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Love engenders love, says Olha Marino, an artist of unusual media
Olha Marino is an artist by her very nature. She lives, talks, behaves, moves, gesticulates, laughs, drinks coffee, puts raspberry jam into a saucer as a treat to her guest — all of it is done very artistically.
A dark-blue bottle sits on one of the windowsills of her studio to match the colour of the building in the background (I wish I had noticed it myself the moment I walked in!). A clock of a peculiar shape, colour and general appearance is ticking in the kitchen (the clock is from a scrapped warship). The bedroom is of a warm colour that immediately makes you think of a yellowish-brown teddy bear.
Olha has her own, artistic way of describing or referring to things — “a warm patch of colour”; “a piece good for the interior”; “an aesthetic piece.” She speaks about quite usual things in such a manner that later you can’t help looking at them in a new way and you suddenly start liking and appreciating them.
Her last name is Marino (with definite marine associations). It has come to her from her grandfather who emigrated from Sicily in the early twentieth century and found himself — of all places! — in the steppe of the land of Khersonshchyna, Ukraine.
Her father was in the military service, and moved from place to place. Olha’s first distinct childhood memory dates to the late 1950s — a day full of bright sunshine, a market place in the town of Mukachevo, Zakarpattya (Transcarpathia) in the Western Ukraine; she is holding her mother’s hand and they are standing in a dusty room, the workshop of a Hungarian tailor. The tailor gives Olha multicoloured pieces of fabrics, buttons of all shapes, colours and sizes to entertain her. There are so many of them — these wonderful gifts fill a tote bag. Olha loves to string buttons on a thread, to sew pieces of fabric together, to arrange them in patterns, to finger them, or just to stare at them.
Ten years of her childhood were spent in Poland where her father was stationed. It was in Poland that Olha began to feel that things could be “foreign” and “native, my own.”
The Kyiv she came to in the 1970s turned out to be “foreign,” its atmosphere stifling — intellectuals persecuted and arrested and imprisoned; dogmas of Social realism overpowering. After an art school she went to study art history and criticism at the Kyiv Arts Institute but the studies did not bring much satisfaction, if any. She felt a vague resentment or even smouldering discontent. Olha went through a period of “secret inner maturing.” She discovered such artists as Miro and Kandinsky and was fascinated with their art.
“At that time, there were no books published in the Soviet Union about these artists — or any other artists the Soviets considered not fitting the permitted standards. We ransacked the libraries, asked friends, rummaged through the second-hand bookstores in search of books or any information about artists and art we liked.”
Once, walking along a corridor in the building of the Arts Institute she looked through an open door and saw several girls sitting at the looms and working at tapestries. She stood and watched for some time. On her way home, in a bus, she heard the dull thuds the wet nuts made falling from the horse chestnut trees onto the roof of the bus; she stared at the subdued autumnal colours of yellow, wet green, moody grey, funereal dark purple. And the sketch for her first tapestry displayed these colours of fall. The first one was soon followed by a second one. And then by still another one. And then she realized that the warm woollen threads that she wove into tapestry were the stuff of her art, her media. The art that she would pursue the rest of her life.
“These threads provoke me into producing new artistic ideas.”
I don’t like the term “applied arts.” Technically speaking Olha’s art should be relegated to the domain of the applied and decorative arts, but so many of her creations can neither be applied to anything, nor are they just decorative. They are her voice, her emotions born out of inner thirst for harmony and beauty. I shall abandon the term in favour of just art, or rather Art, which, in Olha’s case, is a powerful, spontaneous expression of creative potential.
Olha Marino creates what may be loosely termed “avant-garde textiles” —tapestry, collages, sculpture made of textile materials for the decoration of interiors, purses, pillows, lamps, other items for decoration of the interiors, and even furniture.
“My works are my fantasies, reflections of what I feel about this world, about the time I live in. These fantasies and reflections are embodied in the materials I use — wool, flax, cotton or sisal.”
Five years ago, Olha Marino showed quite a few of her rather outre works at an exhibition which was called Dzhynsova Oaza — Jeans Oasis. The works were most bizarre combinations of jeans and cotton-denim fabrics, pieces of well-worn and faded old pants, cords, antique embroidery (some of which was cut out from Ukrainian embroidered shirts of the late nineteenth century). It turned out that worn and faded pieces of jeans go well with brand new fabrics, brocade, laces, leather, embroidery and velvet. By combining and juxtaposing these pieces of old and threadbare and brand new ones, Marino raises a philosophical issue of the bygone times coming into contact with the present-day times. “I love jeans. My love affair with denim began back in the Soviet times when it was so hard to buy the real McCoy jeans, and so many people wanted them. Denim and jeans are good for any age, so comfy and dear.” Not a single work from that exhibition was purchased — Ukrainians were not yet ready to accept such a daring approach to art.
