Nelli in Stavropil; 1998.

Nelli Isupova's monologues about the most essential things

Nelli Isupova is a sculptress. Her chimerical representations of human figures, of strange-looking birds and fish seem to have been created by a child. But a closer look reveals refined sophistication of her art. Her studio is on the tenth floor of a house situated right in the centre of Kyiv. It has pictures on the walls, which are presents from her friends, serious books on the shelves, ladies' magazines from all over the world on the tables, bunches of dry flowers and tufts of dry grass. All this adds a light touch to the general atmosphere. There are big plants, almost the size of trees on the spacious balcony where good friends gather for barbecues and nice, easy-going conversation without any highbrow subjects. The atmosphere of Nelli Isupova's studio is inspiring.
Nelli Isupova does not like to be seen daubed with clay (as hardly any woman would; one of the reasons is that she prefers to be working wearing nothing; she believes that being naked she passes more of her energy to her small-sized sculptural creations). She appears before guests in the halo of her peculiar elegance, reminding one of a wise bird from exotic countries. Her appearance seems to decipher the meaning of the clay figurines. They are an echo of the Latin-American myths and of ancient Ukrainian traditions in her works. Maybe it should be mentioned here that clay is the most widely used artistic medium in Ukraine. And it is from clay that man was created according to the myths of the Maya and of the Sumerians. Now Isupova is planning to create a collection of footwear and clothes, made, of course, from clay. "And you think anybody might wear any of these things?" I asked. But are fancy haute couture things created to be worn? They are just joy for the eyes and free spirit.

From all my talks with this unique woman I chose several monologues which I think represent her thoughts about things temporary and eternal. Her thoughts and artistic ideas are transformed in the heat of her feelings into wonderful creations some of which can be used in everyday life but most of which just adorn our life. They occupy places of honour on the shelves of her friends, catch the eye in the museums, are proudly displayed in private collections.

She was born in the land of Stavropillya, Russia. Her mother was an artist, creator of flower arrangements; her father was a military man. In 1961, she graduated from the Department of Ceramics of the Odesa Art School summa cum laude. "I had five years of studies with the best teachers. In school there was a spirit of something special. The whirl of the city life captured me. My marriage to Volodymyr Isupov, a student who was studying painting, was a very important event in my life. I wanted my husband to be strong, talented. And he was and is. We've been together for forty years now. We were born the same year, almost on the same day. Volodymyr was born on February 28, and I on March 1. But we are quite different as far as our attitude to life is concerned. I don't want to seem to be self-sufficient and content. There are still so many exciting things to learn in this life. Upon graduation from the Art School I worked at the Vasylkiv Majolica Factory. I did not earn much. Then my two sons were born. I was ashamed to tell my mother how poor we were. We didn't own even a TV set. We read books aloud to each other. It was the time of self-knowledge. A young family like ours needed a lot. But we managed somehow.

Sun. 1998. Majolica, glazing.

Rooster Shaped Teapot. 1998. Majolica, glazing.
My husband devoted a lot of his time to children, he went boating, hiking and camping with them, he taught them to ride the bike, he was very active in all this. I'm an observer by nature, I could express myself even in the traditional national Ukrainian ceramics. Even back then, my works began to be bought by museums. Serhiy, my elder son, went to study at the Republican Art School at the age of twelve and Illya joined him there, too. My children were growing up without any complexes, they were sure of themselves, hard-working achievers. Serhiy exercised a great influence upon his younger brother. My elder son was enrolled at the Estonian University of Arts but it took him several tries to get in. He studied and worked terribly hard. He was granted the Estonian citizenship for his contribution to the Estonian culture. Now he is working in the United States, and is very successful. His name is well known. The favourite medium of Serhiy is ceramics, porcelain. He must have inherited this from me. The younger son works in Kyiv. Above anything else he likes to paint genre pictures, everyday life and everything connected with it. He can cook, sew, knit. Serhiy makes tattoos professionally. He brought the necessary equipment from the States.
He studied in the States after he received a grant from the Soros Fund. Illya is a stylish personality in everything: from his appearance to arranging his world in his own manner… We should send a 'query', a request into the future. If you keep wishing something long enough, your wish will be granted. But you should not wish to have anything material. One can have materially everything and yet remain unhappy. I expect the remarkable date - the new millennium - will bring the fulfillment of my most cherished wishes. I dream of meeting new interesting people - that'd be great! From socializing I derive new energy for my art and for life. Years ago, the Union of Artists of the USSR organized seminars in the Dzintari House of Creativity in Latvia. About twenty sculptors and painters from many parts of the Soviet Union came to attend the seminars. They were very real artistic individualities. In socializing, artistic ideas and thoughts were exchanged. And in the evenings poems were read, as a continuation of our creative activity. A wide creative 'biofield' was thus being created. We made works for exhibitions in Italy.
Fancy Teapots. 1998. Majolica, glazing.

Nelli Isupova at the entrance to her gallery.

The year 1993; Nelli Isupova and her family.

