True calling

by Jamie Lynn Miller
Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

Tatyana Kulida

As the light shifts, so does her perspective, and with every passing cloud, her models exude a different energy. Wilmington artist Tatyana Kulida is a realist landscape and portrait artist. Through her work, she strives to capture the multi-dimensional nature of her models. She’s been living in Florence, Italy, for the past three years, attending the Florence Academy of Art — one of the top realist painting schools in the world — and elevating her craft to more deeply reflect her subjects. 

“In this last year, I’ve worked to include personal stories in my portraits, and really capture the energy from someone’s presence — their pose, their clothes, the feel of the physical setting,” Kulida said.

She’ll paint a little girl by watching her ever-shifting moods, or observe a grown model who she calls “unruly like the waves” against an ocean backdrop at dawn.  

“I’m not so concerned with just technique, anymore,” Kulida said. “I feel more comfortable integrating personality, and playing around with expression.” 

Raised on the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine, Kulida had unlimited access to the wonders of the Black Sea, and a steady stream of exposure to the fine arts. 

“We’d take yearly trips to Moscow and visit museums, and my mother always had a stack of art books in the house,” she said. 

She studied piano for 10 years and contemplated becoming a competitive classical pianist, but becoming an artist weighed more heavily on her mind.  

“I wanted to study painting and drawing, and in 1998, at age 17, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Emma Willard School, Jane Fonda’s alma mater, for a post-graduate year of school,” Kulida said.  

From there, she migrated to Queens University of Charlotte, where she double-majored in studio arts and information systems, and minored in math.  

“Both my parents were engineers,” Kulida said. “So in my psyche — in my head — I had their view of what a ‘real’ degree should be.” 

And yet, halfway across the world, she felt freer to experiment. 

“As soon as I broke free of Russia, I started doing what I wanted. And I wanted to study art. I took classes in textiles and jewelry-making, and I received a Sarah Toy Art Scholarship for Promising Art Students in 2001 from Queens University to head to the Florence Academy of Art for the summer. It was amazing,” she said. “I remember wanting to stay and complete the program, do the whole enchilada.” 

But the notion of getting a “real job” lured her away from her true calling. She worked as a business analyst and a project manager, until a series of physical and spiritual wake-up calls helped her regain her artistic ground.  

“I was working long hours as a consultant and eventually, I started having panic attacks, because I wasn’t doing what I loved,” she said. “When my daughter was born, it allowed me to be at home with her, and regroup; I actually wrote my whole graduate thesis in arts administration while Jackie was still a toddler. I had time to open my eyes, appreciate the beauty in things, and observe how a child sees things for the first time.  Jackie was my gentle push back into the art world.”

In 2008, with a master’s degree in arts administration from Winthrop University, she left Charlotte to escape suburbia and relocated to Wilmington, to live near the ocean again.  

“I wanted Jackie to have the same exposure to the beach that I did. I became a board member for DREAMS [Center for Arts Education], and I started painting outside — en plein air — to feel the beauty of the outdoors,” she said. “And soon, I realized my skill level wasn’t up to par to reflect what I was seeing. So I decided to return to Florence to pursue my education as a painter. I didn’t want to have any regrets about my choices in life; I decided to push myself to go for what I really wanted to do.”

She’s recently earned her Certificate in Painting from the Florence Academy of Art, where she’ll be returning to teach this fall. She was one of three recent graduates selected to instruct for the 2013-2014 school year.

“Florence inspires me with its piazzas and its giant murals, and the space to feel spiritual things,” Kulida said.  

But she still calls Wilmington home, and returns here during the summers to reconnect with friends and family. 

“Wilmington is a real change of pace from my busy, crazy life in Florence, where I bike around with a rain poncho, and a kid on the back,” she said with a laugh. “Florence has piazzas, but Wilmington has nature, and that’s something very important to my plein air craft.”

Kulida is the 2013 recipient of a Regional Artist Project Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John F. and Anna Lee Stacey Scholarship, awarded to emerging realist artists in America. She has a solo show at Caprice Bistro that opens this week and hangs through the end of September that highlights several local landscapes as well as charcoals and smaller works. She is showing at Figments Gallery in Landfall Center featuring 10 recent paintings from Florence, which include “still-lifes and portraits.  For more about the artist and her work, visit 

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