasiia and her companions rode their motorcycles to Hà Giang and then to the South.

What Anastasiia enjoys most about Việt Nam is the mountainous scenery and hiking, which inspire her creative journey.

One of the watercolour paintings in the exhibition, Ba Vì and Me, was inspired after she went on a hike at Ba Vì mountain. Photo from the artist's archives.

The exhibition Illo Elysium is open from 9.30 am to 6.00 pm until November 6 at Work Room Four, No. 31 Alley 67, Tô Ngọc Vân Street, Hà Nội. – VNS


Born in 1991 in Ukraine, Anastasiia graduated from the National University, Kyiv, Ukraine in 2010 with a degree in Interior Design. 

After realising that her passion lay in the magical world of illustrations, Anastasiia then earned a Master's degree in Animation from the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn in 2014.

She has lived in Hà Nội since 2019, working full-time as a freelance illustrator. She primarily works as a children's book illustrator, with eight books published in the United States, Germany and Estonia. 

Anastasiia embraces traditional techniques like watercolour and coloured pencil in high detail. Anastasiia combines seemingly actual situations with outstanding protagonists to create intricate whimsical worlds full of wit and humour.

Check out her works via her website or her Instagram account @anastasiia_kuusk_art. 

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