Olha Marino refuses commissions — she works only when she is in the proper mood for it. “It’s so hard for me to cater for somebody’s tastes — or lack of taste. I either give them away as gifts or sell dearly those works which I create when I’m inspired. On the days when I can’t get down to work, because the mood is wrong, I spend the time doing all kinds of house chores, taking care of my house plants, and other things of the same line. I feel some inner discomfort, dissatisfaction, I suffer, I’m depressed, and of course such states are not conducive to creative work…
The rich people in their majority in Ukraine seem to be indifferent to art. Those Italian tapestries they buy for so much money are in fact cheap machine-made replicas of the French tapestries of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The lack of understanding of what good art is partially due to the Soviet cultural policies which either ignored Ukrainian culture or relegated it to the realm of rustic provincialism. Now, when the time seems to be ripe for appreciation of Ukrainian hand-made embroidery, earthenware, handicrafts, the machine-produced articles, decorated with non-Ukrainian patterns are pushing the Ukrainian high-quality art objects off the market, and the traditions of hand-made things have begun to slowly die. Folk paintings, interior decorations of peasant houses, painting on glass, embroidery and weaving face extinction.”
Some time ago, Olha Marino, strolling around the Museum of Ukrainian Folk Architecture and Everyday Life which is situated in the village of Pyrohovo, walked into a house that turned out to be a nineteenth-century village school (not a replica, but the real thing). She saw old, wooden desks, benches, shelves and cupboards with polished signs of wear — all of them of flawless design, warm to the touch, in perfect harmony with the place. And it gave Olha Marino another of her inspirations and understanding of the high aesthetical value of these things. She looks and learns how to apply this aesthetic to her own work. Her art is not an imitation of folk art (neither is it kitsch which, in her opinion, is what is displayed at the Andriyivsky Uzviz Art Centre which does more damage to Ukrainian culture than purposeful undermining of its values). Marino’s art can probably be described as colourful urban modern folk. Her tapestry is not just a decoration for the wall — it lives its own mysterious life, it fills the room with its special energy. Her studio on the second floor of the dilapidating, graffitied, monstrous apartment house built back in the Soviet times (the Soviet architect who designed it wanted to create an architectural composition which would look from the air like the Soviet symbol of hammer and sickle, the building where the artist’s studio is, being the sickle) was like an oasis permeated with the spirit of art, emanating from tapestries and collages.
In 2001, several artists from the Lviv Arts Academy invited Marino to come over and join them on their trip to the towns of Kosiv and Yavoriv, centres of Ukrainian Hutsul folk art. The idea was to work there, to create some tapestries. “Hutsul rural culture is in an urgent need of protection. It must be protected from kitsch, from urban influences penetrating into it. The Carpathians is a cultural Klondike, but it is not a national school of design. It’s a folk artisanship and handicrafts centre. I found myself there at the time when a movement to revive the production of Hutsul lizhnyky had just began. I went up to a village, high in the mountains, and there I did some weaving alongside the village master weavers, using looms made maybe a century ago or more. Then I kept the woven lizhnyky in the very cold water of a rapid mountain river for some time — that was the way it was done for centuries! And I felt — all this is so close to me, so warm to my heart, I’ve been born to do this! I loved what I was doing. This love lives with me. And I love life. Such love engenders love. It is love that moves my hand, ignites my heart, inspires my creativity.”
I think some explanation is needed here. Lizhnyk (plural — lizhnyky) is a sort of a blanket or a rug made of sheep wool, and decorated in large dark-colour patterns. After it is woven, it is put into an enclosure built on the river bank with the openings for the water of a rapid mountain river to go in and exit. Lizhnyky are left there for about four hours for the water to continuously pound them so the wool could become matted. Then lizhnyky are pulled out to dry, and after they have dried, the pile is backcombed and teased out, something that is not done with such rugs anywhere else in the world.
There is actually a more or less established term for the kind of art Olha Marino creates — Fiber-art. “The term has been used since the late 1970s, and includes several techniques and methods: macrame, batik, weaving, painting on silk, and others. “I just love all kinds of quilt work, patchwork, hand-printing fabrics, painting on silk. Fiber-art is much more than working in two dimensions — 3-D creations include relief and round sculptor as well. I enjoy creating 3-D things — I thirst for them. Creation of art using textiles is a very ancient practice, it goes millennia back, and it was practised by many peoples in many parts of the world. Take, for example, the Inca ancient “writing” — those cords of different colours with knots tied on them. It was their way of storing and passing on information, but at the same time it was a kind of art. There are so many things that can be elevated to the status of art if used properly — dressed leather, bark of trees, stems, leaves, animal fur, strings and cords of all kinds, anything. Macrame, which in the Slavic lands was known as ‘v’yaz’, Coptic fabrics, medieval tapestries possess artistic value equal to that of painting…
Tapestries, the production of which began to flourish again in France in the early twentieth century, go through another cycle of revival now. Textiles have climbed down from the walls to become 3-D sculptures. When I show my works at exhibitions, I do my best to present them as performances, installations, objets d’art, as pieces of conceptual art. Textiles have come to be a media comparable to those used in painting and sculpture. I do believe ‘textile art’ is art of the future.”
P.S. When I asked Olha Marino to provide some photographs of her works created during her stay in the Carpathians, she said somewhat sadly she did not have any good ones — and then after a pause she brightened up and exclaimed, “I’m going to go to my country house soon, it sits close to the bank of the Dnipro River, I’ll put my lizhnyky into the water and will photograph them in the water!”
A true artist, I could not help thinking.
Olha Marino is a member of the Union of Designers of Ukraine, and a member of the Board of this Union. Her works can be found in private collections in Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Holland, Austria, Canada and Congo.[Prev][Contents][Next]