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Petrykivka style of painting and its prominent exponent Tetyana Pata
The “Petrykivka Style of Painting” is a remarkable artistic phenomenon of Ukrainian culture, and a characteristic feature of Ukrainian decorative folk art. Tetyana Pata is one of the leading exponents of this style.
There are many phenomena of folk art in Ukrainian culture, which make this culture unique and original among other cultures of the world — Kosiv ceramics, rugs from Podillya, embroidered towels and shirts created in all parts of Ukraine are among them. A place of honour among these artistic phenomena is taken by paintings created in the village of Petrykivka, in the land of Dnipropetrovshchyna.
Styles of painting similar to that of Petrykivka were once called “magic realism” or even “the greater realism” (a term coined by the prominent non-figurative artist Vasiliy Kandinskiy) and are part of what is usually called “primitive folk art,” though there is nothing really primitive in this art. “Primitive” artists usually have no formal art education and they create without any constraints of the “academic” rules of art.
“Magic realism” carries us back in time when the human mind was moved to conquer the reality of the exterior world in terms of art. The Petrykivka style of painting is a very poetic view of the world around us, or rather it is a world in itself, a world which is free to interpret the usual things in a very unusual manner.
Tradition has it that Petrykivka was founded by a group of Ukrainian Cossacks in the eighteenth century and it so happened that soon after its foundation, the village, for some mysterious reasons, began to attract people with artistic gifts who came to settle down there. It is difficult, or almost impossible to tell now what the very first paintings created in Petrykivka looked like, but we can make an educated guess basing our conclusions on the surviving paintings of more recent times, and on the art of Petrykivka of today.
As a matter of fact, thanks to the watercolours painted by Ye. Evenbakh in 1911 and 1913, we have a pretty good idea what the Petrykivka decorative paintings looked like in earlier times. In the interior, the stove (or rather, pich, which in Ukrainian peasant houses served several purposes — for cooking food, for providing warmth in cold seasons, and for resting on it; the pich had a horizontal section like a large shelf, on which one could sleep), was particularly lavishly decorated.
Early decorative paintings in Petrykivka were mostly murals on the walls of the peasants’ houses rather than easel paintings. The folk poetic interpretation of the surrounding world was and is at the basis of the Petrykivka paintings. Stylized flowers and guilder-rose are among the most popular motifs of the murals with even regular thistles and other weeds featuring rather prominently in the paintings. Murals decorated not only the walls of the houses, both inside and outside, but also the walls of barns and sheds, thus creating a decorative ensemble within individual households.
In all likelihood, for a considerable length of time, paintings decorated only the walls before they began to be done on other materials — paper, wood panels or canvas. Mineral pigments were used for making paints and instead of brushes short lengths of reed stocks, twigs or even fingers were used to apply the paint onto the primed walls, the primer mostly being a thin layer of clay. Egg-based paints were used in later times to do paintings on paper.
Three colours were predominant — red, yellow (or yellow-green), and dark blue.
It would be wrong to assume that it was only in the village of Petrykivka that such painting flourished — decorative paintings of a very similar style could — and still can — be found in many other villages of Ukraine. The local styles differ in certain details but they all preserve a number of basic elements and features that makes it possible to recognize them as belonging to one and the same basic style, which was given the name of Petrykivka painting.
Tetyana Pata (1884–1976), one of the outstanding representatives of the Petrykivka decorative style of painting, was born in Petrykivka itself.
She discovered her talent at an early age but life did not treat her kind. She had to practice her art to earn money rather than to just decorate her house, with pure joy being the sole motivation. She painted on paper and sold her paintings with fabulous flowers and creatures. The life of other folk artists, such as Kateryna Bilokur or Mariya Pryimachenko was not easy either.
Tetyana Pata did not have any formal art education. In fact, formal art education could have done her more harm than good — it could have destroyed her original view of the world and the naive character of her art. She did not have to learn the rules of composition or of colouring — she had the knowledge of all these things herself, she was born with them. And she mastered the skills necessary for painting by practicing her art.
Pata’s stylized flowers and fruit and all kinds of plants create a world very different from our own, and it is a world full of wonderful energy. Looking at her works, you accept as quite natural the fact that her cucumbers are red and her peppers are blue. Pata’s world is full of surprises, which are in harmony with the colour schemes and with decorative patterns she uses.
Tetyana Pata raised four children, all by herself — but it did not prevent her from creating a great many works of art, of various sizes, ranging from small-sized sketches to large-sized complex compositions. Some of her works have narrative elements but they are not too frequent. Neither are zoomorphic elements but they are present too. Among other things, she created designs for decoration of stoves, trunks, designs for embroideries, and for rugs.
Though she stayed within the general boundaries of the Petrykivka style of decorative painting, she was very inventive in her art, using unusual colour combinations and ingenious decorative patterns. She must have had a special predilection for berries because a great variety of berries appears in many of her paintings. Her stylized flowers seem to have a soul of their own, an individuality that distinguishes them from those that were done in a similar style by other artists.
Tetyana Pata had many disciples some of whom later became significant artists in their own right — Ivan Zavhorodny, Fedir Panko, Vira Klymenko-Zhukova, to name but a few.
The Petrykivka style of decorative painting shows that in the upper reaches of modern culture a pressing need is still felt for a poetic interpretation of the visible world.
Based on an essay
by Dmytro SHYNKARENKO, an art historian.
Photos are from the book Album. Tetyana Pata,
Mystetstvo Publishers, Kyiv, 1973,
and by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK
Two Men by the Trees.
Bird and flowers.
The panel with a bird.