Time passes, everything changes, however Mykola Shymchuk dares stop the time on the surface of his canvases. A moment in his works is open for prolongation, it is extended to maximum – if not to the threshold of eternity, then at least to the extent when the audience has time to focus and ask themselves a number of questions in front of the stability of the world Shymchuk offers, which is filled with the rhythms of order, beauty, and slight sadness.
As an artist, Shymchuk has entered his 65th anniversary with life experience long enough to remain steadfast, hardy, unbiased in his aesthetic and worldview beliefs in our complicated and contradictory reality. The mission of an artist he readily took up from the hand of Providence has become for him a promised island in the sea of life, where mature Shymchuk has found not only refuge, but also the desirable safety and guarantee that tomorrow will come, not curtailed by any catastrophe. And this guarantee is represented by the sweet phantom of beauty, secured by the light orderly setup and followed by the feeling of chronic sadness typical of a vulnerable person.
Volyn is the point of departure, being at the same time the point of destination for Mykola Shymchuk, who took up the image of a Lvivite namely for the reason of necessary streamlining of his creative ambitions, possibilities, and chances for self-realization. He has diligently studied in the Lviv Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts during the entire period when legendary artistic personalities, such as Marharyta Raikh-Selska and maestro Roman Selsky, careful Danylo Dovboshynsky, and Ivan Skobalo with his deep inner world, were still alive and active. It was the time when captious analyst, currently Doctor of Art History, academician Volodymyr Ovsiichuk was leading exclusive many-sided activity, and unforgettable Borys Voznytsky, the invariable director of the Lviv-based Painting Gallery, “resuscitator” of the Olesko Castle, who has saved the genius sculptures by Pinzel, was putting in place the formation of old-time artistic values. In 1968-73 Shymchuk as a student had an opportunity to closely communicate with Voznytsky, namely in Olesko, where the young artist was influenced by the old Ukrainian icon and unique master Yov Konzelevych. Those impressions became not only unforgettable, but also crucial in the establishment of beliefs, likings, and understanding of the regularities and artistic values among the assets of young Shymchuk. He was fated to enter the close circle of friends of the Selsky couple, and together with his wife Stasia follow the maestro in his long-lasting travels across the Carpathians, which were meaningful and full of aesthetic perception of phenomena of nature. The activity of outstanding historian and art critic Pavlo Zholtkovsky, an intellectual and in all ways original personality in our culture, produced an unforgettable impression on Shymchuk. The scholar so much impressed him with his world outlook that Shymchuk dared execute a number of the researcher’s portraits in order to deeper portray and fix his observations on the canvas. The portrait has stood the test by time, moreover it became a kind of stimulus for the artist’s further exploration aimed at strengthening of intellectual component in creation of images. In the 1970s Shymchuk was fruitfully working in the portrait genre. He was attracted to the problems of embodying with the help of expressing possibilities of the art form a complicated characteristic of the image of one or another extraordinary personality. One of his best works is the portrait of the Selsky couple, group portraits of the artist’s friends, graphic artist Aksinin’s portrait, etc. Shymchuk’s circle of interests includes, further to take root, the interest to beauty, depth, and drama, typical of a person as a specific phenomenon of objective reality.
Indisputably, the sum of meaningful impressions, twists and turns of historical importance, meetings with interesting people and, most importantly, the broadness of interests and observations have a favorable impact on the artist. The settings, inspired by the special spirit of the old Ukrainian icon painting, as well as the shocks caused by the inevitable life circumstances, persistent work in the studio and conclusions called up by the contemplations over the essence and predestination of art are consistently shaping Shymchuk’s style. He incorporated in the arsenal of his means of expression the typical lineal system between the correlations of open tone-color spots. The mild line, embracing the form, establishes the rhythm and the order of vivid versatility, becomes an organization factor, and important expression of the moods of his works. The images painted by Shymchuk in the 1980s acquire – like in an icon – a more generalized symbolical character. The death of Marharyta, then Roman Selsky, Pavlo Zholtkovsky, Zenovii Flinta, who were his friends and bearers of a kind of “ideal manifestation,” were too meaningful events, not to touch with a haze and shadow the content of the artist’s works. However, the insurmountability of life, in spite of the fragile delicacy of idyll, harmony, and beauty, appears to be the leading motif of his works, which he usually creates in a way of series united by a common idea.
The artist’s paintings include works with general titles like “She,” “Alone,” “Two,” “Nude,” which prove that an original and talented artistic personality with his own style and world outlook has appeared on Ukrainian painting horizon. Shymchuk succeeds in giving new shades to the feeling of melancholy, which has been typical of man for ages. Inseparably intertwined with life-asserting power of beauty, melancholy in his works is not weak-willed. Like conscience, it accompanies life, preventing the flourishing of life from becoming bold, too egoistic, and unfeeling. The image of woman in Shymchuk’s work possesses beauty and elegiac moodiness, which is close to melancholy, but is different at the same time different. This image is especially expressive in the series “She” and “Two,” where beauty, harmony, and sadness are of equal worth, they are deep and convincing enough, making an impressive ethical category. The artist manages to worthily present the abovementioned series at his solo exhibits at the Lviv Gallery of Arts (1993) and Museum of Ethnography and Handicraft (Lviv, 1995).
