Author: Diana Guralev

Concise definitions have never been my strength - there is always something to be added, isn't there?

“Rusinski Mozaik” – the impact of Rusyn culture on a community in Croatia

Antonija, thank you so much for taking your time and doing this interview for Rusyn Art. You aren’t Rusyn yourself, but you do have close ties to our community. Tell our readers a bit about your personal and professional background.

Hello, my name is Antonija Poljan. I studied at the School of Applied Arts and Design and Teaching faculty. I work as a preschool teacher, and in my free time I enjoy making paintings or some other creative craft. My artworks are mostly illustrations because my dream is to make picture books. In that way my two biggest passions will be perfectly matched.

What subject matter do you usually take up?

In the last decade my themes of paintings have changed a bit, older artworks were more oriented to serious topics, such as the lack of communication or socialization. In the last few years I started to switch more and more to illustration, which mainly consist of more playful compositions, characters and floral patterns.  My artworks depict people made up of lots of colors. My style is somewhere between figurative and abstract, I like to paint various shapes all imagined in my head. However, as many artists, when I experience something unique or inspirational, I like to transfer it onto a paper or canvas. That was the situation with Rusyn themed paintings.

Courtesy of Antonija Poljan

You have taken part in an exhibition “Rusinski Mozaik.” How did you get to participate?

At university I became very close friends with one nice girl, Ivona Hnatko, who is very lively and interesting person. She introduced me to the Rusyn culture by talking about her experience in a Rusnak Society in Croatia. Ivona is their quite an active member, as is her whole family. And it was so nice to see and hear her experience and her love for Rusyn culture. She talked about Rusyn history, how the Rusnak function and also about Rusyn conferences. Last summer she asked me to attend a Rusyn conference in Stara Lubovna, Slovakia, with her. It was a few days filled with meeting people from all around the world. It was there where I got the strongest memories that I now associate with Rusyn folklore. Dancing, folk costumes, and music. I really liked the vibrant colors of their costumes. So after those lovely memories I was very inspired. It was actually Ivona who suggested that I participate in an exhibition “Rusinski Mozaik” in Croatia by contributing some paintings of my own. I instantly liked the idea, so I put all those motives on canvases, using my style of illustrations with using lots of colors.

Courtesy of Antonija Poljan

Can you tell us a bit more about this event?

The event Rusinski Mozaik took place in small place Petrovci in Croatia. It was an interesting combination of different art forms which included performing and visual arts. In the art exhibition people could see such Rusyn-themed works as my illustrations or paper-craft 3D origami art, whose author is our close friend Marta Badanjak.

I hope she could also join us here at Rusyn Art for an interview one day.

Courtesy of Antonija Poljan

What artworks and how did you create them?

My aim was to contain some memories, and I think that the people who saw or will see them can re-experience those moments, too. In the art field it so often happens that different types of art are connected. A song is written on someone’s impression of a movie, or some drawing is made after reading a fantastic novel.

Courtesy of Antonija Poljan

Your paintings caught my eye immediately – and I only saw them photographed. I can imagine how beautiful they must be in person. Where are they now?

A part of them was sold during that same exhibition, some of them I gave as a present to Rusnak Society, and the rest live with me in my home :-).

And finally what does future hold for you? Rusyn-related or not.

After that exhibition I started to work as a preschool teacher, so I’ve put a lot of time in that field. However, in my free time I paint a lot, other themes for now, but I really like the paintings which were shown at “Rusinski Mozaik.” I think I will make more artworks on that theme, but in a different artistic approach, changing style and colors to more imaginative and magical characters.

Good luck with that. I hope you’ll share them with us as well. Antonija, it was such a pleasure to talk to you and to communicate with you. You are a talented artist and that joy and passion you feel in every aspect of you life, as you told me, shows through every stroke. Thank you for your wonderful contribution to the world of Rusyn paintings.

Courtesy of Antonija Poljan

Mihaly Kolodko – entering the magical world of miniatures

It’s my pleasure to introduce the third artist who I’ve had the chance of interviewing for you – a talented sculptor Mihaly Kolodko, whose miniature city sculptures immediately caught my heart, as I’m sure they will yours. Mihaly was born in Uzhorod. His mother is from Transcarpathia and his father from the Khmelnitsky region. He spent his childhood in the Vinogradivskyi district, and since his Grandma spoke Hungarian, these memories are saturated with her beautiful language and culture. His formal education was in Ukrainian, which positioned him somewhere between the two worlds. Now over to the artist.

Mihaly, what led you to art, and specifically to sculpture?

Since there were no artists in the family, I got to the art world quite late when after school I was admitted to the College of Art in Uzhhorod. Here I first got acquainted with different art forms where sculpture was one of the subjects and gradually became the only way for me to express my thoughts. In 2002, I graduated from the Lviv Academy of Arts, the Department of Monumental Sculpture.

What was the first creation you were satisfied with?

The sculpture on which I work at any point in time is the most important for me, but the pleasure of the result is an unattainable goal. I always strive to do better.

Do you have people advising you on your work?

People who “advise” me usually do not realize what role I have endowed them with. In different periods there are different people whose opinion I listen to. The real critic for me is time.

What’s your creative process like?

A slightest interference in my mind is enough to spark a new idea, but to maintain this fire for a longer time, one inspiration is not enough. Here come into force many sensations: love, anger, passion, despair, confidence, doubt, joy…

What do you consider your biggest success?

