WAYS OF LIBERTY
The reality for realism is one of change.
Throughout the 20th Century it was appreciated,
applauded and acclaimed, whilst also being analyzed
and argued about as the introduction of new ways
served to alter perceptions and views as to what
makes «good art.»
There has and will probably always be differing
standpoints as to the ideologies of what art should
be, but there is a common acknowledgement of the
significance and importance of the phenomenon
originating in the 17th Century at least; the paintings
of Rembrandt. Some speak of even late antiquity in
early Egyptian Dynasties.
It is undisputable that during the last century realism
has been overthrown from the artistic pedestal by
critics who put it there in the first place. For instance,
Pablo Picasso’s painting, «The Guernica» — one of
his researchers Dunaev wrote it as, «some unusually
expressive forms of realism».
Now finding merit in everything different and
covering anything worth the slightest attention, the
end of the period was marked by a trend contrary
to realism, called avant-garde or modernism.
For the Ukraine at this time there was Vasiliy
Kandinskiy in Odessa and Kazimir Malevich in Kiev.
Differing in outlook, one a traveller looking to
broaden horizons and the other a homebody, they
both produced acclaimed work. Malevich perhaps the
most inspirational, known to return to the Ukraine
in times of trouble, this resulted in a catalogue of
creative work which has led to several generations
of marvelous artists from the Lethe Waters.
For more than half a century realistic style
dominated, having taken over as all powerful and
now equipped with the political label — socialist,
it appealed to the masses. However, such an official
advantage only disserved the arts as they continued
to develop in their own creative way — a way of
unplanned freedom, it was truly destined.
With realism deprived of this state support it proved
an unexpected gain to style. Having lost in terms of
external expansion, it won in the perspective of the
deeper, inner search and having shaken a bid to
discredit, it progressed to the experimental, seemingly
unnatural to the style.
From the other side, having found itself at a dead
end during the late 70’s, modernism also had recourse
in a «post» mode. In reality this opened the door for
the re-entry of realism, but this was not fully
acknowledged at the time and as such proved
Maximilian Voloshyn, a descendant of Zaporozhye
Cossacks was right in mentioning by example
Vasiliy Surikov, the classic Itinerant: «Sometimes a
realist painter started his stories in a manner one
could think a visionary was talking.» Extremes do
not simply meet each other, they are attracted to
one another and so «magic realism» or «boundless
realism» are spoken of.
Kazimir Malevich, an abstract artist, gratefully
recalled lessons by Mykola Pymonenko, as the
contemporary, one of The Pictorial Reserve leaders,
Anatoliy Kryvolap. He often referred to and recalled
the strong professional school of Victor Puzyrkov.
Curiously enough the Western World did not fully
recognize the achievements of Ukrainian artistic
genius in the realistic form at first. Beginning in
1956, Tetyana Yablonska exhibited at the Venice Biennale
at least three times, including twice his picture
«Khlib» («Grain») without much fuss. In
contrast, Architectonics by Malevich was bought by
organizers of the Soviet official exposition in 1924. His
pictures later emerged in this context in late 70’s
and now beyond intentions of the authorities.
Works of Ukrainian realism were regarded as too
characteristic in features abandoned by the «older
allies» long ago and there was a desire to bring
forward the new, to celebrate the triumphs of the
present, in a Soviet context at least.
By the end of 40’s and as a consequence of post-war
starvation, the Ukrainians received an unforeseen
and surprising recognition at the Moscow Exhibition
Arena. Similar happened forty years later in 1986,
again at Moscow as part of the «Youth of the Country»
where attention to the public’s enjoyment of the
paintings by the young Ukrainian trans-avant-garde
representatives. Several were in fact direct
descendants or even sons of the Ukrainian realism
classic who bestowed «precious pearl» of the
handicraft core to the youngsters...
Today they both are willingly purchased at prestige
auctions like those held by Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
Sadly, the exact identity of the original Ukrainian
artists is not always clearly defined, but that fact does
not take any merit from the work itself. Nor does it
change the principle that native art gradually wins
a spectator’s attention universally. Museums and
galleries the world over are testament to this.
Today a provocative statement can be made as to the
definite and resolute cutback of the avant-garde
sector within private collections of America and Europe,
in favor of Realism.
Many have talked about the apparent lack of
orderly academic education in the West that seems
to survive in some places of the former Soviet Union,
namely the Ukraine.
Whether this is significant or whether the absence of
outstanding realistic persons in the art-terrain of
«old Europe» is a reality is hard to say. However,
names such as Renato Guttuso and Luc Tuymans of
Belgium can generally contest this theory.
The fact is that ideologies differ, as cultures do.
Many would argue that realistic thinking is not the
way of the West, but for everyone who says that
there will be a Westerner to disprove the theory, just
like Guttuson and Tuyman disprove theirs.
What we do know is that in Ukraine there is a
creativity that comes from within. When the mist
clears away, when the scale falls from the eyes,
then there is a clear obvious dominance of realistic
vision that remains. It is like a jolly bustle, where
wild whirlwind rules, shuffling genius and wastrels,
classics and marginal men...
The beginning of the 21st Century sees realism
with another chance. Maybe it is not a chance
that was dreamt about centuries ago, but it is a
chance nonetheless. A chance that can serve as
an outlet to the thirsty soul of those disillusioned
Ukrainian realism presents a new era. There are
dangers that wait, however, but none are likely
to be insurmountable. One such hurdle may be
its competition with classic heritage or the contrast
with the self-sufficient innovators of the modern
era, but realism has always had a way of holding
the focus of the spectator, through their heart
Tried, tested and true. Imperishable? Perhaps.