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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 inconsequential.

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 by modernism.

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 and soul.

Tried, tested and true. Imperishable? Perhaps.

Oleg Sydor-Hibelynda

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