For Beauty’s Sake: Interview with Croatian-American Figurative Painter Stanka Kordic

Maya | Stanka Kordic
Maya | oil on linen | 30″ x 36″ | Stanka Kordic

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
~ Confucius

“Most cynics are really crushed romantics: they’ve been hurt, they’re sensitive, and their cynicism is a shell that’s protecting this tiny, dear part in them that’s still alive.”
~ Jeff Bridges

Infinite Thought | Stanka Kordic
Infinite Thought | oil on canvas | 36″ x 43″ | Stanka Kordic
Beneath the Veil of a Red Sky | oil on linen | 40" x 30" | Stanka Kordic
Beneath the Veil of a Red Sky | oil on linen | 40″ x 30″ | Stanka Kordic


ook over Stanka Kordic’s body of work and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single painting that would fall under the category of “edgy.”

The very idea of that word ~ that which causes one to feel ill-at-ease, tense or irritable  ~ goes so obviously counter to the way we feel when we take in one of Kordic’s artworks.

Serene would be a far better description.

Fire and Water | oil on linen | 40" x 24" | Stanka Kordic
Fire and Water | oil on linen | 40″ x 24″ | Stanka Kordic
Echoes of a Familiar Time | oil on birch | Stanka Kordic
Echoes of a Familiar Time | oil on birch | Stanka Kordic

And yet in the art world, “edgy” is more often than not the ticket to fame and fortune. At the very least, to be taken seriously.

Is it even possible, then, for works that seek to create beauty be seen as offering something new to the table?

What if, in a world that has grown increasingly weary and cynical, fighting to keep alive beauty just might be the most courageous and counter-culture act of all?

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Stanka Kordic


Bedford, Ohio ~

Stanka in her studio
Stanka Kordic in her studio

Deanna Phoenix Selene: In the video, Imagine. The Artwork of Stanka Kordic, there’s a line you offer up:

“Imagine that the world is every bit as beautiful as your dreams.”

Would you say that you paint, at least in part, to create an alternate reality from the one in which most of us live? A gentler world, perhaps?

Is the role of artist to reflect what is or to imagine what could be?

Stargazer | oil on linen  | 36" x 30" | Stanka Kordic
Stargazer | oil on linen | 36″ x 30″ | Stanka Kordic
Visible Thread | oil on linen | 30" x 36" | Stanka Kordic
Visible Thread | oil on linen | 30″ x 36″ | Stanka Kordic

Stanka Kordic: I believe the role of the artist is to be true to their own vision, and make that known. We need authentic voices out in the world.

Many people see ‘reality’ as one-dimensional, and believe that mysticism and light can only exist in some dream-world existence. But who’s to say what is real? Is reality only what we see right before us? I wonder about that.

My process is very organic. The goal I set for myself is to remain clear, and to move from a place that is true to me and how I personally see things.

The work often goes through weeks of labor, with many layers of paint, because I like the idea of work to carry weight and substance. Scratches, scrapes, dark colors, soft edges, muted light, energy, quiet. Life contains all of it, why not a painting?

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you recall the time you were first moved by a work of art? When it really hit home the emotional power a painting can have?

Bridges Turn | Stanka Kordic
Bridges Turn #2 | oil on birch | 36″ x 36″ x 1.5″ | Stanka Kordic

Stanka Kordik: As an art student. Rembrandt’s self portraits as an older man

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Rembrandt self-portrait

Stanka Kordikc Degas’ The Dancer

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Little Dancer of Fourteen Years | Degas

Stanka Kordic: …and Diebenkorn’s Ocean series.

Ocean Park no 54 | Richard Diebenkorn

Deanna Phoenix Selene: The process you go through to create your pieces is rather elaborate, resulting in very unique and beautiful artworks. You credit the painters Adrian Gottlieb and Sadie Valeri for perfecting a technique you yourself use, but unlike yours, their style is very definitely realism. Can you tell me about about both the similarities and differences between your approach and theirs, and what drew you to a more impressionistic style?

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Seeress | Adrian Gottlieb
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Bottle collection | 18×24 | oil-on-panel | Sadie Valeri
Breathe | oil on panel | 18" x 14" | Stanka Kordic
Breathe | oil on panel | 18″ x 14″ | Stanka Kordic

Stanka Kordic: Thank you. I respect the elegance of Sadie and Adrian’s work so much. Working with grisaille is just one way I start. I like the grounding effect that it has on me. I start methodically, carefully (as they both do) and work that way until I lose patience, or begin feeling that the language of the paint itself needs a voice.

When I stay in traditional mode too long, I also feel that I’m not honoring my own energetic self. There is too much distance. I believe our individual intrinsic natures as artists need a place at the table along with the paint, as much as the concept and subject matter.

As far as color, that falls into personal language, a purely intuitive decision that happens as I go along. My palette often changes.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Would you say there is as much of an art in what is left out or eliminated from a painting as what is put in?

Stanka Kordic: Absolutely! That’s where the fun starts for me as a painter. I do not like to provide too much information as far as detail; it eclipses the individual stories of people viewing them. What people ‘see’ in my work is fascinating for me to hear about. It’s always unexpected.

