Escondido artist, born and raised in Ukraine, shares her style with adopted new home
Anna Pearson is a Ukrainian-born artist who moved to San Diego in 2017, and currently has work on display in San Diego, including a 600-square-foot, black-and-white floral mural in the North City development in San Marcos
From the time she danced along to “Hotel California” with a classmate, artist Anna Pearson knew that she wanted to come to America, specifically California. She left her native Ukraine and arrived in the United States in 2017 for a chance to pivot and live out her dreams.
“From the start, I treated this as a big adventure. It wasn’t a means to an end, for me, so adjusting was rather easy and exciting,” she says of living in a new country. “Every day (in San Diego) is like being on vacation. Every time I feel a bit down, all I need is to just go outside. First thing I thought after arriving was that people here are probably never depressed. How can they be with all this sunshine, the beach, and flowers all year round? ... After a while, you kind of get used to all that, though, and start noticing other things like traffic or the cost of living, but I never take San Diego perks for granted, and try to find time to appreciate what surrounds me.”
She started out writing and creating other content for local companies, and made an Instagram page for her art that would also allow her to work on her English and connect with other artists in the area. That eventually led to exposure for her work as a painter and muralist, which can be seen in one of her recent projects, a 600-square-foot, black-and-white mural at North City, a mixed-use development in San Marcos.
Pearson, 38, lives in Escondido with her partner and her daughter, and took some time to talk about her life in Ukraine, her artwork, and the kindness and warmth she’s found in San Diego County.
Q: You were born and raised in Poltava, Ukraine. How would you describe the city and its culture? What are some of your fondest memories of your hometown?
A: My hometown is a small city in central Ukraine with old history and traditions. It’s considered the cradle of the purest Ukrainian language, not affected by other languages’ influence even though it was massively altered during the Russian colonization period. It’s the birthplace of many Ukrainian literature giants and some amazing artists, as well. One of the fondest memories I have is long walks I’d take in the old chestnut alley during warm, late spring nights when the air is so warm and alive that it feels like kisses on your face, and giant chestnut trees blooms that look like chandeliers are so solemn in the shaking light of street lanterns that it almost feels like you are walking through ancient temple.
Q: You mentioned that you graduated from V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, the second oldest university, in Ukraine and that it was hit by Russian missiles during the early days of the war this year. What was your experience at university? And what is the significance of its damage, to you as an alum and Ukrainian?
A: When I learned that one of the buildings of my university was hit, my heart sank. That was not a building that was destroyed, it was my young, carefree, happy years that crumbled with it. That’s how it felt. Like the dirty rubber boot stomping your precious, most treasured memories. Karazin University is a breathing history and one of Kharkiv’s landmarks. I had so many happy moments in that city: my first love, best friends, first kiss, first job, so many things I treasure.
What I love about Escondido...
I live in the most amazing community where people still know their neighbors’ names and look after each other. On any given day, I can ask the neighbors in a Facebook group for literally anything and a few minutes after, someone will respond offering the exact thing I asked for and some help along with it.
Q: Do you find your perspective on the current conflict showing up in your artwork at all?
A: First of all, can we please not call it a “conflict”? It degrades the scale of tragedy and the genocide of Ukrainian people. A conflict is a quarrel with a husband in a kitchen over unwashed dishes. Let’s call things by their names: what’s going on in Ukraine is a full-scale war.
War affects every second of my existence. The moment I wake up, I check news about new attacks, and feel relieved and selfish seeing that it wasn’t my city this time. First month, I was paralyzed and couldn’t do anything but cry. Then, there were a few residential murals that literally saved me; I had to pull myself together, go meet with the clients, and immerse myself in a creative process. Art was always therapeutic for me, and this time was no exception. I draw black-and-white illustrations to reflect on my feelings because war is black and white. Parallel with that, I painted a few, small acrylic paintings that I never showed anywhere: a lot of texture, wrinkles, paint splashing, and imperfections just like I felt it. They are so personal because they remind me of the darkest time of my life. It would be lovely in the upcoming year to put them all together and find a place to show them to the public. It’s just a thought so far, but I want to put it out in the universe so maybe it’ll come true faster.
Q: How would you currently describe yourself and your work as an artist?
A: I’m still searching, and this search will probably never stop because there are so many wonderful ways to express myself. I like to try new things and media, but what I like the most is painting and drawing, which are, fortunately, also the things I think I do best.
Q: What would you say is your point of view as an artist?
A: Every drawing, every painting or sketch I make is 100 percent about aesthetics, nature, and love. Love to what I do and to life in general. That’s the only point.
Q: What is it about creating murals that you’re drawn to?
A: When I create something on this scale, it feels more valid, important, and so much bigger than me. Even though this kind of art is considered decorative and usually is not permanent, it has a big impact. It’s also the way to connect with the community, to make art more accessible to the masses, to convey a certain message or be a talking point.
Q: Can you walk us through your process for creating a mural? For example, what was your creative process for the North City mural?
A: Usually, any mural starts with the client’s desire for an original work of art and the artist’s idea. When I create a commercial piece, I always consider a client’s specifics: what kind of business or a community this is, or, if it’s a private client, what kind of interests they have. I consider the environment, too, and then sketch some ideas for reviewing. North City was no exception. They have a public art program that highlights local and regional artists, and I was fortunate enough to get on their radar. They inquired about the mural for one of the walls on the property and I started sketching. I tried to guess what they might like and send them some ideas of what I thought they’d wanted; it turned out that what they wanted was me. They wanted my vision and style, my line art and graphic flowers (the things I started on my Instagram), my perception—that’s what they wanted to see, and I pretty much had full creative freedom.
Q: What did you want to convey with that piece?
A: I used stylization as my expressive tool and, through unification and simplified forms, wanted to make people interact with it inside their mind. You see, childish looking flowers allow your imagination to think of them as your favorite flowers and, in each person’s head, it will be different flowers. There’s no straight line in the mural or perfect geometry because life isn’t about perfection. I did use a lot of round shapes as it is the beginning and the end, for me; a perpetually spinning circle of life. Even though the flowers look similar, there’s no one like the other. They are all unique and different, like people in that community, but together they create a beautiful, flourishing environment. Mainly, I wanted for people to have fun because flowers always make you feel better.
Q: What has your work taught you about yourself?
A: That I can do more than I give myself credit for. That I can be brave and fragile at the same time. That I can be an inspiration and help for others while being vulnerable and sensitive.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: “Things turn out the best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.” In any situation, I try to find a bright side. Every mistake can be an opportunity and any accident can lead to new open doors.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: That I have a degree in geography, and I know how to sew and make my own clothes, occasionally. The vest and pants I’m wearing in the photo for this story were made by me.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: To be honest, every day in America’s finest city is ideal, for me. Typically, I’d venture to some cute coffee shop for coffee and people watching, then go for a walk in fancy neighborhoods to look at cool homes, especially if it’s holiday season. I like to observe how different people live, how they dress in different areas, and so on.
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