|“An artist's calling is in
promulgation of beauty, good and truth…
Anyone who calls himself or herself “a national artist” should, ahead of anything else, spread ideas about his or her own nation and its culture…”
the western Ukraine there is a mountain range called the Carpathians. Mountains always seem to be possess a mystery, they always look unexplored, awesome. They lure courageous climbers seeking to explore their mysteries. For many peoples of the world, mountain peaks have become symbols of grandeur of human spirit. Artists feel the beauty of the mountains particularly keenly.Halyna Zubchenko, a painter from Kyiv, achieved her spiritual and artistic maturity in the Carpathian Mountains, an area of fairy-tale beauty, of rapid, frothy rivers, of age-long history that is almost palpable. Her first visit to the Carpathians, at the time when she was in her teens, made an indelible impression upon her, filled her with feelings she had never experienced before. Her love for the mountains has stayed with her during all her life and has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for her.
Red Guelder Rose Berries. 1963.
Tempera, cardboard. 71 ő 50 cm.
Hannusya the Princess. 1962.
66 ő 42 cm.
|A series of paintings, called Ukrainian
Carpathians, reveals the artist's undying fascination with the mountains and people who
live there. Zubchenko’s childhood passed in the downtown section of the city of Kyiv, in
a highly urbanized environment, so different from the wild nature of the mountains. She
could observe the major events in the hectic life of the capital almost literally from her
window. Her memory has retained a lot of things: never-ending parades, staged by the
Soviet authorities, marching through the streets; people, young and old, dying of hunger
in the famine years; destruction by the Bolsheviks of ancient landmarks, sacred for the
Ukrainian people; domination of the “new, socialist culture” and of the Russian
language; the terrible, stifling atmosphere of the thirties; Stalinist purges. For Halyna
Zubchenko the repressive measures taken by the Soviet authorities, were not something that
you read about in the newspapers or, years later, in books on history, they affected her
family directly. One of her grandfathers, Andriy Skrypchynsky, a Ukrainian Orthodox
priest, was arrested and thrown into prison, and her other grandfather, Avksentiy
Zubchenko, a hard-working peasant who owned some land and a house, was made a pauper by
the Bolshevik authorities who had taken away everything he had. She saw the Mykhailivsky
(St Michael’s) Golden-Domed Cathedral (St Michael was a heavenly patron of the city of
Kyiv) being ruined to make way to “glorious creations of new, socialist architecture.”
Halyna, walking the streets of ancient Kyiv, and seeing the ruins of architectural
landmarks, felt that her heart bled for the last glory. Thus, in her childhood she was
exposed to two conflicting worlds: the world of the glorious dream-like past and the world
of the cruel reality she lived in.
In 1956, Zubchenko, still an arts school student, went to the Carpathian Mountains to paint in plein air. She discovered a wonderful world, where people lived in harmony with nature; they grew flax, made handsome things out of it, carved wood, embroidered shirts and towels, built handsome wooden churches. The Carpathian “highlanders” (Hutsuls, in Ukrainian) had been living in relative isolation for many generations and they had developed their own peculiar life style, songs and dances, habits and customs, created their own folk art, lore, legends and myths.
Zubchenko discovered in the Carpathians what her artistic nature had been hankering after. “The Carpathians are my inner world, my dream that has come true. Since my childhood, I’ve been living in two different epochs – in the ancient times of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine, and in the present.
|I’ve been always so much attracted to the
ancient past but I could not find what I was looking for in Kyiv. But there, in the
mountains, I’ve discovered the spirit of ancient times, the spirit, strange as it may
seem, of ancient Kyiv. I’ve seen it in the way people live, in the clothes they wear, in
their customs, in the language they speak. In the Carpathians you see the reflections of
our history everywhere,” said the artist many years later.
Her first visit was devoted to mastering the skills of a painter but she was so emotionally stirred and impressed by what she had seen that she plunged into work impetuously, eager to get her impressions onto the canvases, anxious to make them look authentic and true. She studied the life that was totally new to her, she tried to understand its rhythms, to feel its contended tranquillity. Her works of those times are all small-sized, look like sketches rather than thoroughly finished pictures. They are very sincere pictures, too.
Next year, in 1957, Halyna Zubchenko went to the Carpathians again, this time to the village of Richka, not far from the town of Kosiv. She stayed with a Hutsul family, bathing in the warmth of their hospitality. Pictures, painted then, landscapes and portraits, are filled with sunshine and seem to exude good-natured feelings.
Halyna was a restless and energetic young woman, she could not stay at the same place for a long stretch of time, and she moved on, travelling through the Carpathians. At one place, close to the Rumanian border, she climbed rather high into the mountains and was so enchanted by the views opening on all sides that she decided to stop and live there for some time. Impressions seem to have overwhelmed her then – she worked almost in frenzy, painting all day long: mostly shepherds and landscapes. When darkness came, she would join the Hutsul shepherds sitting around a bonfire, brightly burning in the night, and eagerly listen to their yarns and stories of happenings real and invented, anecdotes, jokes, stirring songs.
Most of the works, painted that summer, were done in a realistic manner, though in a much more sure hand than the sketches of the previous summer. The compositions of her pictures reveal a more thorough elaboration, her brushwork is freer and more unrestrained, her attention concentrated on the most essential. Next year, that is in 1958, Halyna Zubchenko again went to the Carpathians, this time to get impressions and material for her pictures which were meant to be her graduation work. She painted portraits of the people she met, the places she stayed at (Girls from the Village of Brustory, private collection, Philadelphia, USA; A Girl in Flowers; Portrait of Semen Paliy, a churchwarden; A Little Princess – all of these in a private collection, Australia; Silver Evening; A Neighbour’s House, and many other landscapes).
