Lesya Denysenko-Yeremenko: Each second time I model a goat
The master descends from an ancient potter family. Her grandfather Pavel Denysenko used to turn a potter’s wheel amazing people by his skills. It’s no wonder that this potter’s grandchildren have such exquisite understanding and feeling for clay. Lady Lesya’s restless soul does not tolerate conveyer stamps; each of her works is a new unique creation. They are different kinds of bowls, jugs and pots: makitras, gorshchyks, glechyks, kukhols; painted plates and fancy jugs in the shapes of sculptural compositions. The master didn’t keep it a secret how to invent so many magic images. At the beginning of the year she brought her magic creatures to Pavlo Tychina museum in Kyiv.
— …It’s as if I’ve seen images from my childhood in your handiworks. How come mythology and fairy-tales are so interwoven in them?
— I don’t know anything about this; it’s just that I hear the sound of this clay; when I work with clay I get filled with some peculiar feeling and it results in what you’ve seen today. It’s as if I get some orders from the Universe. I do not do anything intentional for this; it comes on its own. But generally speaking, I must have inherited this ability from my ancestors. Out of my kin in Oleshnya village, Chernihiv region, everyone was occupied in pottery: my fathers and grandfathers… I don’t know what kind of spirit I inherited through many generations. Actually this occupation isn’t my first one. I graduated from a Polytechnic institute and worked in the area of my specialization later. But from the moment I took clay into my hands I understood I was able to see inside it and to read it.
This is infinity; it’s my cup of tea: the occupation of my life and my happiness. They are those things coming from the soil that save my soul and I feel very good because of that. Especially when I see that people are not indifferent to this and if a person feels sad he or she starts to smile when looking at these images or having a meal from a plate made by me. It’s not even necessary to have a meal, it is enough to put a bowl of this kind on a dining table and it will attract the eye so much that any person who sees it starts to feel good… You see, this memory — and it’s a memory coming through centuries – lives in every person. But it is driven into a corner so much that a person isn’t even aware of it.
— When did you take clay into your hands first? Do you remember your first handiwork?
— First I took clay into my hands in 1993. It was the time when I just quit my engineering work; it was the “Perestroyka” time. Everything started when my dad proposed to me to make my first toy: a svishchik (a kind of a musical penny whistle). So I made a svishchik and it was a very funny thing, not perfect in my opinion but I recall it with a kind of warm nostalgia. Later I started to make more complicated things and started to raise the standards; all the time I wanted to work more and more. And when this passion came it meant the infinity. At present my appetites for work are so strong that they cannot be satisfied. I only ask God for health to be able to create all the things I want (laughing), because it’s a hard work as for a woman. I don’t know how long I will be able to lift these clay lumps: because you see I don’t want to stop at small things…
— Where from do you take your energy and knowledge to be able to create such plots from pottery? Do you intentionally read fairy-tales or prepare to this some other way?
— No, I am a Ukrainian girl; all this lives in me. The song lives in me… I don’t have to take my energy from anywhere. Let’s say I am walking along the street, on blacktop; at the same time in my head I see images of cherry orchards, of small houses under straw roofs. I am happy because I remember my grandmother’s house of this kind and a cherry orchard; nowadays it’s practically impossible to find such things. But the spirit was imprinted inside me way back in my childhood. It is a cure for the old age till the life lasts. It’s this memory about where one is from and about the purpose of one’s being that maintains the spirits and constantly supplies with energy not allowing for dying out.
— Images of what animals prevail in your creative work and who do you like to model most of all?
— A goat! (laughs). You know, she has cosmic horns. For me, everything started with a rooster toy; later was a goat… It was this way: I was walking and saw a goat grazing – it was so gorgeous with such splendid horns that I started to draw in my head… So I work this way: one time I model a cat, then – a small ram, later, maybe a lion or something else… and a goat… each second time I model a goat… And the goats can be of any possible kinds: lying, sitting… it is probably my favorite animal; at this, it is such… you know… energetic. By the way, I know that a goat will never eat a nasty thing (laughing).
