I was a guest on Episode 1! The Art Tea Party

Viktoryia Sinkovec asked if I would be her first ever guest on a new podcast about the arts here in Europe. We had an actual tea party and a good quality talk about my upcoming live art performance of DELPHI for TEDx. I did some portraits of her while we laughed.

Art Tea Party

Episode 1: Artist Tamar Levi joins Viktoryia Sinkovec to talk about TEDx and DELPHI


V: Welcome to our Art Tea Party!

T: It’s art, and it’s tea, and it’s an arty party. And this is October 2020. This is our first episode today. I would like to introduce Viktoryia Sinkovec. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

V: Thank you.

T: Viktoryia is a Belarussian in Belgium, a multinational mother, lawyer, yogini, journalist, and art lover. Or, just lover?

V: A lover. Always a lover.

T: A lover not a fighter.

V: Tamar Levi, she is an artist, a painter, a children’s book author, based in Brussels, and learning French.

T: That’s right! Trying.

V: Trying. She grew up in Alaska, educated in UK, and she accidentally fell in love with a Greek man who brought her to Europe.

T: The hairiest Greek man I could find!

V: (laughter)

T: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited that we were able to find the day we could do this, in advance of this big event next week.

V: Yeah, what is this big event that you’re talking about?

T: So, I was invited to do a performance for a TEDx conference which means it is organized by ULB, a university here in Brussels.

V: Yeah.

T: And, they will be having the normal TEDtalk speakers, but they invited me to do something a bit different: which is a live art performance.

V: How are people chosen for this event? Are they really special? What makes you so special?

T: I’ve been questioning this myself. What am I doing here? And why? I was trying yesterday to come up with a percentage for this. (Tea cups clattering.) Is it 70% who you know and 30% how good your work is?

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: Or is it 70% how good your work is and 30% who you know? I don’t know what the percentage is on this, but I think a lot of it is about who is in your community.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: And how you engage with your community over time and if you’re bringing quality work to your community space regularly you get known for doing a good job.

V: Yeah.

T: But you also have to be extroverted enough that people know they can reach out to you, find you, and introduce you to do things. So there is a weird mix of being a quality creator, but also stepping outside of your studio enough that you can create the relationships that move you into spaces that can share your work. It’s very, very tricky to take the hat off of the isolated artist, and put the hat on of “I’m going out into the world again.”

V: Especially now, in the Covid times.

T: Yes, oh my goodness.

V: There are a lot of restrictions now. So how will it look like?

T: It was originally going to be in a conference space, at Flagey, in the centre of Brussels. And then, so many people were interested, that they were expanding the event, and moving my artwork which was going to be on the walls and entering into a new space which was the Museum of Belgium.

V: Oh wow.

T: So it was going to be in a huge museum, which is very prestigious, and I was very excited to present my art on the walls of a museum! However, Covid hit and this pandemic happened, and they had to limit the ticket numbers. So they were no longer able to present it in the museum space.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: and now they are doing it in what I think what used to be a Belgian beer factory, maybe? Or some sort of old manufacturing building, that’s called La Maison du Bois.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: It’s near the university. It’s still a huge space, but it has fewer (guest) numbers and they are more spread out. And that’s how they’ve accommodated the pandemic.

V: It sounds quite interesting. If it’s an old place, it’s authentic, for an artist lover.

T: I was expecting it to be a chateau because it’s called La Maison… and I entered and I thought, oh! This looks like a factory that has rebranded as a chateau!

V: (laughing) And who will perform? You and someone else? Or is it just you?

T: I will be presenting a series of artwork on the wall of the event. AND I will be performing for the audience with a flautist–

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: — who is an award winning flute player named Kalliopi Bolovinou and it’s our first time collaborating together. So we had less than 10 days… My previous collaborator is based in London. His name is Doctor Eugene Feygelson, and he played the violin in our last performance. But, being based in London, he couldn’t commute to Belgium, as easily as we used to. The world has gotten smaller.

V: Yeah. Doors are closing.

T: Yeah. So, people we are engaging with, need to be our neighbours.

V: So, what’s going to be your story? What will you tell us?

T: This is the trailer for a graphic novel, that I’ve illustrated all in one line. The name of the book is DELPHI. It’s about a little girl whose mother passes away and she goes to look for her myths and legends in every culture around the world. This book almost wrote itself because every culture has a story about looking for someone you love who is not here. And, it was very easy going into the British library and finding folklore after folklore that told the same story about missing someone you love and going to look for them and trying to bring them back. However, I wrote this story along the arch of traditional grief. She goes through anger and denial, and eventually through a catharsis.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: The book is similar to all the books I’ve illustrated or coauthored in the past, they have an educational tool at the heart of them. This book is what’s called “thanatalogical,” it’s about the concept of death. It’s to be used when a child is going through an understanding of what is death.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: Perhaps a family reading it together can get to the catharsis point of grief, and bereavement and understand how to, as a family, move forward, with a positive perspective.

V: So, this will be the message on the wall? You’ll send it to us people?

