“I just want to share beauty and be who I am…” | Art as Experience with Anna Bogatin Ott

“I just want to share beauty and be who I am…” Anna Bogatin Ott

Signs around Everglades National Park in Florida caution visitors to mind their surroundings so as to fully appreciate its beauty and biodiversity. Intermittent cool breezes provide temporary relief from the humidity but also chill the skin, damp and sticky from sweat, bringing wafts of acrid, decaying vegetation and wet earth. In the surrounding marsh, tall leaves and grasses rustle, water ripples with moving creatures, and vibrantly colored birds soar overhead, their reflections shimmering in the brackish water. 

This experience is what came to mind when artist Anna Bogatin Ott completed a painting she subsequently titled, Everglades.” This work holds personal significance as it recalls this memory of visiting the park in the 1990s, shortly after emigrating from the Soviet Union to the United States. Now part of PAFA's permanent collection and exhibited in Artists as Cultivators, “Everglades” also marks a pivotal shift in her focus from drawing to painting. Its creation was a meditative process influenced by colors that redirected Bogatin Ott's initial intentions, resulting in a composition that is distinct and visually striking, just like the Everglades.


Depiction of the Everglades National Park with a quote by Rachel Carson.

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood." Rachel Carson

Everglades Inspiration provided by Anna Borgatin Ott.


“I came to the United States in 1992, and it is through traveling that I fell in love with this country. I like traveling. I love big cities, the culture, the energy, the people. At the same time, I love wilderness and pure nature. My trips usually include both: cities and national parks or areas with nature. So, on my trip to Miami I visited the Everglades… It was a very fascinating and eye-opening experience. It was nothing like I've ever seen before. Swampy, grassy vastness that looks endless, like a sea. I really liked the built trails and that you can walk through the whole area. There were little write ups about things, and one sign said something like, ‘Oh, be careful, if you are walking too fast, you probably missing something important or something interesting.’ I just loved that sentiment because it's a different kind of beauty. It requires a quiet attention. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that there is so much life in there, so many unexpected surprises. I loved the greenery, the blue sky and glitter of the sun reflected in the water. It was a very, very striking experience. When I looked at the finished painting, it immediately brought me back to that time when I experienced the Everglades.”

Bogatin Ott draws inspiration from diverse sources and mediums to create profound experiences for herself and others that transcends physical boundaries and resonates deeply on multiple levels. Her sensitivity and unique perspective on life naturally led her to embrace artistry, finding purpose in capturing inspiration and turning it into art that evokes joyful, uplifting emotions in viewers, despite the challenge of translating ideas into tangible representations. Acknowledging the responsibility that accompanies her gift, she sees art as a conduit for beauty, joy, and connection. 


“I feel like it is my responsibility. Bring it to the world, share with people the joy I feel to provide this kind of antidotal, fulfilling moments of happiness and connectedness.”


Encouraged by her mother's support from childhood, Bogatin Ott explored her inherited artistic talent, nurtured by her father's remarkable skill akin to that of painter Peter Paul Rubens. Despite limited artist role models in the Soviet Union, she pursued art passionately, receiving formal education in traditional techniques and history in Russia. In the U.S., she expanded her artistic horizons through university studies, blending influences from Eastern and Western cultures. She underscores the significance of being open-minded and courageous in embracing a range of artistic influences while crafting an authentic style that carries through all artworks.

“...we [artists] are driven by a certain idea, by an inner need to express this idea. And since the idea could only exist in our mind, its physical manifestation in an art object could never be as perfect as the idea. There's always going to be a slightly different variation of it. In a way, all my artworks: paintings, drawings, or digital works are endless, infinite expressions of the same idea. In that sense, they're all quite equal, and they're all very individualistic at the same time, like different people or different trees… Because every new painting I’m working on is a new relationship, new discovery. It is almost like starting everything anew, even though it is stylistically similar. There's always something to learn, something to change in hopes of bringing closer to the initial idea, and because of this idea they all look and feel related.”

