I’m an Artist: Is Home Sweet Home Just a Dream For Me?

Lark Larisa Pilinsky

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.

When I arrived in the US in 1993, I met Kiki (Grigor Mikayelyan), who was the leader of dissident group of artists from the former Soviet Union called the Bunker Art Group and became my mentor. At this time, Kiki was creating collages on canvas and boards. At first I assisted him in this process, then I got inspired to create my own art and thus made a step toward creative freedom. In Russia, only realism was accepted by the totalitarian society. In America, Bunker became a huge part of my life. I started promoting them and then became an exhibiting member. We received press and had high-quality exhibitions.

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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.

Creating work for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California.

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.

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Nearly 60% of income to pay rent and bills.

Staying true to our spirit and staying ahead the rent means we must do many things to make ends meet. For example, Laurence writes about classical music for such publications as Strings, Gramophone and the Huffington Post. Because of his work, I have received many opportunities to use my own skills. Laurence was once the editor of a newspaper for California seniors, and sometimes I helped him to do the layout. Today, three times a year, I serve as art director for California Litigation magazine. Other times there are opportunities that a person can’t plan for, such as when I get hired to translate songs from English to Russian. (Among my clients is the band Nine Inch Nails and Russian pop music star Dima Belan.)

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.

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Prices keep skyrocketing.

My newest project is as an instructor with the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Through meditation and art-making workshops, seniors share their stories with the younger generation. Sometimes seniors originally from Russia or Iran come to a workshop with really sad eyes. I love when, after class, their eyes light up and they smile.

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?

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With her husband, writer Laurence Vittes.

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.

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Lark Larisa Pilinsky
Lark Larisa Pilinsky is an award-winning artist, art curator, published poet and journalist. Born in the remote mountains of central Asia where her father was a geologist, Lark grew up in Ukraine and got her MA in Industrial Design in Russia. Since 1985, she has left her mark on the art community by promoting both young and well-known artists, and by engaging in a wide range of educational, curatorial and fundraising activities. The organizations she works with include Foundation for Global Harmony, where she is on the board of directors; California Litigation magazine, where she is art director; Phantom Art Galleries, where she serves as a volunteer art curator; the West Hollywood Department of Cultural Affairs; and IGM USC. Lark also is a meditator with 30 years experience; as an art and yoga instructor, she shares her unique knowledge in an intuitive-meditative way with children, adults and seniors. Her artwork have been featured in more than 70 prestigious solo and group shows in the US, Russia, Armenia, Korea, Germany, Italy, France and Japan.