Gachot’s art examines sense of place, self

Vera Gachot works in her home studio. Courtesy photo

When Vera Gachot was a child in Russia, she had dreams of being an artist — specifically to write and illustrate books. But Russian art schools were focused on classical traditions. So, she put her dreams aside and earned a degree in book publishing.

She met her husband, Richard, when he was working on a book of Russian architecture and she was an editor at the publishing house. The pair married in 2013, and she moved to the United States where she shifted her perception of what art could be, especially when she enrolled in Lamar University’s art department.

“(In Russia) you have very heavy-duty classical traditions,” she said. “You also deal with this Soviet heritage, which was not about individuality but about this perfection in art, more like technical skills. It’s like you had to be into art school since your early age.”

When she saw other students at Lamar, Gachot realized that she could focus on individuality and self-expression. When she joined Lamar, she first did graphic design before developing an interest in printmaking and different techniques. She graduated in December with a painting degree.

Gachot’s senior thesis delved into stories her mother told her about the family, and she produced the first illustrations for what will be a book.

“So, I kind of made this huge loop and I ended up where I planned to start,” she said. “I want to be a book illustrator again.”

Artwork by Vera Gachot

Gachot’s collaged illustrations as well as paintings and other art she has created over the past few years, will be part of “Perceptions,” an exhibition at The Art Studio, Inc., running from Feb. 5 to 22.

“I chose the word ‘Perceptions’ because it’s basically about seeing things differently and, obviously, coming from a different cultural background, maybe I perceive things differently, because it’s always based on your previous experience,” she said. “And I guess perceptions really are changing your personality. I mean, when you move from one country to another, changing cultures, perceptions are what helps you to build your new identity — the way people perceive you and how you perceive things. I think the art kind of reflects maybe different points of view in this case.”

Immigrants go through stages of assimilation, Gachot said, where one’s perceptions and attitudes change.

“When you come here first, it’s like you’re an infant, sort of curious about everything,” she said. “It’s sort of exotic, like a big vacation. And then you feel yourself like you’re a foreigner and (it) gives you an incentive to maybe act in a way silly, not think about what you do, because everyone knows I’m a foreigner, so they give you some slack. And then at the end, you kind of mature and assimilate, and you feel yourself more of a part of this community. You change your old biases to the new biases.”

Gachot, who was born in St. Petersburg, then-Leningrad, said she finds the genre of the picture book to be fascinating, especially today.

“The 21st century really has no boundaries, you can do whatever you want,” she said. “There are no taboo subjects. There are picture books on death, depression or domestic violence, anything really. And it’s kind of this political synergy of word and picture that I really like.”

“Butcher” by Vera Gachot

Picture books are perceived as a children’s genre, but they are as adult as anything else, Gachot said. She points out a picture that is inspired by a story of her grandmother, who was captured during World War II when she was 16 or 17 and taken to Germany, where she was put to work in the kitchen of an industrial plant.

“She was assisting a butcher there, a big Polish man,” Gachot said. “(My mother) told me every time he would get mad and started yelling, swearing in Polish and chop the meat fiercely, and my grandmother would be afraid of him accidentally chopping off her hands. Basically, this picture is about that.”

Gachot is currently working in collage, inspired by Henri Matisse. The technique allows her to find a freedom that is against her normal inclination toward precision and perfectionism.

“I really wanted to have something unexpected and interesting and curious, and when you cut it out things are more rough and more interesting, more unpredicted,” she said. “Then I can also paint, use pastels or colored pencils on top, since it’s mixed media. I’m always fascinated by those children’s book illustrations. They usually are done in mixed media and you just look at it, (and) it’s so amazing, but you have no idea how it was done.”

The picture book has extra meaning now that she has a child, Gachot said.

“I just feel like I forget everything I’ve been told about my family. So, I felt like I better do something about it — to preserve it,” she said.

Gachot’s daughter’s perceptions, growing up, will be different.

“I felt like, well, my daughter’s experience will be so different from whatever my and my parents’ experiences, so I think it’s going to be interesting for her,” Gachot said.

Gachot said she doesn’t want to tell viewers how to react her work, but she is interested in their perceptions.

“I don’t think I would demand anything from them,” she said. “I’m more interested in their response rather than my expectations.”

“Perceptions” opens with a free reception, 7-10 p.m., Feb.5. The Art Studio, Inc. is located at 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont. For more, visit http://www.artstudio.org.

This story first ran in the Jan. 28, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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