Olena Pryduvalova is one of the most talented and original Ukrainian artists. Her canvases and gouaches can be easily recognized at any exhibit – they will be remembered not only for their brilliant gamut, but also for a special, almost childish, frankness and a lively view of the world even in monochromic and restrained-color landscapes. Olena was born in 1960 and still lives in Kyiv. In 1986 she graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Painting Faculty, Theatrical and Decorative Art Division, Danylo Lider’s studio). She has been actively exhibiting since 1990. Her works are kept in dozens of public and private collections all over the world.
Who was your teacher?
“I would say I am one of those who matured in their own milieu. I found myself in a superb Republican Art School class, where a lot of today’s very interesting artists studied. I also did a strong course at the Art Academy. So the learning mostly consisted in mingling with one another. But I also had some senior teachers. Serhii Poderviansky [artist, professor at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. – Author] and I established a spiritual relationship. Before the Academy, it was Oleksandr Titov, the pupil of Viktor Zaretsky [a well-known Ukrainian painter and developer of an original system of teaching. – Author]. I owe all that I can do now in painting to classes in Titov’s studio, his system, and his efforts. I learned very much just in a very short time, just in one year. It was the most important point for me. And Olha Krylova, who belongs to Tetiana Yablonska’s generation, discovered color for me. The Academy was just the next stage of development.”
I would like to ask you just about color. An intensive gamut is a characteristic feature of your works…
“I always perceive everything through color. I have found my childhood drawings now, and it’s clear to me that I saw the world in color relationships from the very beginning. And what also played a role was the fact that I signed up for the Academy’s theatrical division.”
Rather an interesting option for a painter…
“It was no mere chance, either, for my aunt had sung at an opera house in all her lifetime. I spent my childhood there. The stage was a world, a very close world at that, of fairy tales and wonders. Besides, painters were trained at the time in a spirit of dyed-in-the-wool realism. It was very difficult, while the theatrical department allowed certain freedom, which let me do what I liked, and all my sketches were bright enough.”
What are the other roots of your painting skill? For some people ascribe to you such sources of inspiration as naive art, folklore, Fauvism, and Henri Matisse.
“There are ascriptions galore. Matisse, as well as the Dadaists and the primitive, are close to me by spirit. I like Pryimachenko very much, but whenever this list begins, I smile to myself. I myself find it difficult to say who I am – and perhaps nobody can say this. But, as everybody has their own set of cliches, they are sure to put you into some category. Suddenly, Pryimachenko… Funny. I am a professional artist, and these are different things. She is a genius, but she is totally different. But when they begin to compare us only because of bright colors… I think it is rather superficial. This is the way I express myself – not always in color, for my latest series is in black and white.”
And what is the difference between the naive and the professional artist?
“The naive artist never thinks about the technique as such. He or she expresses their emotions in a drawing. The technique is learned gradually. Pryimachenko’s early works look as if they were done cautiously, but then you can see that, as years go by, the stroke becomes surer. By contrast, the professional artist immediately strives for a high technical level. He or she goes to schools, studios, and academies – your hand must follow your idea, you must acquire a skill, otherwise you are not a professional. The naive artist just does not think of this. Mastery comes from experience, from the fact that the individual paints all the time. One can see very clearly which of the works are early and which are late. The same may also apply to the professional, but this does not catch your eye at once because he or she tries to do this skillfully from the very beginning. Some naiveness in my works may be springing from my inner theatricality. I have never stylized the naive genre, and I will say frankly that I don’t like stylization on purpose.”
OK, we are not talking about the naive style, but it seems to me that, after all the experiments, painting shows somewhat subdued colors as a prevailing trend, and you may look even outdated in this case. Can you paint in bright colors today?
“I may be intensifying my feelings with color, but the vigor of the painting you are talking about is insufficient for me. Nature is all the same brighter and more interesting. As a result, although they try to convey reality, it looks in fact as if this reality were somewhat shrouded. I like very much some artists who work in a monochromic style, but I cannot do so. I am tired of this kind of painting.”
Do you have any special, perhaps old-time, impressions connected with color?
“Childhood. Gardens. I grew up in Darnytsia, a recreation area at the time, where people lived in private cottages. Gardens and a riot of blossom – you come out and see everything white, as if it were snow in early summer. And if the landscape is green, you may think it has just rained. My grandmother, who had known pre-revolutionary Kyiv very well, would drag me down all kinds of city nooks. Podil really looked like Podil at the time. It is a childhood-time sensation: the garden, wild roses in all courtyards, yellow dahlias, some little old house, all grown over. I amply lived off this Kyiv myth for a long time. Hence are perhaps my pictures of old buildings – I call them portraits, for I drew them from the caryatids that spoke with passers-by, and I mentally staged some theatrical performance out of this. Everything seemed to be living, including these old deserted houses – they symbolized the life the city had lived. Hence is perhaps a certain naive style, although I would still call this theatricality.”
So what is theatricality?
“The artist also acts out a certain play. I express some conflict either in a chiaroscuro or in the plot, in a not so natural, but seemingly illuminated, color – in other words, I invite the spectator to look at my stage so that he or she can feel my wish, my glance…”
And your stage direction...
“Yes, my stage direction. I am a stage director in a sense.”
In the case of a theater, there are actors, but you have no protagonists. What place do your works hold for people?
“I draw a certain scene, but my chief hero is space, after all. I can’t say I am a portraitist. I can only draw self-portraits (smiles). I study myself. For me, an individual is an appendage. I am above all interested in the overall situation on stage.”
What natural surroundings suit you the most?
