Ivan Pryhodko: Be Sure to Understand How to Inspire Your Creation with Your Soul’s Energies
The clay floor in a mud-walled hut that belongs to a folk master is covered with wooden shaving as it would be with a carpet. Several wooden angels are flying under the ceiling in front of sacred images. Six cats and two dogs are warming themselves near the tile stove. And five goats are bleating in the sheepcote.
Ivan Pryhodko lives in Dudarkiv in Kyiv region. Everybody in the village knows him:
— Can you tell me, where does a master that makes wooden angels live? – I ask a shop-woman in the shop near the entrance road to the village.
— Are you speaking about Ivan Pryhodko? Of course, I know! You have to drive straight to the village centre; then turn to the right; then go straight all the time, almost to the end of the village.
15 years ago the master Ivan bought an old hut made from round timber for 9 000 roubles. Near the entry to his house he hanged his own painting, on which a red stork on the blue background is depicted. There are two doors in the passage. The left door is to the dark storeroom with all possible useful things, and the right one leads to the only one living room in the house. The ceiling is low, the clay floor is covered with wooden shaving, and the windows are embellished with old embroidery. There is an inscription on a girder, saying that this hut was built “1903, April, 29”. If there were no TV-set in the corner, an economical fluorescent light bulb, and a modern clock on the wall, one would think that he has found himself in the XIX century.
— I live here and this is my studio also. I’ve bought this house to arrange a museum here. But the head of our village council happened to be a swindler, as our authority representatives usually are. He doesn’t give me any opportunity to do something, and he gave out all the land. He should help; he should visit me at least once in a month. But the path to my house was beaten just recently.
There is a tasty scent of fried potato in the house. Several cats cuddle up near the tile stove, and the jolly dogs leap to my lap.
— Of course, everything here needs to be put in good order, but nobody wants to help me. Even my relatives eye me askance, because they deem that there must be carpets in the house.
But it pays to have the wooden shaving to cover the floor – there is no dust, and they give warmth, and when they get dry, I burn them in the tile stove. My manufacture is waste-free (laughs).
Our host Ivan will prepare kulish (thick gruel – transl.), so he pours some water to a pot, strews some millet meal and shows us a scoop that looks like as a wooden one.
In a trice he splashes some water on the floor and on the firewood.
— The floor must always be poured upon with water or snow. When the snow falls, one should bring it to the house without fail, at least half a pail, and scatter it around. Then it feels is if you are in the open space.
There are several pictures in Mariya Priymachenko style on the walls. Ivan calls himself her student, though he has never seen her.
— Have you painted these pictures?
— Yes, I have. This is folk painting. I am Mariya Priymachenko’s student, have you heard of such an artist? Maybe, you even know about Hanna Sobachko? So I am the best admirer of their art in Ukraine.
People have got to know about Mariya Priymachenko just recently, and I have studied her painted animals since the time she started to paint them, since the 60th.
There was a man, Grygoriy Abramovich Mestechkin, an art critic, he was a Jew, but he loved Ukraine more than all Ukrainians altogether do. He made Mariya Priymachenko to be an artist. He helped her; he visited her home when she just started painting in the beginning of the 60th. He told her: “Mariya Oksentiyivna, you should paint something childish, some animals”. But she was very clever; she knew that there is no sense in painting something usual, something natural – it already exists, so who needs it to be repainted? People often tell me: “You aren’t a real artist, you cannot portray me”. And I answer: “Why not? I’ve just made an interesting animal, a wooden spoon – and that’s your portrait. You already exist, why would I paint you again?”
I notice nearly ten carved angels and birds that get dry on the fore part of the tile oven, and a black-and-white cat that nestled himself near them.
— When did you start to create all these things?
— I started making angels about 15 years ago. I also make wooden birds, boxes that look like horses, wooden lions — I can color them or make some carved ornaments.
Almost from my childhood I make such things. And concerning painting… As Bilokur used to say: “I wanted to be an artist all my life”, and the same is with me… Almost all my goods are from willow, and sometimes I use linden.
Some time ago I had a chance to see a wooden bird that was hanging in a corner of the Museum of Ukrainian Folk Ornamental Art. So I decided that I can make such things also. And now I make different goods.
In 1985 a film about my art was shot, and it was called “Ivan Pryhodko’s Vernisage” (he shows an old video-tape with a photo of young master on its cover). At that time I had many goods produced already. Since the middle of 80th I have continually worked with wood and gone to different exhibitions. But there was a real outlet when Ukraine became an independent country. I could feel that nobody forbids anything. Before that everything was prohibited. One has no right to have a horse in the village, and that was dreadful.