Well, maybe it’s because my constellation has horns: I am an Aries. And the space, horns… — they represent mystery to me, mythology even which is represented in goats: I am filled with all these things.
— What animal is the most difficult one to model? Have you ever experienced any difficulties with any animals?
— No, I don’t know...
— Are there any animals you haven’t modeled yet?
— I made all kinds of animals but of different sizes: one big, one small. You see, I like animals very much and I feel them as live beings. You’ve seen my modeled animals; their images resemble human ones a bit. It’s as if an animal is a human at the same time. There’s nothing difficult for me and I like each animal. But majority of my animals are somehow of Ukrainian land: goats, horses, well, lions too, though one can’t find much of a lion in Ukraine, but anyway; deer, cows. What else can be listed — everything that inhabits these lands. I’ve probably modeled even a monkey (laughing) – everything, in short… And I like it because I don’t tolerate monotony. I like when there are lots of everything and all the things are of all the rainbow colors. In one word I like infinity and variety. Even one animal can be made of a thousand different kinds. That’s it.
— How much time does it take to model a complete plot in pottery?
— It’s a bit complicated with plots – depending on what I’ve invented. If it’s one simple figure than a rough work piece is prepared on a potter’s wheel in advance, then it is modeled until completed. If the clay behaves well then it takes a week or 5-7 days. But as they say a kind of witchcraft is necessary for this; then drying is needed for the item not to crack. I work so much that I get tired and I have moments of dissatisfaction because of this. At such moments I think: I will go to sleep and in the morning everything will look brighter; in addition I can destroy the thing any moment I like. So first I get a feeling that I didn’t manage to make the things the way I intended them to be, but when I see them in the morning I understand that everything is as it should be. I can add something and make it more interesting… such metamorphoses… (laughing).
— Can you tell me about you preparations? Your mother said you even prayed before starting work and asked God for assistance.
— Certainly, there should be a prayer in the morning. I ask God permission for such things. Everything starts with “Our Father”. Then I light a candle for God to see my workshop, my potter’s wheel, my clay and for Him to give me His great consent to realize my dreams. “And all those days that I spend at the potter’s wheel mean that my dream is coming true. It’s a take-off; one touches things which do not reveal themselves to everyone. They are what I am able to make on the wheel and what gives me inspiration. But unfortunately everyday routing takes too much time. It can be said that I steal time to “pet” clay; I steal time from different situations because it happens I get so much drawn into something that I do everything by small portions: my workshop – rush in, complete something, rush out – because now I have to make borshch, some other time — to dig my plot of land or to start washing...
— Can you describe your workshop?
— It looks more like a workplace than a workshop. It’s a corner in a shed. The corner of 4 x 4 meters area houses a potter’s wheel, a table, a furnace, clay… I have an electric furnace in the wall, it’s volume is about 0,3 m3 or even less. That is what my workshop looks like.
— Where do you keep completed works?
— I keep them in the garret; right under my legs (laughing) in boxes; well anywhere at all. I do not have any special conditions for them – none at all, actually.
— What about your family? Don’t they reproach you for disturbance or on the contrary they feel joy and inspiration?
— My family understands me... You know that my father was also a potter; he was an artist working with ceramics and a painter. He was a kind of a God's man; unfortunately, he passed away. So, I was growing with all these things the same as my entire family. It is usual for us. And it is very good no one interferes with my work: be it difficult or easy for me it remains my personal business.
— In what way do you distribute your handiworks: at festivals or through shops?
— They are festivals, symposia, artistic gatherings… it’s not a business! It’s not a business but a state of the soul. And it all happens where I am invited and, let’s say if I go out with my things I get some small money to survive upon because everyone has to earn his bread and butter (laughing).
— Where do ordinary people can buy your handiworks? Are they available at any shops?
— No, not in shops.
— So, it’s only from you?
— Yes, it’s only from me. I visit Pirohiv; I’m periodically invited to the holidays at Ivan Gonchar museum’s territory. Let’s say, for Kyiv’s day or Independence Day. Or, for example, I visited Trypillya Circle, Rozhanytsya festivals (Rozhanytsya is the name of the ancient fertility goddess). Usually people contact me by phone and if I have any things completed I come to them.
