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Flowers in Ukrainian Style. Kateryna Bilokur

16.10.2015 | art, Ukraine, personalities
In every art there are formats and rules – once in “mainstream” an Artist won’t have to starve. Even more so in totalitarian times when every sphere of people’s life is controlled and affected and selfhood has to be forgotten as such. It is probably in the face of a system natural talents emerge for their work to become immortal. Today Outlook recalls one of them, artist Kateryna Bilokur.

A woman born in province of Ukraine who didn’t even graduated from a seven-year school – her parents thought that school was too high-maintenance – could hardly dream of an artist of Picasso’s league calling her a genius. It will happen when she is be over 50. But before that “obsessed” Kateryna from Bogdanivka (a village in Kyiv region) will have to go through a lot.

Her life can probably make for a great script of a hit Hollywood biopic. Sneers of people around since very childhood because of useless “inartistic daubery”, hard work of a countrywoman, no chance to try and study somewhere because without school graduation certificate further education was unassailable, unsuccessful suicide attempt that would resound till the rest of her life in aching legs, despotic parents… Kind and forgiving Bilokur was going through difficulties with dignity her whole life.

And not just going – she was creating! She would sit in fields for hours, painting details of flowers and grass from life like a maniac. It resulted in famous “Decorative flowers”, “Hello Harvest”, “Birch” and other masterpieces. Her strive for education was so strong that after hard farming work she was spending nights studying engineering, creating brushes for herself and perfecting various pictorial art styles to become a hardworking rural woman early in the morning.

It all turned out fruitful – destiny thanked her by granting one chance out of a million. In 1939, when nameless Bilokur was already 39, she heard a song of Oksana Petrusenko on the radio. The voice of the singer sank so deeply into the heart of a “weirdo” from a village that Kateryna wrote her a letter, put a small picture of viburnum to the envelope and sent it to a strange address: Kyiv, Academic Theatre, to Oksana Petrusenko.

Miracle or not, but the letter ended up in right hands. Petrusenko was getting lots of grateful responses but it was the first time she saw a picture so beautiful and vivid… And then Act 3 of a Hollywood biopic began: intellectual in Kyiv found out about an amazing woman and helped her arrange for several exhibitions that blew out of the water both critics and ordinary picture art lovers…

After the war Kateryna Vasylivna joined the Union of Artists, was awarded several prizes, her works set on a tour to European countries: Spain, France and Italy where they were ranked together with best masters of those times. Nevertheless, she never abandoned native village. Sick relatives, family house and, sure enough, fields of flowers didn’t let her go. And although Kyiv and Moscow were luring not a “weirdo” by then but a People’s Artist of Ukraine with her pictures studied at universities and academies, she stayed anyway. She only absented herself several times to have rest at Guest House for Artists. Bilokur died in 1961 at the age of 60…

There are always creators, who made it into textbooks for their accomplishments yet young people don’t study them much, sometimes they don’t know them at all. But acknowledgement of future generations is a significant point. Here is what modern masters of brush from Kyiv studio “Maya’s Workshop” say about Bilokur and her influence on Ukrainian picture art:

Maya Proskurnya: It is her in her every work. In her authentic and bold way Kateryna Bilokur was painting what was inspiring her, making her happy, winning her heart, touching and exciting her. World around the artist is presented “in her own style” that cannot but be distinguished. I’d call it the symbol of decorative picture art in Ukraine. And it doesn’t matter whether one had been taking academic painting classes for 15 years or not. I know many great guys with perfect professional education but they feel sick at a sight of a canvas – over the years of education they fell out of love with both art and their talent.

One has to put soul into own work, elaborate every detail with love. That’s what Kateryna Bilokur used to do. Why so many flowers? Because she was fascinated with them and she preserved life of every petal in her works. No wonder she was noticed and recognized – so “non-realistic” yet at the same time “vivid” canvases paved the way for a self-taught artist to big-time art.

Nina Murashkina: It seems to me that Kateryna Vasylivna still influences artists with her honesty in approach to a canvas: she only painted what she loved. Not Stalin, not self-sacrificing collective farmers but flowers. She was creating her every work over a long time and with immense quality. Both now and in her times it is hard to come across an artist who would dig into every finger-sized flower with both eyes and brush! Even more so today with universal use of photos and printing. For every person who begins painting, Bilokur is a powerful stimulus not to stop!

The word is that when Picasso saw works of “a citizen of Bohdanivka village” he said: “If we had an artist with such level of skills, we would have made the whole world talk about her!” Unfortunately, USSR was no Spain. When Bilkur wqas creating, no one thought about technologies to preserve her painting and she herself simply didn’t know any of them. In merely 50 years her masterpieces are no longer subject to transportation so they don’t leave Ukraine anymore.

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