The Female Gaze in Violetta Melnikova’s Porcelain Dolls

porcelain dolls

Violetta Melnikova’s hand-sculpted porcelain dolls are “an ode to the beauty of everything that it is to be a woman.”

All art undergoes transformations, and your childhood memories of porcelain dolls will forever be altered thanks to Russian-born artist Violetta Melnikova. With hand-sculpted, ball-jointed porcelain dolls she has subverted the norm by creating dolls that take on intimate meanings, expressions and alternate realities — that are clearly not intended for children.

In fact, that’s why Melnikova once refused to sell a doll to a customer.

“I can refuse to sell a doll or painting or other art object, but not because I love it too much — more to protect pieces that I have invested so much time and soul into from irresponsible owners that have no understanding of keeping collectible pieces,” she confided to me. “Once I refused to sell a doll that a customer wanted to buy for a child as a present, for specifically this reason — this is not a toy, it’s a collectible art object, same as a sculpture or painting, preferably kept under glass, protected.”

oneofthosemornings - porcelain dollsTaking a final moment to yourself before starting the day.

I understand the protectiveness Melnikova has for the porcelain dolls she creates, given that it can take six months to finish a doll because of the painstaking care and detail she gives each one.

A Self-Taught Passion

Melnikova is a multitalented artist. She began her artistic work as a painter and then taught herself other disciplines. After she saw a limited-edition Asian ball-jointed doll, Melnikova’s passion to create something similar took hold.

“My mind was blown away by those dolls. I spent months looking for any information about ball-jointed dolls and came across tutorials, art doll forums, bought plenty of books and magazines for doll artists and started trying different types of techniques,” she recalled.

Starting with air-drying clays, she made armature-based dolls, but her ultimate goal was to create porcelain, ball-jointed dolls.

“Porcelain has it all,” she explained. “It is delicate and extremely resistant at the same time. I was looking for material that will not be affected by sun, weather, humidity or time… [Its] delicateness, transparency and sense of luxury always made porcelain special. Material that requires complete dedication and concentration, often unpredictable when inside the firing kiln, very complicated in processing — all of it makes a porcelain doll precious in its own way.”

redhilda - porcelain dollsRed Hilda is inspired by women with red hair, dark wave music from the ’80s and ’90s, Impressionist colors and details, Baroque art, witches…and a famous ’60s pinup model whom she is named after.

She also wanted the porcelain dolls to last so they could be passed down to future generations, just as they were originally created — unlike polyurethane dolls that are meant to be touched and played with.

“[I] realized that aspect of playing with the doll does not interest me,” she said. “I do not even want to think that somebody would change the costume or hair of a doll made by me; that is often the most fun part for an owner of polyurethane dolls…to cocreate the piece…by customizing its hair, eyes, clothing and so on.

“I see my doll as a completely finished art object, like a painting or sculpture, and the idea of somebody changing it is as terrifying for me as it is for a painter if a painting would be ‘fixed’ by its new owner.”

It took Melnikova four to five years before she managed to make a completely balanced porcelain, ball-jointed doll that was able to hold humanlike poses, and by using metal-based glazes that are fired on porcelain in very high temperatures, she eliminates the possibility of her work being altered.

crystalclearmindthea - porcelain dollsDecorated with porcelain flowers, a skull and natural quartz crystals from the Peruvian Andes, Crystal Clear Mind Thea helps to calm the mind with a tender, soft, sensitive and passionate presence made for the bedroom.

The process took control of her life.

“This was an exhausting process, as there was no opportunity to join a course or class, so I was researching by myself; trying, failing, throwing a few months of work into the trash and starting all over again,” she said. “At that time dolls took over my life completely. I stopped painting for a few years…and dedicated myself full-time to doll making.”

Her hard work and dedication are evident and correlate to what came first: painting.

From Painting to Porcelain Dolls

Melnikova’s paintings focus on women and their connections with nature, animals, the self and even death. She draws inspiration from places she’s visited, experiences she encountered, relationships and people’s stories. There is a spirituality to Melnikova’s paintings, drawn from learning indigenous traditions, connecting with shamanic work and walking the sacred Native American Red Road.

womanheart - porcelain dollsA painting by Violetta Melnikova.

“In many of my paintings you can find reflections of ceremonies I have been through, ancient ceremonies like vision quest, time spent fasting alone in the forest for many long days, sweat lodge, medicinal plant ceremonies and so on… I did a lot of work with traditional medicines of the Amazon jungle and other regions, like ayahuasca and other power plants, and went through near-death (or near-life) experiences in different contexts, that unavoidably are reflected in my paintings,” she explained.

The following painting reflects on the nine days she spent fasting and praying on a mountain:

womancondor - porcelain dollsA woman looks out at a condor from a mountaintop.

The ethereal quality to Melnikova’s paintings may also be seen in her dolls. The femininity, unsteady provoking gazes and attention-grabbing erotic body compositions in a two-dimensional frame are brought to life in the dolls. A mysticism of the female form and the secrets that lurk inside the female mind are present, hidden from reach.

womancrystals - porcelain dollsA painting by Violetta Melnikova.

A Female Gaze

The embodiment of the female spirit in an honest, unapologetic way is evident in Melnikova’s dolls. She manages to communicate what cannot be said with words, and the sensuality and erotic nature found in the dolls come naturally.

“Of course being a woman gives a specific perspective to the picture perceived by a female artist, digging deeper into the darkness of hidden emotions, things that are often not spoken out loud, our secrets, everything we, women, keep in silence,” she said.

funkyclaire - porcelain dollsClaire brings a unique flair to the funk scene; she was inspired by dreamy space sounds and sweet vocals.

By creating the dolls from porcelain or air-drying clay with papier-mâché, wood, wire and/or silk components, with movable joints that make it possible for her to position them in a variety of poses — standing, lying down, sitting or even bent over — Melnikova is able to further express her study of the “mystery of the feminine.” And what it means to be “a woman in this world” beyond what could be construed in a canvas frame.

ginger - porcelain dollsGinger reflects how fairies would look in a steampunk future.

Her work is open to interpretation, and Melnikova does not consider herself “the complete owner” of what she creates. It is the viewer who ultimately decides what connection they will draw.

“I do not try to make any kind of social statement, only a mirror for things that already are, looking for beauty in things we often do not want to face, looking inside myself, being a reflection of and for the women of this planet,” she said.

“My work is simply an ode to the beauty of everything that it is to be a woman.”

ashan - porcelain dollsAshan, with her pointy ears, long braids, colorful wings and delightful crown, makes running off to the forest to live among elves a very intriguing idea.

The creativity Melnikova exhibits in her porcelain dolls is extensive. With every detail, she creates expressive female figures that pierce the subconscious. It only makes sense then that they are safe in private collections, in a gallery or on display at a doll show, and available only through custom order. end

All photos by Violetta Melnikova and used with permission.












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