Category - Interview
Written by Christopher M. Wright
Editor: Kellie A. Hanna

Raya Bodnarchuk has sculpture placed in the Federal Reserve Garden and the National Museum of American Art, both in Washington, D.C. where she teaches sculpture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. I spoke with her at her home where 5-foot wooden figures stand on her front porch.

Chris Wright (for Artwell): You have a lot of animals in your work. You must feel some connection; you're holding your dog in your lap.

Raya Bodnarchuk: Yes, I do feel a connection. I love nature. My sensibilities side with living things. And since animals are always on the move, there are many possibilities in every minute.

CW: Your collages, like the one behind us, look Native American to me. Especially the one with the triangles down the sides. Do you consciously borrow from Native American art?

RB: No, I consciously borrow from nothing. I go for forms that are out there in nature and in my own repertoire. A lot of artists start from that point, so there's always going to be something similar about different cultures' or artists' works. Small shapes in repetitive patterns have been used since ancient times. But what I do comes from my heart, my experience, and my core, rather than from things on the outside.

CW: You have said elsewhere that you put form before subject matter. What do you mean?

RB: My animal pieces end up pretty recognizable, but the forms are more important to me than the animals they represent or what the animals represent.

CW: So the horse on the wall, for example, is not meant to convey "vigor" or "strength." You're more interested in the aesthetics of the outline?

RB: Yes, the shape and the color of the whole thing, the placement of it. There is no need for me to translate it into words.

CW: I noticed that you switched from mostly metals in the 1980's to wood later on. How would you summarize your development as an artist?

RB: The materials are a huge factor for me. I love metal casting, especially aluminum. But the pieces are necessarily small in the process I was using. Then the foundry I worked with was gone and I changed my studio location, so I started making things out of wood. I had access to it and could figure out how to get the forms I wanted. I don't want to be wedded to the log-shape. Right now, I'm going for forms that are not log-related, like this turtle piece.

CW: Your pieces amuse me--they make me chuckle or smile. Is that the effect you want?

RB: Yes, they are good-natured. Lots of people react that way. I like to think that my work has something to do with the true nature of goodness. For me this is more important than depicting things on the hard side of life, like conflict or angst.

CW: Is this what you mean when you talk about "finding the heroic in the quiet and peaceful?"

RB: Yes.

CW: You did a series of standing human figures, then you did a group of three with upraised arms and things in their hands. Were you trying to "break the frame" of what you had done before?

RB: No, that idea came from the shape of the wood that I had.

CW: So it was an opportunity that presented itself.

RB: Yes. The same goes for some sculpture I did of plants. This certain wood suggested the plant forms.

CW: Your 1996 Self-Portrait riveted me when I first saw it, because you've got these concentric rings in the wood that make up your face and the outermost ring is your nose. That can't be an accident. How did it come about?

RB: It wasn't an accident but it wasn't conscious, either. It's just the nature of the wood. It will happen at any point [to] the form that ends up sticking out the farthest, like the nose. You leave the outer layer and start carving away the rest to make the other features.

CW: I detect a pattern here. The materials themselves present artistic possibilities and inspire you.

RB: Right, it is a cross between that and my necessity to do particular things. The wood part is not a clever trick, it's what the wood already does if you organize your forms according to the grain of the wood.

CW: Several words come to mind to describe your work in wood: curvilinear, rounded,soft.

RB: Some of my metal work is soft, too, and that comes from carving the sculpture in styrofoam which is so easy to work with. Then the cast metal takes the shape of the styrofoam piece. But edges are a big deal to me. On this wood figure over here, the shoulders are very angular while the rest of piece is rounded, as you say. If the edges weren't there, the piece wouldn't have the definition that gives it vigor.

CW: In music composition we strive for a balance between unity and contrast. Enough similarities to be coherent, but some differences to maintain interest.

RB: Yes, exactly. In every wonderful work there is that.

CW: I just got back from Chicago which is big on outdoor art, you know, the cows and now the sofas and chairs. In a five-block walk, I saw a Picasso, a Miro, a Calder, and a Chagall. You have placed pieces outside. Is there anything different about outdoor art?

RB: Yes, the work has to fit the surroundings, like the sculpture I was commissioned to do for the WSSC [Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission]. I designed the pieces for the site which is the plaza at their new building. There are wide steps down to a lake that edges on an interstate highway. It's very pleasant. You can go out there and enjoy time off from that big building. I wanted something that would be friendly and inviting for people; and something very personal, since it's between the big high-rise building and the highway where there's lots of noise. So my idea was to have people out there all the time. I made human figures and an animal as a group. So there's always somebody out there. You go out and it's not uncharted territory. And WSSC has their own words for what they do--they serve people. So that was an important consideration as well.

More of Raya's work can be seen here on the Town of Glen Echo website. - follow the links from the Featured Resident at the top) and Maryland Art Place ( - go to the Artist Slide Registry).

Corcoran Gallery of Art/College of Art and Design (

Mr. Wright is a freelance writer and composer in the Washington, D.C. area. You may contact him at


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