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I know for sure that at least once in your life you watched in fascination tiny white-silver dandelion parachute-like seeds floating weightlessly in the air. A breath of wind tears them off from their tufted ball-shaped homes into which yellow dandelion flowers transform. The parachute-seeds fly away to find a place to land, strike root, develop into a flower and blossom into a miniature golden sun.

It is an impression similar to the one produced by the flight of dandelion parachute-seeds that Ivan Ivanovych Ivko (or "I.I.I." as he is often referred to), a painter from Kyiv, seeks to convey on his canvases. He dreams of creating a pictorial fairy-tale, an enigmatic world. In fact, he does both dreaming and working, and working hard. His paints do no go dry in tubes from boredom and lack of activity; his brushes are not allowed to rest. But the painter does not seem to be satisfied with what he is doing, and from time to time he bursts into unstoppable verbal effusions.

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Mammy's Bread. 1996. Oil on canvas. 85x112 cm.
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The Full Moon. 1998. Oil on canvas. 50x60 cm.

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Autumn. 1997. Oil on canvas. 70x90 cm.

Then he thinks aloud, his outpourings can be confessions, declarations of artist’s faith, remembrances, life stories. In the artist’s eyes, wise, watercolour blue, like the vernal sky, lurks melancholy. Ivko is our contemporary, but in his general appearance he looks more like a mediaeval icon-painter from a monastery. And this resemblance is more than just appearance; there is something deeper to it, an inner resemblance, and not the superficial one.
Ivko in his life has gone, as the saying goes, through fire and water, and according to some reports there’s been more fire than water. Mykola Volga, the curator of the OR-Gallery in Kyiv, has known Ivko since the latter’s student days, and can tell a lot about him:

"Sincerity, deeply emotional perception of nature and its representation in pictures, Ukrainian village life to be found in I.I.I.’s paintings attract art lovers, friends, visitors to the exhibition at which I.I.I.’s art is displayed.

In 1996 Harvard professor Roman Shporlyuk and his wife paid a visit to the OR-Gallery. Mrs Mary-Ann Shporlyuk already had one of I.I.I.’s pictures in her collection. It had been painted back at the time when I.I.I. was a student of the Arts Academy, and purchased when it was exhibited at one of the Andriyivsky Uzviz traditional art shows. Mrs Shporlyuk is a highly emotional person and art lover and she was very excited to see I.I.I.’s works exhibited in the OR-Gallery. She immediately recognized I.I.I.’s typical colour scheme, technique, general mood, and purchased a painting by him again. We thought it would be a good idea to show I.I.I.’s art in the USA and in June 1996 he, together with seven other Ukrainian painters, was invited to come to Boston, USA, to attend the celebration marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Ukrainian School of Harvard University.

Later I.I.I.’s works were shown at the Ukraine’s Representation at the UN in New York (his picture The Month of June now adorns the wall in an office of the Representation), at the Ukrainian Institute of America, at the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., at the Ukrainian Culture and Education Centre in Philadelphia.

In all the places where I.I.I.’s works were shown they attracted attention and were warmly spoken of. Yury Chopivsky, a well-known businessman from Washington, bought one of the best I.I.I.’s paintings Mummy’s Bread for his collection. Andrian Levytsky, an art collector from Philadelphia, liked I.I.I.’s painting called Fate so much that he bought it. Several art collectors from Boston bought some of I.I.I.’s pictures too."

At the Arts Academy in Kyiv Ivko majored as a restorer of art works, but now he not only restores icons, he paints them too. He carves elegant icon stands from wood (he loves to carve wood). Sometimes he makes fancy wooden carved frames for his paintings. Usually, he does it when he is commissioned to paint ceremonial portraits and the customer wants a fancy frame, carved, gilded, for his or her portrait. Happy must be those who want their portraits painted in such a style.

Ivko is a dreamer but he has not relinquished his desire to restore art objects, icons in particular.

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A Forgotten Day. 1997. Oil on canvas. 40x50 cm.
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An Evening in August.
1996. Oil on canvas. 80x60 cm.
Rather often he is commissioned to restore masterpieces of icon painting from the centuries past. Restoring them teaches him new skills, makes him improve the ones that he already possesses, enriches him spiritually. The icons that have been prayed to both by the sinners and the righteous, purify the one, who handles them, give spiritual strength, but sometimes they can put one into a spiritual torment, make one ask puzzling and tricky questions. Says the artist:

"Everyone is overwhelmed at certain times by a desire to understand himself or herself and the world around. We ask ourselves eternal questions: Who are we? What are we living for? Travelling along the road called life is an arduous journey, as there are no road signs on the way to indicate the right direction, and for artists it is both easier and harder to complete the journey. An artist sees the world as though spread on the palm of his hand. He operates in generalizations, creates models of the world. He is free to program the behaviour of his models and introduce changes. His is the road of acquiring knowledge, of having hope and joy, of attempts to comprehend the phenomenon of existence. A process of grasping the principles of art brings the artist to the pinnacles of artistic ideals, opens before him new ideas dealing with ways of building up a new type of human society. It must not be savagely technological, mercilessly tearing the flesh of the world with its electronic and mechanical claws, it must be modelled harmoniously, it must be a reflection of the enigmatic God. A time to break down has come to an end and a time to build has arrived.