Her mastery of drawing and making a balanced composition had grown considerably by then.
A Hutsul Wedding. 1959.
Oil on canvas. 180 ő 241 ńě.
|Halyna had chosen to paint a Hutsul wedding party as her graduation work. Consequently, she had to attend a number of weddings to portray this event faithfully on a canvas. A Hutsul Wedding turned out to be a big-sized picture that summerized her experience of three summers in the Carpathians. Dozens of sketches had been used in creating the big picture which had been executed in a meticulously realistic manner. But even so, it displeased those who were in charge of the Kyiv Institute of Art, of which she was a student. Zubchenko was severely criticized for “nationalistic overtones” of her work and forced to introduce many changes. The Soviet ideological precepts were a great hindrance thwarting a free development of art. The painter Oleksiy Shovkunenko who supervised Zubchenko’s work, tried his best to prevent the introduction of the crippling changes but he failed in his defence and Halyna, realizing that her picture might be rejected altogether as a graduation work (which could entail very serious consequences for her), reluctantly submitted to the pressure which was excercized even by the president of the Institute himself.|
Yavdokha Mitchell. 1991.
Oil on canvas. 65 ő 65 cm.
|Originally, she had portrayed the wedding procession descending the green slope of a hill (“as though coming from heaven”) but in the final version, she had to substitute the lush greenery for a dull road. To please the communist party ideologues, figures had to be added, “nationalistic” haircuts and moustaches had to be changed to look “orthodox Soviet,” dresses and headgear had to be repainted to suit the tastes of the moronic idea-mongers (it sounds now like a preposterous exaggeration but it is not – it was the deadly, perverted reality of the Soviet times). Many years later, at an exhibition of the best graduation works of the Art Institute graduates A Hutsul Wedding, in spite of all the damaging changes, looked quite impressive “This Wedding has lost so much, compared to the original,” bitterly said the painter. She even wanted to restore it to its original composition but then changed her mind. “Let it remain a witness of the epoch. "For the next several years (1959–1964), Zubchenko made regular trips to the Carpathians. The portraits she painted then, show her constant occupation with exploring people’s hearts and souls by looking into their eyes.|
|Like any good artist, she has a keen intuition
and an ability to look deeper into a person than anyone else does, and represents the
inner worlds through representing faces.
The faces Zubchenko portrayed during her visits to the mountains seemed to be glowing with some mysterious inner light. She achieves this effect by subtle gradations of light, reflections of light on the faces and different objects. Her technique and her approach to painting in these pictures are very similar to those of the Impressionists.
In the early sixties Zubchenko began to explore new ways of painting and it led to transition from realistic to decorative manner. She wanted to make her paintings acquire a distinct Ukrainian national style. She studied folk art, Hutsul carpets and embroidery, she analyzed the combinations of colours used, since these combinations had been evidently picked from nature itself.
The medium Zubchenko paints her decorative works in is only tempera. She builds them on the contrasts of warm and cold colours. In A Woman of the Mountains, the artist creates a generalized portrait of a Hutsul woman – strong-willed, proud and self-confident. The head kerchief seems to be a nimbus which increases the importance of the portrayed personage. The warm yellow background, against which the silhouette of the head stands out so prominently, enhances the solemnity of the image.
Girls from Brustory. 1958.
Oil on canvas. 50 ő 35 cm.
|From the sixties onward Zubchenko followed the line of monumental public
art infusing it with pictorial motifs picked from the folk art. Together with her husband,
Hryhoriy Pryshedko, also a painter working along the lines of monumental art, Zubchenko
created a number of decorative monumental works in Kyiv (1962–1982), implementing in
them her credo of fusing folk and professional art.
It was only in 1985 that Zubchenko could go to her beloved Carpathians again. This time she took her daughter Yaroslava along. She was pained to see some of the changes that had occurred during the time that had elapsed since her previous visit. There were mutations in the psychology of the local people that she did not quite like; the number of people wearing national and traditional dress had shrunk considerably; very few of the old, picturesque peasant houses had remained still in use. Only the mountains were as beautiful as ever, guardians of harmony in nature. Zubchenko painted landscapes which were not only very faithful to the actual views but had a monumental character as well. They were a generalized image of the mountains. The effect of repose produced by the static mountains in her paintings is counterbalanced by the dynamic representations of the skies with the clouds in constant movement. The contrasts of quiescence and restlessness are intensified through the use of warm and cold colours, which create dramatic tensions.
Zubchenko’s experience of working in the monumental art gave a new dimension to her easel paintings. Zubchenko has come to a synthesis of realistic and decorative elements in her paintings, which have also acquired a feature of philosophic reflections on the dialectics of existence.
The paintings of the Ukrainian Carpathians cycle, after many years of “imprisonment” in the painter’s studio, were first shown to the public in the Ivan Honchar Museum to mark her 70’s birthday. Later, the exhibition of these paintings was shown (thanks to the good offices of the Embassy of Croatia in Ukraine and of the Honchar Museum) in the Croatian town of Min, situated at the Adriatic shore.
Halyna Zubchenko’ art is one of top achievements of the Ukrainian fine arts of the second half of the twentieth century and her name should be placed among other eminent painters of the period – F. Krychevsky, I. Yizhakevych, O. Kurylas, O. Kulchytska, F. Manailo, V. Bondarenko. The Ukrainian Carpathians series of paintings should be regarded as one of Zubchenko’s top accomplishments.
By Tetyana Marchenko,