When fabric and multimedia artist Svetlana Matveeva was a young child of four growing up in Russia, she and a friend agreed to “go visit a fairy tale.” They convinced themselves that if they left home on a journey, they would find themselves wrapped in the center of a magical fairy-tale world. Her parents caught them stocking up on crackers for their trip and cut it short before it began. But whether Matveeva ever had to look anywhere else outside her own mind to find a fairy-tale world is up for debate, especially when one looks at her whimsical and sweet fantasy-creature creations.
All of Matveeva’s creatures, whether their bodies are made from hard clay, bendable clay, or cloth, are distinguished by their stunning (and fully poseable) fabric butterfly wings. “All of my creatures belong to one main kind of species: They are butterfly creatures,” Matveeva says. “Of course they can be divided into subspecies. For example, butterfly-elephants, butterfly-dragons, butterfly-foxes, butterfly-dogs, and so on. But I feel that myriads of beings are still waiting for their turn to be born.” Why wings? “For me, wings are a symbol of freedom and belonging to the subtle world—the sign of an eternal magical soul. I believe the universe is inhabited with different types of creatures, and not all of them have the opportunity to be physically present on earth. Many we cannot see still help, protecting and teaching.”
These wings are made through a process called cold batik. The process, Matveeva explains, is extremely capricious and utterly unforgiving of any mistakes. Using silk paints that spread quickly like watercolors and gutta, a wax, in combination, she can lay down her patterns and gridwork in the wax and try to coax the paints into other spaces in a controlled way. Or she can use a style of painting where she allows the paint to more freely flow, creating surprising results. Once she’s happy with the resulting patterns on the wings, the colors are fixed to the fabric using an iron or steam.
Another signature of Matveeva’s animal creations are the blended elements of plant and mineral life that she gives them. Somehow in her hands, a chihuahua with geodes growing from its softly pastel ears or a seahorse with a ruffle of flower petals framing its face can seem believable and logical. “I like to add flora and other elements of nature,” Matveeva says. “I think that’s a great way to show that nothing exists separately.” She also notes her long history of loving odd creatures. “I was told a lot of fairy tales as a child. The weirdest characters always were my favorite. Apparently the stranger a creature looks, the more magical it feels to me.”
Thanks to friends and followers on social media, Matveeva always has new and fresh ideas for creatures to make. Recently, her creation of a luna moth butterfly dragon with a sinuous body and tail led a few followers on Facebook to observe how lovely it would be for her to make a butterfly seahorse.
Matveeva loved the idea, and it was her next project. Her daughter also helps her imagine ideas. “She is the chief expert. She always knows what creature I should make next. And then sometimes the concept is born in my head and I just can’t ignore it. They appear in my mind and don’t leave until they’re made.” Matveeva always searches for new ways to create and cannot imagine using only one medium. “In my mind, a particular art form is not actually important. I rather would like to go beyond conventional concepts. For me, that means unceasing experiments with materials, shapes, colors, textures. Each new art medium or form is always a new way to tell a little more about my fantasy world, to bring enchanting details to my story.”
Always moving forward, Matveeva seriously doubts she will ever run out of new fantasy creatures to create. “My plan is to take over the world with myriads of magical creatures,” she says. “But unfortunately, I don’t think I have enough hands
to do that much.” She also dreams of someday creating an interactive “fairy exposition,” where people would be invited not to passively observe her creatures but meet them in magical moments. Since magical creatures normally appear suddenly and out of nowhere, she feels the element of surprise is one of the essential elements of their nature. “I’m wondering how ordinary passersby would react to being involved as spectators. Try to imagine, for example, passing through an airport building or entering the lobby of a hotel and you suddenly find yourself looking at a small or, even better, a giant butterfly creature looking right back at you,” she says. “What would you feel at that moment? I’d love to see your face. I think that would be the best reward I could dream of.”
How else does Matveeva keep her daily life enchanted? “Observation. Through observing, you can discover the magic in familiar things. Miracles and nature inspire me most of all. Probably they are the same things, because nature is the greatest miracle we have.”
Follow Svetlana Matveeva on Instagram @handmadehome.