Olexandr Ganzha – ukrainian sculptor from the village of Zhornishche, an ancient pottery centre in Vinnitsa Region. The local potters have since long specialized in making kitchen earthenware — milk jugs, pots to stew potatoes, bake meat and fish, and grind boiled peas and poppy seeds, large pots for dough, narrow-mouthed “pumpkin” water jugs, twinned pipkins for carrying meals to the field, and the like.
The earthenware was decorated with unpretentious patterns of straight and wavy lines painted on the surface with white or dark-brown clay. Many of the potters, as was the ancient tradition in Podolia, adorned the jug and pot lids with small sculpted figurines. Each of the productions featured something different: a bird, cow, horse, human figures, or simply a human head with some lunny features, some of which could be traced to one of the potter’s acquaintances or neighbours. The children were taught to shape such figurines before they learned to operate the potter’s wheel, and that is why this work was looked upon as something of little importance and unworthy of regard of a serious craftsman. Yet Olexandr Ganzha took a liking precisely to this work.
By and by, the vision of a genuine and original artist, a man who strove to grasp the world and the life of the people surrounding him, took root in the heart of an ordinary potter who seemed at first sight to be a far from outstanding craftsman. In his spare time before the war he occasionally modelled vessels shaped as lions, as well as figurines of men and women. After being gravely wounded in action in 1944, Ganzha returned home an invalid and had to abanon his potter’s trade forever. From that time on sculpture occupied more and more of his time, and frequently he would work a lump of clay for hours on end, shaping it into yoked oxen, lions, birds, various animals, and horsemen. Yet the human figure was the dominant feature in his works.
Ganzha’s creations are not built around any narrative or action. They are attractive for their ingenious and expressive plastic quality, conveying the artist’s absorption of mind and introspection. Reproduced in clay, they are somewhat of a dialogue with himself, in which he poses questions but cannot provide the answers so far.
His earlier sculptures of the 1940s and 1950s were made by hand with techniques used in manufacturing folk toys. Their modelling shows the same ease, integrity, feeling for the mass of a clay lump and its pliability that are common to folk toys; but the dimensions of Ganzha’s creations (more often than not they are 40 centimetres in height) enhance their monumental nature and importance.
With time his techniques of modelling gained in complexity, so did the outlines of his productions. The modelled details, which he turned to more frequently, cover the figurines with energetically done knobs due to which the sculpture seems to be squeezed into the surrounding space. Gradually Ganzha started to turn the whole sculpture on the potter’s wheel. The smaller objects were made of one lump of clay, the larger of several lumps carefully smoothed at the joints.
In the late 1960s the range of Ganzha’s sculpted characters became broader to include bandore players, duos of singers, and trios of folk musicians, which he especially loved to make, as well as women with children and enamoured couples. At times he created sculptural portraits of his neighbours and acquaintances, frequently succeeding in capturing the psychological characteristics of his sitters, although the techniques he applied were always the same. In his gallery of human types there are no two alike. He achieves such diversity by introducing what might seem as insignificant changes in proportion, size, thickness and length of separate elements.
Ganzha’s “clay people” are expressive and simple in form which the potter’s wheel lends them. The heads of his sculptures always suggest the forms of a pot, the bodies easily betray the outlines of pitchers, “pumpkin” jugs and jars. The hats and musical instruments serve as ordinary lids, and the hands are moulded into the handles or ears of earthenware. The imaginative power and talent of Ganzha rest in his ability to see what these familiar elements can project when juxtaposed, and, after imparting a new content to them, to breathe a completely new life into his creations. The traditional forms and techniques of modelling impose certain restrictions on his work, as is the case with any other folk craftsman. Yet for all that they equip him with greater skills and give him the opportunity to be endlessly variative. You have a feeling that no technical difficulties confront the master, and the medium he works with completely succumbs to his will.
The works of Olexandr Ganzha as a whole explicitly show the wealth of folk art, its vitality and great potentialities in developing and changing its forms. The artist, living as he does in a remote village far removed from museums and art exhibitions, and working selflessly all these years more for his pleasure than for the fickle art market, has virtually turned a new and extremely interesting page in the development of modern Ukrainian folk sculpture.