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Viktor Hontariv seeks inspiration in his childhood, nature, history and art of the past and present
Volodymyr ONYSHCHENKO gives a general overview of the art of Viktor Hontariv, 65, an artist who seeks inspiration in his childhood, nature, history and art of the past and present.
Viktor Hontariv was born in the village of Sotnytsky Kozachok which is situated in the land known for its ancient Cossack traditions. In October 1942, his mother gave birth to him in a windmill, what sounds like a somewhat exotic or at least unusual place for a child to be delivered. Years later, Viktor Hontariv painted a picture, I Was Born in a Windmill. In this picture you can see the artist as a small boy and his mother who are standing near that windmill; in the background one can see Hontariv’s native village, a truly paradisiacal place. Such a place can really be a source of artistic inspiration for years.
Now Viktor Hontariv lives and works in Kharkiv, one of the major industrial and cultural centres of Ukraine. He was educated at the Mukhina Art School in St Petersburg. It was in St Petersburg that he began to feel his “Ukrainianness” more acutely than ever. Among the School’s students there were many Ukrainians who enjoyed talking Ukrainian among themselves. Volodymyr Tsybulko, a Ukrainian poet, described this phenomenon of becoming more aware of one’s national and ethnic background when one is away from one’s native land, in this way, “It is well known that living abroad stimulates your artistic imagination and productivity, and adds an element of healthy cynicism to your Weltanschauung.”
After graduation in 1972, he returned to Ukraine where he started his search for his own style. He studied particularly deeply the legacy of early medieval monumental art of Kyiv, and of Italian Renaissance; he turned to the roots of Ukrainian national art and to modern art; he tried various techniques. Being an opened-minded person, he was aware of modern trends and tendencies. All of this made his art dynamic but he never slavishly followed any particular trend or style, and his art always remained original.
One of the strong influences in Hontariv’s art can be traced to naive and folk art with all those mermaids and swans, sailors on a date with village girls, love trysts by the wellhead to be seen in the crudely painted pictures or in the home-made tapestry. In a number of his works (U misyachnomy syaivi – In the Moonlight; Rusalka – Mermaid; Marusya z husakom – Marusya and a Goose), we can see mermaids bathing in the moonlight; one of the mermaids has a lily growing from her loins.
A number of paintings reflect the artist’s reminiscences of his childhood, idyllic, but with a touch of anxiety. In his historic paintings (Oy, hore tiy chaitsi — That Boat Is in Trouble, 2000; Tarasova nich — Taras’s Night, 1999; Kozatska pisnya — A Cossack Song, 2001) are full of expressive force; they are dramatic to the point of being tragic.
The artist likes to paint nature in late fall and in winter when it is at rest, but this nature is transformed by the artist’s imagination. In his paintings, he seeks to represent moods and states of nature rather than actual landscapes (Dramatychny peysazh — Dramatic Landscape, 1990; Elehiya — Elegy, 1997; Chorna lileya — Black Lily, 1995; Zvychayny peyzazh — Ordinary Landscape, 1997; Pershyi podykh vesny — First Breath of Spring, 2002). Human figures, mostly peasant women that often appear in these landscapes add a touch of warm humanity and humility (Bila Tserkva — White Church, 2000; Tysha — Silence, 2000; Vesnyana radist — Joy of Spring, 1997; Osinni luky — Autumnal Fields, 2002; Vesnyany vody — Spring Flooding, 2003).
One of the characteristic features of Hontariv’s art is its high spiritual intensity. Ukrainian culture for him is more than a source of inspiration — his paintings are his reflections in images about Ukrainian culture, its roots and present state.
Viktor Hontariv is a recipient of many honorary titles and prizes. He runs the Historic Painting Studio at the Department of Monumental Painting of the State Academy of Design and Arts in Kharkiv. His latest one-man exhibition was held at the National Art Museum in Kyiv in the fall of 2006.
Academician of the Arts Academy Oleksandr Fedoruk wrote in his preface to the album of reproductions of Hontariv’s works Zoryany viz Viktora Hontariva: “He [Hontariv] is often called a creator of myths, his art is described by some as metaphoric, filled with several meanings, producing associations, grotesque, ironic, half-poetic and half-lyrical; others find that his art gets to the very bottom of the essence of things. He seems to bare his soul; his art is like an exotic fruit offered us to taste.”
Oh, Those Sea Gulls!
Matusya and the Goose.
Dedicated to Mother.
The Year 1933 — Famine.
Wagon in the Stars.