Valentyna Panko: People in the cities take more interest in “Petrykivka”
Valentyna Panko and Halyna Nazarenko are two famous artists from Petrykivka village situated in Dniepropetrovsk region. For several decades they have been making the world brighter and more colorful: they make pictures, ornament walls, different decorative and everyday things with traditional Petrykivka patterns and themes. During the period starting from November 2009 through January 2010 the artists had a series of personal exhibitions in Kyiv. As for our talk – we are going to discuss with the artists the subject of the Petrykivka decorative painting and to speak about the conditions of life and work of its followers.
Petrykivka village originates somewhere during Cossack times. It is known to have been a winter residence of the last Cosh Ataman Petro Kalnyshevsky. There was no slavery at these territories. Maybe this fact was the main basis for the development of art.
The origin of Petrykivka decorative painting
Petrykivka decorative painting takes its roots in wall-painting. Certainly we used to have a tradition of decorating stoves. At those times each woman tried to decorate her home – the house and the garden – so that it would look better than her neighbor’s or the godmother’s of her child. If someone was able to ornament the house much better than the others then people used to come to this house and say that inside it was like in the church. Why as in the church you would ask? That was because at the times the church was the center of culture, art and literature. For instance, Cossacks when traveling to different lands brought all the best and most interesting things they came across to their local churches.
During the Cossack times there was not a single house without ornaments in Petrykivka. And if someone was not able to decorate the house with ornaments (for instance, the daughter-in-law was from some other village, didn’t know how to do it, and her mother-in-law was too old for this work) then, as it is said, such people were not even greeted in the street because they didn’t follow the traditions.
When later paper appeared in Ukraine it became much easier for women who were not able to draw. They could buy malyovankas (meaning sheets of paper covered by ornaments, from the Ukrainian verb “to draw” or “to paint”) at the market and decorate the houses or just hang them on the stoves. Malyovankas were made by the women who were able to paint well. Each winter they spent painting them and later sold them at the market. Eventually some women started to earn their living by art and they didn’t depend on land any more to make money. It was important because at the time Petrykivka was overpopulated and some people were short of land.
I myself can remember the times when the houses in Petrykivka were still ornamented. Nowadays you can hardly find a house of this kind. All the things and information which come from abroad influence the village; the people do not decorate the houses with ornaments any more but prefer modern designs.
Decorative Petrykivka painting is becoming more and more popular in the cities nowadays. We are often invited to decorate restaurants in this style. Some people even ask us to decorate their apartments with “Petrykivka”. I hope that the tendency will return back to Petrykivka village itself. For instance, we are planning to ornament our own houses because at present we are as those “shoemakers without shoes” from a famous saying.
Petrykivka in the ХХ century
During the Second World War and post-war times the Petrykivka art started to degrade. There was no time for it when the entire village was burning. Before the War there was an art school in the village to which my father, Fedir Panko, went. He even managed to graduate from it in the pre-war times. He knew a lot of students of that school and when he started to revive Petrykivka decorative painting in the middle of the last century he invited some from these people to cooperation. In 1958 my father organized a factory. At first they didn’t have a building for it and used to work in a kind of a barn, usually called “klunya”. At first they were not known anywhere that is why failures happened. But when their first series of products were ready – each one with a better quality – Petrykivka was noticed and became known. They started to sell products all over the country and abroad.
In what way does Petrykivka decorative painting differ from other similar paintings?
In the old times Ukraine was known by the fact that each of its regions had some local distinguished crafts and ornaments. Even not far from this place, in Novomoskovsk (an administrative center within Dniepropetrovsk region – auth) there was an original kind of decorative painting made using quite different techniques than those of Petrykivka. Unfortunately everything has come to degradation and there are no people able to revive these crafts.
I can remember it when once in Pavlohrad (Dniepropetrovsk region – auth.) a couple came up to us and said: “Well, Petrykivka is not much. Let’s take Russia. There is “Zhostovo”, “Hohloma”, “Horodets”, “Palekh” ornaments. And in Ukraine only “Petrykivka” has survived. But we used to have so many of different kinds of decorative paintings once…“
In what way is “Petrykivka” different?
First, it’s a floral ornament. People used to draw everything they saw around: wild steppe flowers, sunflowers, snowball-trees growing close to the windows in the garden or near wells. But, certainly, it was not a naturalistic representation because much is usually left to the artist’s imagination. Even such common elements as, for example, a “kucheryavka” (a curl) or a “tsybul’ka” (a small onion) are painted differently by each artist.
Second, all the flowers in the ornament are facing you; these is not a single flower which is turned away.
Also, there are no broken lines in the decorative Petrykivka painting; all of the lines are smooth. It is connected with the fact that we live in the steppe; but in the Western Ukraine, on the contrary, there are mountains, so the ornaments there are of a geometric kind.
