wouldn’t think an egg could ward off evil or keep your house from burning down,
unless, of course, you are familiar with pysanky, the Ukrainian folk art of elaborately
dyed eggs. A Ukrainian friend of mine explained how the talisman works: The bright
colors and ornate patterns on the pysanky (pronounced “peh-san-keh”), attract
evil spirits. When the curious spirits come closer to investigate, they get sucked
inside the egg and are trapped. O’ahu-based artist Kent West found the lure of
the pysanky just as irresistible, and found himself drawn to the art form.
is an unlikely pysanky expert. He was born in Colorado, does not have Ukrainian
roots in his family tree and has never taken an art class in his life. “My artistic
expression is inspired by my mother, a graphic artist. I grew up around art,”
he explains. His life turned eggy in 1987, when he picked up a National Geographic
magazine that featured an article about Ukraine and pysanky art.
comes from the Ukrainian word “to write.” The eggs are a deeply spiritual art
form. They are crafted around Easter, blessed in church and then given to family
and respected outsiders as gifts. Each color and pattern has meaning, so the receiver
of the egg gets a message. For example, a diamond shape symbolizes knowledge,
wheat represents good health and curls are used for defense. The egg itself represents
transformation and the cycle of life.
Although pysanky are traditionally
made with whole, raw eggs, many contemporary artists prefer the safety of a blown-out
egg, which is less likely to explode in a foul-smelling debacle. West works with
duck, goose, rhea (a large, flightless bird found in South America) and ostrich
eggs. Using a kistka, a pointed instrument, he draws on the eggs with hot beeswax.
Then he mixes analine, a powdered dye, with distilled water and vinegar. The eggs
get alternating layers of dye, then wax, then dye, which creates the different
layers of color.
Working out of his Käne’ohe studio, West spends hours
on each of his one-of-a-kind egg paintings. They are done in the pysanky style,
but also reflect Hawaiian motifs. “Not only the flora and fauna, but also the
amazing life in the sea,” West says. “It’s incredible to have an organic canvas-the
egg-that is from the earth, and then put a nature scene onto it.”