I have never been an expert or a fan of traditional art. I considered carpet weaving only in mass-market regard, as for tapestries, they were old-fashioned for me. However, when you see incredible carpets of Olha Pilyuhina, a 35-year-old artist from the town of Reshetylivka, Poltava region, it is hard not to get amazed by her creative imagination.
How and why did you start carpet weaving?
Everything started in childhood. My parents are Honored Folk Art Masters of Ukraine. My mother, Larisa Pilyuhina is an embroidery designer. She creates towels, embroidered pictures, shirts and blouses. She was even accepted to the Union of Artists and only then to the Union of Masters. It is rare for embroidery designers.
My father, Yevhen Pilyuhin is a carpet designer. He is also into painting, drawing, artistic paper cutting. In the childhood, I was playing with threads, embroidering beside them, all that was natural for me. I have never thought of another profession, have always known that I will be an artist. I have chosen this material because it is warm, deep and incredibly rich in its texture.
If an artist paints with coloring, I paint with threads. I fulfill my creative ideas with this material. My carpets are not just things for home, they are pieces of art.
There are two more people on your web site in the Creative Family section – Nataliya Dmytrenko and Pavlo Pilyuhin. Who are they?
Nataliya is my elder sister. It is she who taught me to weave.
Reshetylivka is the centre of carpet weaving and embroidering. I studied at the local college to make carpets, my parents worked there. And I had seen till that how it was made. When I was 11, I sat beside my sister and she said, “You can do it all, but I will show the right way: what hand should do what, what techniques there are, how they are used.”
In a while, I was creating big works. Nataliya set the line, how much I had to do per day – I had to do as mush as she.
Pavlo is my son. He is 9. He paints and can weave.
Except for tapestries, you also do other art forms. Which exactly?
When I was 8, my father taught me an artistic paper cutting. It is when you cut a subject composition from color paper. When we were cutting snowflakes in childhood, it also was artistic paper cutting. It can be different. It is very interesting art form. You fold and cut paper, and you never know what it will be like in the end. My works in this technique were my first publication in a local art magazine.
Textileplastics is textile folk toys. Puppets are usually made for girls. But I have a boy. When he was born, I started to make angels, sheep in this technique. I combine it with weaving.
I was creating sculptures when I was studying at the Poltava National Technical University. I liked it very much. My works are even part of the Poltava Art Museum exhibition. But for sculptures, I need one more studio – because of the material. Anyway, it is hard to do sculptures. Especially, for a woman.
How do you make up plots for your works?
Sometimes it happens spontaneously. It comes from somewhere, and I have to paint it immediately, work with material. I have such mood works. I am inspired mostly by nature.
There are ornament works based on traditions, which I also use in my work. And I never copy museum works. I use them as a base for modern interpretations, trying not to preserve but to develop carpet weaving.
In November 2017, you had a personal exhibition “Carpet Ukraine” in the Verkhovna Rada. What was its main idea or goal?
My goal was to catch people’s attention to a traditional art form, which is disappearing. I realized that few people understand how carpet are created. They have forgotten about carpet weaving. It used to be widely spread, every second family was doing it. Today, many people have no idea what it is like. Some people think that it is like felting, some think that a carpet is weaved at first and then painted. People are surprised when they see that a tapestry is the same from both sides. They are even sometime confused to find a front side. It is a smooth-hand technique. I told people about all that. There were many interested people.
In fact, exhibitions are very important for artists. One new work was firstly introduced in the Verkhovna Rada. It is the “Starlight” carpet, which continued the “Carpet Ukraine” collection of my ornamental carpets.
This collection started from the “Hetman” carpet, which was created due to the President grant. I can make one-two big ornamental works a year. In the end of the year, I show them at the exhibition “The Best Work of the Year” at the National Union of Folk Art Masters of Ukraine in Kyiv. Masters from all over the country bring their best works created during the year. Starting from the “Hetman” carpet in 2014, already four my works were awarded The Best Work of the Year.
How many tapestries do you create a year?
It depends on the difficulty, size, inspiration and many other things. One carpet (tapestry) takes from several months to a year to create it. But I can work on several works at once. It is bad to concentrate only on one work. You have to distract from the work for some time and then come back to it.
So, carpet weaving is very time-consuming process?
Yes. Even speaking only about weaving, it is possible to do only several centimeters a day. But weaving is not the only process, it is inly craft, implementation with the help of material. More important and sometimes more difficult, longer and not less interesting process is creating a picture.
What do you do with your works then?
I am often asked, “What do you do these carpets for?” I do it because I can’t fail to do it. I am an artist and I have a mental need for it. I exhibit my works, some of them I give to museums. People who appreciate art and beauty in it but my works. There is some hoax in modern art. Something which is not art at all is imposed. I believe that an artist has to bring beauty to the world, which has been disappearing from art lately, harmony and positive emotions. Modern art… It reflects acute problems. But there is a lot of negative today in the world. I don’t think it should be reflected in art.
Your works must be very expensive as they are very time- and strength-consuming?
It depends on difficulty, size, artistic value. It is not business for me, I am an artist. Unfortunately, purchasing power in Ukraine is very low, few people can afford buy expensive goods. But even if they are sold not often, it is enough to continue to do my favorite work.
You have had exhibitions in paris, London , Sofia. Where is your art more popular – in Ukraine or abroad?
It is hard to say. I guess, abroad. But there are many fans of my art in Ukraine as well. Everybody who sees my works in real life, can’t stay indifferent.
What threads do you use for your tapestries? Where do you take them from?
It is natural sheep wool. I order it from different places: Chernihiv, Western Ukraine. I use local wool, but I often order it from abroad as well. It depends on idea and desire to give a particular texture to a work. It is quite hard to find natural wool without any additives. Sometimes they even write it is natural, but while dying I can see it is synthetic. I buy mostly natural white threads. I make all the colors with special dyers for wool.
What is your working day like?
I am in the studio from morning to late night. It depends on my mood whether I weave or paint more.
I teach my students several hours a week. Children come to my studio. I was a teacher at the Poltava Art School for 10 years. I adore working with children. My youngest pupils are 4 years old. We start from painting, cut and paste activity, paper cutting and other artistic techniques, study basic composition. In future, I want to teach them weaving – to hand on the torch.
In these 10 years, do you have students you can be proud of?
My students have gained first places at the national competitions. My teaching work has been highly appreciated by the Ministry of Culture. A lot of my students have already graduated from universities and are into art now. I think it is very good.
Do any of them create tapestries?
Some combine tapestries with ceramics or even painting. I have met their works at exhibitions.
Last week I moved to a new studio – spacious and brightly lit. I have ordered new looms. As part of my collection “Carpet Ukraine”, I am going to create a new carpet, the biggest one. As in other works of the collection, a “Life Tree” will be in the centre. There also will be flowers, many animals, fish and many birds… I want to convey prosperity of our nature, forests. It is very hard to describe any piece of art with words. It has to be seen.
Interview by Hanna Drozd
Photo given by Olha Pilyuhina