FUNNY AND WITTY

Have you ever seen how a smile is molded? Not an artificial smile or a false smile. But a real one: sincere, ironic, grotesque and most important an absolutely natural smile!
And what do you think this smile is molded of? Clay. An ordinary piece of gray clay.
What you do is take the clay in your hands. Then knead it a little. Then mold it. And after that fire it. How do you go about it? Nothing really complicated. In an oven. Like a cake. Only the temperature is a bit higher. Some eight hundred degrees higher. And only after that does the clay come to life as a dwarfish, ever witty Cossack Mamai, or Solokha, immortal as her creator Nikolai Gogol. And all this is done by the deft fingers of Mikola Vakulenko.
When you look at Vakulenko's ceramics you can hardly help thinking, "This must have been made by an old man. Someone with years of experience in life." But on closer acquaintance, you will find that the artist is almost a young man, for Mikola Vakulenko was born in 1948. He has been making ceramic sculptures for about eight years. No more. Just the right age for a first-grader.
The age of creative activity. At first glance he is just that a first-grader. But a more attentive study of his detail and composition will make you change your mind: not a first-grader but a professor!
Mikola Vakulenko was born in Alupka (the Crimea). He studied at the Kiev Politechnical College. At present he lives in Livadia not far from the famous Black Sea resort of Yalta.

By profession Mikola Vakulenko is an electrician. And by vocation he is an artist-humorist. At molding funny things he is second to none.
You probably want to know how he does it but this is a secret only he knows. We can only see how rhythmically, harmoniously, plastically he sculpts the same things:
plasticity, harmony, rhythm, movement and naturally, the smile.
Have you ever seen anyone rendering movement? I haven't. But after visits to several amateur artists' and decorative art shows I became convinced: Vakulenko molds movement. It's as if "the moment you stop, you're funny". Vakulenko molds characters. He molds personages.
And there is laughter in whatever he molds.
You will split your sides laughing at his How Godfather Went A-flirting, Caught Red-handed Stealing Soured Cream, or take his Look Godfather, Someone Stole the Moon. You can see how characters from folklore, literature and paintings come to life before your very eyes.
I noticed one thing at these shows: the place where Vakulenko's works were displayed was always crowded. I had to elbow my way through to the exhibit, which was not surprising because his works have
both talent and originality, as well as humor galore.
"Mikola, why do you make them out of clay? Why not use stone, granite, or steel?"
"Clay is the best", Mikola smiles back. "You see, my hands are always dirty. My wife keeps telling me not to touch anything in the house".
Just a joke of course. A family joke. But what if we were to take it seriously? For laughter is a very serious business. Laughter makes up Vakulenko's world, laughter is his hobby. And it embraces both sculptural portraits and various genre
scenes rich in image and color with a keen sense of national idiom, the grotesque, and class.
Looking at Vakulenko's wonderful creations, it occurs to you: "I thought there were no surprises left in the world. But this sculptor has changed my mind."
So far Mikola Vakulenko is just learning. However, his works have been displayed widely at museums and recreation centers, at republican, regional, and town art shows. He is always in the news. His sculptures are described as "witty and funny" "ingenious and full of joy."
And these descriptions are quite correct, though he is only a student, and his biography in art is just beginning. What can we hope for when he completes his art education and spends more years in creative work?
Vakulenko's clay figurines show that the artist will continue to bring joy to millions of people.
Oleg Chornohuz

Ukraine,
10 (62)
October, 1981

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