Every artist needs a canvas upon which to express his or her creativity, say something meaningful, and demonstrate good technique. An empty wall is Natasha Romanova’s canvas. But she’s not a painter or sculptor. Rather, she’s a businesswoman with a deep and abiding love of art, and a passion for sharing it with others.
Moscow-born Romanova is the founder of Romanova Art, an artist agency and online gallery. Inspired by the art and architecture of her native country, Romanova left a career in finance in 2014 to launch the business and market the people and works she admires.
“Artists need business-oriented people to promote them because art school doesn’t teach the commercial aspects of being an artist,” she says.
Romanova had two goals: to make art available to a broader audience and to create a business model that would allow artists to develop a steady stream of income. To achieve both objectives, she built a service through which people could visit her online gallery and rent the paintings they like.
“In this day and age, everything is transitory. People change clothes, cars, and houses, and they repaint their walls and buy new furniture. So why not replace the art?” she says. “Many artists have a large inventory that’s just sitting somewhere. I like putting it to work.”
Romanova has a significant body of works from which to draw. Her inventory features hundreds of pieces by local artists as well as painters from France, Russia, and Estonia. Mediums include paper, print, oil, and canvas, and works both large and small are available. Daud Akhriev, Melissa Hefferlin, Timus Akhriev, and Yuri Ozaki, all of whom are acclaimed internationally, are among the artists featured on her website.
Renting art from Romanova is as easy as browsing her online gallery and selecting one or more pieces. Alternatively, an individual or business can contact Romanova, tell her what they want, and give her a budget. Romanova will then select pieces from her inventory that fit the criteria. For local clients, she’ll also visit their home or place of business to get a feel for the space and will then install the pieces herself, giving clients a nicely curated art show. Her customers can then change out the paintings whenever they like.
While the benefits of owning original art are many, Romanova says renting art also has advantages. Often, a person will purchase a painting simply because he or she loves it. However, the piece might clash with the individual’s décor, or over time, his or her emotional response to the work might change. Renting eliminates the risk that comes with making a substantial investment. “There’s no way to know how you’ll feel over time. What if you buy a painting, take it home, and it doesn’t work? You’ll feel stuck with it,” Romanova says. “I’m trying to liberate the client from buyer’s remorse. If you rent something and it doesn’t work, you can send it back.”
Also, when a person remodels, he or she can choose artwork that matches the new look. “As soon as you change your walls from brown to gray, you can rent new art,” she says.
A person might also recognize the value in owning original art but feel tentative about making a purchase. Again, renting art eliminates the risk, and helps buyers explore what works for them. “If you love a painting but don’t want to commit to it on the spot, you can take it home, hang it, and look at it every day,” Romanova says. “Then it will be easier for you to decide whether or not it’s worth buying.”
The advantages of renting art are even greater for a business, Romanova says. Not only does it allow a company to support artists, but renting a painting costs a fraction of buying it. Romanova typically charges ten percent of the cost of a piece for a three-month rental, creating a lower cost of entry. What’s more, regularly rotating in new art can keep a business space looking fresh, and give the appearance that the company is evolving.
An accountant by trade, Romanova says businesses can also write off the rental fees as an operational expense. “The accountant in me is always excited when people save money,” she says. “When you buy a piece of art, you acquire an asset, and you can’t depreciate art. If you want to sell the art you own, you’re going to take a loss.”
While Romanova focuses on renting art, she does sell it, too. “If you’re a collector, and you want to buy something rather than rent it, I do that as well,” she says. “If you have $5,000, I can help you spend it wisely.”
Romanova also allows clients to rent-to-own. If someone rents a piece and later decides to buy it, she will credit 100 percent of the rental fee within the first month and 50 percent of the rental fee after that toward the purchase.
Romanova Art was a novel business idea for Chattanooga, but behind it was Romanova’s heart for seeing artists reach their full potential.
“I want to help artists become self-sufficient and work full-time,” Romanova says. “I don’t want to them to have to work two part-time jobs and then paint on the weekends. That hurts your art because you don’t progress as quickly.”
Romanova also wants people to experience original art rather than reproductions or manufactured product. “You can fill your walls with reproductions or Ikea, and that’s OK, but it won’t evoke any emotion,” she says. “You can tell the difference between being surrounded by original artwork and having reproductions on your walls.”
While Romanova Art is a business, it grew out of a consuming passion. Romanova cannot recall a time when she did not love art, and her mind is a cavernous depository of facts about artists, art history, art genres, and more. A conversation with her can be an enlightening experience, and open a person’s eyes to the value in art he or she might not appreciate on an aesthetic level – such as abstract art.
“Abstract art evokes an emotion,” she says, her eyes brightening under blue-rimmed glasses as she gazes at a piece by Adam Kirby, a local artist. “It doesn’t matter whether you love it or hate it because it’s made you feel something, which is what art should do.”
While helping a client select works of art is a pleasure for Romanova, she also encourages people to take risks and express their identity through the paintings they select. “Art is personal. That’s the beauty of it,” she says. “If you love a piece and it clashes with everything you own, you can hang it wherever you want, and no one can tell you you’re wrong.”
The birth of Romanova Art
Romanova first came to the U.S. at the age of 15 as part of a high school exchange program. She attended Bradley Central High School in Cleveland, Tenn., then earned a degree in finance and accounting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). After working for an accounting firm in Denver for one year, she returned to UTC to study for her MBA. Upon graduating in 2010, Romanova took a job as a consultant with ACA Compliance in Chattanooga. She says she loved everything about the job except the work.
“I kept thinking there had to be more to life than spreadsheets,” she says.
Romanova was already immersed in the Chattanooga art community, having met and developed friendships with Akhriev, Hefferlin, and other local painters. Romanova Art evolved naturally from her enthusiasm for art, her business savvy, and the relationships she’d formed.
Romanova’s mission to elevate artists will take on a new dimension in September, when she will teach a workshop about the business side of being an artist at Chattanooga State Community College. She’s looking forward to sharing her expertise. “Artists don’t have to be afraid of taxes,” she says. “If you save your receipts, you can deduct a lot of your expenses.”
A blank canvas offers an artist endless possibilities. Empty walls offer Romanova the same. As she lifted her metaphorical brush to paint a picture of Romanova Art, she devised a landscape in which she promotes the artists she loves, beautifies personal and public spaces, and passes on her business smarts to others. Like all worthy endeavors, it is an extension of her obsessions, personality, and knowledge, and it enhances the lives of others. In a city filled with success stories, Romanova is earning a place among the best.
To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.