Photography by Julia Semochkina
By Stephanie Rhodes Russell | October 2018
It’s 9:00pm and the ambient sounds of a busy Moscow café create the perfect backdrop for my conversation with digital artist Natasha Duke. As we introduce ourselves, the calm confidence and warmth she exudes makes me feel as if I’m sitting in the chair next to her, rather than at my computer screen nearly 6,000 miles away. Suddenly I am struck with a wave of nostalgia for the city I once called home.
A quick scroll through Natasha’s Instagram (@natadlv) leaves you instantly intrigued by her powerful visual portrayal of women. With striking sunglasses and statement jewelry, these women are the definition of well-dressed. But what catches your attention is beyond the fashion—there is a realness, even a rawness, that draws you in and makes you feel that each of her muses has a unique persona. Suddenly, an Instagram account becomes a storybook and you’re captivated, wondering what experiences are encapsulated on the pages of these women’s minds.
Natasha, the woman behind this work, is no less intriguing. Born in a cold city in Siberia, she now resides in metropolitan Moscow, but her coming year will be spent primarily in Europe and the United States. Drawing was a part of her life from an early age, yet converting passion into vocation has been an ongoing process—only in recent years was she fully able to commit to her profession as an artist. She never departed too far from it, however, with several years spent working in various aspects of design–including a specialization in graphic design that seems to have exercised an influence of its own on her drawing.
My intrigue grows as we discuss the artistic inspiration for her women. One of her primary sources? Literature. Especially Russian literature, which conveys the Romanticism embodied in her drawings—there is both a strength and a sadness present in her interpretation.
I look at her work with new eyes now, searching for glimpses of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Pushkin’s Tatiana. In these women there is refinement and grace, depth of character and intelligence. And tying those characteristics together—passion. It’s no wonder her images seem to come to life when you look at them closely.
I was drawn to one in particular that I had to ask about captioned “Weakness”. Struck by the emotion that this image contained, I asked about its source. While the woman pictured is clearly feeling vulnerable, perhaps even broken-hearted, her posture elicits a poise that leaves little doubt that this woman will rise from her moment of heartbreak on the floor stronger than before. For Natasha, this was a portrayal of her emotional being when she created the work. It was drawn for herself, in a moment of intense emotion that found its expression on paper. She is quick to acknowledge its power and even tells me a story of a friend who seeing it immediately told her, “Delete it!”, suggesting it was too painful to look at.
I couldn’t help but wonder if other images were similar self-portraits. While she has sketched one or two intentionally, Natasha ultimately feels that every work is a self-portrait of sorts. An artist’s unique perspective of the world becomes the lens of their creativity, and their emotional experience is inevitably conveyed in their work. Seeing Natasha in the women she has created is not difficult—the strength, the softness, the depth, and certainly the beauty of both body and soul.
Clearly drawn to fashion, she sees personal style as a representation of our inner beliefs. Dress is a freedom and a reflection of our choices and positions. It is an external expression of our inner being. For Natasha, it’s another form of art.
Natasha’s passion for her work is palpable even from a distance, and it was with with reluctance that I let her return to the bustle of a Moscow café after our Skype session came to an end. Her vibrancy is inspiring, and even after our conversation I can’t help but return frequently to gaze into the eyes of the women in the works she has created, who leave me curiously longing to become better acquainted with their well-dressed minds.
Stephanie Rhodes Russell
Stephanie Rhodes Russell is a renowned conductor and pianist, having served on the music staff of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, San Francisco Opera, Washington National Opera, The Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, LA Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera, amongst others. In addition to performing, Stephanie currently serves as Board Chair and Executive Director of the Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative, a non-profit committed to educating undergraduate women in both leadership skills and business acumen. An alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and San Francisco’s Merola Opera program, she holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Utah State University in collaborative piano and piano performance and is a DMA candidate in orchestral conducting at the University of Utah. Connect with Russell on LinkedIn and on Instagram @stephanierhodesrussell.