Inside Our Alliance: Painting Utopian Reefscapes with Nikolina Kovalenko

coral reef painting

Imagine a world full of healthy, colorful coral reefs. No pollution, no bleaching, no extraction…just reefs in their purest, cleanest, and most natural state. This is what artist Nikolina Kovalenko sees as she masterfully paints a euphoric underwater world of untouched corals in her latest series “Utopian Reefscapes,” on display at Caldwell Gallery Hudson in Hudson, NY. 

We have proudly partnered with Caldwell Gallery Hudson, as they support Kovalenko’s creative message about coral reef conservation by graciously donating 20 percent of exhibition sales to CORAL. 

The Story Behind Nikolina Kovalenko’s Utopian Reefscapes 

Kovalenko is a born artist—inspired at a young age by her parents who are also artists in Moscow, Russia. Instead of toys, she played with pastel chalk and cut-out characters her mother drew. At the age of ten, she began her professional art education and later went on to study and work internationally. 

After spending time abroad, she was inspired to move away from traditional painting. She now calls herself an environmental artist, covering anything from logged trees in the Amazon Rainforest to the burning of ivory tusks in Africa. In 2019, she went backpacking through South America, where she obtained her diving certification and began exploring the underwater world. Out of all the ocean creatures, she was most drawn to corals—saying “they are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” 

In “Utopian Reefscapes,” Kovalenko paints idealized coral reefs, while utilizing both her imagination and different elements of her underwater photographs. Her mission is to create scenery of abundant, untouched reefs in order to inspire viewers to take better care of the ocean. “Coral reefs are being destroyed because of global warming and other environmental threats,” said Kovalenko. “I want to show all the beauty worth saving.” 

Our Partnership with Caldwell Gallery Hudson

Kovalenko also played a role in inspiring gallery owner Jay Caldwell to create something special at Caldwell Gallery Hudson. After forming a friendship several years back, the two exchanged ideas about a novel approach to art-driven philanthropy.

Now twice a year, Caldwell Gallery Hudson sponsors exhibitions that empower artists whose work pertains to social or environmental issues. For these exhibitions, Caldwell shifts from the industry standard 50/50 artist-gallery split and offers the artist 60 percent of the commission. He then donates half of the gallery’s 40 percent to a nonprofit organization in the artist’s chosen field. Additionally, Caldwell Gallery Hudson hosts the artist’s residency, resulting in a new piece of art that is raffled off. One hundred percent of the money earned from the raffle tickets also goes to the nonprofit.

“It’s an opportunity to dig in a little deeper and help in a direct, tangible way,” says Caldwell. Throughout Kovalenko’s exhibition, Caldwell expanded his knowledge and interest in coral reef conservation and has enjoyed passing this inspiration on to gallery visitors. 

Making an Impact: Using Art to Save Coral Reefs 

Like Caldwell and Kovalenko, we are excited to express our shared passion for protecting coral reefs with the art community. Historically, art has been a very powerful tool and can impact how people see or understand a situation. “Visual messages can really bring it home for many people,” says Kovalenko. 

Through this new partnership, we aim to make reefs as healthy as they appear in Kovalenko’s paintings. After all, coral reefs provide a home to more than a million species and contribute food and income to coastal communities. They are an ecosystem worth fighting for—because as Kovalenko says, “Coral reefs are the lungs of our planet.”

To learn more about Utopian Reefscapes, check out our recent webinar.

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