“Personally, I feel that its luminosity is uplifting and very spiritual, but what I like the most about it is that it reflects an undefined, golden version of reality.”

Sonia was born in Florence, Italy, where she discovered renaissance art in her Mom’s studio while growing up. There, she was exposed to some ancient artistic techniques such as gilding and fresco, which she would continue to employ in her later works. Recently, Sonia earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Libera Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, focusing on the concept of spiritual ascension in the modern era through art. Later on, she completed a specialised course in techniques and design for artisans. Her experiences in both traditional and contemporary art led her to her own form of artistic expression through painting on gilded surfaces.

Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.


Sonia has always been fascinated by the sky and the clouds and their connection with personal emotion. Painting skyscapes on gilded surfaces allows Sonia to explore a dimension between the physical and spiritual world as the skies describe an emotional and mental landscape, and the gilded surfaces are common symbols of divinity. Through her artworks, Sonia wants to remind her audience of their tiny roles in the bigger world we live in. 

INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST

Q. You recently graduated from a fine arts academy in Florence. How do you think your education has shaped your artistic practice?  

A. I think my academic education helped me give my art more depth. Thanks to my time in my mother’s artisan studio, I have always had a very strong foundation in the technical aspects of creating art. However, in art school,  I have learned that mastering the materials and techniques involved in my work and striving for the best possible result are not the only things necessary for developing an impactful form of self-expression. Instead, I learned to look better within myself to find the deeper meaning that I could infuse into my work.  
 

A Bed of Clouds.
A Bed of Clouds
Oil and 22kt Gold Leaf on Wood

Q. Was there a pivotal moment in your career as an artist?  

A. I would definitely consider the first pandemic lockdown as one. I had finished art school and was feeling lost and unsure if the art I had created in the academy was really what I wanted to show the world and if I could make a career out of it. The lockdown flipped my life around, and I was left stuck in my room with my thoughts and my art. It was then when I started contemplating the sky as a subject and sharing my art on social media. This has greatly changed my perspective because I found an artistic path I would like to follow - painting the sky on gold surfaces.  It was also during this period that people on social media (and later in-person) started noticing and appreciating what I was creating. All this gave me the confidence to pursue a full-time career with my paintings.  
 

Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.


Q. Your mother has an artisan studio. Has this impacted the way you work as an artist?  

A. It definitely has. First of all, it is where I learned to use gold leaf, a material that has now become fundamental to my paintings. Other than that, artisan work has taught me the value of good technique and how this can make a difference in the ability to create the art that I want. It has also taught me a lot about consistency and self-discipline. Showing up every day, even when I am feeling uninspired, is what has allowed me to get to where I am now.  
 

Rolling Clouds.

Rolling Clouds
Oil and Faux Gold Leaf on PVC Panel

Q. What drew you to skyscapes as your subject matter?  

A. My interest in the sky as a subject started a long time ago. I always enjoyed lying outdoors to look at the clouds because it always made my problems seem small and unimportant. This helped me through the tougher times in my life. When the first lockdown happened, I started looking at the sky more than ever. That is when I started painting skyscapes since they began to take on a deeper meaning of freedom and serenity for me, along with a spiritual connection with nature.  
 

Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.


Q. Much of your work is partially created with gold or silver leaf. How did you come to integrate this unusual material into your process?  

A. After working as an artisan and finishing art school, I was left with two very different but fundamental components to being an artist: technical ability and conceptual depth. I simply had to join these two things. I knew that I wanted to use the metal leaves in my work, but I didn't want to follow the more traditional paths like decorative painting or iconography. I began to experiment with oil painting on gilded surfaces. Eventually, I was able to create my own contemporary form of expression using this very old and traditional technique.  
 

Rebirth.

Rebirth
Oil and Faux Gold Leaf on PVC Panel


Q. What would you like this golden element, that naturally has an air of richness to it, to illuminate?  

A. Gold has always been very attractive to people; it even represents divinity in many different cultures worldwide. Personally, I feel that its luminosity is uplifting and very spiritual, but what I like the most about it is that it reflects an undefined, golden version of reality. It's almost like a dream. For me, art is much more about the process than the finished piece. Gilding a surface puts me into a flow state where my mind is focused, and I am at peace, much like meditation or prayer. Gold is a very delicate material that requires a calm state of mind and calculated movements to handle. After the gilding is complete, I can continue my flow state into the painting process.  

Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.


Q. Do you think you will ever be inclined to explore different subject matter?  

A. I never exclude the possibility of change, but this subject matter has all my attention for now. The sky can be so vastly different and express so many different emotions that it is virtually an endless source of inspiration for me. It represents all the things I cannot put into words; it is a way of connecting to others without having to explain the unexplainable. I have found that my work resonates with people who understand it intuitively. And when I speak with them, I usually find that we have a lot in common regarding our emotional life experiences.  
 

Neighborhood rooftops.

Neighborhood Rooftops


Q. There is a certain peacefulness to your work. Is this something you consciously try to evoke?  

A. I believe that art is a very intuitive and emotional process, so there are few things that I have real control over. Eventually, I think I evoke what my soul needs to experience. There is a  quote from Mark Rothko that I think expresses my thoughts on this perfectly. The artist had created fourteen paintings for the Rothko Chapel in Texas, all in varying hues of black. When asked why they were so dark, he replied that he did not have a good relationship with God. Therefore the paintings "became dark on their own".

Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.


Q. Could you describe your creative process? Do you draw from images, memory, or imagination?  

A. My creative process is a mixture of different approaches. When I feel that I want to create a new painting or series of paintings, I need to first experience the subject matter directly. Therefore, I will go into the landscape I wish to paint and observe it. After that, I take many photos and draw several sketches on small canvases or panels. When I return to my studio, I draw on my memories of the place, the photos, and the sketches, uniting them into the final painting.  
 

Turmoil.

Turmoil
Oil and Faux Gold Leaf on Canvas


Q. How do you feel about being an artist in times where Social Media holds a great amount of power?  

A. I am not drawn to social media innately as I am very introverted both in-person and digitally. However, I recognise how important social media can be for an artist. It has been an absolutely indispensable tool for getting my art seen by art lovers and collectors. I don't see it as inherently good or bad. It depends on how it is used and how much power artists allow it to have over their mental health. I would say that I have struck a good balance with that, but also with some struggles. 

Yesterday and today.
Yesterday and today
Oil and Faux Silver Leaf on Canvas Boards, Wood



Q. Which other creatives do you admire?  

A. I admire many artists and have always loved studying art history. One of my biggest inspirations is J.M.W.  Turner, for his atmospheric landscapes. Turner was one of the first artists of the Romantic period to use landscapes to express more than just a descriptive scene or a backdrop to human figures. He is known as the painter of light because he was able to represent the less defined elements of a landscape, such as mist, rain, light, and movement. His landscapes are therefore able to evoke emotions in the viewers. 

Another one of my inspirations is Mark Rothko, for the visual and conceptual depth of his work. Compared to Turner, I believe that Rothko took this a step further by eliminating any recognisable references to reality and using only colour to express the deepest human emotions. I feel that his work is almost like a series of mirrors to the soul - since the mind has nothing to work with except a field of colours, it must project its own ideas and emotions onto the canvas for us to feel like we're looking at something meaningful. 

 Artist Sonia Bukhgalter in her studio.

Q. Could you describe your work in three words?  

A. Dreamy  - Atmospheric - Luminous