A Seeker of Beauty and Harmony
There is a place in Kyiv that every year in late spring turns into a cheerfully noisy and gaily adorned arts market. Painters, sculptors, graphic artists, embroiderers, wood carvers, craftsmen of all sorts, pottery makers from all over the town go there to exhibit their works and wares for crowds of people to see, enjoy and buy (those who can afford it, do and quite a few pieces change hands!). The place is called Andriyivs’ki Uzviz — «the Street of St. Andrew’s» — and there is indeed the 18th-century Baroque-style ornate and lovely St. Andrew’s Church sitting at the beginning of the cobbled street steeply descending from the upper part of town to the lower part.
The Arts Festivals began to be held there in the early 80s and ever since have kept attracting the ever growing numbers of onlookers and artists. In the late 80s one could not help noticing a bearded man of remarkable appearance who was printing his engravings right before the eyes of the crowds milling about him and handing the still wet prints to those who wanted them (for a price of course). People stared both at the artist and at his work, apparently not being able to decide which they like better — the man or his creations.
Now, only a few years later, the artist Olexander Myklovda, 56, has gone grey, but he jokingly says he not only feels himself young but he is young: «You see, I was born on February 29, so I celebrate my birthday once in four years and so it makes me ... what?.. 14 years old! Just a boy, gone salt-and-pepper somewhat in the hair.» Well, he does not exactly look juvenile, rather he reminds one a Biblical prophet who has stepped down from one of the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, very vigorous and with a very youthful gleam in his eye.


He was born in the village of Turya-Paseka which is hiding in a paradisaical valley among the diamond-green Carpathian mountains which for most part should be rather called steep hills. If one looks at the village from the top of a hill, towering above it, the village appears to be a pearl set against the background of bright-green velvet.
The village was neither too small nor too large by the Carpathian standards — it had at the time of Myklovda’s coming into this world about 450 houses. Myklovda’s father was a shoemaker of uncommonly great skill whose leather footwear was in constant demand. Though he was a very stern man, even severe with his sons (there were three children in the family — two sons and one daughter) he was much loved by them. Myklovda’s mother was a woman of «lyrical nature and full of humour» as her son put it. She was an excellent embroiderer, and probably it was she who, by teaching her son Olexander to do embroiderer, and probably it was she who, by teaching her son Olexander to do needlework, introduced him to the world of the arts. Of a great influence upon the boy Olexander was his village school teacher who in the late forties, for the lack of teaching personnel, had to teach all the subjects, including PT, and was quite a remarkable person in many other respects. In fact, Myklovda remembers that the very first drawing he made in his life that could merit the appellation of a «picture» was the one depicting the building of his school.


By the time he finished school, Myklovda had realized he wanted to be nothing else but an artist and upon graduation he went to study at an applied arts school in the town of Uzhgorod. Still as a student, he was commissioned to paint the walls of one of the schools in town with frescoes which he successfully did but afterwards he did not pursue the career of a fresco painter — he did some soul searching and figured he had a clear-cut inclination to go into the graphic arts. He moonlighted working for a local newspaper; his drawings, which appeared on its pages, were signed and he liked it very much to see his name in print. Juvenile vanity? Could be, but anyway he went to Kyiv to enroll at the Institute of Fine Arts where he was privileged to have Vasyl’ Kasian, a popular Ukrainian graphic artist, for a teacher. It was then, in college, that he tried his hand at illustrating books, he liked it, and has never stopped doing it ever since. Upon graduation, he worked for a number of publishing houses but he’s always been more of a free lancer.


In 25 years of work as a book illustrator, Myklovda has illustrated about 250 books, among them books of poetry, of short stories and novels, of translations from many languages (though mostly Eastern European), children’s books. Among his more recent creations are his illustrations for the Ukrainian Decameron — a collection of erotic stories published by the Dovira Publishing House. Among the authors of short stories and poems that make up the collection one finds classics of Ukrainian literature: Ol’ga Kobylianska, Les Martovych, Mykhailo Kotsubyns’ki, Panas Myrny, Volodymyr Vynnychenko... In fact many Ukrainian readers will be pleasantly surprised to discover that such «serious» authors also wrote excellent erotic stories and poems, vibrantly vivid and full of sensual joy of life. When Myklovda was offered to do illustrations for this book, he had to admit he had never read any of the stories or poems collected and actually never suspected any of these writers could have written anything of this sort. He read everything he had to illustrate avidly and in a very short period of time, was inspired and produced the sketches in fifteen days, incidentally while staying in hospital — a health problem he was being treated for did not prevent him from creating at his best. The artist sought to glorify love in all of its aspects and manifestations, including the physical side of it, but without succumbing to the temptation of revealing what should remain hidden if one wants beauty but not vulgarity. And the popular and critical opinion hold it that he did manage to do what he had intended.


Olexander Myklovda does not limit himself to book illustrations alone — he is a well-known creator of ex libris — bookplates, and much sought after in this capacity. He has made about 260 bookplates, and each of them is so different from the rest that one wonders whether they’ve been drawn by the same hand. The artist takes into account the tastes and desires of each individual customer, the majority of whom are literati; among them there are some quite famous in the Ukraine of to-day — Ivan Dratch, Dmytro Pavlychko to name just a couple of them.


Since 1984, Olexander Myklovda has been teaching at the Department of Graphic Arts at the College of Printing Trades. He takes pride in the achievements of his students who, in his opinion, will bring about a revolution in the sphere of computer graphics, but on the other hand he takes close to heart all the failures of his students — he is grieved when they drop out or fail to keep up to the high standards he sets them. There is someone whom Myklovda calls «the apple of my eye». It is his grandson Sashko, who has evidently taken after his grandfather and shows all the signs of becoming a painter of some distinction, but Myklovda limits his influence on the creative development of his grandson to advice and criticism.


In his recent interview Olexander Myklovda, assessing what had been achieved by him, said: «I have done a lot of art work but looking back I can say that now I probably would have done most of the things differently, better maybe... But it’s only natural for a creative person to be dissatisfied with what he is doing. If one is content, the search for the new ways of expression comes to a halt. But what’s done is done and you can’t change it.»
The current are hard times for many in Ukraine, for artists in particular, but characteristically of Myklovda he indignantly refused to do soft-core porn illustrations for a salacious book. But pressures of life make him take up commissions, unusual at times: to make a piece of sculpture for a festival or to design uniforms for the armed forces. But the artist remains optimistic and creative. «I beleive, he says, that art, paraphrasing the words of Fedor Dostoevsky, will save the world. Art, love, happy family (he’s been married for over twenty years and there are no signs of his love for his wife to be wearing out) all of these things are part of the Universal Beauty. Beauty is Harmony — harmony of colours on canvas, of sounds in music, of human relationships in family. When you come to understand that you have come into this world to live in harmony with it and to add to its beauty, that you should never do anything that could be detrimental to this harmony and beauty, then everything will be all right for you and for the world.»
On August 22, 1966, President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma bestowed the honorific title of the merited artist of Ukraine upon Olexander Myklovda.

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