Since 2000 the Artgila Art Clay and Ceramics Festival has been held in a small town in southern France near the Spanish border with the phonetically difficult and romantic name of Roumazieres- Loubert. The soil in this region located 600 km south of Paris consists of clay, which prevents the local people from farming the land. But it is ideal for making tiles, and the town has a factory that produces ceramic tiles for practically all the roofs in France. The town is also known for its decorative folk clay art, which matches the reputation of the famous Ukrainian town of Opishnia.
The Artgila festival is aimed at developing local ceramic art, raising its level, and encouraging artists to produce high-quality ceramics. The idea of the festival was suggested by the famous artist Bernard Pras, and it is no accident that the festival of ceramic art was launched in the artist’s native town of Roumazieres-Loubert.
Ukrainian artists participated in the festival for the first time in 2006, seven years after its founding. Our country was represented by Ivan Bobkov and Mark Halenko, who won the top awards — the Grand Prix and the Gold Medal, respectively. Intrigued by Ukrainian art, this year the French invited a Ukrainian delegation, proclaiming our ceramic artists the guests of honor. Among the countries participating in the festival this year were France, Spain, Andorra, and Gabon. Ukraine was represented by seven artists: Nadia and Serhii Kozak, Nelli Isupova, Mark Halenko, Andrii Ilyisky, Borys Danylov, and Halyna Yakovenko.
“Chantal Paute, one of the festival organizers, personally selected the Ukrainian participants. In order to make the selection, she came to Kyiv in the fall of 2006, visited artists’ workshops, and chose the ones she liked,” said Nadia Kozak, one of the Ukrainian participants. “We, the representatives of Ukraine, spent 10 days in France. During the first week we visited a royal porcelain factory and a museum of porcelain and ceramics. We also attended a reception at the Town Hall, and for the last three days we worked on our pieces for the competition.”
According to the competition regulation, ceramic works have to be made of local clay in three days. This year’s theme was the Seven Deadly Sins.
“Lust” by Serhii and Nadia Kozak, which features Ukrainian national motifs, irony, and the artists’ distinctive technical trademarks, won over the jury, which awarded the Ukrainian artist-couple the Grand Prix. Another Ukrainian artist, Nelli Isupova, won the Silver Medal. Ukraine thus claimed the lion’s share of prizes for the second time in a row.
“We used our own technique, which differs from those used by the rest of the contestants. Everybody was sculpting their works, but we used the potter’s method, working with a potter’s wheel. First, we make all the pieces and then we mold them into a sculpture,” Nadia Kozak explained.
“Everybody was coming to watch us work. The jury liked our work because it was a piece of Ukrainian pottery, quite decorative, with a touch of humor. That was what distinguished our work,” her husband Serhii added. “The French discovered Ukraine in 2006, and they are very interested in us. Although we don’t usually portray folk themes in our work, this time we deliberately chose folk motifs for our competition entry.”
The Kozak couple talked about their reception by the French and described the Ukrainian Soiree, which featured borshch, folk songs, and an exhibit of art works, embroidered towels, and Ukrainian Easter eggs.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any sponsors in Ukraine to support the exhibit. Even the Ministry of Culture knew about the festival, but no one responded. So we did what we could,” Serhii Kozak said.