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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 37, Page Two of Three


Page One:
Krasimir "Krasi&qot; Hristov
and His PYRONAISSANCE of Old Masters Works
Angelce Miskov Pyroengravings of Albrecht Dürer Works

Page Two:
Aleksis Ponze Gallegos--Autochthonous Themes of Peru
Grigoriy Tischenko Overcomes Great Challenges

Page Three:
Kids Corner--8-year-old Nina Govaerts Follows in Her Father's Footsteps
Anikó Hazafi--Works in Fire and Light
Michael Janson--In the Palace of Culture
Sonny Cain--A Tattoo Artist Tries Pyrography

Aleksis Ponze Gallegos--Autochthonous Themes of Peru

Seascape with Birds
by Aleksis Ponze Gallegos, 1998

Pyrography on White Pine wood panel, 42 cm. by 25 cm.,
After a photograph of Acapulco, Mexico by Alejandro Balaguer,
March-April 1997 issue of the magazine "Volando"

Image courtesy of the artist

A Few Little Boxes...

Peruvian artist Aleksis Ponze G. was born in the city of Juliaca in the province of Puno, called the folkloric capital of Peru for its rich heritage of music and dance. Since five years of age, he has been residing in the beautiful Spanish colonial city of Arequipa in the foothills of the Andes.

Peru is a country of fascinating contrasts, many of which Aleksis captures in the wide variety of themes on his wood panels and other works.

Aleksis is grateful to his father Efrén Ponze Záferson, himself a student of the fine arts, for passing on his love of art: "He was my first and best teacher," Aleksis says. Although he did drawings from little on, and used colored pencils, charcoal, and painted with tempera as a hobby, Aleksis was 20 years old when he finally discovered pyrography.

Quite by chance in 1990, among the many craft items he was browsing at a fair in Arequipa, Aleksis saw some little boxes with folk art decoration surrounding a central medallion framing a scene of Arequipa and its landmark volcano El Misti in the background. The work on the boxes was rustic, but the texturing was effective and the boxes interesting. Aleksis was intrigued.

He decided to question the vendor, who provided some answers about how the work was done, but he was not the artisan. Aleksis persisted and tracked down the artisan, Ernesto Puma, who turned out to be a kind and generous person and one Aleksis considers a friend to this day.

Tucan Stool with Jaguar Seat
by Aleksis Ponze Gallegos, 1997

Pyrography on the seat of an Olive Wood stool, 60 cm. high
carved as one piece from a tree trunk

Photograph of the piece by Alejandra Ponze Monroy
Image courtesy of the artist

A Lesson

For Ernesto, pyrography was no more than a sideline--something he did for a little extra money at the fairs. He worked with a handcrafted tool and a red hot point and was not concerned with subtleties. His results were uneven, as might be expected.

But he did show Aleksis what he knew and how he worked the tool, and that got Aleksis started. Aleksis applied his knowledge of drawing and to Ernesto's surprise, even with his first work tried with Ernesto's tool, the "student had surpassed the master."

Aleksis Ponze's handcrafted pyrotool and tips

Photograph by Alejandra Ponze Monroy

His Own Tool--Handcrafted

After a few experiments with Ernesto's tool over the next couple of years, Aleksis knew that it was time to get his own. He started looking for Ernesto's electrician first, then any electrician who could craft one for him. It is remarkable that he had never seen--nor was he able to find then or since--a commercial tool in Peru!

It took a lot of looking even to find an electrician who had an idea how to go about it. He finally found someone; however, Aleksis wasn't pleased with the result of his first commission--his new tool had the same problem that Ernesto's had--inadequate heat control where the tool would be too cold, then too hot.

The electrician, in a follow-up meeting with Aleksis, said he understood Aleksis' requirements and that he thought he could produce what he needed--but it would cost more. Aleksis agreed, and the second prototype (shown above) is the one Aleksis is still using today. However, this tool still did not have points.

Now for the Points--Nails!

Aleksis made the points himself according to Ernesto's instructions, originally four and now eight of different thicknesses that he works with. He uses simple nails 3 inches long and shapes a diagonal point to work across the wood for shading. He uses a fiberglass disk to shape the nails and reduce them to obtain the necessary thicknesses.

The handles that hold the nails are made of Cedar wood. They burn down with time; however, Aleksis has fixed them somewhat and says they work perfectly for him.

