Varvàra Fern, 
Varvàra Fern, "Travelers," 2022, resin, acrylic, and steel, 23 x 18 x 22 1/2 in., available through the artist

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

Varvàra Fern (b. 1999) is a sculptor who grew up in Moscow. She studied classical figuration at the Moscow Academic Art Institute and then bravely embarked on a new life in America when she relocated to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Today she continues to live and work in Philadelphia, where she maintains a studio and is completing her M.F.A. at PAFA.

Fern has been a world traveler since the age of 13, and those voyages have greatly shaped her life and art. Her work today is inspired by the idea of movement and travel, in particular roadways and railways, as a means of shifting one’s life and perspective in a new direction. “Traveling is not only a process of going from one place to another, but also an emotional journey,” the artist says. “A person can always find something new in a journey, maybe even happiness. In my work I show people beginning their travel from trauma and unhappiness to finding themselves and reaching harmony.”

The artist’s most recent series, “Travel,” fully expresses these sentiments. In “Travelers,” shown here, three figures make their way uphill along a winding railroad track, with luggage and hopes for a new horizon in tow. “This work was inspired by my own travel experience and my love of road landscapes,” Fern says. “It’s also a reference to train-hopping, which I feel is one of the most beautiful, albeit dangerous, ways to travel. It requires absolute trust and spiritual freedom, as train-hoppers never know exactly where a train is going to bring them. Sometimes a person has to be at a certain level of risk or even despair to make this kind of journey. At the same time, travel always helps one find something new, and maybe this will be harmony and happiness.”

Aesthetically, the artist also finds railroads fascinating because of their mesmerizing, sculptural shapes. To create her interpretations of these structures, Fern opts for working in oil-based clay, a medium that she has used since childhood and therefore is second nature to her. “This material is like a language that I can speak fluently,” Fern explains, “so it allows me to give full form to all of my ideas and imagination.”

Visit Varvàra Fern’s website at

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