T: The October 22nd event of the TEDx conference is the trailer for the larger graphic novel.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: I was asked by the gallery that I just had my last exhibition in, to do another performance in September. I was trying to think if I would do something different, and I decided, no, I must complete this book and bring the next chapter forward.

V: It’s very deep. Especially for kids who are not educated enough about the topic. Like that.

T: Right. I feel that Victorians talked a lot about death, and very little about love. And we (modern people) talk a lot about love, but not a lot about death. So, when death does come up as a topic, parents tend to go blank and not know how to process it in discussion with a child.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: As a children’s book author, I use my home library a lot to explain things to my kid. If she needs to work through anger, I’ll pick up a book about cooling down, breathing and calming down through anger. Or if we are going to the dentist, I’ll pick up a book and we’ll read a book about going to the dentist. Figuring that out together. Or the day before school starts, we’ll read a book about going to school and what is school all about. I feel like, to me, it is an amazing tool to have a book that you, as a parent, do not have to come up with the best words right on the spot. But having someone who has spent nearly 15 years working on this project–

V: Yeah, it’s a lot.

T: — it means that I can gift it to parents and know that I’ve saved them that task.

V: Do you think that the project you’re going to paint on the wall will be useful for kids? So, kids could come and join and see your performance?

T: This is the introduction. I had done, let’s say the practice version of it previously, with my collaborator the violinist.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: Children were present in that audience.

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: I feel that perhaps 5 years old and above, could sit through 10 minutes.

V: Yeah.

T: Depending on the child, maybe younger, but that would be up to the parents who are experts of their own child to know whether they can sit through.

V: Yeah, it’s true. What do you want to give through your message?

T: I feel that illustrating big ideas has been the practice that I have brought forward through my career as a children’s book illustrator, always working with big, big ideas that are complicated and need some visuals. The thing that I want to bring through this message in the performance next week, is the continuous line method, with live music–

V: Mmm hmmm.

T: — can be very exciting. Very interesting. A lot of people have never seen anything like this before. I hope people will be excited to see live art happening, and engaging with classical music, improvised for a performance. Going on the theme of the classical music, I would love for children to be more engaged with classical music.

V: That’s true, yeah.

T: If I mix it all together!

V: If I might ask, do you think you will go into a meditative state, while you are performing?

T: I would like to think that I would! Because I need to blank out all of the faces that are looking at me and I also need to stop the critical thinking side of my brain and allow myself to fluidly go into my art, on the creative side, of my thinking. I would love to ask you as a professional who shares breathing techniques, if there’s anything you could share with me, as advice. Do some art therapy for the artist!

V: Yes, I understand. I think what would help you on the spot is bring your awareness to your breathing. That’s how it helps to switch off the mind. You start drawing. But you bring all your attention to your breathing. You inhale. And you exhale. And you can repeat inside yourself, inhale, and exhale.

T: (deep breathing)

Then you can also use the thumb of your right hand, and do the alternate nostril breathing? You know the technique? It’s like a U-turn breathing, where you inhale and close the right nostril, with the thumb and you inhale with the left nostril. Then you close the left nostril, with the index finger and exhale through the right nostril…

T: (deep breathing)

V: …and inhale through the right nostril, and exhale through the left nostril. And you keep going. Just before your show, you will feel the difference, just before you arrive, rushing with all your tools, then you take 10 mihnutes before theshow, then you start breathing, then. You breath out, and all the tension will go away, you will feel different, your nervous system will calm down, you will cool down.

T: Mmm hmmm.

V: Or if you need to do something on the stage, you can also just close the left nostril, and breath from the right nostril…

T: (deep breathing)

V: …and this will bring all your concentration back.

T: To the nostrils.

V: You will no longer feel distracted by any noise, it is going to be just you, and your board, and your love, and—what will you use to draw?

T: Well, this is the dilemma, if there are more than 250 people, I would need to be drawing bigger.

V: Yes.

T: I’ll have to be using a darker, bigger ink. I’m not sure if I can enlarge my images, because it takes a big physical movement to enlarge it very big. I’m hoping to do a test run, on Saturday morning with the paper and the boards that will be part of the performance next week and see how big I can do it. One of the things I worry about, as an artist, is if I enlarge it too much, if it will lose some of the detail that gives it the quality that I like. It’s going to be a work in progress, actually, a work of progress in public, on stage!

V: I’m sure everyone will love it. Because it’s new. I haven’t seen anything like that in TED. Maybe I’m wrong, because I follow TEDtalks, but to me, every talk is special. So, the message that you want to send to all of us, is going to be special. It is special, it’s different, it’s coming from your heart, you want to share, you want to bring this message to every person sitting in the room and outside in the world.

T: Thank you so much and thank you for the breathing techniques that will help me get through the stage fright. Thank you for your time today.

V: Thank you so much for coming! Let’s have a little bit more tea!

T: Yes!

V: Cheers! Enjoy the afternoon, we wish you a pleasant day. Our company, we’re the Art Tea Party, with Tamar and Viktoryia.

Together: Goodbye!

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