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The Art of Halyna Mazepa at The Ukrainian Museum

An exhibition of works of Halyna Mazepa opened at The Ukrainian Museum on Sunday, September 17, 2000. An illustrated, bilingual catalogue with an essay by Bohdan Pevny on the life and creative achievements of the artist is available.

The exhibition features paintings on loan from the collection of Ilarion and Sviltana Cholhan. Additional works of Halyna Mazepa were borrowed from Bohdan Koval, the son of the artist and his family, and from Bohdanna Tytla. This exhibition is part of a series of exhibitions, which the Museum initiated two years ago acknowledging the important role collectors have played in the building of significant collections,

In the past many collectors have chosen to share their art bounty with a wide audience, through loans or outright gifts to cultural institutions. This philanthropic gesture has provided the general public with unbounded opportunities for education, enrichment, and enjoyment of the arts.

Art is in many respects a manifestation of its time. Being aware that private collections have often served as the foundations of vital museum holdings, from a historical perspective they have become an important factor in the documentation and preservation of the cultural legacy of a people.

Halyna Mazepa was an artists whose work embodies the ideas and ideals of her time. The seed of national awareness and the search for a national form in Ukrainian literature and the arts, which spilled over from the naturalistic perception of the 19th century into the modernism movement of the 20th , found fertile ground in the creative expressions of the artist.

Halyna Mazepa was born in 1910 in St. Petersburg, Russia to Ukrainian parents. Her father Izaak Mazepa was an agronomist by profession and later became a noted Ukrainian political activist and leader. Her mother was Natalia Singalevych Mazepa, a bacteriologist and teacher. Both parents took note of their daughters inclination to draw and paint from an early age and greatly encouraged the development of her budding talent.

Through her formative years Halyna studied with several art teachers. Mykola Pohribniak and Yurii Mahalevsky introduced her to the unique style of the Cossack era and to the majesty of Byzantine icon painting, respectively. Many years later art historian Sviatoslav Hordynsky in an essay about the artist (Halyna Mazepa Ukrainian Free University, München, 1982) said that the "faultlessly balanced" line in Mazepa's paintings "is the dominant feature in her art and can be traced directly to the icon -- not the rigidly stylized Byzantine form, but the Ukrainian variant which developed from distant Byzantine tradition and living folk art."

The turbulence of World War I and the encroachment of the Soviets prompted the Mazepa family to leave Ukraine and settle in Prague. Here, Halyna finished high school and continued at the State School for Applied Art, where she studied the art of illustration. Her work soon reached the consumer market -- she illustrated children's books and was a much-in-demand provider of artwork to both Czech and Ukrainian magazines and newspapers.

Volodymyr Popovych, in an essay about the artist in the monograph Halyna Mazepa (UFU, München, 1982) said that while attending classes at the Ukrainian Studio of Visual Art in Prague, Halyna met many young people, who later became prominent in the Ukrainian literary and artistic spheres, among them such artists as Mykola Krychevsky and Sophia Zarytska.

In the 1920s and 1930s Prague was the intellectual capital of the Ukrainians emigres. Enjoying the ambiance, Halyna Mazepa threw herself wholeheartedly into the cultural life of the Ukrainian community of the city. She designed costumes for various stage productions and dance groups and illustrated books for Ukrainian writers and poets, among them the plays of poet Alexander Oles. She also created series of postcards -- one of Ukrainian national dress, the other featuring Ukrainian mythology. The Ukrainian Scientific Institute in Warsaw commissioned her to paint portraits of noted individuals in the political and cultural scene.

By 1933 Halyna Mazepa emerged as a mature artist. That year she visited Paris for the first time. There she met artist Vasyl Diadyniuk whose neo-Byzantine style, coupled with his method of introducing icon painting elements into secular art, had a great influence on her own style. Essayist Bohdan Pevny points this out in the current Ukrainian Museum exhibition catalogue. During the year Mazepa also participated in large group exhibitions in Berlin and Prague. Following this international debut, the artist took part in the Retrospective Exhibition of Ukrainian Art at the National Museum in Lviv in 1935. She created a "cultural" sensation with her painting of nude girls with a hockey stick, entitled After the Hockey Game, shown at an exhibition organized by the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists in Lviv in 1936.

Because of the almost exclusive application of Ukrainian folklore and historical themes in her paintings, Halyna Mazepa was considered to belong to the group "National Modernists." Proponents of this group were, among others, Anatol Petrytsky - the revolutionary stage set and costume designer, and Mykola Butovych - innovative graphic designer and artist. Notwithstanding this association, Mazepas style was quite unique and identifiable as her own. The simplicity of line and composition, coupled with bold contracts in color stood out among the work of her contemporaries. The media she utilized in her paintings for the most part were oil, gouache and tempera.

In the midst of her successes tragedy struck the life of the artist. She and her husband Volodymyr Koval lost their two sons and Halyna's mother in a bomb raid in Prague in 1945, shortly before the end of the war. Deeply distraught by the personal tragedy and frightened by the approaching Soviet army, the couple fled to Germany. They left behind Halynas cache of fifteen years of work, personal documents and photographs.

Halyna Mazepa, her husband and a new baby son named Bohdan immigrated to Venezuela in 1947. Another son, Ivan was born in Venezuela. There, in the South American subtropical environment filled with wondrous sounds and colors, the artist resumed her work. This cacophony of exotica impressed her and appealed to her and she made use of its many attributes in her work. Nevertheless she also held on to the Ukrainian folk themes which were featured so prominently in her paintings. In 1948 she showed her work in an individual exhibition in the Caracas Museo del Bellas Artes.

Art historian Hordynsky says that in the 1950's Mazepa's style crystallized. "Her faces, normally shown in profile, became increasingly geometric in form, with a separation between planes of light and shadow by distinct black outlines. She uses color in clearly defined planes reminiscent of stained glass. Her figures stand out distinctly, defined by firm but fluid, almost musical lines."

He went to say that: "Despite the sometimes seemingly chaotic diversity of contemporary art trends, Halyna Mazepa, always sensitive and innovative, has created her own form of artistic expression. A national style is judged by its contributions to world art; Mazepa, whose work is in the mainstream of international ideas, deserves to be included among the foremost Ukrainian artists."

Halyna Mazepa died in Caracas, Venezuela in 1995 leaving a legacy of work that is cherished in many museums and private collections around the world.

The Ukrainian Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 1 - 5 PM. Tel. 212 228-0110; FAX: 212 228-1947; E-mail: ukrmus@aol.com. Website: www.ukrainianmuseum.org.



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