When my works cease to be mine.

What do you want the viewers to take from your art?

A sense of immediacy.

How do you artworks fit into the 21st century?

I don’t think they do, but I live in it.

What are your next steps?

I don’t plan any exhibitions, but I’m open to them if someone can convince me of their need. But to create and continue to install sculptures in public places is a necessity for me. Without it I can not imagine my life.

I’m sure many people who see your installations around the city would agree with you! We wish you lots of fruitful years to come so that you can continue spreading your vision and delight the people in Uzhhorod and beyond.

A curious story, a rare find

Some time ago I was contacted by Maria from Sweden who shared with me a beautiful painting she has in her living room. Let me show you. It’s this one.

Courtesy of Maria H.

Do you know who the artist is? That’s right! Vladimir Koljesar! Here is what Maria told me about this stunning piece that she loves so much, painted in 1966 directly on a glass pane, 150 by 97 cm. It changes colors all the time, the sun is painted in gold and all the grey areas are silver. The scene represents a future fantasy vision of the city of Gävle, Sweden, where the artist worked in a pottery factory Bo Fajans, There are explanations and some prep work on the back side of the painting, together with an old spelling of the city’s name – Gefle.

“I searched for information about Mr Kolesar some years ago and one woman answered and told me that she knew the painting I was talking about.

The painting had been on a wall in a cafe in Gävle owned by a man from former Yugoslavia. She thought Vladimir had given it to the owner to pay off an old debt. Mr Kolesar was renting a room and stayed in her family’s house. Her daughter also has a painting from him. He gave it to her when she was graduating from high school.

He was disappointed with the pottery in Gävle where he was hired as an artist, but did not get a change to work as one. He was more of a pottery worker. That’s why he left Gävle.

This is the story she told me. I hope you enjoy it.”

Sarah Kushwara: “Rusyn heritage and art means so much to me!”

Fear of the Night: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

Moving to Instagram enabled us at Rusyn Art to get in touch with several contemporary Rusyn artists. One of them is a wonderful Sarah Kushwara whose Lemko great grandparents were deeply connected to their roots and their villages. Sarah’s family, and Sarah herself, have never lost that touch with Rusyn culture, whether it was through talking to her grandfather, who spoke Rusyn, “making pirohy all day,” as she puts it, or celebrating Christmas the Rusyn way while living in America – in January. But let’s hear more directly from the artist herself.

Sarah, what led you to art?

Art found me. As a youth, I was always artistic and would draw and write in calligraphy, but I was involved in a plethora of interests. It was when I worked in Istanbul as an adult that I started to paint cityscapes and views from mosques. It was the time that I worked abroad in Turkey, and travelled, and the time that I worked abroad in La Paz, Bolivia, that led me to art. I learned to paint in oils in Bolivia. The elevation was about 14,500 ft above sea level, so the air was thin, and the light changed rather fast—but it was also incredibly defined. I learned about light and the absence of light in Bolivia and that was essential to painting. It was then that everything started to look different around me—and still does. That is the beauty of being a painter. The outside word was my classroom that led me to art. 

Mississippi: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

What was the first creation you were satisfied with?

It was a watercolor I painted overlooking Cihangir, Istanbul, while looking at the Bosphorus from my apartment. Being untrained then, I was unsure of my technical skills, but I felt satisfied with them. 

Are youyour best critic or do you have people advising you on your work?

I believe I am my toughest critic.

What’s your creative process like? Where do you draw inspiration from?

I have always had so many ideas ever since I can remember. I am that person who scribbles down ideas on anything in mid-conversation, just so I can pay attention to the conversation without getting caught up with the idea in my head. Sometimes I draw inspiration from my vivid dreams, my time living in the East, and other places, like folklore and myth, and my own Hero’s Journey.

What do you consider your biggest success?

As far as art goes, my biggest success is using art as a tool to heal. I would say that my first solo show this summer was a success for me. 

Sleep Can Wait: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

What’s the main message of your art – is there any? What do you want viewers to take from it?

Different pieces have different messages. Many people have said my art is expressive and also a narrative — so it reveals what I feel. My pieces usually reveal an intense emotion. 

How do you think your artworks fit into the 21st century?

Some of my pieces challenge the idea of globalization by highlighting the uniqueness of different cultures, including my own. 

What are your next plans, exhibits, projects?

I would like to experiment with visionary art, and take art to a deeper, spiritual level. I would also love to partake in an artist residency. 

Untitled, oil on canvas: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

Well, these sound like ambitious plans I’m sure you will bring to fruition. We wish you the best of luck, Sarah! Thank you so much for sharing your world with the rest of us.

Dan Butch: a budding artist

It was Dan’s wife Britney, an accomplished artist herself, who got him into painting landscapes. Dan’s family were Carpatho-Rusyn coal miners from north-east Pennsylvania who had moved to the US from modern-day Graziowa, Poland. Dan’s interest in the nature, landscapes and his Rusyn roots added to this exploration of where creativity and imagination can take him. The need to create is tied to his son, to his family, and he must be in the correct mindset, in his own words – he must be “willing to create, which is sometimes an obstacle.” Painting takes him back to simple things in life, which might be the feeling he tries to evoke in the viewer.

We hope that this is the beginning of Dan’s artistic journey and that we will be able to reconnect again some time from now to update you on his achievements, projects and exhibitions.

Untitled: Courtesy of Dan Butch

Untitled: Courtesy of Dan Butch