In the Triptych Gallery

.It seemed to us we could do everything. I noticed that the painters did not stick together as much as the sculptors or ceramists did. Probably, it was the kiln which had to be shared that brought them closer together? Each sculptor had to wait for his or her turn, suppressing impatience and egoism. Even these days we find it easy to stay close together thanks to such personalities as Andriy Kurkov, a novelist and screenplay writer, who invents inspiring artistic projects for literati and painters. In my Triptych Gallery situated in Andriyivsky Uzviz, we created an association of patrons of our gallery in order to have the 'luxury of socializing.' " "It took me some time to find my own style in clothes I wanted to wear. Clothes should relax one who wears them but should not be vulgar, they should not capture the eye with garish colours and glitter. It turns out a woman gets energy from the fascinated stares of men. For the first time I paid attention to my future husband when I saw him wearing an elegant coat, so uncharacteristic of him. Unfortunately, the coat was borrowed. And I decided: this man should be mine. I'm of a small stature, not good-looking and I had to create my own image. And this is the most important thing in the clothes one wants to wear. Thanks to the clothes one can change one's negative feature, say, a long nose or short legs, into something that makes a positive impression. The canons of beauty are different, those in the west differ from those, say, in India. But young girls can wear anything they please. When I was short of money I used to sew my own clothes. It just takes time to learn to do it. The things I make for myself become my favourite clothes. My husband says: you look in the mirror more than you actually sew. One's energetics exercise a beneficial effect on one if a thing one makes is made for oneself. I like the Laura Ashley clothes, its bohemian style for a romantic woman. The quality is good and the prices are reasonable. But one can immediately say that this garment has been bought in an expensive store. And in addition to an expensive article of clothing I can buy something in a second-hand store. Now I've given myself an image of an Indian woman, I arrange my black hair in braids. By the way, there is an ancient belief that braids protect a woman. The longer the plait, the more energy. Besides, plaits are very womanly. I don't wear trousers. Though recently, I've made myself a costume - transparent loose pants and a long tunic on top. My credo is harmony. Everyone must have that. But a lot of people force their own nature and do things in defiance of themselves, following the fashions, neighbours' and friends' opinions. You must believe in yourself. You are your own judge and you must do what you think best for you. Painters, artists in general, are given health by their creations. And when I work I do not get tired, the other way round, I derive vigour from my creations. When I'm creating I go into contact with the cosmos.

I receive an energy charge from there and it concentrates in my work. To create is not only to make art. Anything you do, even making food, or cleaning up your home is a sort of creative activity. One's house, one's life style should help one stay healthy. One should listen to one's deeper self and understand in which way one wants to build the world around oneself. I've got a friend who is a healer, a para-psychologist. Thanks to him, I got down to reading special literature and began taking care of my spiritual health, I began, as it were, to search for my true identity. I went into serious practicing of yoga. I am healthier now than I used to be fifteen years ago. There was a saying: a healthy spirit in a healthy body. But now we should say it differently. The optimists are the healthiest people. This is what I am aiming at. One has to be thankful even for the simplest things, like the green light when you cross the street. And at the same time one should work at getting oneself above the everyday. In the morning I go to the balcony, spread my hands and thank the morning it is there and I will do everything possible not to offend anyone and only to give joy to people. Such a state of my spirit is reflected in what I do.
And as a result - spiritual health. In general, one has to believe that one is master of oneself. Destiny does exist but one can change one's destiny if one lives in such a manner that the destiny is favourably disposed to one. "I'm a devotee of doing things manually (computers are for my sons). I believe that when one touches clay one moulds the energy of this touch passes everything that is best contained in the creator. If one is wicked or unhealthy one should not be a creative artist. If one is ill one should not give up the struggle with one's illness but one should do anything one can in order to get rid of the negative energy. The illness is sent down to help one understand in what one has sinned; pain and defeats are to help one comprehend the strength of the spiritual world. When I want a rest I go to the Crimea, or sometimes abroad. My visit to France was like a visit to paradise. I went there with an exhibition of my ceramics. I was taken to a chateau where we were treated to excellent food and local wine. But I liked the wineglasses themselves better. By the way, our Ukrainian horilka (vodka) with pepper was a good present to the hosts who appreciated it. From my trip to the United States I remembered best Louisville, a city in Kentucky. There is no province in our sense of the word in the States. Nice detached houses with glass walls reflect the nature. In my son's garden you can see elk and under the porch of his house there lives an opossum. It leads one to think that everything is all right with the nature in those lands. This year I spent some time in Gurzuf in the Crimea, resting. I lived in a house situated in a park, mimosas were in full bloom, gorgeous oleanders around, magnolias.
Pisces, Zodiac Sign. 1995. Majolica, glazing.

I met a very interesting person there, a man from Moscow, Losev by name. He's a journalist and a correspondent of the 'Russian Thought' Russian-French newspaper. He's quite an original painter, too, naive like a child, open-minded, candid and sincere. We got acquainted through a book I was reading on the beach. The places I go to to have rest are remembered and coloured by the people I meet there and by the books that I read there. I used to go often to the Novy Svit in the Crimea, a place that many artists like to go to. Cliffs, gorges, a natural preserve with a superb beach. There was a discrepancy though between the unique beauty of nature and poor services. But one went there for meeting fascinating people and socializing with them."

By Heorhiy-Hryhoriy Pylypenko