Tree of Life | Oil on linen. | 60x36" | Stanka Kordic
Tree of Life | Oil on linen | 60 x 36″ | Stanka Kordic
Moment of Recognition
Moment of Recognition | oil on copper | 12″ x 18″ | Stanka Kordic
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Sojourn | oil on linen | 48″ x 60″ | Stanka Kordic

Deanna Phoenix Selene: I appreciate what you shared in the “Imagine” video about your decision to paint a different kind of portrait of your son, where rather than positioning him in the forefront of the painting, you actually put him behind some of the plants, thus creating the idea that we are just another part of our environment, not more important than. Where did this consciousness come from for you?

Stanka Kordic: My yoga practice changed my whole being, including how my brain works. This concept is part of the integration of body, mind, spirit that eastern philosophy in general has enriched me with. There is no separation in a world that breathes. Plants breathe too.

Echoes | Stanka Kordic
Anjali | oil on linen | 50″ x 40″ | Stanka Kordic

Deanna Phoenix Selene: What are some of the aspects you have found in nature that have inspired you as an artist?

Stanka Kordic: It is so ironic that I am even drawn to nature given that I grew up in the heart of downtown Cleveland with a patch of grass and a cherry tree in the back. I feel comforted somehow when I’m outside, even if it’s just laying on the lawn. I do feel a huge attraction to the big sky, and windy open spaces. High altitudes simply make me feel better. The wind reminds me of constant change. The mountains: the stability inherent in us. The natural world is beautiful to behold, but the true gifts come on a different level for me, not easily described in words.

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Within Reach | oil on linen  | 40″ x 50″ | Stanka Kordic

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Unlike so much of the art being created now, your paintings are decidedly wistful, even optimistic. Do you think there’s always a fear among many artists that to create a romantic painting means to be taken less seriously? That to be critically successful, one must be critical?

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Stanka Kordic

Stanka Kordic: Perhaps so. I am so used to being called a ‘pretty painter’ with ‘sweet children,’ and often not as a compliment. ‘I am what I am,’ to quote Popeye. I have never been good at sitting down to plan a socially relevant concept to send out into the world, and have that be my lecture series. I prefer to keep it personal, in a universal kind of way. This is a mission for me. I am committed to working with a simple concept ~  single (most often) figure within the natural world ~ and have that alone start the process of painting. Where that start leads always changes. How it ends up is anyone’s guess. I would have it no other way.

Stanka working in her studio
Stanka Kordic working in her studio

Deanna Phoenix Selene: What to you is the mark of a successful work of art? When do you personally feel most pleased?

Stanka Kordic: When the work reaches out and moves people. I have been lucky enough to experience this.

Luna Stanka
Luna | oil on linen | 40″ x 30″ | Stanka Kordic

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is there an aspect of the work you are still looking for creative ways to master?

Stanka Kordic: Oh gosh, less screaming? But seriously, I often feel so new at this, even as I pick up the brush the same way I have since I was fifteen. I am exploring abstraction, and finding ways to make marks that are new to me, that carry the same emotional impact that a face can. Haven’t gotten there yet.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your dream goal as an artist?

Stanka Kordic: To help people understand that original art is necessary, valuable, and worth having.

Stanka Kordic 700   at my solo show 'ambiguity & wisdom' — at The Carnegie
Stanka Kordic at her solo show, “Ambiguity & Wisdom,” at The Carnegie.

Further Notes

Stanka Kordic is a first generation American born of Croatian parents.  She followed her talented brothers, Vladimir and Branko into the world of Art. Stanka graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1985, with a major in illustration and a minor in painting. From there, she traveled Europe, taking in as much art as humanly possible.  She returned to work as an illustrator for several years.  Her projects included editorial art, package design, and book illustration.  In pursuit of artistic freedom, she left the commercial world in 1988 to establish a fine art studio, concentrating her efforts on painting the landscape and figure. This led to local recognition, international awards, and inclusion in several corporate collections throughout the midwest, including Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Key Corp.


Inspired by people, she turned to the field of commissioned portraiture in 1998 to become successful employing the philosophy of making the portrait a great painting by transcending likeness. Her extensive client list spans the US and Europe.

Stanka continues to work from life and her own source materials as she studies the figure in a variety of natural environments, integrating elements of abstraction with realism. Her award winning personal work is currently being represented by Saks Galleries in Denver, Colorado and Scottsdale Fine Art in Scottsdale, Arizona.

She also serves as Artist in Residence at Beaumont School, sharing her knowledge of painting with students who have chosen a focus in visual art.

To enjoy more of Stanka Kordic’s artwork, visit her website. And her blog. Follow her on eBay  Her Facebook Page and Twitter

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Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.


  1. Nicholas O'Leary on December 4, 2014 at 8:04 am

    really beautiful work. love the layering

  2. Mary Gluck on December 6, 2014 at 7:10 am

    The soulfulness of Stanka’s work just sucks you into that mysterious veil of universal connection. “There is no separation in a world that breathes” I was very interested in learning the philosophy behind her work and that statement not only satisfied my curiosity but also instantly made me feel connected to a like mind. Thank you for these insightful interviews!

    • Stanka Kordic on December 6, 2014 at 7:37 am

      Thank you Mary and Nicholas, your comments made my day.

  3. Trisha on December 6, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I was immediately captivated and drawn in when I saw Stanka’s work, something spoke to me. The colors, light and the innocent delicate faces that seemed so timeless and yet seem to have an ethereal quality. Her graceful strokes and layering of the paint is just beautiful. She is an artist I will definitely continue to follow her work. Thank you so much Deanna for your great interview! Love this work!

    • Stanka Kordic on December 7, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Trisha thank you. It means the world that my work is able to make a connection with you. I so appreciate your kind words.

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