Petrykivka painting is very bright, that is why one cannot help paying attention to it. It can be said that it possesses a kind of internal magic. In Petrykivka painting very bright colors are used. They attract people and create somehow elated mood.
The composition that is most often found in Petrykivka painting is a center made of three flowers. Never two or four but always three. All the other flowers in the ornament are scattered around this center. It’s when I start painting from two flowers I feel internal discomfort on some subconscious level but when there are three of them it feels natural.
Each artist has his or her distinguished style, a kind of handwriting. Some have colorful ornaments with red flowers, some paint pale flowers in thin ornaments. It depends on the artist’s character, views and feelings.
The most demanded ornamented items
Judging by the things we (meaning “Petrykivka” National Art Center – auth.) produce, people mainly prefer wooden plates, kitchenware, national clubs, pysankas, flutes. But all these items are of no great artistic importance – all of them are made specially for selling. Te conditions are set by the market and the artists paint the things which will definitely sell. It’s in works intended for exhibitions artists experiment and paint what they really like.
We have different kinds of souvenirs. For instance, when someone wishes a person to be promoted, then this person is presented by an ornamented club. I even know several cases when such people went one stage up in their careers.
Colors imposed by the market
The people who are not real connoisseurs of the Petrykivka painting art would always buy items with ornaments in green and red colors – for their fear to be deceived. As practice shows, usually people are afraid to buy something in just red or blue colors. A certain stereotype has already been formed: that Petrykivka painting has red-brown color palette. In the old days artists worked with natural paints obtained from all the possible sources: saps, water left from boiling special herbs, different kinds of clay. The result of this to some degree was really a special color palette. But nowadays painters have a lot of possibilities: they just buy paints of all the shades they want.
Number of artists in Petrykivka village
In accordance with the data from the last census, at present there are 240 living artists who have retired from this industry or work in it now. Forty artists still work in the workshop. Being an artist implied much prestige some time ago. There was no problem with career guidance. There were art schools and colleges. People used to start working in “Druzhba” (meaning “friendship”) factory and later the most talented artists were accepted to the former experimental workshop (at present it is the Center of National Art “Petrykivka”).
As long as the factory existed there were no problems. At the time the salaries of the artists didn’t make less than 300 roubles; and as for the experimental workshop, I can say we had up to 500 roubles a month when the average salary for more or less acceptable life equaled 80 roubles. Later “perestroyka” times came; a lot of people became poorer and were not interested in art.
Nowadays a lot of young people are interested in art and can draw well but for them there is no point to work as artists like we do because there is no perspective in this. It will take many years to reach our level. For example, Valya’s experience is more than 30 years, mine is more than 20. And, as for the young people, they would like to learn a bit and then become great and start to make money at the instant. But in this art one has to have a lot of practice first – to have a composition, right colors, drawing and theme. In other words, young people have some art portfolios but usually they train for some other professions to live a well-provided life because it is hardly possible to make a living on the money paid to the artists in Petrykivka.
How to recognize authentic Petrykivka painting
If you take separate looks at a professional’s and an amateur’s works you may not be able to notice any differences at once. But if to put them side by side you will not need any explanation: the difference will be clearly seen by the naked eye. A work can be imperfect from the point of view of the composition, or to be inharmonious in its colors. The painting style itself can be different from the traditional one.
I remember it when we were ornamenting “Khatynka” restaurant (a cordial name for a small national Ukrainian house)… an artist came up to us saying: “It’s seen from the start that it’s being done by Petrykivka people because the style differs very much from that of Kyiv artists”. It is possible to see authentic Petrykivka painting only at exhibitions. It happens someone takes single items for selling but such cases are very rare. One should keep in mind that only Petrykivka artists strictly stick to this tradition and all the rest of works are just improvisations.
Though often people feel offended when we say that this or that thing is not a “Petrykivka”…
What paints are used
In the old days people used to whitewash walls so the painting technique was a bit different. It is much easier now. We paint with acrylic paints on tinted gypseous cardboard. These paints fade much less in the sun and do not get smeared. I know that way back first ornaments were made with paints on the basis of the egg yolk. They last very long because they have a good fixing agent inside. It’s an old technology that never fails. There is a house in Pirogiv ornamented 30 years ago and the ornaments haven’t faded yet.
The base surface for this decorative painting can be of different kinds if only smooth; it can be of different pale colors, not of bright ones.
Average cost of the painting
A square meter costs somewhere around $250. The Internet gives us a figure of $300 paid for a square meter of a painted sky in clouds. But what is special about clouds? I think we could easily paint them. And our ornaments require much more work than clouds would.
Kateryna Kachur had a talk with the artists
Photographs by Halyna Nazarenko, Valentyna Panko and Kateryna Kachur