Two of the eight tips
that Aleksis uses today

Native of the Peruvian Jungle
by Aleksis Ponze Gallegos, 1997

Pyrography on White Pine wood panel, 21 cm. by 30 cm.,
After a photograph by Renzo Uccelli,
May-June 1996 issue of the magazine "Volando"

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Notes--On the Subject of Fading

Before I ever had seen Aleksis Ponze's works in pyrography, we had some lengthy dialogues, which began when he wrote asking anxiously about a solution for fading--no doubt having found me because of the 2-page article in WOM featuring Artist and Conservator Susan Millis who has spent years working on this very problem.

After that, my role in this dialogue was as a go-between--translating Aleksis' concerns to Susan from Spanish to English, translating from English to Spanish her reply to him including additional questions as to his modus operandi, then his information and again her comprehensive technical reply back to him.

As you may notice reading the captions for some of his images here, Aleksis has pyroengraved a significant amount of work on White Pine panels. Although many factors were explored, this turned out to be the single largest factor considered responsible in his case for the fading, as White Pine, in great part because it is highly resinous, is undesirable as a material for pyrography.

Plans are underway for Susan to continue experimenting with samples that Aleksis will provide.

Fountains in the Central Square of Arequipa
by Aleksis Ponze Gallegos, 2003

Pyrography on White Pine wood panel, 62 cm. by 42 cm.

Image courtesy of the artist

The Nineties

Aleksis estimates that during the nineties--when he was just doing pyrography on his own or on commission and giving away his works to friends in many cases--that he probably did some 200 works. He looks back now and regrets not having taken more pictures, but most of all he worries that many of those works, which went to other cities, may not have fared well in terms of fading.

Aleksis with his wife Marisol and little son Leonardo

Photograph by Alejandra Ponze Monroy

A Major Life Decision

It wasn't until 2002, some 12 years after Aleksis first discovered the technique of pyrography that he made an important decision. By profession, Aleksis is a high school Social Sciences teacher whose specialty is history.

That year he made the life-changing decision to study Studio Arts--seriously and professionally. And this year 2006 will be his fifth year studying toward that degree at the Saint Augustine National University of Arequipa (Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa).

Aleksis feels that he has found his true vocation in life, and after he graduates in 2007 he intends to dedicate himself solely to art.

University Life

His studies at the Art Department of the university have been very gratifying. He has been working in many techniques--painting in oil, pastels, and watercolor. Seeing his enthusiasm and talent, his professors have asked him where he has been hiding all these years. But what have most surprised his professors and his generally much younger classmates alike are the pyrography works he has shown them. This technique is unknown in academic and art circles. Their favorable reaction to his pyrographic works is what above all has been the most gratifying and encouraging for Aleksis.

With a Little Help From (New) Friends...

By the start of 2004, Aleksis found himself truly discouraged seeing how many of his works were deteriorating.

Thanks to the internet, he met some Spaniards who are also working in pyrography, notably Manu Pagola (featured here in WOM) and two others--Francisco Ruiz Peinado and José Lorente--who all offered advice and a lot of encouragement.

By 2005, he also found the E-Museum and finally Susan Millis, and he is once more encouraged that things are turning around and he can persevere.

Street and Old Church in Tomepampa
by Aleksis Ponze Gallegos, 1998

Pyrography on White Pine wood panel, 20 cm. by 15 cm.
After a photograph by Alejandro Balaguer,
July-August 1997 issue of the magazine "Volando"

Image courtesy of the artist

Two Group Exhibits

At the end of 2004, Aleksis had the opportunity to participate in two group exhibits at important art galleries in the city. Fortunately, their unifying theme had to do with the subject matter rather than the technique used. Amongst all the other works in oil, watercolor, and acrylics, there was one lone pyrography display.

His exhibit was such a novelty that it got a lot of attention, and as a result, Aleksis had many requests for a demonstration from classmates as well as professors, to which he acquiesced with great pleasure.

Aleksis pyroengraving a lion stool
similar to the tucan stool shown above

Photograph by Alejandra Ponze Monroy

Looking Ahead

As things stand now, Aleksis intends to graduate from the School of Art at the university with a thesis based on pyrography--that alone, he believes, would break with all convention.

Regarding his preference of subject matter, Aleksis says that it was never a problem choosing what he was going to pyroengrave. Because he did not learn in an artistic environment, beyond a personal preference for Andean and other local themes, he always chose images that appealed to him for their effects of light and shadow.

