Liudmila Kondakova will be the first to say that her paintings are the "stuff" of dreams.
The self-taught Russian-born artist uses the phrase "romantic realism" to describe the style that she uses to depict iconic scenes of Europe and the U.S. Her current exhibit, "Parisian Autumn in La Jolla," features original acrylics on canvas, gouache on paper, watercolors and collages, along with lithographs and serigraphs. The exhibit runs through Dec. 5 at La Jolla's Martin Lawrence Gallery.
Kondakova's work centers on real-world places such as Paris, London, Rome, Prague and San Francisco, but the fantasy element of her works still shines through like a beautifully illustrated storybook.
"I depict real places, but if you look at my paintings you will see that they are very idealistic," Kondakova said. "They are from some story I created, even though I based it on real places and real architecture."
Kondakova works from photographs and does not paint plein air because the technological side of her paintings is so complex that it requires her at-home laboratory. She only paints what she sees and experiences herself, whether that be a Parisian bookseller or a cafe.
"An image on a particular day strikes me as something so beautiful that I absolutely have to paint it," she said. "My paintings 'Springtime in Paris' and 'The Place de Tertre' are some of my favorites because I love Montmartre."
Artistically talented as a young child, Kondakova studied art on her own and maintained it as a hobby as she dutifully followed her mother's guidance to choose a dependable career where she could earn a living. By age 22, Kondakova had earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Moscow's Petrochemical Institute and continued in that career until she was ready to become the artist she longed to be.
"I took classes in different schools, but I didn't feel that I needed them because by then I was already accomplishing something on my own," she said.
According to Kondakova, her work is most influenced by the 10 years she spent in workshops painting commissioned icons for Russia's churches. There she learned the time-consuming technique of using egg tempera that employs vivid colors similar to those she now uses in her work.
"I really enjoyed those 10 years in the workshops and I now employ exactly the same principles with my acrylic on canvas paintings," she said. "It takes a long time to do layer upon layer of paint. This technique is centuries old and I think the most stable and durable in terms of connection with the pigment."
Ironically, Kondakova didn't discover that she could use the same technique with acrylics until after she moved to the U.S. in 1991.
"In Russia there is no such thing as acrylics and you use what is available," she said.
Kondakova considers her mentors to be the paintings of such old masters of as Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Vermeer and Botticelli.
"I primarily learned from the artists I saw in the museums, and if you have your own experience already, then you actually know how they did that," she said.
Kondakova is currently visiting the 14 Martin Lawrence Galleries throughout the U.S. La Jolla's Martin Lawrence Gallery is located at 1111 Prospect St. To view her work, visit
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