And during the times of Soviet Union I painted propaganda pictures in the folk style: made some paintings in a village club, on a village council, on state farm cattlesheds.
But then the district authorities came and said: “Why did you hang here those roosters? You must write here: “Glory to CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union – transl.)”! And I told them: “But the flowers represent glory”. But the head of state farm said: “Ivan, you should remove all this. People are laughing at you that you have painted the cows with ten dugs”. And I replied: “Fedir Andriyovych, no more can fit in, and I would place even more dugs there. I make my paintings for people to be joyful and for cows to give more milk”. He also started laughing, but then again told me to remove my paintings, because if I did not, he could get fired.
Several cats of different colors snuggle at the stove.
— I don’t even remember how many of them I have. I guess there are six cats. All of them sleep near me and warm me (laughs).
Another day I come from Kyiv, or sometimes I stay too long at some exhibitions, and come home when it is late and cold. All my cats then come to me and make me warm. I am tired and it is too late to heat the tile stove, but the cats purr near me and – what a miracle – I fall asleep at once.
Some people guessed that not we are the owners of the cats, but they own us. Look, they don’t watch us as we talk. They do something that makes us feel good.
— And how do you call them?
— Usually I call them all “Vasya” (laughs). And that kitten (he points at a whitish cat) latched onto me. When the winter came, all the rich people as they call themselves (those that have large houses and big concrete fences, and iron gates), they closed up their yards. And there are many chinks in my fence, and everything is open, so anything and anybody has a chance to be my guest. Thus this kitten came to me. I saw this poor thing freeze outside and took it to my house, warmed it. It happened to be a bit sick, but he is very smart. I guess, it was living somewhere in the fields.
— Cats are not moping, I guess, they are on friendly terms with your dogs?
— This is Zhuchok, a bitch that also latched onto me. She had almost died. The animals feel the freedom here and that’s why they come to me. My grandchildren named the dog Zhulya, but I call it Cyonya, it is easer. People in our village call the dogs this way: “cyo-cyo-cyo”.
— Do your grandchildren often come to see you? – asked I and noticed as a shadow passed over his face.
— It happens that they come. But their parents want to be rich, they want to buy a car, to earn money, and they buy only modern things, but I see what a tragedy it is… This hut is always modern, the same as embroidery, and the only thing needed here is restoration…
Some of my grandchildren go to school, and some – to kindergarten. But I tell Yulya, my daughter-in-law: “Yulya, the children do not need to go to the kindergartens, they almost don’t need to go to school – they will get spoiled in school.
And I can teach the children how to make a wooden miracle, and we can hire a tutor to teach them how to read and write… But the thing is to know how to paint, how to play the tambourine or the mouth organ – everything that is considered to be folk art.
People walk on gold and don’t notice it. They go far away to make some money, but they can just sit here and make as much money as they want, if they are not lazy… Especially such birds, such angels – I can see how people strive after such things… So my grandchildren and my daughter-in-law could paint them, and my son Vasyl could carve them. But they eye me askance, and I don’t know what kind of people they are.
— I see that you have already gotten ready for the spring fairs?
— Yes so it is (laughs).
— How much will such goods cost?
— Well, these ones cost about 50 hryvnia, and rather rich people would buy them. And if I see that a buyer doesn’t have enough money, I set a lower price for that person.
And some things cost 100 hryvnia, though I know that this angel would cost even more. But I see that other masters have the courage to set even a higher price… They sell such wooden spoons for 50 or 100 hryvnia, and they are stripping people to the skin! But some rich people happen to come, for example those cool guys, and I jokingly say that something costs 200 hryvnia. And sometimes they buy it for such a price, but it happens once in a blue moon.
— Do you earn enough for a living making such things?
— I have a grandson, his name is Sergiy, and he is 19. I tell him: “Sergiy, you will walk in gold! I will teach you and will help you, and you will take all the money”. But he will study in some institute. And here is an entire academy! Everybody entered a university, they need diplomas, but for what? I ran away from school, in the first grade I went to it for a day or two per week, and then made away; the whole school staff was looking for me, and I was in the fields…
— Heaven forbid me to do such a thing! If somebody gave me a diploma for free, I would not take it (laughs).
