22 Marina Bychkova
"I make dolls because I long for wholeness. I want it all or nothing."
Marina Bychkova is an Ukrainian-Canadian doll maker who has created Enchanted Dolls, her own brand of incredibly detailed, luxury, posable miniatures. These dolls are not for children, each is a unique, handcrafted masterpiece involving a dozen different skills sets from sculpting, engineering, painting, engraving, fashion design, sewing, embroidery, hair styling, jewelry making, miniature furniture making, and mold making - all of which she does herself. A single doll can take years to complete. She says on her website:
From what I understand, Marina's own personal creations are all made of fine porcelain, that she carefully molds and sculpts herself. She also has a line of resin dolls which, I believe (from what I've seen on Youtube), she sells as a kit for other artists to customize themselves. Getting a doll is quite challenging and expensive. When Marina finishes a doll, it goes to auction, and her latest one (that I know of), Madame De Pompadour, sold for over $80,000.
'Little Red Riding Hood'
Marina has exhibited across Canada, America, in Germany and in Russia, and her works have won awards in both Russia and Canada, most recently earning the Masterpiece Doll Award at the 2012 Int. Doll Salon in Moscow. She is highly sought after, to the point where (according to her website) she no longer accepts commissions. I believe her last commission was a wedding gift to the Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. Marina has been featured in many books and magazines, such as Doll World Magazine (naturally) and Dolly Japan, but also Vogue, Maxim, and countless others. She also has an online forum for devoted fans of her work.
Marina was born in Ukraine. According to Mercedes Grundy (CBC, 2016) she made her first doll from the back of a cereal box when she was six. Marina talks about her childhood in this interview with 'Baz' (Pop Culture of Destruction, 2009):
"I don’t believe that any single, early life experience with dolls is responsible for my intense interest in making them. I think I was born with some sort of sensibility that manifested in this particular and a rather peculiar way, and then was further shaped and channeled by a multitude of factors in my upbringing. Some of my earliest memories were of beautiful dolls that didn’t exist anywhere but my head, so I was forced to try and make them because I was desperate to play with them. It took thousands of tries to get what I wanted and I’ve been chasing that dream of a perfect doll ever since.
"There was one, rather sad experience when I was seven, that criminalized my creative interests in the eyes of my grandmother and possibly affected the form of my creative expression forever. I had cut out a silhouette of a beautiful, naked woman from a neo-classical painting published in an art magazine and made it into a doll. She was beautiful with her smooth curves, fair skin and raven hair, holding a gold arrow in one hand and a blood red apple in the other. She was my secret, but one day my grandmother discovered her hiding place and was scandalized that I would dare to play with a naked doll or that I would even dare to find a naked woman beautiful for that matter. I never saw her again after that day, but her image has been imprinted into my mind ever since as the perfect beauty."
'The Princess & The Pea'
At some point Marina moved to Vancouver... In 2001 she began studying at the Emily Carr Inst. of Art & Design in Vancouver. That same year she won two scholarships and the Davies Int. Award for Visual Art. She earned her BFA in 2006. She also took several courses from the Vancouver School Board (VSB) on jewelry making, enamel painting, wax casting, and stone setting.
Marina sculpts primarily young women from fairy tales, each with her own unique vision, and a bit of a feminist twist. Each is a commentary on traditional 'old world' views of feminine beauty and virtue - which the dolls themselves seem to scoff at. Like, why is it each of these stories includes details about how beautiful the girl was? How is that relevant to Red Riding Hood being chased by a wolf or Cinderella stuck at home sweeping? Was that all the good prince saw in her? You can imagine these dolls rolling their eyes at their own stories, and they actually could, with Marina's ingenious construction methods. Although delicate, each doll possesses an inner strength and sense of character, which Marina expertly portrays in a variety of poses, made possible by her sophisticated system of fabrication. Marina talks about her dolls on her website:
"More than mere playthings, Enchanted Dolls are elegantly sculpted and articulated works of art. Strikingly nude, engraved or adorned in opulent sculptural costumes of precious metals, gemstones, and rare found objects, each doll intricately conveys an aspect of our humanity. Unique and delicate, their forms evoke a strong emotional response, haunting us with their vulnerability. All at once innocent and sexual, Enchanted Dolls depict highly stylized images of femininity, while at the same time reflecting on life’s playful naiveté."
'The Weight of Light'
She explains in more detail (Baz, 2009):
"I’m interested in juxtaposing binary opposites within my dolls: beauty and ugliness, love and violence, eroticism and repulsion. Most of the dolls out there are just plain happy or expressionless and that’s what makes them hollow and one-dimensional. Giving dolls attributes that are not traditionally associated with dolls, gives them an existence beyond the realm of toys to which they have been confined for centuries.
"Creating an unexpected element within something familiar and common is a ‘trick’ I learned in art school. Approaching a traditional and a highly decorative craft of doll making from a conceptual standpoint only makes the objects more thought provoking. I’ve come to really value my five-year training in conceptual art because it had nothing whatsoever to do with dolls or learning any particular set of skill or techniques. It was all about thinking, challenging accepted notions of art, channeling creative impulses into unconventional ways of expression and developing creative thought processes. It was very frustrating at the time because a lot of the time I felt that I wasn’t achieving anything significant. It was all scattered and all over the place. It’s only now becoming apparent how much I actually learned. My dolls wouldn’t be the same today if I hadn’t gotten an art education."
