Folk painting is one of the richest branches of Ukrainian folk art. Its distinctive features began showing at the time of formation of the Ukrainian nation during the XIV—XVI centuries. Ukrainian folk painting developed simultaneously with easel painting and applied-decorative painting.
Easel painting of the past has become known mainly through the so-called “popular pictures” of the XVIII century. A large number of such pictures were dedicated to various portrayals of “Cossack Mamai”, personifying the ideal national hero, defender of the homeland; others portrayed real Cossack heroes — Honta and Zaliznyak. Depictions of everyday life in the Ukraine began appearing at the same time. By the middle of the XIX century the “popular pictures” began to show the effect of Ukrainian literature and professional art, especially the works of T. G. Shevchenko.
This publication is dedicated to creative painting in all its varieties — wood carving, “pisanka” (egg painting), wall painting with its later modifications in the forms of “malyovki” and “vitinyanki” (paper carving), decorative easel painting and decorative graphics. Each of the abovementioned forms of painting appeared at different times and in connection with different aspects of everyday life. At the same time Ukrainian folk art most vividly reflected local peculiarities, for in every region of the Ukraine similar artistic problems were solved differently. This distinction is expressed in the character of ornamental motifs, and both in composition and colouring, determines the peculiarities of art schools developing on the basis of age-old traditions.
At the same time decorative painting, more than any of the other branches of Ukrainian folk art, revealed the individual touch of the creative work of folk craftsmen. Organic blending of traditions and individuality became one of the main features of modern folk art in the Ukraine.
Painting on wood was always performed with oil paints. The walls of large houses and church buildings, wooden church sculptures and beehives on peasants’ apiaries were painted; sleds and carts were covered with colourful ornamental painting; doors, window shutters, furniture, “skrinyas” (chests for storing holiday clothing), wooden bread plates and other items in peasant dwellings were decoratively painted.
The decorative painting on the “chests” is of particular artistic interest. The size of ornaments, their design, intricacy of composition and colouring differ greatly in the various regions. Strict form and reserved gamut prevail in the decorative painting of northern Ukraine; in the south — multi-coloured compositions; geometrical motifs predominate in the western regions; in the east — splendid flowery ornaments.
A significant place in Ukrainian folk art is occupied by “pisanka” (egg painting), one of the most interesting branches of miniature painting. “Pisanka” is accomplished by means of the wax technique. It got its start in ancient times, being connected with the spring holidays of Nature’s renaissance. Even to this day “pisanka” has retained certain elements of symbolism, connected with the cult of the sun. On the other hand, the basis of the ornaments are genuine motifs. The number of motifs and compositional executions in “pisanka” is uncountable; “pisanka” has its own artistic features in practically every region. Many villages are the centres of original decorative paintings unrepeated in other regions. At the same time, thanks to individual creativeness, there are many variations of composition in one and the same village.
Wall paintings on dwellings and public buildings are fulfilled on dry plaster using mineral, oil, organic and, of late, chemical paints, sometimes with an addition of egg white. This type of painting is common in the Transcarpathian, Khmelnitsky, Vinnitsya, Kiev, Odessa, Cherkassy and Dnipropetrovsk regions, as well as in the neighbouring regions.
Large plant ornaments of contrasting colours on a dark background, often geometrical and outlined, are typical for the Khmelnitsky region. Towards the south and east the ornaments become smaller in size, more abundant in details and wider in colour range. The geometrical form disappears, substituted by a simple composition and a more exact depiction of the natural plant motifs.
In post-war years embossed stamping became popular in the Vinnitsya region along with paintings for exterior decoration. Impressions of separate motifs (leaves, rosettes of flowers, etc.) are executed on wet plaster in a specific rhythmic order with a wooden stamp, after which they are painted different colours.
In order to meet the demands, the painters instead of painting directly on walls, took to painting on various-sized sheets of paper. These painting on paper called “malyovki” were glued onto the walls in different places of the house, thus substituting for wall paintings.
These paintings, that had been “separated” from the walls, began to acquire an independent character. In the middle of the 1930’s a new type of folk art called decorative graphic art appeared on the basis of “malyovki”. The biggest successes in this type of folk art were achieved by the Petrikivka painters — the oldest of the Petrikivka painters, T. Pata, and her numerous pupils — the Pavlenko sisters, V. Vovk, M. Timchenko, V. Zhukova, P. Hlushchenko, V. Sokolenko and F. Panko. Such famous painters as P. Vlasenko, H. Sobachko, M. Primachenko, L. Mironova, M. Mukha, S. Shelepko and many others are known not only in the Ukraine but far beyond her borders.
Decorative easel painting appeared alongside easel graphics in Soviet Ukrainian folk art. Its famous representative is K. Bilokur, the author of many decorative compositions combining deep pithiness with virtuosity of presentation. Richness of form, succulence of each depicted plant, excellent colouring — all this is apprehended as a hymn to nature which is subjected to transformation by the strength of man’s labour.
The buoyant life-conveying character of the works of folk masters is one of the main reasons why modern Ukrainian folk art has found a large response in the works of professional painters, in the decorative schemes of modern architecture and in the art industry.
Ukrainian folk art during many centuries of development has acquired new forms which have complied with the changes taking place in the everyday life of the people. New types and forms of art have appeared during Soviet times and they have become very popular.
B. S. Butnik-Siversky.