Blue-and-yellow is the new black
In the early 1970s, art historian Linda Nochlin wrote an essay titled Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?. In it, she reflected on the domination of male artists, who shaped the art landscape as they saw fit, and social limitations, which hampered women’s success in creative fields. It is widely believed to have heralded the arrival of so-called feminist art. This art category is not associated with any concrete style or typical traits. Still, it is tied to feminist theory and the efforts to give women their due place and voice.
Among the feminist artists is a Ukrainian painter working under the nickname Pazza Pennello. In her pop art paintings, women are always in the spotlight and sometimes literally lit by the bright yellow rays.
A Ukrainian painter, she participated in many domestic and international exhibitions. Her works are featured in the Saatchi gallery and French, Swiss, and US private collections.
— Painting helps me hold on. I have never studied in an art school, but I have been painting for as long as I can remember. My first pieces were more colourful than now. It was an unbridled expression, with splashes of colour and all. Now my style has become more balanced and geometrical. It is due to my inner transformation and growing up. I used to think I was an extrovert, but now I increasingly shut myself off from the world. Also, my art now has more lines and shapes that are more regular and straightforward. But colours and light remain.
My earlier works were closer to pop art. I used the mass culture objects — cartoon characters, products, and famous images, albeit putting them into a different context. Now my works are feminist, although they are still close to pop art formally. I use my favourite colour — which is yellow — to paint the light beams highlighting my women on the canvas. After all, the shadow of the patriarchate is still looming over them even now, in the 21st century.
The women in my paintings are calm, free, and empowered. Even if I paint one with her legs spread, it’s not an invitation or seduction — she is just relaxed, comfortable this way. I believe they are not obliged to sit like timid ladies with hands resting on their knees. Women can do what they want. They can be what they want.
I had an exhibition in Chornomorsk once, and people saw it as something obscene. The black triangle in the painting looked akin to pornography to them, although it was nothing more than a geometric shape. My other series was built around the idea that pornography was as accessible as cartoons. It was full of cartoony imagery and saturated colours. I took the poses for it straight from the porn film scenes I put on pause before me. Depicting women like that doesn’t contradict my vision of feminism, though. Women can do whatever they want as long as it’s their conscious choice and they are happy about it.
The black triangle in the painting might look akin to pornography to some, although it is nothing more than a geometric shape.
The women in my paintings are not necessarily provocative. For the most part, they are just strong and feisty. I like how Soviet posters showed women — all those collective farm girls, female workers, and sportswomen. Their prominent, rough features and sturdy figures resonate with me.
The women in my paintings are not necessarily provocative. For the most part, they are just strong and feisty.
Painting Peace, Love, Friendship, I wasn’t bothered by how “Soviet” it looked. It was just a manifestation of feminist art for me — an empowered woman shouting about peace, equality, and freedom for the world to hear. I used my favourite colours at the time — red and yellow. When the war broke out, I looked at this painting, and it felt so much like communist propaganda. I immediately wanted to get rid of this feeling and decided to “decommunize” my work, repainting it in blue and yellow. At a closer look, you can still see the words that used to be there. However, now they are painted over with our national flag’s colours, which is symbolic to some extent.
The war changed the imagery in my other paintings. I used to paint lots of explosions. At the time, they were a metaphor for information noise or passion in the early stages of romantic relationships. Now explosions in my paintings are literally the blasts from missiles and bombs blowing up on our land. Sometimes, I combine explosions with light beams, like in the painting with the light striking down the enemy helicopter, which I made to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The painting with the light striking down the enemy helicopter was made to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
With Revival, I reflect on the Bucha events. The butterfly in the painting is a symbol of soul and rebirth. Sometime after I finished it, I saw the photograph of a female Bucha victim’s hand, and it was pretty similar to what I painted. It even wanted to add in the red nail polish but decided not to — it personalizes all the victims of this war the way it is.
Before the invasion began, I wanted to hold an exhibition of my Rooms of Absolute series depicting women sitting or lying calmly amid ringing phones, noise, and tumult. I keep working on this series, but now it’s the crashing enemy planes and the sinking Moskva cruiser that are seen in the windows. The war has invaded my Room of Absolute, but my women remain as confident and calm as ever.
The war has invaded my Room of Absolute, but my women remain as confident and calm as ever.
The next project I plan to do will be about the women who went to war to protect our country. However, those will be from different times, wielding swords and rifles alike. Their courage and strength keep me surprised every day.