Although not shown here, many of Marina's dolls are nude, and all are anatomically complete. Marina explains that the way dolls are usually presented, as asexual, can create a sense of body shaming in girls that she dislikes. It reminds me of a quote from my professor, Stephen Locke at Mass Art. He said children can see people getting killed on TV, but they can't see a breast.
Making her dolls fully posable is extremely important. Marina says (Baz, 2009):
". . . I don’t play with dolls in a conventional sense of the word. I handle them constantly, yes, because I work on or with them all the time, but I have no interest in playing with them. It’s difficult to explain and may come as a shock to you, but in general I don’t really care about dolls that much, they are just vehicles for creative exploration with intriguing possibilities to me. My mission objective in life is showing people that dolls, when pushed beyond the boundaries of their traditional aesthetic, can be fine art.
"Interaction of my dolls with their owners is of the uttermost importance to me and that is why I go to incredible lengths in developing highly articulated joints while keeping to the realistic anatomy of the human body as much as possible. It’s a real challenge trying to seamlessly integrate the joints into the natural body lines because ultimately, they are a visual disruption regardless of the fact that I find them strikingly beautiful.
"But at the same time they allow for a doll to come to life and therefore a careful balance between appearance and function must be negotiated. I don’t believe in static dolls that don’t move. They don’t deserve to be called dolls because they are nothing more than clothed figurines and people who make them don’t deserve to be called doll artists because they don’t make dolls. Yeah, I said it!"
'Agnetha, The Other Woman'
Marina talks about the process of sculpting in porcelain in this blog post:
"I decided to up the challenge a little by working more detail into the hands and feet than I’ve ever done before. Up to this point I chose not to carve my dolls’ fingernails or toenails, but paint them on instead because in greenware state the porcelain is still as soft and crumbly as a shortbread cookie; It’s prone to breaking at the lightest pressure of a needle point….or a gentle breath of a pixie…or even just from looking at it a little too hard. In fact, most hands and feet almost never survive high detailing intact, and I end up having to reattach at least 2 or more fingers with raw porcelain slip and then fuse them together during high-temp firing. Index fingers are most vulnerable for some reason. Somehow, I managed not to break a single finger on this hand, while the other one needed 3 finger reattachment surgeries. I must have looked at it a little too hard."
'Alice in Wonderland'
Marina tested her limits with one of her latest dolls, titled the Marquise de Pompadour (not shown here due to nudity). She talks about the process and frustrations in this blog post:
"Having been blessed with a good eyesight (thanks dad!), I’d always scoffed at the idea of working under magnification, even though I suspected it would have been helpful for the small scale of my dolls. But working with bare eyes was a source of pride for me and I stubbornly refused to accept any artificial optic assistance before it was absolutely medically necessary for me to wear glasses. I was such a fool. I had no idea what I was missing. Getting a magnifier a year ago gave the ability to engrave the finest micro tattoos I never imagined possible. It instantly upped my skills and unlocked a new difficulty level in this doll-making game. I’m playing on hard mode now. And loving the results.
"This doll, Marquise de Pompadour, is my first doll tattooed entirely under a magnifier. Because of that, she features the most advanced tattoo engravings ever seen on Enchanted Dolls, that took almost a year to engrave. If I wasn’t feeling slightly unhinged from all that tattooing (at the moment), I’d be giddy with joy at the sight of this little French beauty.
"This doll is some piece of work….and not in the most positive way right now. She’s been trying my skills and pushing the outer boundaries of my patience. Some dolls are ‘born’ easily from my hand, almost effortlessly sometimes – but not this one. This one’s been challenging me on almost daily basis, daring me to be better and to evolve past my comfortable place. At least once a week I have to fight down a strong urge to hurl it out of my window, and cackle maniacally as I watch it shatter on the pavement below. In fact, I kinda feel this way right now, so I’m taking a little time-out from work for some complaining therapy."
On the topic of inspiration, Marina says (Baz, 2009):
"It’s impossible to be completely original, because ultimately what we make is based on what we already know. On some level, everything’s already been done and we simply expand on those concepts. Inevitably, everybody is influenced by something else and my own work borrows from, references and cross-references, is inspired and enriched by a multitude of other sources constantly. I can’t possibly draw the line and say exactly where somebody else’s ideas end and my own begin and to what extent it colors my work because most of that borrowing is done subconsciously. I see something that intrigues me and convert and adapt it to my own style of creative expression without even being aware of it most of the time.
"What I can say for certain is that I don’t often look to other dolls for inspiration but to other mediums instead, such as illustration, traditional and contemporary painting, sculpture and industrial design. I try to broaden my learning and inspirational horizons as much as possible in order to create effective, exciting and unexpected results when those foreign concepts are applied to my own work."
'Cindarella of the North'
'Lady Elizabeth Bathory'
'The Bride of Frankenstein'
'The Princess & The Frog' (detail)