Mila Gokhman Mila Gokhman


1934: I was born in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine (formerly Soviet Union), a city with 1500 years of history and deep cultural traditions.

I am on the left, with my cousin in traditional Ukrainian dress.

I received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.

1966: My passion for art led me to abandon my engineering profession. I began my artistic history with flower arrangements using natural and artificial flowers. Then, as a self-taught artist, I created my own approach to different kinds of materials. I worked with wood, clay, precious stones, metal, fabrics, etc. 

 (January 6-7): When visiting a friend in Tallinn, Estonia, I met her neighbor, Veronica Kaevandes, an artisan who worked in a leather factory. She gifted me a bag of leather scraps and a bottle of latex glue. The next day, I found cardboard and started making art. I consider this (the 7th) my birthday as an artist and celebrate it with my friends every year. For many years thereafter, leather was my preferred material. I developed my own techniques and produced a variety of unique and beautiful leather works, creating my own leather universe to the delight of my viewers. They included panel pieces, jewelry, garment accessories and ornamentation, purses, book covers and folders for documents, and so on. My work was totally apart from Ukrainian traditions and was therefore almost criminal. For many years, my works were not accepted in official exhibitions in Ukraine.

The first of my leather pieces was called, The Girl on the Sunny Background.  The shape of the body was my own (seen in the mirror).  Then there were "landscapes," ornaments, decorative panels--a world of fantasy and life transformed in art.

Symphony, 1972
Leather and leather dyes

1972: I began to collaborate with Kiev Fashion House, which was one fo the best fashion houses in the former Soviet Union, taking part in creating collections for international shows and festivals. My creations works were shown in many countries and received international prizes. I worked with the renowned fashion designer Gerts M. Mepen of the Kiev Fashion House and other leading designers, until I left Kiev in March 2000.

Covers of "Beauty and Fashion Magazine," Autumn, 1983, showing leather details on the coat 

: My first solo show included leather collages, floral designs, and early leather jewelry and accessories. It was held in the gallery of Conservatory of Model Floriculture, Tallinn, Estonia.

1977: I turned to paper collages. Most of them have strong connections with music. Lines and colors express sounds. There are series of works – “Jazz,” “Blues,” “Symphonies,” “Ballets,” etc. – associated with the musical world.

From Chaos to Harmony, 1977
Dedicated to Ukrainian composer, Valentyn Silvestrov
Cut and pasted paper

1980 (March): This was my equivalent of Aleksandr Pushkin's Boldino Spring, a one-month period I spent in Tallinn, Estonia, in which I made a great many leather pieces. An official at one of the fashion houses I worked for gave me a supply of fine leather imported from Holland and France with which to create work for my own jewelry collection. I made this official several pieces in return. (In the Soviet Union at the time, you were unable to buy leather; it was reserved for state-run factories and institutions.)

My beloved Tallinn

: Plasticity and Color, a major solo show of my work in leather, was mounted for 5 months in the Yelagin Palace, St. Petersburg, a Palladian villa that served as a summer palace during the reign of Alexander I. Enormous posters advertising the show surrounded the park.

Yelagin Palace, St. Petersburg

Installation photographs from the Yelagin Palace show;
 with my father at the exhibition

1986: The first major article on my work appeared in the important Moscovite magazine Dekorativenoye Iskusstvo (Decorative Art), written by Irina Uvarova.

1989: My first serious show in Kiev, Plastic Etude: Fantasia, in the Museum of History (Podol; the ancient part of the city), after 22 years of work. I showed leather reliefs (etudes) and leather jewelry. I designed the installation, using framed linen squares as grounds for the leather panels. I covered the windows with silks dyed in different shades and colors that connected with the colors of my leather jewelry sets. The important politician Petro Shelest [First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic] attended the opening with a delegation of directors of American editing houses. One of the Americans was ready to buy the whole show, but I was not ready to sell.

1991: Flowers in Fashion and Interiors, a solo exhibition of works in silk and leather, was held in "Ukraina" National Palace, Kiev.

"Ukraina" National Palace, Kiev

 26 Long Years, a major retrospective of the full range of my artistic production, was held at the Taras Shevchenko National Museum, Kiev. This was a huge show: one hall had my leatherwork, one had paper collages, and one had a mixture of the two.

Taras Shevchenko National Museum (top); 
with an art critic and museum officials at the opening (bottom)

: Several important, copiously illustrated articles on my art and design were published in the Eastern European press.

Wearing jewelry and clothing of my design, as pictured in Business Club #1, May 1997

: The most comprehensive and most beautifully illustrated article on my work, Ludmila Sverskova's "Spirit Lives Wherever it Chooses," was published in Egupets Literary Almanac (#4, 1998, Institute of Jewish Studies, Kiev). The article was written shortly before my 1993 retrospective, 26 Long Years.

Page from Egupets article, 1998

1998: I worked as a designer and costume director for a one-woman theatrical performance by Raisa S. Nedashkovskaya, Ukrainian theatre and movie actress, who was awarded the People's Artist of Ukraine honor in 1993.  She performed Taras Shevchenko's poem, "Don't Ask Your Fate," in the Kiev Planetarium Theater.

Riasa S. Nedashkovskaya draped in a photograph styled by me

2000 (January)
: My last solo exhibition, Shell in Thorns – a farewell to my native city – took place in Kiev Planetarium Gallery. It was a career retrospective.  Scores of people attended – artists, musicians, actors, scientists, TV producers, and so on. It was indeed the rewarding outcome of my inspirational art and thirty three years of hard work.

Speaking to press and visitors at the Planetarium Gallery reception

2000 (March): I moved to the USA. For several years, I was taking care of my mother and was unable to work as an artist.
But I found a new interest in making bead jewelry using different materials. I produce only unique, one-of-a-kind works, finding new ways to combine and harmonize different materials and colors.

Preparing for a photo shoot of my jewelry and wearables with photographer Phillip Ritchie,
Costa Mesa, California. 
Photo by Phillip Ritchie, 2016

2007-2015: For many years, I took part in the juried group shows of the San Clemente Art Association, the Anaheim Art Association, and the Orange County Fair. I received various prizes, including “Best of Show,” “Auxilia d’Arts,” and “First Place” in the mixed media category for my leather and paper collages. In 2008, I received the “Staff Award” in the O.C. Fair.

2010-2011: I took part in a two-person show at Grand Central Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton, November 6, 2010-January 2, 2011.

Grand Central Art Gallery exhibition

2019 (November): The most recent event in which I took part was a group show, Cafe Europa: Holocaust Survivor Arts Collective, organized by Jewish Federation and Family Services in Laguna Woods, California, where my paper collages and bead jewelry were displayed.

At the Cafe Europa exhibition with my leather
and leather bracelets