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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

Lyricist of realistic art

Ihor Chamata marks 60th anniversary
13 February, 2007 - 00:00

Despite the dubious conjuncture of Soviet times, and his career and commercial ambitions, the artist Ihor Chamata has always engaged in painting and teaching pupils at a private studio. No doubt these are the traits for which his friends and colleagues respect him. His professional level allows him to be regarded as a true heir of the finest traditions of classical realistic painting, germane to artists like Konchalovsky, Mashkov, Serov, Levitan, Plastov, and Gerasimov.

Chamata’s road to art was largely determined by the people who surrounded him in his childhood. He was born into an intellectual family with aristocratic roots. Graduates of the Pedagogical Institute still remember his father Pavlo Chamata, who was a lecturer and the institute’s director. Books of memoirs by noted cultural figures of the 19th century mention his family members, who appear in documents and old photographs.

The artist’s family was descended from the noble Czech family of the Koteks. His grandfather’s brother was a violinist and favorite pupil of the noted Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky. One of his relatives on his mother’s side presided over a congress of justices of the peace in Miensk gubernia. His great-grandfather was a colonel in the tsarist army and recipient of the Order of St. Anna and the Cross of St. George. His grandmother on his father’s side was descended from the family of Nemyrovych-Danchenko, the stage director and founder of the Moscow Academic Art Theater.

His keen awareness of his family roots explains why his paintings have so many truly aristocratic features. At times his paintbrush seems to barely touch the canvas, merely hinting at an object’s materiality. At other times its strokes are broad and colorful, producing with hedonistic satisfaction red rosebuds or white, translucent jasmine petals. Chamata has never had a proclivity to anything artificial or pompous, what is known as parlor painting. He knew how to reveal the inner beauty of ordinary wildflowers, grass, fall mushrooms with wet leaves from forest trees stuck to their caps, mature poppies, and wild rye. He could paint even ordinary white chamomiles with such tender care that their delicate petals seem to echo the cosmos of nature, where everything is interrelated. His landscapes painted from nature in the historical center of Kyiv (March and The Golden Gate) are strikingly lyrical.

Ihor Chamata was born in 1946 in Kyiv. After completing his studies at the Taras Shevchenko Republican School of Art, he studied at the Fine Arts Faculty of the Art Institute of Kyiv. Among his professors were the noted Ukrainian painters S. Yerzhakivsky, K. Trokhymenko, and V. Puzyrkov. He chose the subject of his diploma work spontaneously, after watching the play 97 by Kulish, whose works were prohibited and who was later repressed. The young artist painted a picture entitled Poor Peasants’ Committee depicting individuals who had carried out the dekulakization campaign in the 1920s. He worked hard on his diploma project, painting every character while visiting a Ukrainian village in the summer. Thanks to his numerous summer sketches, keenness of observation, and inspiration, his diploma work received an A. He was commended by his professors and personally by the Moscow artist Pimenov, who was visiting Kyiv at the time.

After his graduation the young artist was invited to enroll in the Art Academy’s graduate school. He took an active part in group art exhibits on the republican level and joined the Artists’ Union of Ukraine. His first commission from the union’s center was two canvases dedicated to Pushkin: The Captain’s Daughter and Eugene Onegin.

In addition to easel painting, monumental works occupy a key place in his creative biography, including paintings commissioned by the Museum of Medicine. Special expressiveness marks thematic canvases filled with many characters, like Spotted Fever during the Civil War in Ukraine (1918-20) and The Sick Barracks. These works are included in a special catalogue and form part of the museum’s permanent exhibits. Chamata is also the author of a thematic work for the Yuri Gagarin Museum in Saratov (Russia) and several paintings hanging in the Museum of Kyivan History in the Podil district.

Starting sometime in the 1980s, the artist began concentrating almost exclusively on easel painting. Most of these works are urban landscapes portraying Kyiv’s historical center (Kyivan Cave Monastery, St. Sophia Square, and the Golden Gate) and plein-air landscapes (Trukhaniv Island, Hydropark). Within his circle of colleagues, including noted landscape artists Yerzhakivsky, Kyianchenko, Odainyk, and Volobuiev, Chamata inherited certain features germane to the generation that was formed in the 1950s-1970s. Thus, March, Dnipro, The Golden Gate, Winter Evening, St. Sophia of Kyiv, and other paintings are considered the finest exemplars of socialist realism, a genre that is extraordinarily popular nowadays and well known even outside Ukraine.

Although Chamata seems to work in the same direction as his fellow artists, he has his own style, which is mostly revealed in an extremely meticulous, restrained, and serious approach to nature. Some of his landscapes and still lifes resemble graphics, as not a single detail seems to escape the artist’s eye. Using light and dark shades, he convincingly conveys daylight and twilight, the mysterious shimmering shadows of Kyiv boulevards. The artist never abandons his favorite — fine, almost pointillistic brushstrokes — in favor of rough, broad ones, nor does he use a palette knife. The true portrayal of nature is his main creative motto. Diligence and perseverance have always been the hallmarks of his inspired creative work.

Numerous floral still lifes shed a much broader light on his poetic and romantic character. In his Lilacs, executed in the style of Petr Konchalovsky, Apples and Pears (a la Ilya Mashkov), and his Roses, Jasmines, and Irises, one can find the secret of his professional success. In painting flowers, the artist reflects on the paradoxes of life, the passage of time, and the harmony of nature. Seeing very young pink rosebuds and mature and open roses on the same canvas makes the viewer philosophically pensive. His bouquets are portrayed with artistic ingenuity, often set in refined cut-glass vases and surrounded by bronze or porcelain accessories. Chamata places simple wildflowers, chamomiles, and asters in plain clay pots on a table, next to ripe apples, pears, and leaves from an orchard. The painting of rich, slightly damp, and fragrant Lilacs set in peasant woven baskets is executed in a tempestuous impressionistic style.

Interestingly, the artist partook of the legacy of French Impressionism as a young man under the Soviets, when there were no monographs or albums on this “decadent” subject. Ihor unearthed leaflets, read foreign publications, and collected reproductions of works by such taboo artists as Monet, Sisley, and Renoir.

His youthful love of modernism may have influenced a series of lilac still lifes in the early 2000s; it is hard to keep your eyes off them. Several versions of Red Poppies also rank among the artist’s best works. Ignoring minor details, he focuses on the clear red pigment and creates true to life images of these royal flowers that, unfortunately, tend to fade very quickly. Thanks to his many years of experience and excellent visual memory, the artist executes paintings of tender and whimsical flowers like the anemone, poppy, tulip, and forget-me-not. A special place among his still lifes is devoted to simple and touchingly natural mushrooms, fall apples, pears, and nuts (in fact, few artists have still lifes on such original subjects). Only his true love of nature allows the artist to portray these gifts of autumn in such a convincing and intimate manner.

These paintings are further proof that motifs are not the main thing but the artist’s skill in revealing this motif (one is reminded of Monet’s Peaches, Konchalovsky’s Apples and Pears, and Repin’s Still Life with a Copper Basin). Sometimes minor works help assess an artist’s true professional level.

Chamata has also taught painting, composition, and fine arts, preparing applicants for entrance exams to Kyiv’s institutions of higher learning. His pupils gratefully recall their professor, who was tolerant yet demanding. Over the years the artist has succeeded in instilling in many of his pupils not only professional skills but also an interest in literature on art and the habit of regularly visiting museums and contemporary art exhibits.

By Olena SHAPIRO, special to The Day