- Nation: Sakha
By Tamara Kula
Artists balance between two worlds. Uniquely positioned, they draw from the well of the past to forge a new path forward. As Sakha artist Roman Petrov says, “Every artist must have his own style. That is the most important rule.” Ancient carving traditions of the Sakha people have always been handed down from generation to generation. For Roman Petrov, this has happened quite literally – his father Khristofor Petrov-Abytaya instructed him in the ways of carving wood and bone. Likewise, Petrov's own children are starting to follow in the footsteps of the masters before them. Time-honored traditions flow through the centuries, allowing new perspectives at the same time.
Petrov was born in 1972 in the village of Chersky near the East Siberian Sea in the Sakha Republic, Nizhnekolymskiy region. Becoming an artist was a natural course of events for him, as his father was frequently drawing or carving around the house. Petrov loved to draw in his childhood. At age 14 or 15, he began to learn the art of carving mammoth tusk from his father, starting out small and progressing to larger projects. To this day, ivory remains his preferred medium.
Education and Training
Formal studies took him to Namtsy, along the Lena River, where he earned his degree as an art teacher at Namskiy Pedagogical College. Continuing his education, he attended Krasnoselsky College to focus on metalworking. Currently teaching college drawing and sculpture in Namsty, he uses his free time to pursue his own interests – carving, metalworking, and ice sculpting.
Materials and Themes
Mammoth ivory, along with reindeer and moose antler, form the basis of most of Petrov's creations. In the process of finding his own style, he has been drawn to creating scenes of the extreme north on a miniature scale. From a satisfied fisherman slicing into his catch to a tiny moose galloping across the tundra, Petrov says the smallest carvings turn out “more surprising.” One Sakha man, bending gracefully low in his canoe, captures enticing detail: hands gripping a double-paddle, mouth clenching a pipe between determined lips. Many of his works are only five or six centimeters tall. Of course, not all of his projects are diminutive; some sculptures are as large as 30 centimeters. He lets his art speak for itself, showing how people of the extreme north live. He cites his father as a formative influence on his work. In addition, he finds inspiration in the familiar surroundings where he grew up. He has fond memories of fishing in his childhood, a common theme in his work. Animals, heroes, and spirits from famous Sakha legends he has read appear in his collection as well, portrayed through his own eyes. “I try to create it in my view.” In addition to lasting works of bone, Petrov has recently taken up snow and ice sculpting. The availability and unique qualities of nature's elements provide another outlet for his artistic talent. He has participated in international competitions in China and Sweden, as well as in Russia.
Life as an Artist
Artists are known for being good with their hands. But they also must know how to nourish an idea. Modern tools may allow artists to work more quickly, but the process of bringing a figment of the mind to fruition remains the same despite what century we live in. “You have to find an idea and develop it,” Petrov says. It takes him anywhere between three days to six months – or longer – to complete a project. He gives himself completely to each project, which is why he doesn't sell his work on a whim. He prefers to ensure that his work goes to a museum or to someone who will care for it. Among his challenges, finding time to work is not one of them – time can always be found for what he loves. More difficult is disciplining the mind for work. “You have to attune yourself to work. If something bothers you or distracts you, it's not going to happen.” Another problem is finding the ivory that he loves; as the larger, quality pieces become more rare, the prices increase.
Petrov's plans for the future include attending as many festivals and competitions as he can, widening his exposure to other artists, and continuing to focus on his own projects. He is also seeing with his own eyes how Sakha traditions are passed on. He and his wife have three children: the oldest son and the youngest daughter have pursued the life of an artist, while the middle son is studying to be a doctor. As modern life continues to change at a rapid pace, Petrov's words of wisdom are useful to not only artists, but to everyone. We are products of the past, moving into a new future, in which each of us has to find “his own style.”