Ivan Pryhodko takes down a colorful wooden devil’s mask from the wall. He says that he made it long time ago. Such masks are used during the Malanka holiday. But the master doesn’t make such masks now, because it is expensive and needs much time.
— How often do you go to the fairs?
— Three times a year I am invited to Pyrogovo. Well, I have already received the invitations (shows a letter). In spring, in summer (at the Carver’s Day celebration) and in autumn… I have got plenty of invitations – I go to Kraina Mriy (Land of Dreams) festival, every Saturday and Sunday in summer I go to I. Gonchar Museum. I was invited to go abroad with my tambourine and these wares.
— And did you go somewhere abroad?
— I am tied to my goats and my cats – if I had somebody to take care of them, I would go to France or somewhere else.
— Are your wares sold out during the summer time?
— Of course. I always go to the fairs with my tambourine, and I ask somebody to sell my wares for me while I am playing. The main thing for me is not to sell the goods, but to show people myself and my creations. And if somebody wants to buy something, very well then.
To show us his much-praised tambourine, the master takes it down from the girder and drums the rhythm of several folk songs. He also sings and even hops to it.
— Do you draw the sketches of things you are planning to make, or you make them without any planning?
— When I take a piece of wood, I already see a size of an angel, his wings etc. And starting from that point I can create it.
Mariya Priymachenko is the only one in the world, and I want my creations… A man cannot live forever. I would like to teach the kids now. Once a week a go to school and teach the children how to draw – their hands must be trained to draw or paint an animal, a horse, but a childish, dreamlike horse. For example, Japanese do not draw from life, it is forbidden there.
I see how the teachers spoil the kids teaching them to make naturalistic drawings… That means that they steal the ideas, but they have to create them. When I come to the kids, the first thing I tell them is: “Children, I have come to you to be taught. You are the great artists, you are the masters”. A child can draw such a thing that no academician can reproduce. Variety of colors is not essential, one can start from six ones, and till the fifth grade a child can use them, without all those shades and penumbras. I show them my creations to inspire them. I tell them: “You have to do as Klychko (famous Ukrainian boxer – transl.) does, be in training every day – only then you will become great masters. You can draw a sun or a flower, an animal or an angel.” Then I quickly draw something on the blackboard, and after a while I clear the blackboard and say: “You remember how I drew it? Now you draw it from your memory, train your brains!”
Ivan Pryhodko takes out his collection of paintings that are stored near the oven. The style of the paintings reminds of Mariya Priymachenko style. He says that the paintings used to be exhibited in the Ukrainian House, and now the spiders make their webs on them. He sells his paintings for one hundred dollars. And he says that people buy them.
— I have never copied a picture, God forbid! But I study the techniques in what people work. If you paint an animal, the spots can be different, and the artist must think what technique to choose, he must feel what will fit in the painting and what will not. The artist must have the capacity to inspire his painting with his soul’s energies.
When you create something, you go to the fields and draw the ideas from the nature: what water, threes, sedge, or rush should look like. You feel it and only then you can paint authentic things, only then your painting or other wares will be interesting. If you work at some factory, it tires you and you give up the desire to create something. But the nature teaches you how to make beautiful things, the only thing you need to do is understand it and do what it tells you to. The problem is that people don’t understand it. See, my son doesn’t understand it, and my wife didn’t understand it.
— Tell us about your wife.
— My wife died. I married her when I was at Ural – I served in the Army there – and she happened to be untrustworthy one, though one can not say bad things about the dead. She used to drink alcohol, as many Russians do, and she didn’t understand me in those matters.
— Kolya, Kolya, — calls master. – See, how attentively he looks at us? He thinks that you brought a goat for him. Goats are miraculously clever animals.
There are four more goats bleating in the sheepcote. One of them is a small goatling that was born recently.
— For how long have you been a goat-owner?
— Oh, for 30 years already. But I drink the milk rarely; I feed my dogs and cats with it.
He shows us the chickens. Because of snow they gathered on the garret, and there is plenty of hey there. Meanwhile the goats went out of the sheepcote and jump at the yard.
— I don’t have any locks here. If one needs something here, he can come and take it. Usually people lock themselves, they have iron gates, and here everybody can see everything (laughs).
Across the street from Pryhodko’s hut some rich man built a modern two-storeyed brick house and made a high fence around it. Maybe, that is why the road to the end of the village where the queer folk master lives was so quickly laid.
Bohdan Hdal and Kateryna Kachur