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Sonia Grineva, the Synesthesia of color and music and the Spirit of Ravello  
Maria Filippone Colonna
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, July 14th 2007, n. 463

Sonia Grineva has dedicated her life to art, completing a personal journey of visual expression that connects Moscow and New York, New York and Florence and Florence and the Amalfi Coast. In her work, we can discern the emotions she has experienced and the discoveries she has made in this journey.

I met Sonia in Ravello, on a lane that goes from the Hotel Rufolo to the gate of The Villa Rondinaia. This lane passes under my house and out to a view of sea and sky and coastline, that is one of the most evocative panoramas on the entire Amalfi Coast. My first impression of her, in her youth and beauty, was that she was an icon of a nostalgic past - one of those artists who has seriously studied painting as a discipline of mind and body; an artist who is authentic, ready to travel, ready to understand, absorb and reinvent all that she has discovered. But what truly struck me about her was that, in her hands, the paintbrush took flight on the canvas, transmitting vibrations of light and air. Her paintbrush was like a conductor's baton, guiding the streams of musical notes into a confluence of orchestral harmony. Her Plein Aire work is powerfully inspired - taking in the colors and subtleties of nature, in intimate contact with each of the finest details. And yet it also shows a determination to destroy, with the stroke of a glance and a brush, the perfection of the natural landscape, and to create in its place an alternative world.
But how did Sonia Grineva, born and raised in Russia and enthusiastically welcomed in America, come to encounter the magic of the Mediterranean ?

Perhaps it happened at Ravello, after one of those Spring storms, when the sun returns and forms, between the sea and the mountains, one - or even two- rainbows, showing the spectrum of colors in all their splendor.
Thus, in the paintings of Ms. Grineva made at Ravello or along the Amalfi Coast, one rediscovers that light, as we learned from the Impressionists, is, above all, color - be it the color of the geraniums and hortense, of the sea, or of the golden vibrations on the horizon signifying the end of night and the beginning of a new day.
Here, facing the sea that was crossed by the boat of the now legendary Ravellese Landolfo Rufolo, and centuries later by Goethe and Wagner, Sonia has discovered that she has hands capable of flight, that her eyes know how to bring together all the tones - visible and invisible - of the landscape, and to weave them together with the colors of her own interior world. The force of her brush is refined by a delicate sensitivity to light that, together with the deconstruction and dynamic interaction of forms, makes the work of this artist especially original. At the same time, it shows a deep awareness of the great modern painters, from Cezanne to Kandinsky.

In her native city of Moscow, her studies at the Stroganov Art Institute did not limit her to simply being a follower, but did develop in her a deeply rooted cultural and historic knowledge of European art. This knowledge was readily recognized and appreciated in America, where Sonia attended the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York. Her studies there included the winning of several academic and international prizes.

It is noteworthy that Sonia has returned to Europe and, in particular, to the Mediterranean, to discover the full measure of her personal style, which I like to characterize as "musical-chromatic synesthesia."
Let's consider Landscape #1. Here, with lightning speed, the artist gathers connotations of color that respond to her own pantheistic sensations and, after rigorously constructing perspective, creates new ones and also deconstructions-reconstructions that, in their dynamism evoke music - the recomposing, as it were, of the chromatic spectrum into a new kind of harmony. The bright red roof of a house becomes a reflection of the sunset and a mountain. Instead of reflecting itself in the sea, it reflects and exalts the colors of the sea and sky, in a chromatic range rich in sfumature, letting itself be embraced by the sky and, in turn, embracing the little towns along the coast, Minori and Maiori.
The "focus" of the composition, which has a circular rhythm, re-evokes the chromatism of Kandinsky and freely expands upon it, searching and finding new chords.

In landscape #2 the color flows as musical movement that departs from the focal point of a tree, itself joyously blowing in the wind. It is a wind that belongs above all to the spirit of the artist who, in turn, is taken by the Spirit of Ravello. Here the Spirit takes pleasure imitating Aladin's genie, as it surges suddenly, with an improbable yellow flame and a whirl of color in a day of joyful sun and imaginary clouds. The spirit flies in a fraction of a second along the lane and reveals, in violet and blue, fronted by the dark green of a bush, the silent dialog between the two millennial monuments of Ravello: the campanile of the Duomo and the tower of Villa Rufolo. The roofs of some of the houses are shaded in red, balancing the yellow in the foreground. Notably absent is the sea, which we can imagine to the right of the lane, rippled in little waves, or perhaps calm - reflecting the clouds and transforming them into deep violet.

The invisible spirit-presence in Ravello is felt everywhere and evokes the arduous journey of Wagner who, riding on a mule along a dusty and tortuous road, with bushes and ravines on either side, finally reached Ravello. He felt a bit of disappointment, until the moment in which he discovered the flourishing gardens of Villa Rufolo, suspended over the unexpected blue of the sea. It was then that was born, in the great Master of music, the idea of the Flowermaiden Garden , which he would then put in Parsifal. To many this event was a decisive moment in the legendary history of Ravello: perhaps precisely then occurred the transformation of the simple Civic-spirit in the "Spirit" of Ravello, to a synergy between landscape and music that appears to animate every corner, stone and flower of this land, where the mountains touch the sky and the sensibility of artists.

It isn't easy to exactly define the Spirit of Ravello. It is certainly the result of a reality both natural and cultural, that doesn't end with news or history, but goes down to the roots of the trees, and up to the flowers, and attains levels of profundity which are in the realm of the great experiences of Art and Religion.
Not without significance, the tree-music is a recurrent presence in the Ravellese works of Sonia Grineva; in landscape #3 a simple acacia becomes the supporting structure of the composition, embracing everything. The chromatic movement is in rhythms that unfurl with one inside another, created between pauses of contemplation and silence.
The mountain appears to be waiting and listening; because in the Spirit of Ravello and in the soul of Sonia and in anyone who knows how to listen, even in silence there is music. Nature and Art find synergies and symmetries that seem to always go beyond actual images and the corresponding music of the images, into continuous creation, into the search of the new and unknown.


Photo by Craig Love

Sonia Grineva was born in Moscow. She graduated from the Stroganov Art Institute (founded 1825), which has had such teachers as Kandinsky, Malevich and Rodchenko.
At twenty, she moved to New York, where she studied at the National Academy, and completed her studies in Florence at the British Institute. Several important galleries and museums have shown her work, as one can see from an internet search. She has participated in numerous individual and group shows, has won prestigious prizes and has achieved wide public acclaim.

Translated from italian by David Pelino

Landscape of Ravello

Fig. 1
SONIA GRINEVA, Landscape of Ravello
oil on canvas, 123 x 128 cm.

Landscape of Ravello

Fig. 2
SONIA GRINEVA, Landscape of Ravello
oil on canvas, 56 x 102 cm.

Landscape of Ravello

Fig. 3
SONIA GRINEVA, Landscape of Ravello
oil on canvas, 76 x 92 cm.


Figg. 1-3 photo courtesy of Sonia Grineva

Photo of Sonia Grineva courtesy of Craig Love.



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