Abstract Art and Spirituality – my story

Just as pure abstract art is not dogmatic, neither is it decorative.     

Piet Mondrian

Why abstract art? My family and some friends just can’t fathom and shrug their shoulders. “You actually can draw so well, why you keep painting these strange meaningless things?” I can’t blame them, most of my young life I hated abstract art and didn’t have much regard for all the other -“isms” except realism.

I’ve started painting when I was 17-18 old, all I did was portraits of people. I drew my school-mates sometimes but mostly painted sad pale imaginary damsels and knights in an old realistic style. I was a very sad and lonely teen and young adult, painting something sad helped me to vent “my darkness” plus admiration and praises of people around were so soothing for my fragile ego!

“The Meaning” – was my motto in art and life until my late 30s. When your mind is so completely wrapped up in conceptuality you just can’t accept something that does not adhere to your “mindscape”. It has to be something that mind can put into a familiar box – “pretty flower”, “romantic sunset”, “sensual beauty”, “mysterious look”, etc.

When I moved to Australia, my admiration by its colors and weird wildlife pushed me to expand my mental and artistic horizons. Plus, I was unemployed (but supported my husband) for a whole year, during which I painted a lot and actually took some art classes in Adelaide School of Art. It is amazing how far you can progress if you just stay at home and paint for months! I’ve started with very childish flat animals, which gradually took on more and more dimensionality and character.


Spinifex pigeons – one of my early wildlife paintings

How much “meaning” can you put into a portrait of a kangaroo? Well, a little bit, but not that much… At this stage, it became more about expressing the character of an animal, the dance of light on its fur or feather, its otherworldly “Australianness”. And luckily, I was moving away from the preoccupation with my own dark moody self into actually paying attention to the things around me!

devil (5)

Tasmanian devil – after a year of painting animals

People loved my animals, not so much kangaroos or Tasmanian devils, but birds – oh, yes! But in my mind, it already started downing – in their natural essence the Tasmanian devil is just as beautiful and amazing creature as a proud hawk, yet people love hawks and hate devils, just because of the preconceived ideas of what is “beautiful” and what is not.

In my late 30s, I went to the USA for a month-long art retreat with Zen Arts Center/Zen Mountain Monastery and met its founder – late Daido Roshi, amazing person, spiritual teacher and artist (more about him in my blog here). His abstract photographs were striking, there was not a shred of “meaning”, yet the dance of light and shadows, the subtle colors were just so alive, full of such harmony and vividness.


One of Daido Roshi’s abstract photographs

For me it was a new beginning, I savored every moment painting for hours in a forest cabin adapted for an “art studio” shared between several retreat participants. I poured paint, I dabbled, I smeared, swinging my brush like crazy with freedom and happiness I never experienced before!

Eventually, I stayed for six months at the monastery and was actually considering taking ordination as a Zen nun, but it was not to be for various reasons. Yet, my time there was life-changing. In the long meditation hours my conceptual world and all that “me” drama mostly based on many conflicting “meanings” in my mind,  just started to disintegrate, revealing purity, beauty and simplicity underneath which are hard to describe!

I simply have lost any interest in imitating existing forms or even expressing their character, inner nature. “The container” of conceptuality has lost its appeal, instead, everything is just so full of color, lines, shapes just waiting to be painted, drawn, combined, played with, used for the creation of something new, some crazy novel tunes, melodies, rhythms – just because I am here, now in this form to play with it all!


Explosion of Awakening

I have lost any interest in trying to maintain any identity. I used to be a “scientist”, “Zen rebel”, “extreme traveler”, “immigrant”, “wildlife artist” – all worn for a while and discarded like an old carnival costume. For a while, I tried to “establish” myself as an artist, apply for exhibitions, contest, sell, etc., but there simply was no internal energy for pursuing yet another “becoming” someone.

I just gave myself the freedom of being a happy amateur, not burdening “my muse” with any demands, free to dabble in this and that, without any obligations to “build my brand”, “become a consistent professional” and so on.

I have been with the Abstract for almost 10 years now, we meet and part and meet again! In this time I played with gouache, pencils, acrylics, oils, digital and now experimenting with sculpture! It is still as fresh and joyful for me as in the very beginning, I still look forward to the next surprising thing springing out of my canvas or computer screen. People like it – great! Don’t like it – oh, well… The process itself and a buzz I get when the painting “happens” is quite enough!


Dancing colors – Nelli Kite


  1. Wonderful dear Nelly.
    I think abstract is a kind of maturity from reality. Why copy nature when you can express your own inner energy?
    Perhaps you can combine it make reality a kind of abstract.
    Anyway i love your art, and now your blog.
    Keep on:)
    💗 Vered


    1. Thank you, Vered! Yes, it is interesting that many artists kind of move from realism to more abstracts forms with age, I guess it is always the challenge that fascinates… yet, I also admire many artists working in realism or in combination!


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