Moving to another country is often a difficult process, as you go through the stages of honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance, learning how to not just live but thrive in a new environment. Natasha Villone is someone who knows this well, having been born in Orel, Russia, and made new lives in the US and then Slovenia, where she’s now based in Koper and works as an artist – selling her works, teaching and leading art tours. We got in touch with her to learn more about her journey, and she was kind enough to send back some answers.
You work as a painter. When did you first get serious about art?
Since childhood the easiest and most natural thing for me to do was to paint. In spite of this, when I young, after high school, I wanted to run away from carrier as a painter. But my mom, a very wise woman, secretly signed me up for art collage, where I got diploma in theatre design.
Back then in Russia after me and my classmates graduated we were supposed to work by college referral in some type of village theatre or community club for a minimum of three years. I refused, and in order to stay in a city I took a job at the famous tray and samovar (Russian teapot) factory “Zostovo”. I painted traditional decorative trays with bouquets of roses. Later in my art life I’d use principals which I learned at the factory: volume, perspective, range of colours. But at the time the production line job and constant paint under my nails made me want to be somebody else.
Then the Soviet Union broke apart. Russia was under President Yeltsin everything went upside down with jobs, morality, values. The factory was closed and I was left with no direction. Maybe it gave me push to look for new life abroad.
In 2001 I finally moved to America, Seattle, hoping the grass was greener there. Then in the same year September 11 happened, followed by an economic crisis. I had to do many hard jobs, and wasn’t sure that I could paint again, so I changed direction and tried something different, not just to become an artist.
But ability and desire to create were still inside me. Once at church I heard the pastor say that it’s sin to bury your talent. There’s that story in the Bible about a servant who buries the talents (money) that his master gave him to make a profit on. He was afraid to use the money and so returned it without any gain, but the master wasn’t happy at all. It was this message that pushed me to start painting again.
I’m thankful to my husband Andrew, too, about this. Many times he would walk into galleries, meet the owner, talk about me, and I would have a show there. It’s very important if your spouse supports you, promotes you, or lets you know if you’re not producing enough art, or too much art, and not marketing it well. In this business being a good artist is just 10%, the other 90% is your character not giving up, and knowing how to present yourself to the public.
How did you end up in Slovenia?
While living in America, my husband started running a tourism business in Slovenia. Flying back and forth between the two countries was too hard. I remember one day he said: “Prepare yourself, you have one year, then we’ll move to Slovenia.”
By this time we had two little kids. I was working for good company. My mom from Russia was living nearby and helping with the kids. Art was my second freelance job sometimes in a evening. And now I have to quit my stable job, leave my mom, take kids and follow my husband. Women would not do it, only man could do such a crazy but maybe strategic decision . To be honest, I cried a lot saying goodbye to everything after 14 years establishing my life in America, hoping for some kind of change in our plans.
We finally did it in 2014, and things went smoothly, step by step. We even managed to get on the show “House Hunters International”. God thus made some fun for us, so we wouldn’t be sad just after cutting off our roots in Seattle. People where recognising us from that show for several years, even in Slovenia, so now we know what celebrities feel when they don’t want to be recognised.
How did you make the move to art here?
In Slovenia I’m wasn’t looking for an office job, because of the language, so art became my priority. Living in Europe helped me travel more, exhibit and sell my art. In 2016 I won the grand prix in the biggest European festival of naïve art, held in Poland. Last year I published my first children’s book Repa velikanka (The Giant Turnip). Perhaps it’s little easier here than trying get lucky with a New York publisher
Unfortunately it’s hard to sell anything in Slovenia, especially art, unless it’s very cheap. But still I’m very thankful to be able to paint. I always tell my students in the adult classes I teach that when you create you never feel lonely or old, you will not be afraid to be left without job, or to retire. It’s like you’re hiding away in a magical world full of new adventures. Yes of course sometimes you struggle, sometimes your idea reveals itself through an image easily. You never know. My only complaint is that I don’t have enough hours in a day to find some extra time to paint among my routine of being housewife with two kids.
Tell us something about the art tours you run.
As I said earlier, my husband works in tourism, organising food tours of Slovenia, so we started running art tours together. It works perfect between us. He’s the organiser and driver, and then while I’m doing the workshops he’s taking a nap.
We do a seven-day art tour that’s suitable for everybody: from beginners to experienced painters. On the tour you learn a few painting techniques and some tricks from me, so you can create art which looks look deep, textural, and a little vintage.
We choose the most picturesque places to do workshops in the open air. So Lake Bled, the vineyards of Brda, and in Piran, on the Adriatic coast. On a tour we paint, hike, eat homemade food from the local farms, and learn the recipes in a cooking class. There’s also wine-tasting in vineyards, and trips to an olive garden and other farms. You can find out more at my website.
What are your plans for the future?
Nowadays we live in Koper. Watching the sea, boats and cruise ships cheers me up and gives me new ideas for paintings. My hope is to find place and start exhibiting my art in Slovenia this year, so I can invite your readers to a show. Now I’ve been here a few years I’ve painted lots of Slovenian places, like Bled, Ljubljana, Škofja Loka, Idrija and others. My style is what they call naïve. I see things figuratively, symbolically – combining reality with imagination.