Nevertheless, because of his present academic formation, he intends to reorient his subject matter to shape a true personal voice, not only in his pyrography but in his painting and everything to do with his art. He does not know yet where that will take him nor in which direction. Everything is still in its formative stages.

Proposing a Thesis

The proposal for his thesis should be presented in 2007. "That will be the beginning of my reorientation," Aleksis says, "that will not abandon what I have been doing until now but rather will be nourished from it to bear new and different fruits."

Once more Aleksis asks for help from members of the pyrographic community, because he knows he is attempting to navigate uncharted territory here. He needs to establish a theoretical framework and a solid foundation for his choice of pyrography as a technique in order to graduate.

In the School of Art at the university there exist certain problems in considering pyrography a true means of artistic expression and not merely a craft. As he said earlier, he will have to break with convention and redefine certain conceptions about art and craft.

He looks forward with optimism to continuing his pyrography and growing artistically. This whole artistic experience, he feels, has been for him a rebirth--or to use Krasimir Hristov's word--a PYRONAISSANCE.

Final Notes

Aleksis has never read a book on pyrography. Except for his friend Ernesto who showed him the basic lines and dots of doing pyrography, Aleksis is practically self taught. Without outside reference, he intuitively did his pyrography based on his knowledge of drawing. He does not know whether or not he has developed a new technique, but he does heartily agree with Susan Millis who wrote at the end of her reply to him--this is indeed a "magic art."

As he so often does, Aleksis thinks once more of his father Efrén Ponze Záferson, looking down from heaven and seeing what he has accomplished thus far. "I learned everything from him," he says, "Sometimes I think it's not my hand that's drawing but his."


Aleksis has recently put his own web site--Pirograbados--on line at this link.

Visit the new Aleksis Ponze Gallegos salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Learn more about Puno, the Folkloric Center of Peru at this link. The historic central square of Aleksis Ponze's beloved Arequipa is pictured above. Arequipa (pronounced ah-ray-KEY-pah) is a Spanish colonial city, the second largest in Peru, and is known as the "white city" because it was built of a white volcanic stone found there.

Arequipa is located in the south of Peru in the Andes and is situated at the foot of a snow-capped volcano called El Misti. It boasts a mild climate and is said to have the best weather in all of Peru. Internationally famous writer Mario Vargas Llosa is from Arequipa. Link here to Wikipedia to learn about the famed Peruvian city of Arequipa.

Peru is the country where archeologists discovered pyroengraved gourds some thought to date back to 2000 B.C. Just like today, the gourds were used for drinking a tea called "mate" (pronounced MAH-tay). One ancient gourd is shown in a 1998 article in WOM on Antique Pyrography.

In the central part of Peru in the cities of Huancayo and Ayacucho, there are still artisans today who make these pyroengraved and incised mate gourds that are jewels of traditional art.

Grigoriy Tischenko Overcomes Great Challenges

by Grigoriy Tischenko, 2003

Pyrography on Birch plywood panel, 30 cm. by 50 cm.
Taking 21 days of work to complete

Image courtesy of the artist

A Difficult Start in Life

I learned about Ukrainian artist Grigoriy "Greg" Tischenko from his friend Vadim, who wrote on his behalf telling Greg's remarkable story and explaining the hardships that Greg has had to confront since birth.

Before Greg was born, it seemed that all was fine with his mother's pregnancy. He was born at full term, weighing more than 5 kilograms (12 pounds); unfortunately however, his hands were underdeveloped and bent backwards, and he could not bend his elbows or wrists.

Museum in the City of Guliapole
Where Grigoriy Tischenko's Exhibit Took Place

Greg Posing With His Work
On Display in the City Museum of Guliapole

Images courtesy of the artist

A Talent Discovered

Recently Greg's work was exhibited at the City Museum of Guliapole above. Getting to that success in his life has been a challenge indeed.

His father had abandoned the family when Greg was only five years old. Greg grew up living and studying at a special boarding school for handicapped children. Despite his challenges, he managed to learn to draw and write using both hands--his right hand holding the pencil and his left guiding his right--and by sitting on the top of his school desk and supporting his hands with his legs.

From early on, Greg's teachers noticed his artistic abilities and how he would draw on any scrap of paper he found. During his time there at boarding school, he experimented with different mediums--watercolor, gouache, and oil painting. He tried pyrography for the first time at age 12 under the direction of the creative arts teacher and realized that he liked working with wood best of all.

