From Russia to Israel to Finn Hill: artist Alla Goniodsk

The modest tri-level Finn Hill home of Russian-born multi-media artist Alla Goniodsky is warmed by the soothing earth tones on the walls that seem to seep into the hardwoods. It's a perfect backdrop for the artist whose work is saturated by theatrically-based imagery that combines the macabre and whimsy.

"I feel I am a theatrical artist. My characters are my friends - my troupe - they follow me, like papoucheck (people who are on the same path)," she explains. "I invite my characters to my stage and we play together."

The artist, who lives with her husband and two children, is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, where she grew up within walking distance of the Kirov Theater. She remembers her first play, it was Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

As an adult, Goniodsky became known throughout Russia for her theater set, costume and puppet designs for Russian children's and puppet theaters. The artist explains that in Russia and elsewhere, the use of multi-media is accepted and expected.

"I did sketches, stages, costumes, puppets, painting - it was wonderful," she says. American art culture, she opines, promotes use of single-media work and breeds artists to adopt a single style.

She continues on her path of multi-media exploration here in America. In 1998, the artist created award-winning puppets for a production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" at the Seattle Children's Theatre.

Currently, she is doing work for a small theater on Mercer Island as well as The Tears of Joy Theatre in Vancouver, Washington, where she is "doing everything: stage design, puppets ..."

"I am a workaholic. I can't not work." She looks at her fingers and rubs them together. "I love my job ... the feeling of the clay, the smell of my paint, all the parts. I wake up in the morning and I run to my studio."

Goniodsky also teaches out of her home-based studio. Her students, many of whom are Russian, range in age from three to 60. Goniodsky's schooling in Russia at the Academy of Theater Arts in St. Petersburg was typically strict; as a result, she purposely divaricates from this teaching style: "My classes here are a lot of fun, they are happy and free. I think I open doors to another world. Every kid is very talented - drawing and sculpture is very natural for kids."

Goniodsky, her husband, daughter and son have been in the U.S. since 1997, having moved from Israel following Boeing's recruitment of her husband, who is an engineer. They emigrated to Israel from Russia in 1990 and considers both to be her homelands. She becomes wistful when speaking of her past and visibly reminisces. Of Russia, she says, "it's part of my life ... I miss it." Of Israel: "We lived seven happy years there," she says.

She looks off into the distance and instantly is "home." Perhaps in St. Petersburg, going to the theater, opera or ballet. Or perhaps she is in Isreal making sophisticated marionettes, full-sized puppets complete with moving parts, costumes, and stage sets for children's theater and television.

She explains that the theaters in Israel and the stages are actually mobile. Sometimes the stages are set up in stores or near indoor pools so that "after swimming, the kids see a show."

Her daughter, Nely, who is 22 and a student in film animation at a school in Montreal, considers herself Isreali. "I grew up there," she says. "I went back in November and felt like hugging every tree. All my childhood friends are there." Nely speaks Russian, Hebrew and English and enough French to get by while away at school.

Goniodsky's son, David, is 10 and a fifth-grader at Carl Sandburg Elementary. "They are good friends," Goniodsky says of her son and husband. She smiles. "They go skiing together. They both take piano lessons together."

As proud as the mother is of her family, she is this modest of her work. She looks around at the framed artwork leaning up against the wall. She shrugs. "Until it's sold, it's just paper."

Nely laughs. She is in awe of her mother's talent, it being the inspiration for her foray into film animation. "She's brilliant, says Nely. "She can do anything."

Apparently, this is so. Goniodsky picks up a pair of women's brown boots, which are carefully embellished by swirls of acrylic paint. "It is my hobby, my passion, my life," she states.

Even the dining room set becomes a medium, or should we say, victim. She grits her teeth as she conjures some familiar feelings -- feelings that prompted her to transform her table and chairs into works of art.

"I was very angry and did it very quickly," she says. The table "was big and black and shiny and ate my space" and the chairs "were dirty and old and stained." So out came the spray paints and acrylics and brushes and sponges. The result? Let's just say that a couple has placed an order for Goniodsky to do the same to their furniture.

Goniodsky's work is currently on display at Glover Gallery at 5

Lake Street ( through February 9 and will be featured at the reception and opening on Art Walk night, January 13.

"I am very dedicated to George-Marie [Glover, owner of Glover Gallery]," says Goniodsky soberly. "She's serious with me. She is not afraid of me and my different styles[[In-content Ad]]