Exclusive with the artist Aigana Gali

We are proudly announcing that Gali will be joining forces with Wall Street Luxury Europe and Vivid Events for the forthcoming Dubai, Porte Montenegro, Monaco and Singapore 2022 events. She brings her exceptional creative talent and decades of professional experience as the artist in residence and art-visionary of this exciting collaboration.

Our personal lives, our struggles are not important - what is important is what we leave behind, what we bring forth whilst we are here. That is why I believe art is the most valuable thing in the world - it is a human thing, condensed with information, made to be discovered.

Aigana Gali

2021 was a landmark year for the artist Aigana Gali. A star on the ascent, this year alone she has participated in numerous major exhibitions: Light Works, premiering her new series Tengri; Blue Minds, showcasing works that highlight themes of ocean conservation for the Blue Marine Foundation; a solo show for Kazakhstan’s 30 Years of Independence celebrations; and chosen by Yinka Shonibare MBE, to participate in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, 2021. Currently based in London, working between her atelier in Knightsbridge and studio in Kensington, Gali was born on the ancient crossing of the Great Silk Road in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to a Georgian mother and Kazakhstani father. Her formative years were spent in the wild, open cradle of the Eurasian Steppe, and her work is deeply inspired by the atmospheric emptiness and ancient philosophies of the region. This is why in 2015 Gali was invited to consult the legendary architect Ricardo Bofil on translating the essence of Kazakhstan’s art, aesthetics, and heritage to be correctly reflected in Bofil’s proposal for renovation of the iconic Soviet era landmark hotel “Kazakhstan” in Almaty.

Expansive and beguiling, Gali’s work has a universal quality that touches anyone who has ever visited wild, open spaces and watched the daylight dance into night, works that now grace the walls of private homes, institutions and prestigious venues world wide. In an interview, The Marchioness of Northampton described Gali’s painting as “My favourite. It evokes the duality of the physical world and spiritual beliefs, being and nothingness. It is the atmospheric emptiness of the vast steppe plains. An emptiness filled with hope”. In an exclusive for VIVID, we learn how Gali’s work explores some of the deep, recurring themes in art and spirituality, of how we experience the mysterious laws of nature and find our place in the world.

Tell us about your childhood?

Aigana: I am a child of the Steppe, I see its nature in everything I do. I was raised in Kazakhstan, which is dominated by vast barren lands of the Central Asian steppe. We lived in Almaty, and on the weekends we would drive out of the city to be with nature. Just like the ocean, the steppe is a vast horizon of “nothing” that holds much magic inside. It is full of negative space and, yet it has enough of everything for me: a phenomenal theatre of light. It is a place where the colours are constantly changing, and without any human construct or architecture, these tones have a kind of magical presence.

How has this influenced your work?

I first came to London when a painting was sold at Christies, and whilst I missed my homeland, I still carried its imprint – its essence – inside me. I would dream about the steppe, so I wanted to create a picture which would somehow reflect this; a nothing full of life, light and colour. I began to explore ways to communicate and translate my cultural milieu, and over the past decade I have developed a body of work that is delineated by series: Creation Myth, Steppe and Tengri. Each represents a kind of metaphorical chapter in my evolution as an artist and thinker, adapting my technique and materials according to the different, philosophical or spiritual narrative I am following. When you live with these paintings, they are constantly shifting, revealing another dimension of colour and light.

Where did you train to be an artist?

Until I was ten, we were still a part of the Soviet Union, and I was first trained as a dancer, which fine tuned my senses to the rhythmic character of place, in particular the vibrational quality of light. I went on to study fine art and when I did my masters degree, I wrote my thesis on “The influence of Russian Academic school of Painting to Kazakh school”. I was interested in how we had evolved culturally, from a shamanic tribe who once only painted symbols for decorative art, mostly in textiles. I learnt about Aiganym – the wife of the tribal leader Wali – who invited painters from Russia to teach her children and grandchildren. In a way she was the root of Kazakh fine art. I was given her name, and I am a direct beneficiary of this – the importation of a very strict Soviet academic school. It gave me so much, I can travel from one technique to the next, (the medium is the message) my hand is so well practiced, but at the same time the root of my practice lies underneath this in the Scythian tradition – in shamanic ritual.

