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Oles Solovey, a muralist and history enthusiast
Oles Solovey is a Ukrainian painter who turns to events from Ukraine’s past and present for the subject matter of his paintings. Solovey, who loves Ukrainian landscapes, was born in Kyiv, but he spent much of his childhood and vacations in Zhytomyr Region, the native land of his father, Vasyl Solovey. Oles would later paint a wonderful portrait of his father, who was also a poet. In this regard there is perhaps some poetic justice, as in Ukrainian the artist’s name, solovey, means nightingale.
Oles Solovey, who wanted to be a painter since childhood, studied at an art school and then at the Art Institute in Kyiv (now the National Academy of the Arts and Architecture). Among his teachers was Professor Mykola Storozhenko, a painter who followed the traditions of Mykhailo Boychuk, and who exercised considerable influence over Solovey. Storozhenko helped his talented student develop into a full-fledged artist.
Solovey majored in monumental art, which is closely connected with architecture, as both form a close, synthetic unity. Working with Storozhenko, Solovey learned a great deal and gained new experiences decorating the interior of the Mykola Prytyska Church in Kyiv. Storozhenko painted murals on the church dome’s interior (more than 200 square meters), while Solovey painted murals on the walls, with scenes from the lives of Saints Borys and Hleb, as well as images of John the Baptist and St Mykola (Nicholas) the Miracle Worker. Solovey was inspired in his work by the “Ukrainian Baroque” style of painting, which provided adequate visual forms for the monumental murals.
Solovey, who is not yet 40, can already be called an accomplished painter. His art probes various genres and uses a number of techniques and media. He is an artist of superb taste. For each of his creations, Solovey finds an appropriate style, and yet one can see that separate works are by the same author. There is something in each work that can be called Solovey’s own individual style. In addition to choosing the most appropriate technique, style and medium for each of his works, the artist brings into his images an emotional element depending on the subject he is painting. Most of Solovey’s paintings are narratives, and it takes a special skill to tell each story.
Large-sized murals remain Solovey’s favorite form of expression. As for monumental art, unfortunately, there is little work for the artist in this sphere, and he, like many of his fellow muralists, is forced to work on a much smaller scale, like easel painting. Of course, one could paint enormous canvases, like those by the 16th century Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese and some other artists, but there’s virtually no demand for such large-scale paintings.
But Solovey has found a way to bring easel painting closer to large-sized works by creating polyptychs — paintings that consist of separate sections united by a central theme. Each element can be looked at separately, but only in combination with the remaining sections does the central theme become fully revealed. Most of Solovey’s polyptychs deal with historical subjects (Ukrayinska Pokrova, Shlyakh zemny, Pechatka dara Dukha Svyatoho).
A number of Solovey’s paintings are imaginary or real portraits of important personages of the present and past. Antoniy and Feodosiy represents the founders of the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv. Mandrivny filosof (Itinerant Philosopher) is a portrait of 18th century Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda, who was indeed peripatetic, never settling down for long in one place. Molytva yednannya (Prayer of Unity) shows Pope John-Paul II in prayer (the Pope visited Ukraine in the early 2000s).
A number of works were created by Solovey for Oleksandr Melnyk’s project, Ukraine from Trypillya down to Our Days. Melnyk is a Ukrainian painter who also has a predilection for monumental art forms, which has created an affinity between the two painters.
The idea of the project was to represent in a series of paintings and other artworks the history of Ukraine from the most ancient times to the present. Several artists contributed to the project and several exhibitions were held. These exhibitions amply demonstrated that narrative historical paintings were not dead as a genre in Ukraine. Solovey has contributed his portraits of historical personages, such as Mykola Mikhnovsky and Mykhailo Hrushevsky (Ukrainian historian and first president of Ukraine), to exhibitions. A triptych, Biy pid Krutamy (Battle of Kruty), is devoted to the events at the Kruty railroad station not far from Kyiv, when in March 1918 a unit of around 300 Ukrainian cadets, students and several officers offered fierce resistance against Bolshevik troops who far outnumbered them. Battle of Kruty was purchased by the National Museum of Andriy Sheptytsky in Lviv.
Landscapes feature significantly in Solovey’s oeuvre. Lately, landscapes seem to have become his favorite subject. They are full of sun and bright colors, and at first glance are reminiscent of the works of the Impressionists. A closer look, however, reveals that the painter goes deeper into the essence of things rather than stopping at the faithful reproduction of the interplay between color and light. There is no randomness in his works. The artist is very careful in choosing every detail and placing them in the right spot. At the same time, he uses the textures of pigments and canvases to increase the visual impact of his paintings. Paintings such as Hory dymlyat (Smoking Mountains), Tsvit zemli (The Color of the Earth) and Vzhe sontse nyzenko (The Sun Is Already Low) are particularly representative of his landscape painting style.
Solovey regularly joins his fellow artist Prokip Kolisnyk in summer for plein air painting sessions in the village of Potashnya in Vinnytsya Region. Kolisnyk, a native of Potashnya who now lives in Slovakia, founded a museum of his native village, and invites painters to come over and stay for a while in the picturesque Potashnya to do some plein air painting. With time, these artistic gatherings began to attract poets, musicians and art critics, and now one can speak of a full-fledged cultural event that takes place in this village.
Solovey was inspired by Potashnya and the people he met there to create a number of very poetic paintings, as well as works with an epic impact (Potasheve oko, Dukhmyana levada, Bershadsky kray, Stavok na Barlyukovomu). His painting, Stary viz (Old Wagon) from the Potashnya series, was acquired by the Taras Shevchenko Museum in Kyiv.
In addition to painting, Solovey does some teaching at the National Academy of the Arts and Architecture at the Studio of Painting and Church Culture, which is headed by Professor Storozhenko, Solovey’s former teacher. He says he likes it. He also says he has a lot of plans for the future.
Based on an essay by art critic Stanislav BUSHAK
Oil on canvas, 110 x 5 x 80 cm. 2004.
Oil on canvas, 80 x 5 x 85 cm. 2000.
Oil on canvas, 271 x 5 x 410 cm. 1994.
Prayer of Unity.
Oil on canvas, 80 x 5 x 100 cm. 2003.
The Sun Is Already Low.
Oil on canvas, 80 x 5 x 98 cm. 1994.
Portrait of the Artist’s Father.
Oil on canvas, 60 x 5 x 56 cm. 1994.