Magic in the Material Thing - The Art of Maria Pryimatchenko
Pryimatchenko’ paintings belong both to the realm of decorative art and to that sphere of art which is usually called naive art. The great French primitivist Henri Rousseau was of the latter line too. Maria Pryimatchenko was able to define the magic of the thing intuitively because she herself stood in an unimpaired relationship to this ground of reality — she was close to nature, practically all her life she spent in a village, away from nature-killing urbiculture.
Her art evokes the presence of the fantasy. This powerful presence emanates from the individual images of things, plants, animals and people, eveything combines to create a viable and yet fantastic reality.
Her images have an extraordinary impact on the viewer by their colour and by their hidden, enigmatic message which is not so easy to discover. But does one really need to go so deep?
Pryimatchenko’s images are free of the contingencies of individuality and from the accidents of environmental influences, they are not susceptible to the effects of light or atmosphere.
Searching the history of painting for a comparable phenomenon, we are carried back to a time when the human mind was moved to conquer reality of the exterior world in terms of art. In her conquest of the exterior world the painter searched for the archaic images rooted in the deeper regions of the mind and applied them to images derived from knowledge and experience. This process of presenting reality — her own reality the way she sees it — stems from an indivisible unity of man and nature. We are here in the
presence of a truly «primitive» genius who, in obedience to the urgeto paint set to work without having the least idea what «academic art» is, without any «lessons of painting», without any formal arts education.
Dream and reality fuse and we experience something which is best described as magic — magical reality can emanate from a single image, a flower, a bird, a vase.
To describe this phenomenon, Kandinsky coined the phrase «the greater reality», and a later critic spoke of «magic reality». The naive genius of Pryimatchenko has the power to infuse the object with living magic.
Typically for an artist of her kind there were very few events in her life that when described, would make exciting biographical reading. Maria Pryimatchenko was born in the village of Bolotnya, in the land of Kyivshchyna, in 1908. Her father was a wonderfully skilled carpenter who could, using the simplest of tools, create pieces of wooden marvels.
Her mother was an embroiderer of equally remarkable skills who had passed her love of embroidery to her daughter.
Pryimatchenko took pride in the fact that all her life she was wearing shirts, embroidered by her own hands. The urge to paint manifested itself early in her life — at first she drew on sand, then tried to paint the peasant’s house she lived with her parents in, using clays of different colours. Neighbours saw, admired and asked to have their houses painted too in the same style. A very grave disease contracted in childhood— polio — had an impact upon her whole life, not only in the physical sense but psychologically as well. She had to stay a lot of time at home, watching and observing things, processing the visual impressions in her magic-oriented mind. Compassion and love for every living thing became part of her nature. The disease did not stop her desire to paint and in fact not even disabled her. She led quite an active life for a polio victim. Her art began to be noticed and in 1936 she received an invitation to come to Kyiv and join in the work of the «experimental studio at the Museum of Ukrainian Art.» Pryimatchenko was good not only at painting — she was also an accomplished embroiderer and she loved making pottery. Her works were exhibited and dully admired. She started to collect prizes. Her fame of a genius of naive art spread and some of her magical creations were shown at exhibitions in Paris, Warsaw,
Montreal, Prague; decorative art and fine arts museums wanted to buy her works. But she did not stay in town — she returned back to her native village never to leave it again for any prolonged stretch of time.
Her work shows remarkable consistency, her style changed but little through the years. Her early compositions were executed against a white background, and in later years she reverted to coloured ones. She mostly painted on paper, using factory-manufactured brushes. Her media — gouache and water colours. She prefers a horizontal format and her compositions are very well-built.
She did not distance herself from life as it was unrolling around her. In 1986 she made a series of pictures devoted to the Chernobyl disaster— greatest nuclear power disaster in history.
Maria Pryimatchenko is also something of a poet — she sometimes uses a couple of rhymed lines as a name for her picture, and verbal and visual images complement each other to create the right synthesis. The artist also worked as an illustrator of children’s books.
Her art links ancient Ukrainian folk art traditions with the present, and her son took this kind of art a step further.
Pryimatchenko’s art is of the kind that is best to be looked at and enjoyed rather than to be analysed and dissected. Just enjoy the rich magic of colour and fantastic imagery of her pictures.

Olexander PANASYEV
Photo by Ihor KROPYVNYTSKY

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