During her time in graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute, Bogatin Ott explored wine drawings, experimenting with different wines to create unique textures and colors on paper. Later, she did a full installation of her wine drawings at the Delaware Art Museum. This process, blending real-world elements like wine into art, adds contemplative and poetic depth and recalls historical practices that people have used for expression, such as using milk as invisible ink during the Russian Revolution.


“Russian Revolutionaries used milk to write each other letters to elude tsarist censorship. They would write with milk in the letters, or in between the lines in the books, and then this way you can send some information to jail or places of exile without being detected. Milk becomes invisible when it dries, but if you hold the paper over a candlelight, you can read it. Knowing stories like that, might have given me idea that you can use some other liquids for painting.”


Bogatin Ott urges emerging artists to embrace artistic possibilities, explore a range of cultural and artistic heritages, and uncover their core beliefs to shape their creative expression. Given the chance, she dreams of collaborating with artists and poets and time-traveling to ancient landmarks such as the pyramids in Oceania and South America and glaciers at the poles, fascinated by the richness of history and natural wonders they embody. Art, as she sees it, is a captivating journey that fosters relationships among people and enhances life's significance, promoting human connection and empathy through imaginative articulation.

“...subconsciously your brain is always working. Surrounded by art you always see something even without actively looking, and you know some person, the artist, had to say something.  There’s always something happening, some intellectual exchange. I like that a lot. It is wonderful my paintings are out there, at homes or public spaces.  Someone who is just walking by or waiting for an elevator is still experiencing the work, and I think it's a good thing. I believe it is a positive kind of influence, not even influence, an affect, an experience, it is like someone is giving you a gift of smile.” 

Bogatin Ott views art as a ritualistic, spiritual practice, rooted in the enduring human drive to create across cultures and time. Her art reflects a philosophical outlook that integrates nature and our interconnectedness with it, aiming to cultivate appreciation, understanding, and positive connections. She envisions an upcoming art project set in a wooded area in upstate New York, where she plans to offer visitors an unmanicured, authentic encounter with the wilderness. She hopes this installation will leave a lasting impact on visitors akin to her time exploring the Everglades.

Photo of a forest with trees and moss-covered rocks.Photo of a moss covered stone.

Photos courtesy of Anna Borgatin Ott.

“I think of my work as an experience. Recently my husband and I have been lucky to acquire a wooded piece of land in upstate New York. It is very beautiful: pure nature with lots of wildlife. Working there I consider a part of my studio practice. All my work comes from nature. Now I’m softly curating natural environment for an experience. There's a creek. We are making paths to go along both sides. There are so many areas that have a striking character and beautiful big rocks to which we give names. There's going to be a rock garden, a moss garden, and a labyrinth. The forest will remain wild. I'm working with nature, massaging, or clearing some areas a little to emphasize certain features and create an organic path through the woods, so that people can go for a walk and have an experience…. Like one I had in the Everglades.”

To Bogatin Ott, that her work is out there, accessible and on view for many people, including loved ones, is deeply meaningful. Her art is featured in several museums and collections, including Delaware Art Museum, displayed alongside pieces by Agnes Martin—which she considers a big honor as Martin has been a significant influence. She also has works in the Georgia Museum of Art, Colorado State University, and the Ukrainian Modern Institute in Chicago, among others.

See Everglades in Artists as Cultivators at PAFA, on view through July 7, 2024.


Acrylic on canvas painting depicted in red vertical stripes
Mars Wanderings, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 62” x 124” Installation image from Our Red Planet: Anna Bogatin Ott at the Delaware Art Museum (Feb 18 – Jul 16, 2023)
Red wine drawing depicted in red horizontal stripes.
Contiguity, 2023 (detail) wine drawings installation for the exhibition Anna Bogatin Ott: Direct Line at the Larry Becker Contemporary Art (Aug 10 – Sep 15, 2023)
Anna Bogatin Ott standing in front of her red wine drawings.
Anna Bogatin Ott with just installed wine drawings for her exhibition Direct Line at the Larry Becker Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, August 9, 2023
Anna Bogatin Ott standing in front of her painting 'Everglades.'
Anna Bogatin Ott with Everglades, 2013 at the opening of Artist as Cultivators at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts museum, February 15, 2024

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.