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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

On March 20 Mykola Trehub would have been sixty

25 March, 2003 - 00:00

Mykola Ivanovych Trehub was born on March 20, 1943, in the village of Mykhailivka, Kyiv oblast. He died when he was still young on March 23, 1984. He was author of over 1000 works in the graphic arts, painting, and mixed media. He was unrecognized during his lifetime. The innovative character of his creative work forced the artist to join the artistic underground, which finally led him to suicide. His fate was far from easy. He grew up without a father, suffered from tuberculosis, but still he persistently worked to make his dream of becoming an artist reality. He came to Kyiv to enter a vocational arts school wearing his father’s old coat. After graduation he sought his own path, studying world and Ukrainian arts while listening to his own heart. His friend artist V. Baklytsky was always there for him in the reflections and arguments about new art; H. Khusid, leader of an arts studio, was his tutor, and around him there was always a small circle of friends who understood him. He arranged exhibitions in their apartments, took place in the Rukh avant- garde exhibition. Only once did he have an official exhibition at the Archeology Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (admission by invitation only). Mykola worked as an artist at this institute for nine years.

Taciturn and self-absorbed, he laughed rarely but sincerely, and his laughter was unusual and faltering. He expressed the treasures of his pure soul through the quite solemnity of cardboard and canvas. He felt deeply about his being in the underground and the abnormality of the stagnation period in general. “I became nothing but... a housepainter in these awful days... Accursed reality, the obscure borders, and sources that moved on... The conditions have been created for the death of the whole Ukrainian school of painting,” the artist wrote in a 1976 letter. He dreamed of a free, politically unengaged art. His whole work is proof that this is possible, “without knowing any sleep, or rest, or consolation in tears.”

What gave spiritual support to Trehub were forbidden books by Ukrainian poets Yevhen Pluzhnyk, Mykola Zerov, Vasyl Symonenko, et el. The artist’s creative manner was formed spontaneously and based on associations, like music or verse. Mykola Trehub combined his impressions of something he saw (a face, church, tree, flower, or whatever) with linear and colorist (abstract) means of expression. Sometimes he found it necessary to include letters in his works: lines from verses or mysterious undeciphered rows of letters modeled on the acronyms so popular at the time. In addition to painting, he made collages, sticking objects, photographs, or straw to his compositions. For instance, the phrase “Searching for ultramundane spheres” (a hidden quotation from a poem) is combined with a church building and rhythmic brushstrokes, reminding in their structure of a sackcloth or carpet (there was a whole carpet series of very interesting works). “Do you remember the path of our youth?” — one can see these words by Mykola Khvyliovyi in the works of his Lilac Cycle series, one of the last in the artist’s work.

Mykola viewed himself and his works as a part of a boundless omniscient universe. This is why he was always honest with himself and others, never admitting any hypocrisy or lie. Many of his works are multi- layered. They have not only one surface to observe but also a hidden one in the middle and even on the back. “This way it will show itself,” the artist used to say. His paintings could be of any shape, not necessarily rectangular, because for him they were like living things. Friends recall how Mykola surprised them all during a forest walk. Some took a ball with them, others — drinks and food, while Mykola carried a sack with his paintings and drawings. The artist set them up at a clearing saying, “Let them get some fresh air and see the sun.”

Live and full of inspired experiments, Trehub’s creativity perhaps lives on in some special dimension. Collectors from Canada, Germany, Israel, and Great Britain preserve Trehub’s works as precious relics. Over twenty his works are kept in the storeroom of the National Arts Museum of Ukraine. Recently a number of Trehub paintings were purchased by New Jersey’s Zimmerly Arts Museum from the artist’s son. It would be nice to arrange a large one man show by Trehub and publish a catalogue so that the new generation of art lovers would become aware of the creative achievement of this classic of the Ukrainian avant-garde.

By Olena HOLUB