The sincere desire to really implement the moral foundations in social life makes Shymchuk give as much strength as possible to public activity. In the complicated 1996 he became the head of the Lviv Department of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine. His activity on the post of the chairperson was consistent and efficient. The association took the most active part in bringing back the outstanding names of Diaspora members to Ukraine’s artistic culture. There was a full-scale process of adaptation of the artistic oeuvre of modernist sculptor Mykhailo Dzyndra, painter Mykola Bidniak, outstanding Ukrainian in Polish Gdansk, artist Andrii Mentukh in homeland’s spiritual space, and international negotiations were held with an aim to transfer to Ukrainian museums the works by artist Arkadia Olenska-Petryshyn. Together with the then mayor of Lviv Vasyl Kuibida, the association headed with Mykola Shymchuk acted as an initiator of unique and socially useful action: the process of preferential privatization of artists’ studios. In the city where housing problems were especially acute at the time the authorities, having achieved an agreement with the artists, met them halfway. Instead there emerged a rich collection of art works, presented by artists, which has been transferred to the Lviv National Gallery of Arts, and the sum of money the artists had to pay the state in the process of privatization, turned out to be quite feasible. Lvivites organized in Kyiv two symbolical exhibits of works of modern artists. A quite extraordinary phenomenon took places: paying off the debts and creation of promising opportunities for both enterprises, subordinate to the association – the Lviv Ceramic-Sculpture Factory and Lviv Art-Production Complex. And it is not Shymchuk’s fault that after he resigned from the office, after two terms his successor was in office, the mentioned above enterprises were shut down.
In 1990 Shymchuk was invited to teach at the Lviv Academy of Arts. He quickly found contact with student youth. It is typical of Shymchuk the teacher to lead an individual fruitful pedagogical activity: he becomes a successful organizer of education process at the department of monumental painting. In 2002 he achieved the rank of Professor.
Along with the public and pedagogical activity Shymchuk was active in creative sphere, proof of which are his solo exhibits at the National Art Museum of Ukraine (Kyiv, 1997), Lviv Gallery of Arts (2006), National Andrei Sheptytsky Museum in Lviv (2011), publishing of an album and catalogue. In 1998 the artist was granted the title of Merited Artist of Ukraine. His creative creed has remained unchanged: he constantly seeks to assert the valuable humanistic foundations and ideals in our stormy artistic life, which often has more negative than positive features. In this aspect he is stranger to hesitation or nihilism of sorts.
Over the past decade the artist has created new cycles of works, including the series “A table and around the table,” where an object known to everyone and used in everyday life becomes a factor of moral-philosophic meaning, a figuratively shown ethical category. It consolidates the humankind “at a table” with the help of precious communication, a cherished community, although it more often divides us by way of unresolved contradictions. It is attraction and mystery, superficial and deep-going, tabula rasa and relief story. The table and Shymchuk’s characters around it are full of magnetism of concentration and intention. Technologically advanced humankind has something to ponder, a thing that seems to be a clean board at first sight like a clean page in the books of its history. Order in Shymchuk’s interpretation is not only a meaningful, but also an obliging thing: physiologically we are all basically the same, but the processes where people are involved, are not equal. If the board after all is destined to become the irreversible century, the upper inscription on the newest surface must get the meaning, for which every living human is responsible. Unity in versatility – the formula recalled by Shymchuk makes his ethical likings closer to the ethical likings of our great fellow countryman, graphic artist and painter Yakiv Hnizdovsky. It is not accidentally that in both artists’ works the rhythmically organized network of forms and lines gets a special expressive-symbolical meaning. Not accidentally the palisade of generalized, stylized patterns severely preserves the circle of human subjects around the table created with conditionality and pressure – only unity and community are able to provide a clean board for our biography with an interesting and clever text.
Life created by rhythm system and original individual melody. Namely for this reason, Shymchuk reminds with the content of his series of paintings “A table and around the table,” it is interesting and precious.
And namely for this reason Shymchuk created the elegiac landscapes in the cycle “Trees” and “Life that winds toward the lake” (2010-12), inspired by the observation of the wonderful corner of our land, the Shatsk Preserve with its unique Svitiaz Lake, full of touching melody with the clear rhythmic plot of horizontal and vertical lines, flashes of phosphoric light and pulsing shadows makes the monumental extravaganza of life. Optimism, pierced by disciplined consciousness, to counter any desire of orgy or thoughtless delight of a consumer.
I think the audience should be grateful for this to the 65-year-old Mykola Shymchuk when looking at his thoroughly planned pictures.