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Yuriy Yehorov. Karolino-Bougaz.
1978. Oil, canvas. 80/92 cm.
The city of Odesa is a very special place indeed. On the one hand it is a port town at the sea, like so many other port towns in the world, but on the other hand, the moment you start talking to someone in Ukraine about Odesa, the faces are lit with smiles and the mood improves. For so many Ukrainians there is some magic and charm in the words “Odesa” and “Odesit” (which means: “an inhabitant of Odesa”). It would be hard to explain why, because the magic of Odesa is made up of so many ingredients. Odesa has a character of its own, it has a sense of humour, unique and unrivalled. It takes but a couple of hours of walking the streets of Odesa to feel the tenor of its life. Odesa is a melting pot in which the inhabitants are assimilated to such an extent that they seem to lose their ethnic backgrounds, political and religious affiliations. They are just “Odesits”. They love to socialize, they seem to spend most of their time outdoors, at the seaside, in the streets, in the backyards of their houses, talking things over, arguing, gossiping, telling stories and jokes hearing which one just can't help laughing. Odesa fosters all kinds of creativity, writing humorous and satirical fiction, and painting in particular.
It would be wrong to assume that the painters of Odesa produce only jocular paintings. One finds here all kinds of styles, practised and flourishing. We made it a point to see as many paintings, to visit as many studios and exhibitions as we could during our stay in Odesa. We also talked to many artists. But unfortunately we did not get to talk to Yury Yehorov, the painter who has been such a dominant figure in the Southern Ukrainian painting in the last two or three decades, that some art critics even call these decades “the Epoch of Yehorov.” We knew he had a reputation of great wit, a man of a profound judgement, and yet ironic and sometimes sarcastic. We saw his art though, and his paintings, generous, pure and simple, opened for us the beauty of the sea and of Odesa. Yehorov was an invisible presence at all our meetings with painters, at all the exhibitions and in all studios we visited. “Yehorov paints everything not in his studio but outdoors, in the plein-air,” we were told by the painter Orest Slishynsky whose studio is adjacent to Ehorov's. 4_16.jpg (109924 bytes)
Orest Slishynsky. Morning. 1984. Oil, canvas. 60/70 cm.

“Even his big canvases. He wants to be in contact with what he paints all the time. There is some magic in his art, and this magic is present in every painting of his!” Mr Slishynsky, telling us about Yehorov, was bubbling with excitement. We were favourably impressed — no rivalry, no attempt to put himself forward, to belittle the achievements of a fellow artist. Only respect and admiration. The characteristic noise of the port reaches Slishynsky’s studio through the open window looking out of which we enjoyed a scenic view of the harbour. Some of the paintings were like so many windows open to the sun and light and splendour of southern landscapes. But in general Orest Slishynsky prefers cold and subdued colours, the mood of his paintings is often somewhat melancholic. Probably it is because he studied at the Fine Arts Academy in St. Petersburg and the severe climate of the northern city had left an indelible impact upon him. Nevertheless in some of his paintings one does find explosions of emotion, hot monochromatic generosity. Orest Slishynsky loves overseas voyages, loves travelling and from his travels he brings back pictures of the places he has visited. In his young years he went to study at a merchant-navy school but left it to devote himself to the art of painting.

But in spite of his occasional urge to see distant land, he prefers to paint what is close to his heart: the Crimean landscapes, the town of Sudak with its mediaeval Genoese fortress; the town Yalta sitting like a pearl in the shell of the mountains surrounding it on three sides; Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, a small Ukrainian town. Says Slishynsky: ''You see, I just love that little town. Probably because I am attracted to everything that has something peculiar about it. That town looks very real to me, if you know what I mean. It's like a natural growth. At the place where now Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky stands, there used to be a very ancient settlement. People lived there twenty five hundred years ago! Imagine that? So, whenever I get there, I feel the energy of so many generations of people that is getting into me. It's all very mysterious,but it moves me to be creative, inspires me.''

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Orest Slishynsky. Morning. 1984. Oil, canvas. 60/70 cm.
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Yuriy Yehorov. Fruit of the morning. 1980. Oil, canvas. 130/100 cm.

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Volodymyr Tsyupko. Autumnal Mood. 1996. Oil, canvas. 90/106 cm.

