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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

An erudite philosopher

An exhibition of the outstanding Lviv-based artist Liubomyr Medvid opens at the exhibition hall of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine
3 February, 2014 - 17:53

Let us remind our readers that this year the artist is nominated for the Shevchenko Prize for his cycle “Reminiscences.”

Liubomyr Medvid is a famous painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and author of inspired texts. He is a student of Karl Zvirynsky, Roman Selsky, and Vitold Manastyrsky. Medvid holds the title of the People’s Artist of Ukraine and is a member of the Academy of Arts of Ukraine. His paintings and graphic works are well-known in museums, galleries, and private collections in Ukraine, but they are no less valued in collections across Canada and the US. The artist has already become a teacher for a few generations of artistic youth and the pride of Lviv’s cultural life.

Medvid’s artistic expanse, his individual reflection of the world is very special, since it combines anxiety, dramatism and at the same time estheticism of the modern cultural context. His every painting series implies his existential ideas and opinions on man’s complex situation in the modern world. It is for a reason that out of the large number of works it was a number of canvases The Prodigal Son from the series “Reminiscences” that Medvid submitted for the Shevchenko Prize. The biblical parable, the depiction of which was left for the humankind in Rembrandt’s 18th century masterpiece, in the genius graphic series by Taras Shevchenko, is developed and has a new meaning in Medvid’s canvas today: Come to the Green Vale (Christ), Magdalena, From the Egg, Prodigal Son, and others. The problem of man’s complicated life path, the search for one’s own fate, mistakes and enlightenment: such is the moral and ethical basis of this painting cycle. The plastics of the author’s artistic language is perfect, even exquisite, with a paradoxical combination of dramatic tension and grotesquely irritating intonations. As always, Medvid creates open and seemingly vague images in his work. They require for the viewer to actively imagine more about them, thus cooperating with the author. The artist invites to a dialog.

Medvid made his own artistic ascent to the highest artistic spheres without ever betraying either his moral or artistic principles. His creative career started in the 1970s, a very dramatic time for art under the pressure of the social realistic dictatorship. Not being able to accept this violence, Medvid becomes a member of Lviv’s underground movement. During late 1960s, he escaped the suffocating atmosphere by leaving the Soviet times for another age without changing the place of residence. His dignity chose the right path for him. It is for a reason that this talented young man’s teachers were real knights of honor. It is also for a reason that the protector of Ukrainian culture Borys Voznytsky sought Medvid’s company.

In Lviv’s artistic environment, as saturated with artistic efforts as much as the Dead Sea is with salt, even in this “intellectual concentrate” Medvid stands out as a personality, professor and teacher, philosopher and cultural scientist, and most importantly, as an artist. There are plenty of talents in Lviv, colorism explodes on canvas volcanically. The decorative sense is immaculate. The creative resourcefulness impresses in every Lviv exhibition. But Medvid manages to remain unique among his talented colleagues for almost half a century. His works are intelligent with intangible, unique parable intonations and with superrealistic revelation images. The artistic form is flawless and convincing. We read in the author’s notes: “The discipline established a reinforced control over the array of shapes, spots, and lines.”

The artist’s paradoxical artistic world is wise and disturbed at the same time. Being a child of war in a border zone, where his parents were trying to protect their baby from the enemy’s blind bullets, in his art, along with anxiety, he expresses gratitude to God for the gift of life.

The image of the bewildered crowd, of the doomed human anthill entered Medvid’s consciousness and subconsciousness along with the first impressions of the war. The cycles “Peripheries,” “Terra Incognita,” “Ecce Homo,” and others were created in his mature years. “I tend to consider ‘Peripheries’ my first adventure in the space of artistic work,” Medvid says. “In my consciousness, the image of the dull roadside had been ripening, with its whimsicality, uncertainty, vagueness, distress, sadness... rolled over the faceless edges of the horizon.”

The youth who watched the Soviets destroy Lviv and knew the tragic history of the border areas of Ukraine, painfully reacted to the “omnipresent odor of Sovietism” in his painting and graphic cycles. Medvid says “it was an odor of the pervasive queues, military noise... pompous pathos of party conventions and persistent strangers’ breathing in your neck.” That is why the painting series “Evacuation” explores the subject of aggressiveness, from which the civilization did not free the humankind in centuries.

It is clear that in the years of falsely triumphant social realism Medvid’s creative work was in the underground, along with the top leaders of the Lviv school. Living in inner emigration was hard, only very few could bear with it.

Just as during the 1970s-1980s, today Medvid paints the torments of human existence. In his cycles “Interiors” (1989-91), “Roztochia” (1986-2007), as well as in “The Prodigal Son” (1993-96 and 2012-13), the author does not avoid the complicated questions about human nature, human duality of a God-beast. “Taras Shevchenko also used to set hard questions,” Medvid says. He is looking to the classic for support as if they were interlocutors. What is a human being for an artist? A mere feather, unaware of the gravitational happiness of time and space? Echoing Shevchenko, Medvid asks: “Who chained us, and what for?” The human in the artist’s works is mostly a voice in the polyperspective of the amazing surrealistic wilderness. Each work contains both alliance and conflict of logic and alogism. Yet the scripts of the compositions are easily deciphered by an intelligent viewer.

The artist, a witness of the dramatic 20th and early 21st centuries, continues the tradition of European humanism in the forms of existentialism in a sympathetic (but not sentimental) attitude towards human beings. In each of his works, as well as in the last cycle “The Prodigal Son” (2012-13), man and his fate remain the central figure in Medvid’s hyperrealistic dramatic works. That human lives in a complicated time. That is the artist’s statement.

By Olha PETROVA, artist, art critic, doctor of philosophy