We must build up a temple of Human Spirit, collecting building material from the ruins of spiritual values similar to the way a restorer restores a handsome ancient vase from the shards. I create a new world on my canvases, filling this world of mine with things heavenly and mundane, I want every little bit of spirituality, like a bit of a divine melody, to become integral part of the musical harmony of the Cosmos. I think a true artist must be able to go to the hearts of those who come in touch with his art, awakening the pure sources of existence, bringing them to the surface purified of dogmas, rid of layers of modern garbage. The artist must be a bit like God Who has given the world His Son Who in His turn is the Essence and Way to solving enigmas of the world. A time will come for the Son to give his own Child of Light Who will light the way towards Enlightenment."

These philosophical musings of Ivko demonstrate that he is an artist and a philosopher rolled into one. In general he seems to be rather a reserved man but once in a while he erupts and pours out in conversation what is close to his heart, what his heart bleeds for.

He usually opens up in a free-flowing conversation when he receives guests in his studio, which is a part of his apartment. It’s a cosy place always permeated with the aroma of delicious pies. The guests are treated to uzvar, a drink made of several kinds of fruit, brought from the picturesque land of Cherkashchyna. Both the painter and his wife Olga hail from Cherkashchyna. Olga is not only a spouse, she is his aid, critic and fan.

Ivko goes on to say:

"The world is burning in a fire of ignorance and talentlessness. We are witnessing some of the apocalyptic warnings starting to come true. We are making merry, we are enjoying sweet mindlessness produced in us by being whirled in the centrifuge of perversions. We are happy to pick up innumerable letters of so many alphabets scattered before us and we build words out of them, words with no meaning to them, words that entertain but lead into nothingness, irresponsible words. We are happy with new toys like little irresponsible children, we skim on the surface, we are amazed and ashamed when we learn that the things we thought were "new", turn out to be very old indeed." Ivko’s sons, Anton and Pavlo, who were present at this conversation, were indignant when they heard their father comparing the mankind to "little irresponsible children" who were being misled by the deceptive newness of certain things.

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Under an Apple Tree. 1998. Oil on canvas. 70x70 cm.

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Colours of Autumn. 1997. Oil on canvas. 70x70 cm.

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Morning. 1993.  Oil on canvas. 70x70 cm.
They objected and offered their arguments to prove a different point of view. Later they showed their drawings done at an art school, which they go to. I liked the sincerity and generous talent they demonstrated in the drawings.

I could not help thinking of a great responsibility of art schoolteachers — they had on the one hand to teach the basics of artistic skills and on the other hand preserve individual talents from becoming uniform. A discussion followed and Ivko, summing up, said:

"A high level of perfection of a work of art eliminates all the information that stands behind it, except for purely artistic one. Colour, form, signs are called upon to open up the primal sources of perception."

You begin to understand the truth of this statement when you look attentively at Ivko’s paintings. He attempts to comprehend this world of ours through pictorial means and to understand us, humans, living in this world. Many of his paintings at first glance seem enigmatic but the more you look at them and into them the more you begin to see the underlying feelings and thoughts.

Some of his paintings are definitely disturbing because of their message or because of our not being able to get their hidden meaning at once.

Says the painter: "The visual arts of the twentieth century have gone the way of modernist search, destroying the aesthetic values of the past. They have elevated empty newness to the rank of something that should be worshipped. Nihilism, in its attacks upon the smithy where our spirituality used to be forged, ruined it. These burned down ruins give us subjects to paint."

Rather frightening it sounds. High time we remembered how to enjoy watching the flight of dandelions’ parachute seeds. I am sure we are able to come back to getting a great joy out of observing the lightness and magic of gossamer things. "We must derive our strength not from reading philosophers of doom or from daydreaming or travelling to distant lands, but from the earth, from a blossoming garden, from the harmony of nature which is the best encyclopaedia of life, from a fragrant piece of bread, from a melodic old song, from the warmth of smiles of children who, holding their parents’ hands, hope to be given the right direction on the road to enlightenment."

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Was That a Real Summer?! Oil on canvas.
70x70 cm.

By Lyudmila Kornienko
OR-Gallery telephone: 380 (44) 412-6031

Illustrated to article.

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