Conversation about Natalya Pukhinda’s still life

By: Vita Susak (V.S.), Volodymyr Kostyrko (V.K.)

Two people that at their times got diplomas in History of Art were sitting in a Lviv café and were talking about creative work of Natalya Pukhinda. Map of Galicia in the dusk, Keiser’s portrait on the wall, sad and lengthy singing of Berry Sisters and old objects around – from a cup to a clock – were disposing for thoughts about the past. Pukhinda’s still life were in tunes with this world…

— Coffee a la Bruno Schulz for a lady?
— Yes, please.
— And for you Sir, probably, coffee a la Sacher-Masoch?
— No, thank you. I’ll have a la Wilhelm von Habsburg, please.

The pages of the works photo album were being turned over.

V.S. Immediately, one wants to “diagnose” the influences: a bit of Holland, more of Biedermeier, and even German “New Realism” of 1920’s comes to mind. What is this? Old work imitation?

V.K.Most importantly this produces illusion. I share Gombrich’s idea that if a piece of art doesn’t bring any illusion, it doesn’t attract. Pukhinda’s works first look as if they were painted long ago, and when it appears it was painted nowadays, the viewer hooks up.

V.S. You think the motivation to draw in this particular way was to attract the viewer? To me it seems that in the basis – there’s her ingenuous love to objects, not an intentional “move” to get them interested. May be she didn’t put any aims at all.

V.K. Different people react to different things. There’s a certain category of people, who are aesthetically impressed by the same things that impress Pukhinda. It’s a known fact that there gonna be no such artist who everybody will like. And yet her works are bought by the Austrians, Swiss and French.

V.S. So what? If we were to give a brief annotation we’d write: Pukhinda – the representative of new biedermeier in the Ukrainian art?

V.K. I’d call this neo biedermeier, its buyers are those whose taste was formed in high styles, by our urban life. That’s a Central European biedermeier

V.S. The works of early 1990’s (“Dinner”, “Recollections of the father”) are the closest to ancient paintings just with the manner of painting and the items selected for depicting. Very few nowadays paint from nature. And she was saying she by all means must see the object. Such a lovely detail depicting of the objects, cloth with a complicated pattern today has become a certain anachronism, which at the same time strikes by the masterly performance.

V.K. I see the artist’s creative work history, roughly divided into three periods. Or three groups. The first stands out by the painting method, that one for me is associated with the word – tightly. The light painted with colour, not whitented, and its source isn’t intensive. The colouring of the composition is kept in gamut without bright colours, they don’t have the objects that would dominate by the brightness of their colour. The second group is represented with still life where we see whitened light and they also contain intensive colours. The third one isn’t associated with the past but attracts by something else. The perspective has changed, the objects are not view from the above as in the previous paintings, the compositions are set maximum in two dimensions, they’ve got more symmetry. Generally, this ancient manner of drawing, that Pukhinda works in, is connected with something ours, not Soviet, and the principle of drawing with something that one is disposed to call western.

V.S. I’m interested in the possibility of her still life interpretation. The artist herself was saying that she chooses the objects very scrupulously, puts a composition, well you could feel it from the works. Is there a need to try and read their concealed sense, or is it obtruding? For instance, the still life with a broken crucifix, incunabula and glass balls immediately makes you think that the author wanted to say a lot, put certain ideas into it. Or possibly, it’s just enough to view it as a painting depicting in all the details the material world?

V.K. For me it is important in Pukhinda’s works the way she arranges them. But of course the person buys the object of art not only because of the aesthetical reasons, he or she interprets its content. And it is clear there’s always a risk of overinterpreting. It’s important that a canvas can give such a possibility. The piece of art doesn’t belong anymore to the artist, it has its own life and you can’t prevent overinterpretation. To check the interpretation one can only by talking to the artist.

V.S. Look at this “Life still with bottles”, how symbolically: empty bottles and two causes that made them empty: these two cork openers at the front. The bottles are the symbols of what was drunk, lived through, emptied…

V.K. These are just bottle of the Bachevskyy firm that was once a business in Lviv. There’s no any symbolism.

V.S. It’s nowhere close to what I suggested? And the emptiness around and inside. It seems to me these corkscrews are absolutely symbolical. She didn’t put here a fork or, say, a ball-pen

V.K. This is arranging, creating…

V.S. But she’s arranging, nonetheless with objects that hold a certain sense, not just in accordance to their form.

V.K. There’s no ground to believe Pukhinda is planting in her still life some symbols, and this is not bad, as there are no grounds to believe that these symbols can be such as not conforming to the viewers conception of the world. But if the canvas appears as a reason to talk about absolutes, why not?

V.S. The latest works indeed stand out. On the paintings emerge the things that uncover our days: the detail of a ladies garment, hanging on a chair’s back, that has Camembert cheese close to the bunch of grapes and a pitcher; another story – a hat, a comforter and lady’s shoes thrown about. If you didn’t know would you guess it was painted by a lady?

V.K. I personally never have separated “women’s” and “men’s” art, though I might have guessed at these works, because a male artist, surely, would put more eroticism into them.

V.S. “Female / not female”, to me it seems that today when they speak about “female art”, the sense that they put into this entity has changed a lot comparing to what it was before. Women have substantially emancipated and the definition “female art“ doesn’t sound simplified, not humiliating. The Ukrainian medium has already produced the voices (S.Pavlychko, O.Zabuzhko) that speak not about the “ladies’”, but about women’s problems close and that way as men speak about the problems of their males’ world. Yes, I’ve got this feeling that this is a woman painting, but in this latter sense.

V.K. There’s one criteria – draw well in a sense of a craft.

V.S.The still life with an empty beer jug and stock fish is well drawn, but look what colour of a cloth is chosen – peach, it’s a silk cloth like a sand wave, onto where these dried fish were drawn out. A man would put them on a paper, not on silk. Pukhinda came from Eastern Ukraine to Lviv, after graduation from the Odesa art-college. She accepted Galicia, chose her life here, this is a conscious choice. But she doesn’t feel here as if amidst her home ones. Though may be this is what allows her the possibility to retain an external view on things living here.

V.K. She’s very natural for Lviv; in Kirovohrad or Dontsk her creative work would look too pretentious to be European, they just don’t have such objects that she puts in her still life.

V.S. I wonder if contemporary (tomorrow) art will ever come back to such art, or will it continue in a way of “relicts” such independent artists that will be trying to attain the mastery of ancient masters?

V.K. I think it was never left aside. There were periods when the trends were different.

V.S. Well through all the 20th century it’s been neglected. The innovations criteria was one that most yielded in the 20th century, and if you take it straight, Pukhinda’s ignores it. For the artist the skillful accomplishing the piece as an object is much more important. She doesn’t have any ambitions to create anything totally new.

V.K. She doesn’t pursue to be a pioneer artist. She pursues to draw well.

V.S. A canvass is basically an object that becomes an element of a certain interior and broader adorns a day-to-day life of a man. Mainly the quality of a “thing”, the level of skillfulness of its production make up its objective value. From this point of view Pukhinda’s still life deserve the highest ratings. The diligence with which Pukhinda’s observes the material world and then depicts it in her paintings, is one of the most important words that describe her creative work. A valuable trait in any human activity, if one takes it up professionally…

The empty cups are served away off the table.

­­— Would you like anything else?
— The bill, please.