Anne Robinson, Karen Saxby
Olena Skytsiuk is one of the foremost practitioners of Ukrainian Petrykivka painting, a technique in which special brushes crafted from cat hairs create a visual effect unlike any other. In each design, like that reproduced on our Moonlight cover, thousands of small strokes combine to create colourful miniature scenes.
Since the 17th century, “Petrykivka” painting has been a common sight in the Cossack settlements of the Dnyepr River region of Ukraine. At that time, it was believed that beauty had the power to ward off malignant spirits. In Olena’s Garden, our series featuring Olena Skytsiuk’s paintings, you will encounter that same poetic loveliness that emerged from those Ukrainian hamlets.
Named after the village where it has survived to this day, the Petrykivka style of painting was originally used by peasants to decorate the white-washed walls and interiors of their simple dwellings as well as furniture, kitchenware and other household objects made of wood. The most common motifs were flowers and berries, as well as symbolic figures of birds, animals and people. One peculiar element of this tradition was the use of fine brushes made of cat hair, which created the characteristic profusion of ever-so-delicate brush strokes you can see here.
For a long time, Petrykivka painting remained a local folk craft, passed down from generation to generation without receiving much acknowledgment as an art form. The genre was on the verge of disappearing when, in 1936, a Petrykivka schoolteacher opened a school of decorative arts and invited one of the few remaining practitioners to train future artists. Gradually, qualified professionals became the guardians of this manner of painting.
Olena Skytsiuk’s background as a Petrykivka painter combines a formal training received from the Lviv National Academy of Arts with her own family tradition. Her mother came from Petrykivka and was a distinguished painter whose artworks would be presented as state gifts to foreign dignitaries. Now Olena is working in the same genre, creating ornamental pictures bursting with colour and swirls of lively detail. Compared to traditional paintings, dominated by red, yellow and green, Olena’s colour scheme can be described as more sophisticated due to the abundance of shades employed in her compositions. In this Moonlight cover design, her colour tones appear as if the night cast a shroud of shade over a lush floral ornament.
No artistic tradition can remain fully unchanged over time, but an artist can honour its essence even in a contemporary setting. Owing to the talents of masters such as Olena Skytsiuk, the Petrykivka style of painting continues to be a living, distinct form of folk art inspired by a guileless cherishing of the bountiful Ukrainian nature.