LAGRANGE, Ga. — LaGrange artists Signe and Genna Grushovenko describe themselves as “partners in both life and art.”
How Signe (originally from Michigan) and Genna (from the Ukraine) met, married and made art could be described as kismet.
Genna, who got a job in the United States at the LaGrange Mall, met a contractor there. The contractor was one of the original Artists in Residence gallery partners. LaGrange College grad Signe was also a co-founder of the downtown LaGrange gallery.
The two met at the gallery’s opening (where Signe recalled telling her mother that Genna was cute) and later married there.
Now, almost 12 years later, their time together has influenced their artwork and, in turn, their careers.
Most recently they have been collaborating on paintings that depict old photos with blocks of color laid over detailed, multi-colored underpaintings. The paintings, which the couple have been creating for the past five years, have been wildly popular.
Recently the works were featured in the Magic City Art Connection in Birmingham, Ala. where they won the Award of Merit and Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival where the couple earned Best in Category. The festivals mark the beginning of one of the couple’s rigorous travel seasons, which happen in the spring and fall.
The work created by the two is better experienced than explained. But if someone were to articulate how they create their works, it would go something like this:
Genna creates the underpaintings on his own by applying oil pigment and mineral spirits onto the canvas standing. Then it’s rotated and more layers are added.
Once Genna is finished, the pieces dry and then they’re in Signe’s hands. She selects an underpainting and then chooses an image that will “mesh well.” Referencing that image, Signe begins to draw in oil pastel and later completes the painting in oil.
And voila. The finished product. Only it wasn’t always that purposeful, the couple said.
“It’s not like we decided to do that,” Signe said, later adding it was a gradual process that linked their skills together.
Signe, who always preferred to work on a colored canvas, said Genna was initially just helping her out but soon what he was doing crept into her work.
“The underpaintings became more and more complicated until it became part of the finished piece,” she said.
Though the evolution of their collaboration hasn’t been all smooth sailing. And really what married couple works together perfectly without a few bumps in the road?
“It took some tweaking,” Genna said. “She tried to manage me.”
Joked Signe: “I try and tell everyone what to do.”
Seriously though, Signe said, partnering with her husband has changed her work.
“Because what Genna does is so meaty and visceral and rich, it has pushed my style in the other direction. It’s very blocky, flat plains of color,” Signe said. “It was never anything I intended or happened in the front of my mind.”
The two said the result has been recognizable, popular work. Although, they said some people question why there are no faces depicted in the works. They explained the faces are nondescript so people can bring their own history and reaction to the pieces. It allows people to make a connection with the work.
“They’re almost like a brain puzzle, a social puzzle. Who might that have been? A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I have a photograph just like that,’ ” Genna said.
On the other hand, the couple has also gotten a different reaction.
“People say, ‘Look at those; those are creepy,’ ” Genna said.
The two smile and joke inside Signe’s studio at the Artists in Residence facility. Completed underpaintings fill the hallway between Signe’s work space and Genna’s.
Working together has made careers as artists viable for the couple. They are able to travel, sell works and make money. Gone are the days of children’s paint-your-own-pottery birthday parties at Artists in Residence.
In fact, last fall Kia commissioned Genna to do some ceramics work. He was tasked with creating 1,000 pots that were later used as corporate gifts.
“It turned out to really be a career changing job for us,” Signe said, quickly joking,
Signe helped to package and mail all the pots and wound up cooking for the team that helped her husband.
Strangely, the couple explained, just how Kia found them was all happenstance. Signe said Kia execs up Googled Georgia potters, found Genna and sent them an e-mail.
“I guess it was kismet,” Signe, said, “just meant to be.”