Ukraine is home to many prominent artists: poets, writers, painters, and actors. Our country is a fertile soil on which geniuses sprout. More often than not, years of effort and sacrifice follow their creative struggle. Such is the story of the central figure of this article. Ivan Marchuk, one of the most renowned artists of modern Ukraine, is a genius with an uneasy life path. Marchuk is the first and only Ukrainian out of hundred recognised geniuses of our time, a master of ‘unrepeatable accidents.’
Ivan Marchuk is the only Ukrainian on the list of the hundred geniuses of humanity, compiled by the international consulting company ‘Creator Synectics.’ According to the newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph,’ the artist creates a multidimensional image of the modern world and determines the direction of post-industrial civilisation. His unique artistic style, ‘plʹontanizm,’ is an example of outstanding skill compared with visual novelty. The term comes from the Ukrainian word ‘plʹontaty.’ The word is from the regional dialect; in translation, it means ‘to weave.’ The artist’s canvases seem to be created from tiny balls of strange threads. Each picture consists of a considerable number of strokes upon strokes.
Ivan Marchuk is also a member of the ‘Golden Guild’ of the International Academy of Contemporary Art in Rome. He is titled the ‘People’s Artist’ of Ukraine and laureate of the Taras Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine. Honorary citizen of Kyiv and Ternopil.
‘Once upon a time, there were stone trains in ancient times, and mammoths ran after them as children. Back when amoebas were singing a song about the Paleolithic, I was born imperceptibly and strangely,’ says the artist in a gentle voice during a meeting in a National Museum ‘Kyiv Picture Gallery’ in 2019.
The artist, of course, wasn’t born during the Paleolithic. His beginnings are much easier to trace. Ivan Marchuk’s trail started in 1936 in the village of Moskalivka in the Ternopil region. The artist was born into a family of the respected weaver.
‘There was a garden, a vegetable garden, and flowers, flowers, flowers… paradise. Poor, very poor we were. But the flowers bloomed, you know, when summer came,’ that is how the artist describes his childhood with his parents and three sisters.
As Marchuk says, becoming a painter was a conscious decision to become a painter. In seventh grade, young Ivan was sure about whom he wanted to be. That is why, after school, he started his education at the Lviv School of Decorative and Applied Arts.
In the mid-1960s, Ivan Marchuk came to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine (at that time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union), and it was there that he invented his artistic path. Since the 1970s, Marchuk has become an active participant in art exhibitions. The artist excels in easel painting and graphics, ceramic plastic, and monumental art.
The author’s works were exhibited in Kyiv, Moscow, Sydney, Toronto, New York, Vilnius, and many other countries.
Despite his outstanding performance, the artist was frowned upon by the Soviet government and art critics. Everything that wasn’t strictly following socialist ideology was considered ‘dangerous.’ The word stigma an artist in the Soviet Union could receive is the branding of a ‘nationalist.’ That is what happened to Ivan Marchuk.
The artist came under pressure from the USSR state authorities, and in 1989 he was forced to immigrate to Australia. Since then, the artist worked frantically abroad and continued to create despite exiling from his homeland. Ukraine remained the central theme of his paintings.
Apart from Australia, Ivan Marchuk also lived in Canada and USA. Interestingly, Marchuk was able to visit Ukraine during his emigration. And his first-ever official exhibition took place in Kyiv — at the State Art Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts.
The artist went back to Ukraine in 2001, this time permanently. The master describes his life in three periods — slavery (USSR), emigration, and freedom (life in independent Ukraine).
Master’s return to home was not only physical but also spiritual in nature. He walked barefoot from Trypillia to Kaniv, looking for a home after his time in Manhattan. The artist found the shelter he was looking for in the form of a house in the yard that grew an old apple tree with particularly crooked branches not far away from the Dnipro river.
Never the end
‘I’m greedy and obsessed, so something new is always created. I always think I haven’t done it yet. I always look for something. I constantly have to surprise myself, and only then will I surprise others,’ says the artist.
The artist’s work includes about 5,000 pieces. And during his lifetime, the master held more than 150 personal and about 50 collective exhibitions. The author’s works are divided into cycles according to themes, style, performance technique, and colour solutions. Among others, Ivan Marchuk created cycles ‘Voice of my Soul,’ ‘Landscape,’ ‘Blooming,’ ‘Color Preludes,’ ‘Portrait and many more.
‘Shevchenkian’ is a series of 42 paintings, part of the‘ Voice of my Soul’ cycle, that deserves special attention. It took Ivan Marchuk only two years to create 42 pictures! He worked from 1982 to 1984, for this work that in 1997, the master was awarded the Taras Shevchenko National Award. Before that, in 1996, the artist received the title of Honoured Artist of Ukraine. In 2011, the master described his craft: ‘This is hard work. Backbreaking. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. But everything speaks to me ‘draw me’.’
Today, the 86 years old artist continues to live and work in Ukraine. One of the main quests of his life is to open a museum of his paintings.
In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, announced the Marchuk museum opening on Andriivskyi Uzvoz. The artist was thrilled. Promises remained promises, and the museum was not opened. Last May, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Marchuk’s exhibition in honour of his 85th anniversary. The President of Ukraine congratulated the artist and offered premises to create a museum for his works.
There is, however, a small place entirely dedicated to the master and his craft. The village Moskalivka created a museum in honour of its famous son. There are kept 20 paintings that the artist gave to fellow villagers.
Ivan Marchuk is rightfully called the Ukrainian genius. His fruitful work and artistic creations established the artist’s reputation as a master of his craft. The paintings of Ivan Marchuk are highly appreciated both in Ukraine and abroad. And as long as the master’s hand can hold a brush, his homeland will continue to wait with bated breath for his new masterpieces.