I was lucky to be born in a family with two loving parents and my older brother. My father was a geologist, my mother a language teacher. I grew up in a world of explorations and dreams, surrounded by my father’s semi-precious stones and the sound of my mother’s voice singing songs in different languages and reading Shakespeare sonnets. No wonder that our home was always a very precious place for me.
At school or at children’s camp in Ukraine, where I grew up, I often felt I did not belong because I was Jewish and most kids were Ukrainian or Russian — and they let me know it. But I knew that when I returned home to our apartment, I’d be safe and protected. I’m sure many people feel this way — that home is more than a material thing. Home is intangible. Home is crucial to our survival and well-being.
For creative people, this is especially true. We don’t always think along conventional lines or wear traditional clothes; sometimes we don’t act the way some people think is appropriate. In order to create, we have to be in a safe aura and feel protected. Like pearls that need their shells to grow and shine, artists need our home to create.
Founder of one of the first online galleries.
To support myself financially, I needed to work as a graphic designer in the marketing department of an international herbal company, driving two hours a day to work and back, and creating artwork late at night — often till 3am. Soon, my collages began to be recognized by art critics and competition jurors. I dreamed of being a truly free artist — that is, devoting all my time to my art.
Suddenly my dream came true in an unexpected way: our department closed and all employees were laid off. Everyone was depressed but me! I took my severance pay and started my new career as a professional artist. A few months later, Laurence, my husband, who was working at a newspaper, was also laid off, and his dream of concentrating on his writing came true, too. In addition, my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and we took her to live with us.
Not a big surprise that our credit cards filled up at cosmic speed — how did we survive our first big crisis? Somehow we did (though not before we got a taste of the real meaning of the expression free artist — free to fly towards an unknown future without any safety net…). Since then, and for years now, we have made it and are free — to fly, to create. But as Laurence and I get older, we are less certain that one day we will have a nice, safe place to land.
Over the years, we have moved to and lived in many apartments in Los Angeles that we could barely afford. In these homes, we’ve always found much to enjoy and new friends to treasure. We’ve lived in our current apartment for five years now — five of our best years, I should say, my husband and I in our world of creative exploration. While living here, I have created and exhibited internationally some of my best paintings. This year, I published a book of my art and poetry, called Lark’s Enchanted World.
Nearly 60% of income to pay rent and bills.
I’m Founder and President of LarkGallery.com, one of the first galleries to exist online. We promote and exhibit emerging artists and musicians — the only online gallery, so far I know, to present art and music together. Musicians choose the artwork they like and put it together with their music.
A year ago, I competed and won a commission to paint on a life-sized cow for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California. We were raising funds for children with cancer, and the cows were seen by over 300,000 people in Southern California in just the past few months. I was happy with the project — a great cause! Guess, though, what I was paid to paint a life-sized cow? $300! It’s an artists’ life, and it has twists and turns.
We’ve also had projects sponsored by the city of West Hollywood, and we’ve used well-known critics to jury competitions. This brings us some income, but not stable. It is also true of the art workshops and private classes I teach — both adults and children — from time to time. Commissions are seldom. Maybe part of the reason that my particular style is very spontaneous, almost abstract. When I paint, I am obsessive and then it is difficult for me to pull myself away. I never know what will come out of my movements.
Prices keep skyrocketing.
So, as you can see, we work on a lot of projects. We fly free, as I said before. But there is also a Russian expression that I want to share with you. Most of the time, we’re “running like a squirrel in the wheel” to pay the rent.
As working artists, the first of each month is never easy — we need to save nearly 60% of our income to pay our rent and bills. Recently, when we were notified of a substantial raise to our current rent, I realized that it threatened our artist-survival mode. My heart fell into my stomach. Suddenly, I was scared. Did we want to continue to live in a world of relentless survival challenges? Looking at hundreds of my paintings and collages, looking at books that might need to be packed and moved, I had to wonder: could we do it physically anymore, at our age?
We have tried and tried to leave the rent market and instead find an affordable home to buy in LA. But prices keep skyrocketing. My older daughter even thought of putting up her own money for a down payment and helping us to buy a house so Laurence and I might safely settle somewhere for years to come. When she tells realtors the amount of money there is, they smile and say “Sorry, that is not realistic.”
For now, we remain in free flight — two Fools from an Osho tarot deck. We’re still brave, still risk-taking, still happy with what we have in each precious moment of our lives. We still dream of a safe future home for our senior years, not far from LA concert halls and art galleries, not far from family and friends. We still dream of an affordable, cozy, warm home that allows us to continue our creative careers. But is that still possible? Or is that now just a dream?…
This post is sponsored by Make Room USA.