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Her parents insisted on prosaic, so Olga dove into the sea

It's fun to paint, but underwater? Is that even possible? Russian mermaid Olga Belka shows how, as she glides through the Andaman Sea off Phuket creating her works.

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by Baz Daniel

Reprinted from Thaiger

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Olga Belka, underwater artist

Diver and underwater artist Olga Belka at work in the Andaman Sea off Phuket, Thailand .

I AM sitting at the edge of the gorgeous Kata Rocks infinity pool at sunset with the world’s only underwater portraitist, who as far as I can tell, is probably also a mermaid. Her name is Olga Belka and she is as gorgeous and exotic as you might expect of someone with such an exotic claim to fame.

The daughter of a Russian army officer who grew up in Moscow, Olga is one of those blond, statuesque Russian beauties, who takes your breath away. Something she has in common with the sunset at the Kata Rocks infinity pool, perched tantalisingly on its rocky promontory overlooking the Andaman Sea between Kata and Kata Noi Beaches, with magical Boo Island off to the north.

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When I first met Olga at her recent exhibition at Aquaria Phuket (running until the end of January 2022), I just knew that for an artistic mermaid of her sensibilities Kata Rocks at sunset would be the ultimate choice for a meal and a chat.

{Lambent green hues rose from the squid-boats on the horizon provoking Olga to ask; “Have you ever seen the mating dance of the male cuttlefish...?

Kata Rocks is a super-luxe clifftop resort and it’s no surprise that it has won over fifty international property and hospitality awards including ‘Best Apartment in the World’ at the London awards and “Asia’s Leading Villa Resort” at the 2015 World Travel Awards.

Olga Belka poses with a painting

Olga poses with a mermaid painting created underwater with waterproof paints that do not damage the environment.

The energy and aura of the ocean is everywhere around Kata Rocks and embraces the array of superb villas and apartments which cascade down the steep rocky headland toward the ocean. The luxurious white structures of Kata Rock’s award-winning design reminiscent of a Superyacht blends perfectly with the charm and efficiency of the staff serving sundowners.

Lambent green illumination rose from the squid-boats on the horizon provoking Olga to ask; “Have you ever seen the mating dance of the male cuttlefish (Sepia apama) as he, or rather ‘they’, try to attract a solitary female’s attention and agreement to mate? It’s the most exotic and glorious dance in nature, as the male changes colour, shape and texture, all the while gyrating and dancing madly about trying to attract the female.”

As a scuba-diving enthusiast, I’d in fact had the enormous privilege of witnessing this display while diving in the Similan Islands and I couldn’t help thinking that it was probably the sort of adoring courtship to which Olga was quite used to herself.

Olga had several forebears who were artists, yet her parents wanted her to pursue a career which was more predictable and lucrative.

So, she quietly sketched and painted in secret while growing up, then at age 17, announced that she was going to study art and design at university in Moscow. Daddy was not amused by this, but I got the impression that she is not to be trifled with in such matters.

As if reading my mind, Olga said… “After completing a six-year degree course and working illustrating childrens’ books in Moscow for a while, I woke one frozen morning and decided that I could no longer live in the cold. I went to a travel agent and asked for a ticket to a warm, tropical location, which I could enter with a Russian passport.

"The agent said Thailand was the best option and so after telling my shocked family, I flew into Bangkok nine years ago. I didn’t know anybody there, but I managed to find work as an illustrator and began to settle in. Then one day I discovered that direct flights from Thailand to Sri Lanka had started, so I immediately bought a one-way ticket to Colombo to go diving, again without knowing a soul, or anything about the island.”

Olga Belka poses with her works at an exhibition

It can be a lonely business deep in the murky blue and Olga may need six sittings (dives) to finish a canvas. Here she poses with a friend at an exhibition above ground and sans oxygen tanks.

Sri Lanka was of course originally known by the Arab name of ‘Serendip’ which gives us the adjective ‘serendipitous’ meaning ‘occurring by happy chance’, which is an apt description of the romantic adventures of our eccentric Mermaid Olga, who went on to qualify as a scuba instructor, returned to Phuket to work in diving around the area, then travelled to Egypt and the Maldives for further diving escapades.

“I was always fascinated by the intensity of colours and forms underwater," she says, "and loved the peace and tranquillity of being isolated from iPhones, online media and even conversation. There’s something so soothing and complete about the sub-aquatic world, that one day I had the idea; ‘why not apply my love of art to depicting this other-world? Why not just start painting underwater?’”

By now a sensational maritime-themed supper had arrived including the freshest Andaman ceviche and steamed Thai snapper for me and a tangy tuna tartare for Olga, served in a surreal Salvador Dali-styled wooden hand. This was highly appropriate, as Olga had just told me that Salvador Dali was her greatest artistic influence and because the whole interview was, for me at least, becoming completely surreal.

I asked Olga about the inherent challenges of her wave-breaking innovation in taking painting underwater. “I set out to capture not only the beauty of the underwater world," she said, "but also its energy and the emotions and feeling that it stimulates in me. I usually paint in sittings of up to three hours, wearing full scuba gear, as does my subject if I am doing a portrait. Each painting takes me up to six such dives and I use specially-made waterproof paints, which can be applied underwater, while being totally harmless to the aquatic environment.”

I put it to Olga that she was in fact a performance artist in which she herself as a beautiful mermaid was an integral part of the art, creating an alchemy combining diving and the underwater world with painting, colour and expression.

She seemed to like this summation and said; “In European folklore, which greatly influences me, mermaids are renowned as beautiful and dangerous creatures and I wanted to convey the riddle of their being in my paintings.”

Do follow the riddle that is Olga Belka and keep an eye out for her underwater art.

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