Mila Gokhman Mila Gokhman


In 2000, Mila Gokhman left a successful career as an artist and designer in Kiev to move to Southern California.  For the
past twenty years, living in isolation and obscurity, she has continued to make art on a daily basis. She creates meticulously crafted abstract collages of cut and pasted papers that pulsate with life, joy, and movement. Stacked against walls, stockpiled in boxes, and crammed into closets in her tiny apartment are leather reliefs and objects dating back almost half a century as well as paper collages, both old and new. 

Gokhman was born in Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine, in 1934. She vividly remembers the bombing that began the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on her 7th birthday on June 22, 1941. Three months later (September 29-30), almost 34,000 Jews were massacred in Kiev's Babi Yar ravine. Gokhman's family survived, having moved eastward to Ural, where they endured harsh conditions until they returned to Kiev in 1944.

Gokhman earned a Bachelor's Degree in civil engineering, but by 1966 had abandoned bridge design to pursue a career in art. Leather was her initial preferred medium. As a self-taught artist, she pioneered new techniques and directions in leather processing. She created small, intricately worked abstract panels in which the leather, layered and in colors, asserted its natural properties while becoming the equivalent of brushstrokes. Her inspiration came from nature, poetry, and music.

In 1972, she began to collaborate with some of the best fashion houses in the Soviet Union and Ukraine, designing leather jewelry and wearable accessories, some with beadwork and precious stones. These "decorative accessories" stand alone as highly sensuous, fully realized works of art. As the artist has written, "My leather jewelry is not in any way connected with fashion. It is the art of shaping, glorifying the beauty of the human body."

In 1977, Gokhman expanded her practice further by making collages with colored papers. Paper, more available than leather (a luxury good in the Soviet Union), allowed her to work larger and with more improvisational freedom. Between 1973 and 2000, Gokhman had over a dozen solo exhibitions in museums, palaces, and libraries in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and Tallinn (Estonia). In the 1990s, numerous copiously illustrated articles on her work appeared in the Eastern European press.

Since moving to the United States, Gokhman has had only one significant exhibition (a small, two-person show at Grand Central Art Gallery, University of California, Fullerton). Her California collages of the past two decades have consisted largely of papers delicately hand-cut from wallpaper sample books. She has also produced an extended body of work in beaded jewelry unparalleled in beauty, variety, and invention. Gokhman declares, "Huge numbers of my work are still waiting to be seen."

Leather body ornament, c.1995
Photograph by Michele Mattei, 2020