KYIV -- Standard attire for a Kyiv cocktail party tends toward restraint: muted tones, subtle jewelry. Olga Kosheleva likes to wear a belt of paintbrushes thick with red, white, yellow and blue paint.
The 31-year-old Kyiv-born artist isn’t trying to call attention to her profession. Her paintbrushes are about something else—freedom, a breath of life, a way of gliding a bit above her surroundings.
So is her art.
Her newest project is called Icebreakers. It’s a set of giant sunglasses whose frames hold ice cube trays. Inside the ice cube trays are hundreds of little clay men, different colors, climbing the walls of their cubes.
“It’s people who live in their little, teeny confined world. We’re influenced by the media and advertising,” says Kosheleva. “We have to feel our real, genuine values and our real dreams.”
We are all trapped in our own ice cube trays. (Aisha Down)
Kosheleva broke the ice, so to speak. Her parents wanted her to be an economist—or a teacher of economics. After studying at Kyiv Polytechnic, she went to work for a French consulting firm.
“My boss told me, ‘You are always flying in the sky! You are not a very serious person,” she says.
She’d been painting for several years, then. In her apartment, she had a collection of works. She decided to quit.
“My parents told me, ‘You shouldn’t do it. Art is not for you, you should choose another profession,’” she recalls. “But I had confidence. This is my way. This is for me.”
A week later, she had her first show.
Now, Kosheleva works out of a studio in the top floor of Kyiv’s House of Artists, not far from St. Sophia’s Church. Her windows look out over the grays and bricks of Kyiv’s horizon—sharp contrast to the brilliant colors on her canvases.
Kosheleva’s works can seem like social commentary, but are tempered by something else—a sense of the larger absurdity and humor of the world.
A series of works made from painted traffic cones includes a canvas with a man’s torso, and a big green traffic cone coming out of his groin. An old telephone dangles from the traffic cone.
“This is about sexual consumption—well, he can call, and maybe someone will pick up the phone, and maybe not,” she says. “I don’t criticize, actually. It’s my humor about this topic.”
Other works—a geisha traveling the world in a bathtub, a series based on the Kama Sutra—are inspired by her travels. Kosheleva has visited Asia, and Africa on multiple occasions, most recently spending a few days staying in a Maasai village.
“I thought about civilization and its influence on the tribe,” she recalls. “I saw a man who had a very modern watch. I said to myself: probably one day these people will disappear. They will go live in big cities—they feel they can earn a lot of money in the cities.”
She was impressed by them. “They have an interesting life. They don’t need too much to be happy.”
Like her travels, Kosheleva’s works put people and societies in perspective—sometimes unfamiliar ones. Women unfold in the shape of a flower around a tiny man, men and women made out of thick clots of paint climb a traffic cone toward a paintbrush. A man holds a fan made out of the bodies of women.
“Men ask me, why do you always have big women and a little man? Is it feminism?” she says with a laugh. “No, it’s just my way of seeing things.”
It’s a light, luminous way of seeing things for a country that isn’t always used to happiness. Kosheleva’s art is largely about joy. She isn’t a suffering creator, although she’s sympathetic to the hardships Ukraine has gone through.
“We have problems, and they influence our mood,” she reflects.
“It’s the pyramid of Maslow,” she says, referring to a hierarchy of needs developed by Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist born to immigrants from Kyiv. “I agree with the theory. First you need food, clothes. When you have them, then you can have aesthetical needs.”
As for her. “I can never be triste. I don’t have the reasons.”
For comments and story ideas, please contact UBJ Reporter Aisha Down at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Feb. 10, 2018