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Folk painters of the Pryimachenky family pass their talents and art from generation to generation
“I love things Ukrainian above anything else.
Take Ukrainian embroideries, for example —
their design and patterns have come down
to us from very distant times in the past, they
are so beautiful. You won’t find anything like
traditional Ukrainian embroidery anywhere else in the world.”
Mariya Pryimachenko (1908–1997) remains one of the best known Ukrainian “naive” folk artists who belong to the so called “naive” school of painting.
Naive art — work of artists in sophisticated societies who lack or reject conventional expertise in the representation or depiction of real objects. Naive artists are not to be confused with hobbyists, or “Sunday painters,” who paint for fun. The naive artists create with the same passion as the trained artists but without the latters formal knowledge of methods.
Naive works are often extremely detailed, and there is a tendency toward the use of brilliant, saturated colours rather than more subtle mixtures and tones. There is also a characteristic absence of perspective, which creates the illusion that figures are anchored in the space, with the result that figures in naive paintings are often “floating.”
The most frequently reproduced examples of naive art are the works of the French artist Henri Rousseau, whose portraits, jungle scenes, and exotic vegetation are widely admired. Rousseau’s paintings, like many others of this genre, convey a sense of frozen motion and deep, still space, and the figures are always shown either full face or in fairly strict profile (the naive painter rarely conceals much of a face and almost never portrays a figure completely from the back). Many naive painters and sculptors project their intensity and passion through the figures. The appreciation of naive art has been a fairly recent phenomenon: many of the living artists never expected their work to be so eagerly collected. By the mid-20th century most developed nations had naive artists who had risen to some prominence. While some naive painters consider themselves professional artists and seek public recognition of their work, others refuse to exhibit for profit and paint only for their families or for religious institutions.
Mariya Pryimachenko was born in the village of Bolotnya in the Land of Kyivshchyna. Her son Fedir, who is also a folk artist, still lives in her house in that village. There has been little change in her native place since she died. Mariya Pryimachenko’s grandchildren have followed in their grandmother’s footsteps and create their own art, freely borrowing from her style. Their works are inspired by traditional Ukrainian folk art and are full of symbolism.
The roots of Mariya Pryimachenko’s art lie in the traditions of Ukrainian folk art. She was flesh of the flesh and blood of the blood of rural life, as ancient as Ukraine itself. But she brought into her art her own fantasies, love and wisdom. She transformed into paint and embroidery the smells of peasant cooking, the melodies of peasant songs, the beauty of the rural landscape, and the sounds of wild and domesticated animals.
“It all began like this,” reminisced the artist. “Once, as a young girl, I was tending a gaggle of geese. When I got with them to a sandy beach, on the bank of the river, after crossing a field dotted with wild flowers, I began to draw real and imaginary flowers with a stick on the sand… Later, I decided to paint the walls of my house using natural pigments. After that I’ve never stopped drawing and painting.”
Neighbours saw the painted walls, praised the young girl and asked her to paint the walls of their houses as well. She did. It was the first step to a general recognition of her talent.
Her parents encouraged the girl to go ahead with practicing her art. Her father, Oksent, was a master carpenter who put all of his versatile ingenuity even in fences he made, decorating them with carvings. Her mother, Paraska, was very good at embroidery. Mariya learnt to do exquisite needlework at an early age and the shirts she embroidered were in high demand. The artistic talents must have been passed in the Pryimachenko family from generation to generation.
But in Mariya’s life there was a tragic element — because of an illness or of a problem she was born with, she could hardly walk, and could not join other children in playing boisterous games or just in happy running around the fields. It made the girl more concentrated on her inner world; she was observant, she listened to nature, she watched nature around her, she noticed things that others did not see. She was very perceptive and persevering, and did not succumb to depression that her partial disability could have caused at her later age.
She knew love, she was married, but her husband was killed in the Second World War at the front. Her son Fedir always stayed at her side — a disciple, a friend, help and assistant.
In 1935, the artist was invited to come to Kyiv and work at the art shop at the Kyiv Museum of Ukrainian Folk Art. There she met other talented folk artists – Ivan Honchar, Tetyana Pata, Paraska Vlasenko, Natalka Vovk and others. Her paintings began to be exhibited and her fame spread across Ukraine. In more recent years, exhibitions of her works were held not only in Ukraine but in the capitals and major cities of foreign countries as well — Warsaw, Paris, Montreal, Prague, Moscow and Beijing.
Years of constant work perfected her techniques and brought sophistication to her art but it nevertheless remained what it originally was — “naive” in the best traditions of such art. In addition to paintings, she created artistic embroideries in various styles and decorative ceramics too.
The Museum of Ukrainians Folk and Decorative Arts in Kyiv boasts many art works created by Mariya Pryimachenko, ceramics included. Another ceramics artist Yakym Herasymenko gave her his creations to be painted and she gladly did, decorating Herasymenko’s earthenware with her wonderful and colourful designs — stylized and fabulous animals, plants and flowers. Animals were of quite unexpected colours and you could see chequered crocodiles crawling on the strawberry leaves.
Mariya Pryimachenko also sought inspiration in legends, fairy tales and folk songs. No matter how unusual or even bizarre some of her paintings were the artist never wavered from the artistic traditions inherited from the past which she developed in the directions her talent and whim took her. Soviet art historians and critics had a problem of squeezing her art into the narrow niche of Socialist Realism — Pryimachenko’s art did not want to fit into the soviet art dogmas. But the artist did not pay much attention to what the art critics said — she just went on creating her art.
She was under pressure to move to Kyiv for good — it would be easier to control and direct her but she refused to move, staying in her village. “How could I move to town away from the frogs and birds and their songs? I am not fit to live in a city. I must be surrounded by the harmony of nature. I want to walk barefoot on the grass and soil — but how can you walk barefoot on the asphalt? Or smell those fragrances that a dewy morning brings? No, I stay put in my house and in my native village,” she said, rejecting all the attempts to lure her to Kyiv.
Incidentally, her native village is situated only thirty kilometres from Chernobyl which became so widely and notoriously known after a nuclear disaster at the nuclear power station there in 1986. One can’t help wishing that was not Chernobyl that made Ukraine so painfully known to the world but the art of the Pryimachenko family.
In this issue of our magazine we publish several reproductions of Mariya Pryimachenko’s art together with art works of her son Fedir. It would be pointless to describe and explain in words what you, our readers, can see and enjoy yourselves.
These two artists have created an amazing world, recognizable and yet mythical, perfect in its own inner harmony. True art does not need explanations.
By Mariya VLAD
Photographs of paintings
by Mykhaylo Andreyev
I Was Tending My Horse
Zeber from the Marshes of Polissya
Vanya Is Harrowing
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