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n economist one day, a revered painter the next. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. The landmark year was 2002. Anna Rubin, the Russian-born Sunshine Coast resident, picked up a paint brush for the first time. Today, the self-taught artist’s paintings sell for anywhere up to $66,000 a piece. She still pinches herself some days to make sure she isn’t dreaming. “Blessed” is a term she uses frequently throughout our conversation. After our chat, I would also add talented, head-strong and passionate. On the day we meet, it’s picture perfect – inside and out. The view from within the artist’s studio and residence perched high on the Sunshine Beach hillside perfectly frames the cloudless blue sky, crystal clear waters, and scrubby treetops. The art adorning the walls inside is just as breathtaking. I don’t know where to look. The studio is filled with beautiful artefacts and precious family mementos – Anna’s emotive paintings, a baby grand piano belonging to her late grandfather, an ancient marble and brass clock, works in progress standing on easels, art books from around the world, and two scarab beetles in readiness for her next project. It’s another world in here. And yet, quite unexpectedly, it blends perfectly with the modest beachside abode she shares with her two adorable beagles, Ellie Bellie and Charlie James. Anna’s effervescent personality bubbles over. She immediately engages me in conversation while she hurriedly straps on a pair of gorgeous, cobalt blue, strappy high heels. “I’m sorry, I must put my shoes on. I adore beautiful, extraordinary shoes!” she gushes. This confession is later confirmed when she offers me a sneak peek in what she calls her “fetish room”. For fear of being voyeuristic, I reluctantly push open the door to the spare bedroom. Wallto-wall shoes abound. She’s not kidding ... she adores shoes. The stories from Anna are fast and furious, ��������

jumping from one country and moment in time to the next, revealing her past to be as multi-layered and rich as her paintings. Anna’s thick accent has her apologising more than once for her English. She needn’t bother. She’s very eloquent even though English is her fourth language – German, Russian and French being her ‘first’ languages. The more she speaks, the more I realise there are many facets to this talented, youthful Muscovite. Her life story thus far is intriguing, to say the least, and is fraught with moments of great sadness but also buoyed by monumental achievements. It was the death of her father during her childhood that caused her the greatest pain, but it was also the catalyst for a strong, loving, and very influential relationship with her grandfather. “My father was killed in a car accident when I was seven years old. I was upset at my father,” Anna says directly. The hurt is still evident in her eyes many years on. Her grandfather took over the fathering role and lovingly immersed a young Anna in the rich culture of Moscow and surrounds. “As Russia is so cold most of the year, we would do many things indoors. My grandfather would take me to the art galleries, libraries, piano recitals, concerts. I was surrounded by beautiful things – rugs, books, movies, poetry, music. I was blessed to be born into that family,” Anna says with her hand on her heart. From early on, Anna’s intelligence and thirst for knowledge made her intensely curious. “From three or four years of age, I was reading fiction books. I remember at that age being petrified that I would go to bed at night and not wake up, and then I would be buried as everyone surely would think I’m dead. The inescapable possibility of death terrified me. Then I thought there must be a pill for eternal life and that you had to be special to get that pill. It was a terrible phobia.” In a bid to distract Anna from her preoccupation, she was immersed in a constant regime of piano,

ballet and voice lessons. It helped perfectly. “I would express my love for my family through acts of service – by helping out, through words, giving hugs and giving gifts. I would paint little pictures, frame them myself and give them to my family to show them I loved them.” I enquire if those little paintings still exist, but Anna isn’t sure. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see them alongside her works of today, I muse. With so much immersion and interest in a rich art culture as a child, it would seem a foray into the arts as a career would be the logical progression. Not so. It would not be until Anna was in her thirties that her vast artistic talent would be realised – and interestingly, a visit to Australia was the catalyst. But Anna is not one for lamenting the past. “I never have regrets. I always look to the future,” she says, smiling with knowing conviction. Being surrounded by such beauty in her life, her desire to produce beautiful things was strong. Anna’s heart was set on studying something in the artistic field. But the decision was made for her. “My grandfather said you can’t feed yourself by working in architecture or art. At that time in my life I did what I was told.” Business seemed a much more sensible option. So began her study at the Moscow States University where she acquired a Bachelor of Business Administration and then a further year of study in Dusseldorf, Germany, to complete her MBA. Anna spent much of her adult life living in various countries, such as Germany, France and Holland, applying her analytical business brain to many and varied occupations. “After I completed my MBA I worked as an interpreter for two years. I was very close with the lady who owned the business – she was my mentor. Sadly when she died, her husband didn’t care about the business and fired everyone.” Anna looked for her next opportunity. ��������������

