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Polina Rayko, Road to Paradise

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About the Artist/Site

Most of Polina Rayko’s life followed a relatively typical path. Born in Tsyuryupinsk in the Ukraine, she married in 1950 and soon had two children, a daughter and a son. The family lived a modest life, earning most of their income from the produce from their garden. But in 1994 this life started to unravel: in 1994 Rayko’s daughter died in an auto accident, and the following year her husband passed away. Her son, who had become drug addicted, was in and out of prison, and during the times he was free, he would threaten his mother and take her valuables (he died in 2002).

In 1998, at the age of 69 and living alone, Rayko began painting, decorating the rooms of her house with colorful works that, as she explained, were a way to brighten her life. Living off of a small pension, she could only afford to purchase the cheapest paint and brushes available at the local market. With no television at home and no regular access to newspapers or magazines, she used illustrations that she found on religious postcards, wine bottles, chocolate packages, rugs and other items as her sources of inspiration. She painted angels, animals, and portraits as well as decorative works; elements of Christian iconography as well as Soviet propaganda are all included. Rayko covered all the walls and ceilings of the house with her paintings.

Her creative work was soon noted by art lovers from the nearby city of Kherson, resulting in newspaper and magazine articles as well as the publication of a book, Road to Paradise, that was prepared by the Kherson Center for Youth Initiatives (2005). Unfortunately, Rayko died before the book was published.

After her death the future of the house became uncertain, with the authorities showing no interest in preserving it. Fortunately, the house was purchased from Rayko’s grandson by an American couple living in the Ukraine, and the site was saved. However, as of the time of this writing (summer 2011) no measures had been taken to preserve the paintings or to open the house as a public museum.

~Henk van Es



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