Art During Wartime — Interview with Digital Artist & Painter Zhannet Podobed

Expression in art reflects both individual journeys and the broader context of society, a fact well represented in the work of Zhannet Podobed, an artist influenced by war and personal introspection.

From Ukraine, Podobed’s art has been shaped by adversity. Her work stands as a reflection of her resilience, drawing from the effects of war. Each artwork is a chapter of her journey towards self-discovery.

From her ‘Full of Bugs’ series to her transition from the travel industry to art, Podobed’s narrative offers moments of self-reflection. She believes in the organic growth of an artist and the value of personal connections within the art community.

In this interview, we discuss her use of various mediums, from digital art to traditional paintings. Each resonates with themes that touch on the human psyche. Podobed’s participation in exhibitions and her views on self-promotion provide insights into the art landscape.

Brady Walker: Having worked in the travel industry, can you pinpoint any tangible effects or examples of the way travel has had on your artwork?

Zhannet Podobed: I have worked in the travel and yachting industry for several years and yes, it has affected me and my art. 

First of all, I think it has given me a global vision, visiting many art galleries and museums in different countries, meeting the international art scene, and it has increased my desire to create and exhibit my art. Experiencing different cultures and meeting new people led to incorporating new themes and ideas into my artwork, for example after visiting Brazil I did a series of paintings with jungle themes. Working there also gave me a lot of inspiration — the colors, textures and atmospheres influence my art, for example the Bahamas and Sri Lanka inspired me with their vibrant colors.

Beyond the Looking Glass by Zhannet Podobed

BW: Your tagline for your artwork is Seductive Abstraction. Can you elaborate on that for me?

ZP: Sure. Most of my artworks are abstract with figurative elements, sometimes it is a combination. By infusing my creations with a touch of magnetism and joy, I try to remind the viewer of the importance of appreciating life, even in the midst of turbulent events.

But this is exactly the description I borrowed from @thepropgallery review about my art. He described it as Seductive Abstraction, I liked this definition so much and find it very apt.

BW: How do you think about the work that you mint from one platform to another? It seems your work from Ninfa is very different from your work on Foundation, which is likewise very different from your work on MakersPlace.

ZP: I usually create my art by series and you can notice that series are different from each other, but you can still find common elements.

Maybe some people think that an artist has to stick to one style throughout his work, but I have a different opinion. I, as a person, am always growing and developing, learning new things, my tastes and preferences change, and my style evolves with me because it is an integral part of me. At the same time, I don’t think my early work is any worse than my latest, it’s just different because I was different at that time in my life.

Imperfect Harmony by Zhannet Podobed

BW: You’ve written that you want “the viewer to become part of the art as a kind of added component.” How do you see that happening? What are the elements necessary to create that space?

ZP: For me it is about a connection. The connection between the art, the artist, and the viewer. I like it when my art speaks to people, when it gives viewers the opportunity to reflect on themselves over and over again, so that people find answers to their questions or ask new ones. This allows the art to be filled with new meanings and ideas, not just what the artist has put into it.

What I am also planning is to start creating interactive artworks that engage and interact with the audience. So the connection could be deeper.

BW: What has it been like working in Odessa for the past couple of years? 

ZP: The last two years in Odessa have been very stressful for me, as for many Ukrainians. Constant mental rollercoaster, no stability, many sleepless nights, night and day attacks by kamikaze drones and missiles, explosions, PTSD syndrome. 

At the beginning of the war it was constantly very scary, I couldn’t do anything for months, only read the news and volunteer. Gradually, I returned to art. 

That summer in Odessa was particularly loud, a very large number of attacks on the city, a lot of air raids, a lot of explosions, and destroyed buildings. When there are no air raids everything is fine, the city lives a normal life, cafes and restaurants are open, but we have a curfew, you can’t go out after 12 a.m. I think that my city is very lucky, thanks to our defenders the city did not fall under occupation. I can’t even imagine the mental condition of people who survived the occupation or are under the occupation now.

Breathing practices, yoga, meditation, psychological therapy, physical exercises, walking by the sea and in the park, and creating art, sometimes traveling help me a lot to be in a normal state.

My Head in a Jungle by Zhannet Podobed

BW: I assume your art has changed as a result of the stressful environment: in what ways would you say it has or hasn’t changed?

ZP: The turbulence of war has left an indelible mark on both my personality and my artistic expression. Living and working amidst the trials and tribulations of Ukraine, my experience has seeped into the very fabric of my work. 

The themes of identity and self-discovery that once dominated my artistic pursuits have evolved to encompass the profound effects of war and its transformative power. Through my art, I strive to reflect the resilience and strength of the individual that emerges from adversity.

Each of my artworks is a reflection of my own journey of self-development and discovery. I am constantly experimenting with different techniques, materials and forms of expression to bring a new dimension and experience to my art.

BW: Your series Full of Bugs is about the “mistakes, personal oddities that often make a person beautiful and unusual.” What do you see as the “mistakes” in your art that make it singular, and have you always been accepting of those elements?

ZP: Oh, quite a difficult question to talk about my mistakes. I would rather hear about them from art critics or curators or art lovers, so that I can turn them into my strength.

Well, what I notice about myself and my art is probably that I mint new collections before I sell out, but in this I see growth, I do not stay and wait, I create new, mint new, write my own story and collectors can come and choose what they like.

Also you will not see exactly the same style in all my pieces, this is because, as I said before, I am always changing, I love to develop myself and my style, I always know that there is a place where you can grow in art. For example, I am learning photography now and plan to incorporate it into my art practice. I also like sculpture so much, maybe one day I will try it too.