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“While living in Germany I decided I would restore the little, charming bourgeois houses from the Art Deco and Jugend Still era. Many of them were devoid of care. For my first house I borrowed money from my mother, completed the project in six months, doubled my money and paid back my mother with interest,” Anna says proudly. It was the beginning of many successful restoration projects. To see the dilapidated, old houses restored to their former glory inspired Anna, and her logical business brain was at work too. The course of Anna’s life was about to change dramatically in 2000 when holidaying in Australia. It was a chance meeting with an older Russian couple living in Bli Bli that was the turning point. “This lovely couple reminded me so much of my own Russian grandparents. When I complained it was too late for me to start painting, the elderly gentleman kept reminding me that he had only taken up painting when he retired and that it’s never too late.” Upon returning home to Germany, Anna kept in touch with her new-found friends. Sadly, a year later in 2001, the elderly gentleman died of heart disease. “I received a phone call. The wife said, ‘he has left you something’. I didn’t know what it was or how I would get it,” Anna explains. It would be another year before Anna would discover the special treasure left to her – the very thing that would catapult her into the art world. In a twist of fate, in 2002 Anna made the move to live in Australia. The desire to paint was still in her heart, but the means to do it was not evident. “I had already studied for five years. I didn’t want to do more study. It also cost a lot of money to buy the necessary materials to paint. So I just started working in business when I arrived here.” Anna made a visit to her dear Russian-born friend in Bli Bli who presented her with the gift left by her late husband. She becomes emotional at the memory. “He left me a little box. It was full of paint brushes, oils and blank canvases,” she recalls, tears welling in her eyes. “I went to my shed in Eumundi and painted the picture I had in my heart.” Anna walks me over to a huge print of her very first painting hanging in her studio entitled Iris. “This is what I painted,” she says proudly. “Some time and a couple of paintings later, I decided to become a professional, full-time painter. But how do you make such a change? You can’t state ‘I’m a lovely new artist, please exhibit and buy my art.’ You start with a statement, a deed. I decided to put together the first solo show on my own and let other people make the statement.” Anna worked diligently on her new-found passion while still working in business. In her mind she gave herself two years to prove herself in the art world. It was make or break time. By 2006, Anna was ready to show her art to the public. She held her first exhibition at her home with 15 original works. “I was a little fearful of how my paintings would be received.” Anna’s work is distinctive. While staying true to her European roots and studying artistic traditions dating back centuries, the realism in her paintings is astounding. They are strikingly unique. “My friends were supportive, but I didn’t know how other people would react to my art.” She needn’t have worried. The show was a sell-out and the response nothing short of astounding.