What inspires you?

I am such a visual person, and I collect memories that eventually manifest in my work. I sort of store them, and then bring them to life through my fingertips. As a child of the 80s, my hero was Victor Tsoi, a true icon of the post Soviet generation who died tragically in his 30s. During the Soviet era the most incredible art was made. Of course there was the Russian avant-garde but during the perestroika in the 1980s, a new wave of young Kazakh filmmakers emerged. It was so powerful, and we understood that standing strong against something also gave you clarity of intention…

When you correlate your life with such huge empty spaces you see things differently. In a small settlement you see the world reduced and the self as big and important; but there in the steppe it is clear you are nothing and you understand how unimportant your personal journey is. When you live from that point, it gives you a very different way of thinking, you live on no one’s land, nothing belongs to you and you don’t have the same attachment to things… it is very different from the modern Kazakh way of living, but it is how we need to look to the future. That is why I am so passionate about conservation and re-wilding.

Can you describe your process?

With all of my work, the process and materials I use have a relationship with the philosophy that underpins them. It did not come easily, I had to teach myself how to create this effect. Essentially, with Steppe, I am veiling with light washes of watered down colour on canvas.
You have to apply one layer of colour, wait until it is completely dry, then apply another and wait again. It is a lengthy process, with each new layer resonating like a note with the one beneath. I always finish the painting with my finger tips, using oil which dries slowly. I dance around the painting touching it in different places to produce vibrational colour, one that is synonymous with the flickering of light I experienced in the steppe.

When using wide brushes across a canvas on the floor, is a very automatic, almost shamanic action; then I change direction and pick up the finest of brushes, in a process that is very cautious. I am finding my way into a memory or discovering a completely new one. All of these processes are connected. My Creation Myth series, made mostly with my fingertips and raw pigments, is about translating – listening to – the cosmos. My Steppe series is about looking into the void, being there and understanding the fullness of nothing, the light in emptiness. Tengri is about what happens when I close my eyes and travel inwards to receive messages through my body – there is a figurative aspect to these abstractions which is more about the body being a tool, a medium, or a vessel.

Tell us about your new series, Tengri, that was first shown in Knightsbridge at AHSTUDIO, then the Royal Academy and now here?

In many ways Steppe laid the groundwork for my next series: Light Works. Having produced suites of large colour field paintings for over a decade, layering the memory of light through delicate veils of colour, I felt ready to deliver a very precise message.

At first, I needed to develop a new technique, in a process which can be likened to opening a channel and painting automatically, this series was entirely different in nature. Once the picture plane is tonally unified, a form begins to emerge from a specific point in the canvas, like a shaft of light, from which shapes unfold in perfect, geometric order. Like catching the fox’s tail as it glides past, I use the finest of brushes. In a way, I am working like an archeologist, excavating the light. These works represent evolution from the abstract colour fields in Steppe – nothingness – through to the geometric forms of Tengri – being.

Can you elaborate a little on this philosophy that underpins your work?

Tengri see colours as symbolic of the natural order of things. Көк, which describes all the blues and greens means ‘god given’. Tengri itself is ‘a great-blue sky’. Sary describes all that is made of earth and all the earthly colours from yellow through red and brown. Umay is the female manifestation of Tengri, coming from earth which is Sary (yellow). So when we are alive our body is from the earth and our soul from the sky and when we die, each returns to its place, and the circle is complete. We are this circle.” This is here, in this union, where each new painting is born. By incorporating biomorphic and geometric shapes into the colour fields that were manifest in Steppe, Gali is mirroring her own conscious evolution; coming into an awareness of self while retaining a sense of our place – and the space we create – under this ‘great-blue sky’.

When you are in this place, absent of any human constructs, you begin to empty your mind, and then you begin to observe the self. It is a form of dynamic meditation, where you are liberated from all you have accumulated, and it is sometimes painful as you must look at every part of the self. It is why in the Steppe we have Tengri, an ancient, silent religion in which you relate the self to nature and understand you are a part of it.

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