In a bonus feature for website readers of Issue 4, Matt Hanson profiles Ukrainian artist Olena Prykhodkor.
By Matt A Hanson
In the 1980s, mosaic artist Olena Prykhodko grew up in the central Ukrainian town of Cherkasy, where she would often admire monuments built in the medium of her chosen craft. It was in a children’s park called Kazka where she realized that Soviet authorities could not force local Ukrainian artists to propagandize on behalf of their ill-fated union of Russified republics.
At 12 years old, Prykhodko remembered gazing at the colorful stones closely and saw that they were true to the vivid, multi-hued Ukrainian spirit, despite the overwhelming grayscale of the overarching cultural aesthetic in the Soviet era.
Even before then, as a toddler of three or four years old, Prykhodko recalls making her first mosaic with her parents on the banks of a river close to her childhood home. “We laid out pictures that were drawn on chocolates,” she remembers. “I still remember how exciting it was to collect and examine pebbles.”
Prykhodko is inspired by the nature of mineral composition, and, as a collector of organic and artificial objects, she sees the art of mosaic as an essential expression, true to human life, and to all of worldly existence amid the piecemeal scatterings of the universe.
“Sometimes it seems to me that I have always made mosaics,” she explains, “whether from scraps or from threads or leather, paint, beads, but in the end I learned more about glue, solid materials and tools and now I freely create from everything!”
During her outdoor walks, Prykhodko enjoys gathering anything of interest, especially near abandoned houses. It helps her compose her ideas over a slow, deliberate gestation process. It might take her several years or even decades to complete a work, piece by piece.
“The image of the future mosaic appears, an idea,” she says. “And this idea begins to slowly ‘accrete’ with material. My task is to hear the idea and the material as accurately as possible and connect them. We are made up of organs, tissues, cells, and atoms. So is the mosaic.”
Nowadays, Prykhodko is a student of mosaic art history in Ukraine. The last century offers a rich archive of knowledge, attracting educators, critics and artists like her. But since the outbreak of war in February, life has not continued as normal. Fellow mosaic artists and community supporters from around the world have made efforts to purchase her artwork and welcome her to evacuation houses and exhibitions.
“I lost my job, my workshop and my house,” Prykhodko said, noting that Russian colleagues and relatives fell eerily silent. “My city burns under shelling. I return from evacuations and remove shell shrapnel from the walls of my apartment. I saw how people give up their humanity.”
While evacuating, Prykhodko lived for a time in a friend’s mosaic workshop. She strengthened friendships with local artists. While finishing a mosaic, her city, Frankivsk, was liberated.
“If you have the strength and resources to ‘talk’ about the war, do it: take part in exhibitions, seminars, and at the same time, as loudly as possible, on all social networks,” she said. “If not, don’t force yourself, draw, or do whatever you want. If you live one day and don’t go crazy you’re already good, you helped the country.”Last year, the first festival of monumental arts took place in Chernihiv. While the war ruined plans for the second anniversary of the event, and despite the destruction of many artworks, there is a burgeoning movement to create mosaic art in Ukraine. “I honestly and absolutely sincerely believe that interest in the art of mosaics is only just waking up and gaining strength in Ukraine,” she said.