Borys Kunovsky, an artist of worldwide renown, an unsurpassed engraving and ex libris master, and original painter, lived in his small house in a quiet street of an old iron-ore settlement near the Rokovata train station. The walls of his studio exuded silence and a bit of the forest spirit. They did not only “help” the host but also enchanted guests to his extraordinary studio-cum-museum. This feeling was facilitated not only by Kunovsky’s works but also his old Voltaire-style armchair, books, flowers, chisels, brushes, palettes, and again flowers and more flowers.
Kunovsky was born in Kryvy Rih on June 10, 1927. He spent his childhood and teenage years in the village of Zelene. He began to paint at an early age but had to earn a living after finishing school, so he studied at the Faculty of Geology in Kryvy Rih Ore Mining Institute. But the desire to paint never left him. In 1958, already a married man with two daughters, Kunovsky went to Moscow to take entrance exams to the Moscow Institute of Printing and study at the Faculty of Artistic Book Design. He dreamed of becoming an animator. But a serious disease did not let him complete his studies. He returned to Kryvy Rih and worked in the local House of Science and Technology and as a painter at an ore mine.
He took up ex libris in 1969 and later gained recognition as an original master of this art. His works were on display in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Poland, Canada, Belgium, and Great Britain and invariably earned him honorary diplomas and awards. His works became part of numerous prestigious European and American catalogs and albums.
He received letters from all around the world – Rome, Toronto, Warsaw, Lublin, etc. Kyiv Mohyla Academy admitted him to the Kyiv Mohyla Brotherhood for an ex libris he created in honor of Petro Mohyla, the founder of this educational institution.
His collection of ex libris (with Shevchenko-related themes at its core) spanned more than 30 years and included around 250 miniature graphics. He created works dedicated to Taras Shevchenko for the Memorial Museum in Kyiv, the Kaniv Museum, the Shevchenko Museum in Palermo (Canada), the Tale of Ihor’s Campaign Museum in Novhorod-Siversky. He made numerous ex libris commissioned by bibliophiles from Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. A number of his prints are about the heroic past of the Zaporozhian Cossacks and Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. There were also graphical miniatures dedicated to our compatriots: painter Hryhorii Synytsia, environmentalist and public activist Mykola Korobko, astronaut Svitlana Savytska, painter Yevhen Dekan, painter Mykola Riabokin, his fellow villagers and ordinary people – a beekeeper, friends, and his beloved. His bookplates feature stunning portraits: a rebellious Beethoven, a thoughtful Pushkin, a sorrowful Lermontov, a cunning Hohol, a crafty Cervantes, and an impulsive Vysotsky.
Kunovsky produced dozens of engravings and paintings and had one more passionate interest – xylography. His wood engravings were original, very professional, and executed in a certain Ukrainian folk style. The author of this article will forever remember his series of images from Hohol’s works: Odarka and Karas, Vakula and the Demon, Ivan Ivanovych and Ivan Nykyforovych and the Rat from Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Kunovsky once said evil forces are indeed evil in our day and age, but they were good back in Hohol’s time. Baba Yaga and Didko, characters of folk fairytales, were cut out from an unusual tree root found in the settlement of Veseli Terny. A Satyr with a young woman leaning on him and smiling Cossack Kryvy Rih who looked as if he was telling another tall story – all these images always filled visitors of his studio with admiration.
Kunovsky was a man of word and action. He had an incredible ability to rally people around himself, especially young artists. He was absolutely indifferent to fame and money and always wanted to help those he respected. It seemed he was loved and revered by everyone whom he met in his life.
Despite numerous illnesses, he was energetic and ebullient at 74. He kept working in his studio and cherished new plans. In the last year of his life Kunovsky finally received an award for his merits before Kryvy Rih. As he was preparing for his 75th anniversary, he dreamed of organizing a large exhibit of his works, publishing an album of ex libris, prints and paintings, and illustrating several books by local authors.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. An accident, sad and even absurdly tragic, buried all his plans and intentions and took the life of this noted master.
Sadly, his huge artistic heritage, which definitely deserves the attention and respect, turned out to be of no value to the city and the municipal authorities. All his priceless works were taken by his daughter to Canada.
What we have left is a memory of our good friend, colleague, and great patriot of Ukraine and Kryvy Rih, which he loved and supported, as well as a small collection of bookplates on display in a local museum.