What’s going on here? by Zhannet Podobed

BW: You said in another interview that art was a hobby for a long time until it wasn’t — it won out over your career in the yachting/travel industry. Can you tell me about the resistance you felt to that decision before you finally gave in? What was it that finally tipped the scales?

ZP: As a child, I graduated from the Children’s School of Arts and always dreamed of becoming an artist. But my parents didn’t think that being an artist was a good profession and didn’t allow me to study at an art university, so I had to graduate from the Faculty of Land Management and Cadastre. 

After working in tourism and yachting, I liked it at first, but I realized that it was not my thing. I got tired too quickly and soon lost all interest. Parallel art was my hobby, I finished different courses, and went to art classes. 

At that time I was very lost, I didn’t understand where I was going, what I was doing and why, I was completely out of touch with myself. Somewhere in 2018–2019, I became interested in graphic design — it was the beginning of my journey to myself, to my true desires, to the profession of an artist. I started doing graphic design, branding, motion design, working in this field also helped me a lot in my creative path: creating digital works, animation elements that I sometimes use in my works, it’s also creating websites and layout of various documents, it also helped me with my finances, because at first my art was poorly monetised and I combined art and design. 

In November 2021, thanks to all my collectors and the NFT community, I was able to become a full-time artist.

BW: You also make art in traditional media — can you share any of that art? Do the subject matter and approach differ from your digital art?

ZP: Before NFTs, the only physical art I created were oil and acrylic paintings. My last painting was done in February 2022, just before the war started. My early work is definitely different from my digital work, visually and conceptually, but there are common themes in the later paintings. 

Mostly my paintings are figurative, portraits, less often abstract and animalistic. For example, my painting Uniqueness has a similar topic with the collection Full of Bugs. The painting depicts a portrait of a person with his head covered in bugs — this painting, like the entire digital collection, is about the uniqueness and complexity of human experience. My artwork Uniqueness was exhibited and sold at the Budapest Art Market in 2021.

Some of my paintings can also be purchased on OpenSea

Today, after such a long break, I am thinking of starting to start painting again and have already bought new canvas. I am nervous and excited at the same time and hope you can see my new paintings soon. 

BW: You work across various styles and mediums. Is there anything that ties your body of work together?

ZP: First of all, what unites all my works is the fact that they are made by me personally. I can also say that, in one way or another, almost all of my works have been created on psychological themes, themes that are related to the inner nature of the human being. As my life changes, so do the periods of my work, for example there are now works connected with my reflections on the theme of war, but they are also more about the inner. Maybe one day this will change and the themes will be radically different, but they will still reflect me.

BW: You’re very active in participating in exhibitions, competitions, and group shows — do you have any advice for artists with regard to staying engaged with and participating at the level you do? Any resources to share?

ZP: I try to participate in all exhibitions and open calls I can find, because it has a good influence on the artist’s exhibition history, on the CV and on the recognition and exposure of the artist. Mostly I find all the open calls or exhibitions on Joyn, they have all the coolest opportunities for artists, also the application process is convenient and very easy, you can see all your submissions and all your winnings on their website. I’ve been with Joyn for a long time and I’m very happy with them, they have a very cool team that can help with anything. 

Recently I have also started using Hug, they also have different options for artists, they have a breakdown of the Open Call by art style, such as abstract, photography, illustration etc. 

I also find a lot of exhibitions and open calls just on X. I don’t think it’s difficult now, everything you need is on the internet, you just have to make time for it.

Eccentric Echoes by Zhannet Podobed

BW: What self-promotional activities have had the greatest impact on your career? On the flip side, what activities weren’t worth the effort?

ZP: Well, I believe that what works for one person may not work for another and everyone should find their own strategy. 

As for me, at the beginning of my journey, because of my inexperience, I started using targeted advertising, but I quickly realized that this method does not work in the NFT community and that there is nothing better than organic growth. 

As for me, it helps me to be active in X, to support artists, to communicate with collectors, to create new art, to learn new skills and techniques, to participate in X Spaces (but I do it rarely, I plan to participate in Spaces more often), to participate in various exhibitions and open calls, to be a part of different communities and be active on discord, to participate in interviews, to meet artists and collectors in real life. 

In my opinion, meeting people in real life is one of the most important things for an artist. In June 2023, I was able to attend the NFC Summit in Lisbon. It was my first NFT event that I attended. I was very happy to meet many of my friends from the internet in person, it was a totally different experience — an incredible amount of emotions and impressions and deeper connections.

I think it’s worth attending as many NFT events as possible. And yes, there can be different moments, the most important is not to give up. 

ETH Thoughts by Zhannet Podobed

BW: How do you balance your creative time with your online engagement time and “art career admin,” like entering into the above-mentioned contests or otherwise promoting yourself?  

ZP: Well, I do everything myself. I have no manager or person to help me with these things. I wish I had more than 24 hours a day. I usually plan my day, I have a list of tasks that I have to do during the day and I try to stick to it. Sometimes I write down my tasks in a Google calendar so I know how much time I should spend on each task. But I do not always follow my plan. There are days when I create more, for example, sometimes I can do it all day or even some days in a row, but there are also days when I only do “art career admin.” It all depends on my current goals.

BW: Art and decoration are things all cultures do and have done for millennia. Why do humans feel this impulse toward something so non-utilitarian? What do art and beauty (not  necessarily always the same thing) do for us?

ZP: Art and decoration are integral to the human experience, contributing to our emotional, cultural, and intellectual development while enhancing our appreciation of the world around us. Their significance lies in their ability to bridge the gap between our inner selves and the external world, fostering connections, communication, self-expression, understanding, and a sense of wonder.

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