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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

The Magic World of Marfa TYMCHENKO

11 April, 2000 - 00:00

The People’s Artist of Ukraine whose one-woman show is underway at the Art Center Gallery in Kyiv, has been awarded the Taras Shevchenko National Prize.

Marfa Ksenofontovna Tymchenko is developing a unique style: Petrykivka ornamentation. Born in Petrykivka, she is one of the best representatives of the Petrykivka school of decorative art and has long since resided and worked in Kyiv where she won recognition as an unmatched master of decorated ceramics.

Her personal exhibit at the Art Center (Kostelna St.), however, reveals a different creative aspect. The display shows easel paintings dating from the 1980s-1990s, something her devotees know little about. But precisely these canvases, done in Petrykivka’s traditional cat’s brush, yet in an unusual oil technique, caused the artist’s nomination for the Shevchenko Prize.

The exposition is titled Pages from My Life Story and consists of paintings created by Marfa Ksenofontovna when she had celebrated her seventieth birthday, showing striking changes in her manner of artistic portrayal. Her forced separation from decorated ceramics (she retired after working for 23 years in Kyiv’s experimental decorative ceramics factory) which, on the strength of its genre specificity, limited improvisation, reducing it to the boundaries of ornamental decoration, led the artist to pictorial art which tremen dously broadened the range of her quest for image-bearing-plasticity. At her age this transformation appears truly phenomenal.

Marfa Tymchenko’s visual world is saturated with memories from the past, its concreteness and indisputable authenticity emerging before us.

Her My Childhood cycle is inherently ingenious, touchingly straightforward, with cheerful cunning ever present in folk paintings. Every canvas of the series is perceived as a short story about the past. In it one finds the clear joy of coming back to Petrykivka’s past, the simple patriarchal countryside life of the 1920s, built on the cult of work.

Given all the decorative conventionality of her paintings, her images reveal amusing details: the Petrykivka yard where little girl Marfa grew up, always drawing something, while herding a goat tied to her belt or leg (In Our Courtyard) or climbing to the top of the biggest tree to glimpse the electric lights in Dniprodzerzhynsk, a city which in her childish mind was a fairy-tale habitat ( I Want to See the City of Dniprodzerzhynsk). The artist reproduces the cherished details of her household, especially the stove, the main decorative and functional element of every Ukrainian village home which her mother decorated with Petrykivka’s characteristic colorful ornament on Christmas and Easter Eve, including paper bands bought at the local fair (My Mother Sang Me Lullabies in the Cradle; Mother and I Buying Decorations at the Fair). The walls and lezhanka stove-benches were decorated with rushnyk towels, pillows, and bedspreads embroidered by her mother. And the floor was covered with her rugs, showing whimsical needlework — something other Petrykivka homes could only envy (Mom and I Are Working). The children living next door would always peep through the windows to admire the luxurious interior created by Marfa’s mother, Oleksandra Medianyk, who was acknowledged as the neighborhood’s best embroideress. And it was from her mother that Marfa received her first cat’s brush.

The exposition also features landscapes done with a naive and impassioned interpretation of nature. Marfa Tymchenko adores nature. In her pictures country environs are invariably perceived as not just verdant, but luxuriant, verging on the superfluous (Good Harvest, Refurbished Windmill, Goodbye, My Girl!). And her latter- day landscapes, such as Willows, Autumnal Period, Alfalfa, and Horses by the Lake, are remarkably lyrical. Yet in all such landscapes the artist is attracted by an integrity outside of time, by their semi- real and semi-fairy-tale natural motif. Taking nature as the basis, she relieves her pictures of all mundane chance occurrences, trying to convey her own perception of carefree contemplation, quiet, and the endlessness of terrestrial existence. Because all of Marfa Tymchenko’s canvases are governed by the logic of folk painting. Here one will never find random details; stylized, extremely conventionalized forms are strictly interconnected both rhythmically and in terms of color in her every composition. Everything in her pictures is easily identifiable and simultaneously a mythical, magical world in which the author innocently yet boldly trespasses the visible boundaries of art and reality.

By Zoya CHEHUSOVA, art critic