“As I’ve been painting Kyiv in all my lifetime, I can say that I express myself by means of the city landscape. Of course, there are portraits and still lifes. A still life enables me to combine and bring to craziness my favorite colors. But a landscape expresses my emotions because it always changes and I can express any mood in a city landscape. I am probably not a rural artist. Naturally, I like nature and can work en plein air for some time, but still the city is my preserve.”
The open air is perhaps important in any case.
“It is important because you get distracted from your daily routine: you go to the studio and do something there, then you suddenly get into a totally different situation for two weeks and you must create something within this time, you are expected to produce a result, and this mobilizes all your sensations and skills. A good impetus, indeed. Besides, you are usually hanging around on your own, but in this case there are a lot of sometimes unknown artists next to you, who work differently. Not that you will be comparing, but you will be in a situation of stress, you are conscious of the place and people, which charges you very well. It is sometimes quite interesting. Besides, owing to open air sessions, I have visited in the past three years places in Ukraine, where I would have never gone on my own. But, naturally, this also requires quite an effort. For example, there were three or four open-air sessions last year, and I’ve been unable to do anything for two months in a row – I’ve run out of energy, and it’s time to accumulate something inside me.”
Speaking of natural surroundings, you have mentioned your 2010 urbanistic series. It is in sharp contrast with what you have done before.
“You say color. But I once suddenly felt that color had vanished – to the point of disgust. Things like this also happen. The situation was almost the same as it is now out of doors: the end of winter, February, awful boredom. I began to go to the railways station, drink coffee in some shady places – in a word, to move around in this situation. I concluded that I must try something else. And I understood that I was also a graphic artist, that I was also interested in gray, and that I could find a huge number of shades between black and white. Absolutely unexpectedly for myself, I worked in a monochromic mood for two months or so. I liked it very much. It is just a piece of winter that was expressed in this series.”
As for the relationship between art and nature, I once liked very much Oscar Wilde’s maxim that new hues in the sky of Paris emerged thanks to the works of impressionists.
In other words, is art the first reality of nature?
“What is the thrill of an artist’s work? You suddenly emerge as a creator and can create anything in the reality in front of you. This is perhaps what any creative personality derives from what he or she is doing. Naturally, it is impressionism because photography had already been invented, which canceled the need to paint what you see.”
Yes, these incredibly detailed landscapes…
“This prompted them to make a discovery. They asked themselves: through what else can you express what you see? Through the color, as it turned out. There was such an upsurge in the development of painting, and we can now indeed see Paris through the eyes of impressionists. You can’t possibly imagine it without them.”
Art seems to have changed perception.
“Exactly. But for this, Paris would have remained in the classicism of David. It would be a totally different city now, for we can already see every detail differently.”
In all probability, every new generation of artists allows one to see in nature the colors and shades which we have just failed to notice before.
“Naturally. I can remember an open air session in Kaniv. Almost nothing has been left of Kaniv now, but we were taken there when I was a first-year Academy student in the 1980s because our base was there. And I still remember enormous ravines grown over with shrubs. We would roam through those gorges and come across some tiny downhill streams. When I came there for an open air session last year, there was nothing of this at all. It turned out that the locality had been handed over to vacationers who leveled everything off, built a lot of huts, and laid out vegetable gardens. The landscape radically changed. Yet I managed to find a ravine and made almost a complete series because I found what I wanted to find. In any case, you go through yourself to what you see.”
You paint in gouache very much. Why do you like it?
“There exist some well-grounded artists who make a picture once in a while. But, as I am a ‘serial killer’ of sorts (smiles), if I hit upon an idea, I will express it in a cycle, for one work is not enough for me. You are given two canvases for an open-air picture. It is always too little for me. So I take some gouache and a folder full of paper – and I never repeat them. It is like jazz. Gouache allows me to express an instant impression, the emotion of this very day. It also gives me the sensation of density, velvet, even a fresco to some extent. You can paint with both water color and oil. I can feel this technique. It made me feel free to paint even 40 pictures in one open-air session.”
As far as I know, you make dolls. What made you enthuse about this?
“I have always cared for something useful. I liked authentic folk dolls very much – grandmothers used to make rag toys for their grandchildren and create objects of art out of nothing. I used to collect literature. The whole story began when some friends of mine had a baby. I pondered over what I could present them with, peeked into a book and saw a doll. I decided to make one. The first doll was very touching, there was an all-out rapture. But, as a serious artist, I discovered that I could also manipulate with color here. So I began to make ‘textile sculptures.’ I did not calm down until I made 20 dolls or so. There was an exhibit of bright baroque gouaches and the dolls that matched them very well. Sometimes a mere chance opens up new opportunities for artistic work.”
Do you still make them?
“Surely, there are some. I make fewer and fewer of them – and never for gain.”
Malevich is also known to have been making dolls like yours…
“I leafed though his albums then. This was actually a point of departure for him: the dolls led him to suprematism. And I created, in memory of Malevich, a series of dolls in his style. I left these to myself and handed out the rest as gifts.”
A PICTURE THAT DOES NOT EXIST
What picture have you not painted yet?
“I cannot see it so far. It is perhaps some time ahead. I began with detailed things, I liked to go into detail very much, but my dream is to paint a picture with three or four strokes of the brush in such an alienated manner that nobody could guess who the author is. Maybe, every artist strives for such a perfect simplicity in which he or she can express everything.”
Did you seek an answer to the question why you are doing what you are doing?
“I surely did. It is difficult to answer this because things are different every time. I’ll tell you without too much aplomb: I cannot see myself in an occupation other than this. I could perhaps work somewhere else, but I was lucky to find – in spite of all joys and woes – a way out in which I can free myself of my everyday-life situations. A work therapy of sorts (smiles)… And why, I’ll never know. It sometimes occurs to me that it is totally mindless to gather folders with the works that nobody will perhaps ever see. A nonsensical job indeed. But what can I do?”