After completing his studies at boarding school in 1980, Greg took a course in painting ceramic ware. When that was done, he finally was able to move back to his home city of Guliapole.

With a Friend
by Grigoriy Tischenko

Pyrography on Birch plywood panel, 80 cm. by 60 cm.
Taking 83 days of work to complete

Image courtesy of the artist

A Career and Family

Greg worked hard and found a way to make a good life for himself and his wife Oksana and their two boys Oleg and Denis. He mastered engraving on glass, metal, and granite, and has been earning his living doing that, painting in various mediums, as well as carving on commission and making specialty furniture pieces.

In recent years Greg became focused on artistic pyrography. Greg's wife Oksana--his biggest fan and best critic--supports him in this endeavor.

Grigoriy Tischenko in His Workshop

Grigoriy Tischenko in His Workshop
Close-up showing how Greg adapts to his special needs in order to produce a work in pyrography.
He uses his right foot to control the dial on his very old pyrotool (shown in close-up below).
He uses his right hand to hold the woodburning pen while guiding his right hand with his left hand.
He moves his hands with support from his legs.

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Aspects

As Vadim explained, Greg is unique. He is an extraordinary artist, who has adapted to his limitations by training himself to write, draw, and now even burn his drawings on wood panels by supporting his deformed hands with his legs, as you can observe in the picture above showing him at work on his pyrography. Notice that he simultaneously works his pyrotool dial using his right foot.

According to Vadim, despite all the adaptations Greg goes through, and how difficult it is to draw and shade even with a pencil, he works with a pyrotool like everybody else's (in fact, his is even a much older one--see a close-up below) and he is equally capable of drawing and shading with his pyrotool as he is with a pencil--achieving all the same tones and nuances of tone in his pyrography except that in pyrography the tones are in sepia contrasted against the natural whites of his wood panel.

Not only Oksana, Vadim writes, but all the people who see Greg's work--unable to hide their delight--remark on how beautifully drawn his pyrographs are.

Grigoriy Tischenko's Pyrography Tool

Image courtesy of the artist

Concern From a Friend

Vadim wrote very highly of his friend, saying that Greg is an honest and good person. He explains that even though Greg's family survives thanks to his selling beautiful handmade pictures, by nature he is such a generous person that he often gives his works as presents to his friends. Vadim fears that perhaps Greg's pictures are not sufficiently appreciated because people don't realize just how much goes into the making of one of these works.

To the City Museum of Guliapole, Greg presented a portrait of Former President of the Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and his wife (see picture below).

Vadim's preoccupation stems from the fact that he is concerned for his friend, whose father has been out of his life since he was five years old, whose mother died eleven years ago, and who now has for family only a younger brother that he can count on for help in supporting his wife and children and furthering his career.

Grigoriy Tischenko at Home with his Wife Oksana,
And Sons Oleg and Denis

Image courtesy of the artist

A New Career Path

Greg has a special feeling for pyrography and really puts his heart and soul into this work. For two years now, despite principally making his living in other ways, he has had the dream of working in pyrography and also publishing a how to book on pyrography for middle school children, teenagers, and professionals.

This remarkable man has now turned his attention and dedication to this new direction in his life. He has set his sights on pyrography and is determined to succeed. According to Vadim, once Greg makes a decision, he never gives up.

On the Occasion of the Presentation
of the Portrait by Grigoriy Tischenko
of the Former President of the Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and Mrs. Kuchma
to the City Museum of Guliapole

Pyrography on Birch plywood panel, 80 cm. by 60 cm.
Taking 75 days to complete

Image courtesy of the artist


See the Kuchma portrait and more about Greg's works in the Grigoriy Tischenko Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Grigoriy Tischenko's picture album is at www.picjar.com/pub/Nataliya/Artist_Grigoriy_Tischenko/.

Where Grigoriy went to boarding school was in the town of Tsyurupynsk in the province (oblast) called Kherson, in the south of The Ukraine. His own city of Guliapole is in a different province. It is called Zaporizhia and neighbors Kherson to the east. Learn more about The Ukraine and its 24 provinces (oblasti) at Wikipedia, linked here.

Paisanas Piuranas
by Aleksis Ponze G.
(After a photograph
by Alejandro Balaguer,
Sept.-Oct. 1997 issue
of the magazine "Volando")

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2006, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.