At that exhibition, her very first painting, Iris, sold for $16,500. Today it is worth $66,000. Anna goes on to show me other works hanging in her studio which have tripled or even quadrupled in value over the past five to six years. “I am still amazed – and very blessed.” Anna shakes her head in excited disbelief. Since that initial affirmation from an adoring public, Anna’s artwork has grown in size and accolades. She has exhibited on the Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Brisbane, and her paintings are now found in numerous private collections throughout Australia. If Anna’s grandfather were alive today to see her meteoric rise into the art world he surely would be immensely proud. Sadly, he died before Anna exhibited her work and finally realised her dream of becoming a professional painter. “At least I got to tell him ‘I’m painting now’,” she reflects. Life as an artist certainly agrees with Anna. She talks about her day-to-day existence with vigour and enthusiasm. She confesses she is a night owl and loves to stay up late reading, drinking tea and doing whatever takes her fancy. “I start painting early – about 9am in the morning. If I’m inspired I will paint for 10 to 12 hours a day. If I’m not feeling inspired I may paint for a maximum of six hours.” An intensely sociable creature, Anna’s beach home is the perfect solution to the solitude she must submit to as an artist. “I really wanted to spend more time outside. It’s a great house for dogs, kids, sand, wine. It’s a fabulous lifestyle. The neighbours are great. This area is sophisticated but laid back.” Anna is clearly in a happy place as she confides, “My life is amazing”. She has set about making a few changes to bring about that joy. “This last year has been about reconciling and getting over phobias and negativity.” “I quit bad habits from the past, started exercising properly and ran in a triathlon. I changed my diet to organic foods and I jumped 10,000 feet out of a plane to get over my fear of heights! “Every weekend I do something childish and fun, like knee-boarding, ice-skating, or horse riding.” In fact, Anna only recently overcame a childhood fear of horses after being thrown from one as a four-year-old, breaking her collarbone. “I loved to look at horses but I was terrified of them. Last year I met a wonderful girl and we became very close friends. I started riding lessons with her. Within three lessons I could canter. Recently I rode 40 kilometres through the countryside near Kilkivan. Horse riding makes me happy.” Ironically, one of Anna’s most prominent paintings, Emperor’s Desire, features a striking statue of a horse which was placed in the tomb of China’s first Emperor. Apparently, his desire was immortality. “I photographed the horse and thought I need to put something else in composition with it. Apples seemed the perfect choice as in The Old Testament Adam was tempted by an apple – the first symbol for desire.” Anna says she went through about 10 kilos of apples while working on the painting over a number of months. She explains that she puts the objects in a black box providing the striking realism evident in her paintings. I asked Anna, who has lived in Australia for the past


nine years and became an Australian citizen in 2004, if she feels a part of Australia or like an immigrant. “When I arrived I felt foreign and often rejected. I looked, dressed and communicated differently. Now I feel like there is little trace of the difference. I feel very much accepted in my new home. “Ninety-eight percent of people I have been lucky enough to meet on my journey of life have been amazing. The other two percent I have learned lessons from,” she says philosophically, with a shrug of her shoulders. Last year she was the proud recipient of the inaugural Sunshine Coast Multicultural Excellence Awards for her contribution to art. The awards recognise the rich cultural diversity on the Sunshine Coast. Anna is a shining example of this. Looking to the year ahead, Anna is excited about the future and her prospects. A cache of new works is currently in progress. The Sunshine Coast, and possibly Brisbane or Sydney, will play host to more delights from this talented artist with an exhibition, Dualité de vite, planned in 18 months. Anna is in her element. Painting is what gives her pleasure. Light streams in from a top window of the breezy studio where Anna animatedly shows me her latest ideas – a half-finished canvas of glamorous high-heeled shoes slung over powerlines, and photos of strong, little scarab beetles scuttling over miniature pumpkins. The concepts are in the traditional technique but cheeky and fun. The style is distinctively Anna’s. As a resident of the Sunshine Coast but a world traveller, Anna’s work is about to be showcased on a grand scale. Currently, she is negotiating an around-the-world exhibition in New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. New and old works will be exhibited. It will certainly be the pinnacle of her illustrious career so far. Anna also dedicates some of her time to working with Sunshine Coast women, honing their personal style through her business Art of Style. Voted one of Queensland’s 50 most stylish people, Anna is well placed to offer advice in this area. “Style is mostly about your attitude in life, the place that you live, the friends you have, the food you eat, the car you drive, the books you read ... I help people to express themselves authentically.” Travel is also on the cards this year. Anna takes a trip to Europe each year primarily to see her mother (who has since remarried) in her home town of Moscow. “I am very close to my mother. I love and respect her. I must visit her every year, even if just briefly.” An extended trip to Europe to visit new places is planned to get Anna inspired. “I want to take pictures and collect artefacts. I love to spend money on truly beautiful things.” Anna’s life today as a professional painter living on the beautiful Sunshine Coast is a far cry from the little girl who grew up in Moscow surrounded by rich culture dreaming of what her life could be. Anna declares, “I live a blessed life, full of love, amazing friends and adventures which I’m truly grateful for.” And it is one she has uniquely created with determination and passion. “I have taken risks all my life. If you do that, all the victories are yours.” �

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Anna Rubin