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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

Bohdan SOROKA: In 1990s all the artists rushed to get the titles…

Back in the Soviet time the artist from Lviv was the first to represent the Ukrainian mythology through the graphic art
2 August, 2011 - 00:00

LVIV – The graphic artist from Lviv Bohdan Soroka is preparing to publish the album in which the author will present about 140 works, the most interesting in his opinion. The book will be called simply Soroka. He says that he did not ask art critics to create the text. “I don’t want them to write that I’ve gained renown not only in Ukraine but all over the world. I don’t need the grandeur, that is why I’ve written everything myself,” the artist confessed.

Soroka’s self-irony distinguishes him from other artists. He is able to see in the events happening around a lot of barely noticeable yet significant processes that require some response. The range of his topics is wide: from the Ukrainian mythology to his own parables and philosophical constructions in which he reflects the life and implements his expertise in various spheres to create the symbols. He is disposed to important changes of his images: his next series seem to be disconnected from the previous ones. Soroka has been constantly developing, he carries on a dialog with certain social processes and his works become deeper with the time.

“The working process and the national responsibility are essential for him,” emphasizes professor Roman YATSIV and adds that Bohdan Soroka felt the Modernist development model of the Ukrainian art back at the very beginning of his creative work. He didn’t get lost in the early 1990s among various art ideas and created the sample of the well-consolidated form and the deeply conceptual relation with the Ukrainian Modernism. Later it turned out that not only with the Ukrainian one, as the Ukrainian artists of 1920s-1930s were closely related to the whole world, especially to Paris, Berlin, Krakow and Warsaw. The works of the graphic artist can be found in nearly all the Ukrainian museums as well as abroad, in Vilnius, Brussels and the US. His exhibits are held in many countries.

Bohdan Soroka has always been interesting for the art buffs for his focus on the ethnic background. His first works – he started back in 1960s – were a surprise for many people since that time was marked by official doctrines in the art and boring thematic works among which insincere compositions prevailed. Soroka impressed everybody with his interpretation of the mythology and that series of his works became the illustrations for the collected poems by Ihor Kalynets Poetry from Ukraine published in Brussels in 1970.

“I got so enthusiastic about Ivan Svitlychny’s idea, that the illustrations for Ihor Kalynets’s book are probably my best graphic works,” says Bohdan Soroka. “I had problems afterwards and I’ve described them in my memoirs. Kalynets was arrested and they left me without work and possibilities to exhibit. Unless I repent… So, I didn’t have exhibit till the beginning of 1990s. I worked with Volodymyr Patyk as a muralist. I didn’t have any financial difficulties.”

But what was in your heart?

“I was OK as I knew that it had to be this way. If I had done the things they wanted me to, there would have been senseless to exhibit. Sometimes those exhibits were just disgusting…”

Probably, there are very few such men of principle as you are…

“I’m not the only one. Roman Petruk, one of the most interesting modern Ukrainian sculptors, didn’t exhibit either. Neither did Karlo Zvirynsky. When the arrests started, Roman Korohodsky (a well-known Lviv culture expert. – Author) wrote a large article to Literaturna Hazeta telling that I was the first to represent the Ukrainian mythology through the graphic art and he got fired. However, he told me later: ‘Bohdan, I’d rather lose with you than win with them...’ He supported those who were persecuted and remained with them till the end. It was him who had difficulties. I didn’t since there’s always work for an artist.”

Soroka has a deep inner connection with his father, Mykhailo Soroka, a very gifted person, related to the Prague Ukrainian emigration community of 1930s; he knew a lot of famed graphic artists, namely Heorhi Narbut’s pupil Robert Lisovsky (he created the logo for Lufthansa airlines and designed the coverage of Pavlo Tychyna’s book of poems Solar Clarinets. – Author); in exile he proved his human dignity and amazing erudition. In his letters to little Bohdan he guided him towards humane and artistic values. Probably, that is why Bohdan Soroka managed to keep his high dignity and uniqueness in the Ukrainian art: this is his intrinsic and native heritage left from his father and the generation of outstanding artists and intellectuals.

He also tells about his friends who are well-known not only in Lviv but all over Ukraine. However, he is disappointed with some of them and does not invite them to visit him anymore. He has written about it in his book. It will be the first large album of Soroka’s graphic works. Back in 2008, he presented a series of 12 etchings called The Passion of Christ devoted to the purest personality among the people of sixties Ivan Svitlychny.

“Even Chornovil worked for himself,” Soroka says. “Svitlychny gave everything to the people, worked for everybody.”

The artist told that with his Passion… he posed himself a question whether it is possible to crucify Christ nowadays. What would the people do around the one being crucified for us? Would they cry during His deposition from the cross? Is there any sacrifice whose light would excite us?

“I asked Viktor Neborak to write poetry for each etching. He wrote four lines for each and he did it perfectly well.”

After the Orange Revolution Bohdan Soroka, the Lviv painter Vlodko Kaufman and some other artists wrote an open letter to President Viktor Yushchenko asking to abolish “the practice of conferring the titles of “honored artist” (journalist, teacher, etc.) and “people’s artist of Ukraine” as well as various privileges of those already having such titles.

“I thought that when the independence comes the older generation would say: ‘We refuse all those titles because this is the way it is in Europe.’ No! I’ve written about it in my book: all the artists that previously made fun of those titles as well as I did rushed to ask for them! Moreover, they paid for them with their paintings since nobody would give you anything for free. Those who paid with their works were gifted people, and ungifted ones paid money. It’s the corruption. So, I think that the Ukrainians don’t have any true elite. In general, this situation around titles reminds the state of ambivalence…We’ve chosen the Asian way! What Europe are we talking about?”

The Day ’s FACT FILE

Bohdan Soroka was born in 1941 in the prison in Lontsky Street where his mother Kateryna Zarytska was imprisoned. His father Mykhailo Soroka, the Ukrainian dissident, an OUN member was a prisoner of the Soviet concentration camps for 30 years and organized the prisoners’ resistance movement OUN-North.

Soroka was brought up by his mother’s parents: Myron Zarytsky, an outstanding Ukrainian mathematician, professor of the Lviv University and his wife Volodymyra.

In 1964 he graduated from the Lviv Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts. He’s a professional ceramist. In 1964-93 he worked at the Lviv art enterprise as a muralist painter. He created his first linocuts in 1969; they were the illustrations for the book of Ihor Kalynets’s poems published abroad and known as Poetry from Ukraine. It made the KGB bring an action before court against the artists, it was banned for decades to exhibit his works and mention his name in the media. However, the artist didn’t give up working on the graphic series The Ukrainian Mythology, Midsummer Fun, The Symbols of Hryhorii Skovoroda, The Dwarfs’ Campaign, A Journey through Uzbekistan, Architecture of Lviv, Symbols and Emblems and Halychyna Wooden Churches. He’s created graphic illustrations for the works of Lesia Ukrainka, Roman Ivanychuk, Vasyl Stefanyk, Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Koshelivets. In 1989, he was awarded the prize at the international bookplates contest in Vilnius. Since 2001 the artist has been working with color linocuts.

Since 1993 Bohdan Soroka has been the associate professor of the Lviv Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts, in 1996-2005 he worked as the first head of the commercial art department.

By Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, The Day. Photo replicas provided by Bohdan SOROKA