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Meet: Oksana Kondratyeva

Close-up of a purple flower design on stain glass
  • Written byEleanor Harvey
  • Published date08 April 2022
Close-up of a purple flower design on stain glass
Dancing Stars. Stained glass. Fragment. Design and execution by Oksana Kondratyeva. Kingcombe, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, UK | Photograph: Leigh Glover

Oksana Kondratyeva graduated from the University of Bonn in 2005 but left for the UK, where she worked as an analyst in the City of London. She started her art career after being taught painting under Peter Fleming NEAC with her debut exhibition at The Mall Galleries, London, with the Society of Women Artists in 2007. Apart from building her career as a practicing painter, she broadened her artistic practice by including architectural glass following her study at Central Saint Martins (CSM) in 2010/11.

Photo of Oksana holding up a small piece of coloured glass. Oksana is wearing a royal blue top, and a blue scarf
Oksana Kondratyeva in lecture at the National Museum of Folk Decorative Art, Kyiv, Ukraine | Photograph: Pavlo Shevchuk

Why did you choose to study at Central Saint Martins?

I have a late birth as an artist although I loved painting from an early age. Having been born and brought up in Soviet Ukraine, to become an artist under the dominance of Social Realism was a hopeless endeavour. By the time I finished senior school, Ukraine gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In those days, the aura of the country was breathing with an air of freedom. However, in the early 1990s, in the wake of the chaos following the Soviet Union's dissolution, my parents didn’t allow me to pursue an artistic career, so I had to study at a technical Luhansk Machine-Building Institute. I am grateful for that decision as it defined my way.

When I left the banking industry in the City and moved on to art, I was dreaming to create a series of stained glass windows for a church in Ukraine. It was neglected as wheat storage during the Soviet era although it represented one of the most exquisite examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Whilst researching the building, I discovered that there was coloured glass in the windows. No traces of the design were left, just a few chips of coloured glass. So, I have decided to embark on the journey to design and make the stained glass by myself but first I had to learn its craft. Living permanently in London, Glass and Architecture at Central was the only available course dedicated to architectural glass in the capital at the time. And it was a renowned course! A stroke of unexpected luck!

Glass had been on offer at Central from its outset in 1896 until 2011, apart from war disruptions. Situated in the beautiful building designed by William Lethaby in Holborn, the highly acclaimed Glass Department was led by Christopher Whall, Karl Parsons, Francis Spear, Patrick Reyntiens and Caroline Swash.

Oil painting of blue and green circles
Reflection. Oil on canvas. Kondratyeva’s debut-painting exhibited at the Mall Galleries, London, 2007 | Photo courtesy: Oksana Kondratyeva

How was your time at CSM? Were there any highlights?

The intensity of my time at CSM is glittering in my memory. I absolutely embraced the versatility of the course which consisted of theory and practicals. The hands-on lessons were held in the basement of the Lethaby Building, a brilliantly equipped workshop that looked like a science lab. The Lethaby Building itself was an exquisite example of the late 19th century’s high aesthetics with astonishing architectural details, reflecting the pinnacle of the Arts and Crafts. I was enchanted by the surrounding space. It was an inspirational experience.

A very special part of the course was the touring lectures organised by Caroline Swash, a third-generation stained glass artist, our course lead. We hot-footed her across London, visiting numerous churches, offices and public institutions, exploring the finest examples of stained glass. England has such a rich stained glass tradition, and London in particular has been a visual treasure of unique examples dating to medieval times.

Acid-etched mouth blown glass featuring an abstract face surrounded by clouds
Emergence. Oksana Kondratyeva. Acid-etched mouth-blown glass | Photograph: Charlotte Barnes

Can you tell us about your career since you graduated?

I set up a studio in West London just after graduation and received my first commission – three stained glass windows for a Victorian home in London. This was a crucial learning curve because my real dialogue with architecture, space, glass, light and clients had begun. Later, I designed and produced stained glass for educational and residential historical listed buildings. Meanwhile, my artworks were exhibited in the UK, Germany, Portugal and Ukraine and I had mixed-media solo exhibitions.

Research came to me completely instinctively. The multifaceted nature of glass led me to question some of the intriguing themes: from the synthesis of art and science through the acid-etching technique to the evolution of stained glass in Ukraine.

In 2016, The Worshipful Company of the Glaziers and Painters of Glass awarded me The Arthur and Helen Davis Travelling Scholarship. It allowed me to develop my study and knowledge of a unique art object – a stained glass iconostasis produced in Munich in 1905 and preserved in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The research outcome has been recently published in the latest issue of The Journal of Stained Glass. In the meantime, I have also completed a postdoctoral degree in architecture’s theory and conservation.

Large installation inside a high-vaulted room with stone beams
Order vs Disorder. Oksana Kondratyeva. Acid-etched, painted and fired glass, and wood. Solo Exhibition in Wells Cathedral, UK, 2019 | Photo courtesy: Oksana Kondratyeva

What drew you to working with glass?

Working with glass is similar to conducting an experiment with light on how it can transform space. I constantly dream of creating new spaces and realities. But I am not only creating it, I discover this space. Having architecture as a framework, I explore its potential.

Glass is such a powerful art medium. I aim to create glass art in architecture that would make people feel something special. I endeavour to create a special feeling, a resembling vibration, about every space I work with. This is very important to me.

Homes & Property article featuring Oksana
Stained Glass as Wall Art. Kondratyeva in her studio featured in the Homes and Property. Evening Standard. London, 2019

Can you tell us about any highlights from your career?

One of the most remarkable projects, I think, was a stained glass for Kingcombe, a quintessential Arts and Crafts building in the Cotswolds. Kingcombe was the home of a British designer Sir Gordon Russell, but also his ongoing experiment with space and materials. When I began to work with that space, it was a revelation. A macrocosm. Genius Loci. I treated the space as the artwork. A great deal of consideration was taken to establish the continuity between space and stained glass.

I regularly contribute to The Journal of Stained Glass, a publication dedicated exclusively to the research of stained glass, produced annually by the British Society of Master Glass Painters in London since 1924. I had the invaluable experience presenting my papers at international conferences and public institutions, including the University of Cambridge (UK), University of Lisbon (Portugal), British Society of Master Glass Painters, Art Workers' Guild, London (UK).

Other highlights were my solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Folk Decorative Art in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Wells Cathedral, perhaps one of England’s most poetic cathedrals. I was overwhelmed by the audience’s response – there was a constructive dialogue.

Photo of purple flower design
Dancing Stars. Stained glass in situ. Design and execution by Oksana Kondratyeva. Kingcombe, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, UK | Photograph: Leigh Glover

What advice would you give to recent graduates? 

Art, like science, is a language. It is the best way to reveal one’s mind and communicate ideas. At the same time, I believe that art can expand the frontiers of our knowledge, allowing us to move to a greater reality. Sir Roger Penrose, Nobel prize physicist contemplated in his latest book whether "fantasy can have any genuine role to play in our basic physical understanding? … it seems that this question cannot be dismissed as easily as might have been imagined".

I believe it should be a clear objective of all forms of art – it should be universally beautiful in a very broad way, not only aesthetically. We, artists and architects, take social responsibility – so one should be careful of what one leaves in this world.

Be a thinker and a dreamer, but don’t forget Labor omnia vincit.

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