We had the good fortune of connecting with Mila Gokhman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mila, what’s your definition for success?
From the first moment when I began working as an artist, I didn’t know what would be. The more I was working, the more I knew it was the only way for me to survive. I didn’t think about success. I was making my art for a long period before my work was shown in St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Kiev, and even then it was not an easy life. When I was young, I was very open to people and loved connecting. If they liked what I was doing, I felt successful. The main thing for me is to see my work exposed. It was more important to me than seeing all of the articles and seeing myself on TV. If I felt my art worked in the exposition, it made me happy. In America, where I came in 2000, to be successful, you need to make money. My friends knew America would be difficult for me. I never wanted to sell my work because I wanted to keep it for my exhibitions–to see everything I made on the walls of a museum. I am not ambitious for myself, but for my art.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was born in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine (formerly Soviet Union), in 1934. Although trained as an engineer, I soon abandoned the engineering profession to follow my passion for art. I began my artistic history with flower arrangements and window displays. Then, in 1967, chance led me to meet a woman who worked in a leather factory, who gifted me a bag of leather scraps and glue. The next day, I found cardboard and started making leather reliefs, pieces unique in the history of art. In 1972, I began to collaborate with one of the best fashion houses in the Soviet Union, designing leather jewelry and accessories. They “paid” me by giving me scraps of leather, a luxury material controlled by the Soviet government. By 1977, I was also making collages out of cut and pasted paper. Like my leather panels, these works were inspired by nature, poetry, and music.
During the 1980s and 1990s, many articles were published on my work and I had a dozen solo exhibitions in museums and palaces in Kiev, St. Petersburg, and Tallinn. Before leaving for the United States in 2000, I had a career retrospective at the Kiev Planetarium Gallery, which scores of people attended and there was much press and TV. It was the rewarding outcome of thirty-three years of hard work.
In March 2000, I moved to the USA. I have continued to make art every day–mostly paper collages made in series, each based on a creative idea. However, for the past two decades, I have mostly worked for myself and have not had the opportunity to show my work. Recently, new friends are helping get my work out of my small apartment onto the internet and into the world.
What makes me most proud? In spite of many obstacles, I did not stop working. Art is my religion. In recent years, art helped me overcome disease and be happy in what I was doing, despite my art not being seen. During the pandemic, I have made two new series, one on the theme of gardens and the other on sunshine and hope. To work makes me happy.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
No question, I would take them to the botanical gardens at the Huntington Library. I also love the Bowers Museum and LACMA. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My friend, Ludmila Sverskova, is the most important person to me. She is currently in a special hospital in Kiev with COVID. I met her in 1989 in my first show in Kiev. She has a Ph.D. and is highly educated, having studied philology, history, and philosophy in St. Petersburg. I feel rich when talking to her. In her soul, she is deeply connected with with my art, and her support is important to my life. Before I left Ukraine, she published the most beautiful article on my work.
Portrait of Mila Gokhman by Michele Mattei, Los Angeles, 2020. Photo of white leather necklace by Phillip Ritchie, Costa Mesa, c.2010. Image of model/actress KristinaPrague in Gokhman flower headdress and beads by Michele Mattei, Los Angeles, 2020.