What are the costs of your works and by which criteria do you make cost estimates? I assume it’s a difficult task.
Very difficult it is. Well, I do not know about any criteria… Earlier the things were evaluated by their volume, but for me volume is a very relative thing, because even pots are different and it makes this cost estimate relative… Maybe the volume is not needed at all and it’s worth judging by how much effort the things needed. And I really know nothing about criteria; maybe they somehow should correspond to the inflation level in the country. At least to survive it may be needed (laughing). Well, and certainly, cost of the work and materials should be included because expenses are great. I cannot afford making things which are not perfect and throw them away; I will never cheat people to earn money. My work is not cheating, it’s a fair occupation. And because it’s my occupation I cannot cheat.
— Where do you get clay?
— It’s mined, coming from the layers deep underground.
— Is it difficult to get?
— It is very difficult. We dig it manually, break into pieces. I usually carry clay by hand – even the veins on my hands have come out. I pull the clay myself, let it freeze out in the winter and dry in the summer and afterwards it is as they say thrashed in a concrete mixer. I carry buckets on my belly and pour them in. So it’s quite a period of time until I come close to making particular things. Maybe because of this they can have somehow increased costs: it’s a long way until a perfect work is completed on condition of starting from carrying difficult things around: to dig the clay, bring it home, thrash it and make something takes a lot of time. Usually it’s time spent practically without any income with the purpose of making an interesting thing. And it is in part of the works that can be sold. As, for instance, I cannot sell the compositions presented at the exhibition because they are my children.
— Have you ever counted the works you’ve managed to make in your life?
— There are thousands of them. I do not count them particularly because I do not have time for that. I am just working and the number increases. Well, it’s the same as to say how many borsches I’ve tried or how many slices of bread I’ve eaten. Well, approximately similar. It’s a life situation. I work and the number of handiworks increases. Certainly, the same cannot be said about large compositions: I do not make many of them. Probably I have about 50 of such things at present. Though it’s only in 2000 that I started to make such monumental things as you saw in the hall. And as for small items and trifles they sell quickly.
— What is the purpose of a potter in a contemporary world? Is there any objective you are still aiming to achieve?
— I’ve never thought about this. You understand, the spirit of the modern world somehow contradicts a potter’s spirit. Sometimes great pessimism overcomes but… this occupation saves and supports me though there’s not much of a perspective because a lot of young people choose different ways. And as for pottery, the foundation for such things should be laid by grandparents and to start with them. If a mother lets a child go away the child can take quite a different road.
As I’ve already said a grandmother’s house with a cherry orchard should live inside a child. And because in the modern Ukraine we are all isolated by computers and asphalt roads, unfortunately we have only artificial things made by those coming from institutes, universities and special art schools which are actually adapted for several particular teachers. You understand, it is teaching the way everything is made until the teeth are set on edge; it can even be called a tradition. And all those clubs mean only lots of people like in crowd scenes. Why were there traditions in the old times? Because everything happened in different separate places; there was no transport and no one visited one another, everything depended upon a certain location. And nowadays the Internet makes a kind of medley from everything. So, unfortunately I do not see many perspectives.
— And what about your private life? You said that clay is a kind of a book for you; a book you’ve opened and are reading.
— I do not even know how to explain what I have inside, this clay reading. Maybe this is all the things I am speaking about. Poetry, songs… well, all this experience lives inside me and I transfer it into a kind of a book and read what is got inside it. It’s altogether somehow. And seeing its different aspects is normal for me, too, I think (laughing).
— So you haven’t read the book yet?
— Well, not at all; I’ve just started and completed only a couple of pages. I’ve said today that each completion is a new start. Thank God, I am invited to report to Kiev, Zhitomyr. They’ve started to invite me with my personal exhibitions. And it’s a great account of things… It happened at home that… (laughing) I was making some things thinking: My God, it’s my song. I am not sure anyone needs it but anyway it’s my cup of tea… I cannot betray this work.
Kateryna Kachur visited the exhibition