“Mysterious,” “mysticl,” “mystic” are the words that came to mind when we saw the paintings by Volodymyr Tsyupko and talked to him. Many of us are aware that there exists something that goes beyond our everyday world, something that is much above it, something eternal and imperishable. The artist Tsyupko is after looking into the mysterious worlds. Some of the writings of Nikolai Gogol, the great nineteenth-century Russian author of the Ukrainian descent, are a source of inspiration for Tsyupko. His pictures are an invitation to ponder the existential and transcendental mysteries. 
“The goal of art is to turn chaos into harmony,” says Tsyupko, expressing his thoughts aloud.” There is what I call the real art and pseudo-art. Painting is  just a form to be filled with contents. If art does not fulfil its harmonizing function, it's bad art...Art is a part of the ritual called “life” and it  exists not for entertaining or edifying but for shaping the spiritual world of man.”
In his wall and easel paintings Volodymyr Tsyupko creates a strange world full of associations, undefinable shapes, colours, surface texture. These elements of the Tsyupko's pictorial world live a life of their own, interacting with each other, with the world visible and with the world transcendental.
The artist teaches us not only to react emotionally to art but also to ponder the universal, spiritually complex, mysterious. Tsyupko's art makes you ponder and wonder.
We arrived at Valery Basanets' studio at dusk. Looking out the very big windows of the studio we could see the darkening street, so familiar and yet intriguing.  We found there was something similar between the streets of Odesa and Basanets' art - both are at the same time commonplace and enigmatic. Basanets shared some of his views on art with us: “I wish I had a child's ingeniousness and could look at the world through a child's eyes.”
Looking at Basanets' pictures was in a sense like reading Japanese poems made up of three lines each.

The same compressed, poetic formulas without anything that did not belong there. Reading those Japanese poems and looking at Basanets' pictures does not leave you indifferent.You can't help having your concentration focused, you can't help searching for an impulse sent to you either by a Japanese poet or by the artist. Three lines of such a poem make you aware of a profound meaning hidden in them. Similarly, looking at Basanets' pictures makes you aware that there is much more in them than they actually represent pictorially.
When we met Serhiy Savchenko it turned out he had just returned from Poland where in the city of Gdansk he had shown his works at an exhibition. Savchenko's art can be described as abstract. In the Soviet times abstractionism was suppressed and abstract artists could show their works only at “underground” exhibitions or privately to a few art lovers. Often they were persecuted. Now, in the independent Ukraine artists are free to show their works at exhibitions and art galleries, no matter what style or art trend they follow. Savchenko's abstract pictures are dynamic compositions with rich symbolism and a system of signs not unlike that of a pysanka (painted and ornamented Easter egg) or a vyshyvanka (an embroidered towel, kerchief, etc.). One has to learn to read these special signs of abstract art. It's like learning a foreign language. But once you've learnt it, it opens to you its riches.
The best way to present Volodymyr Kabachenko and his art would probably be through his own words: “I was born in a small town that stands at the bank of the Ihul river. The reeds there are so tall that even a giraffe would be able to hide in them, and the pikes that live in the water near the bank are so big that they would swallow that giraffe of yours with its long neck and everything else into the bargain.
The fishermen that live there are so dexterous that they can catch those pikes barehanded. Imagine that? So, at a place like that you just can't develop your artistic inclinations. And I had to move to other places, more favourable for my artistic development...
My works are connected in a sense with Ukrainian poetic folklore. They belong to a peculiar world of philosophic symbolism. They are fairy tales though not for kids but for mature grown-ups. It's impossible to understand them without an effort, without thinking them over, without a conscious attempt to penetrate into their chimerical world made of things irrational and unreal, and things mundane, quite real. But words cannot describe what I wanted to express through my art. You just have to look.
Can one describe the beauty of the Inhul river in such a way that you would really feel it? Or can one describe in words the emotional impact the starry sky make upon us at night? Can one harness the irrationality of our dreams?”On our second visit the artist was away, en plein air, painting somewhere outdoors. We talked to his wife, his son, his mother-in-law. We were allowed to have another, unhurried look at his paintings. Incidentally, both his wife and his mother-in-law are his admirers and severest critics. They both come from the families of well-known painters in Odesa.

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Volodymyr Tsyupko. Autumnal Mood. 1996. Oil, canvas. 90/106 cm.

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Volodymyr Kabachenko. White Whirlizag. 1995. Oil, canvas. 98/74 cm.

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Mykola Prokopenko. Under the Moon. 1991. Oil, canvas. 95/95 cm.

In order to meet Mykola Prokopenko we had to travel to the town of Pivdenny. Our car ride was not long and we thoroughly enjoyed it. On both sides of the road we could see mounds of ripe striped water-melons, silvery fish hanged out to dry on innumerable lines stretched between poles, distant bays reflecting the sun rays in myriad sparkles, anglers lining the shores with their fishing rods. In Pivdenny we were lucky to see an exhibition of paintings of the participants of the International Plein-Air Program, organized to mark the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the town's foundation.
Prokopenko's paintings reveal his fascination with the beauty and grace of a woman's body. The artist also explores the intricacies and nuances of human relations and emotional states. The women he shows on his canvases are not at all like emancipated and almost sexless females one can now see so often on TV screens, in movies and in real life who look and talk tougher, more rude and more profligate than the macho man himself. No, you will not find such women in Prokopenko's art.
His women are full of magic and charm, they are lovable, bewitching, sensuous, teasing. There is a lot more we could say about Odesa, about the artists who live there and their art. One small article cannot pretend to be a comprehensive survey of the art flourishing at the gorgeous seaside. It has been intended to be a selection of several artists whose art we particularly liked, done in such a manner so that it could suggest the richness of artistic life there.

By Lyudmyla Korniyenko and Mykola Volga
OR-Gallery telephone: 380 (44) 412-6031

Illustrated to article.

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