Oleksii Lytvynov, who signs his art works with the name Leonid Lytvyn, was born in Kerch in 1934. When he was still a child he got really interested in painting and in 1955 he began studying at Dnipropetrovsk Art College and graduated from it in 1961. Next fifteen years of his life he travelled, just like Hryhorii Skovoroda, all over the country from Vladivostok to Leningrad and studied museum collections. Even though in 1978 Lytvyn finally settled to live in Kyiv region, because one must have some kind of shelter, he never got fully engaged in rural life. The artist always works with his brushes and palette. Village equally responds to the artist by rejection of his otherness, as well as the Union of Artists. The same happened to Maria Pryimachenko, genius Paul Cezanne, Niko Pirosmani, and all the others, who broke the established world view in life and art, lived lives of outcasts. According to Lytvyn, he has been engaged in creative work from 1961 until the present time. He needs nothing else.
His world stands firmly on the three pillars: Ukraine is the constant object of his creative inspiration, painting is his way of realizing his personal potential, and his wife Hannusia, whose portraits Lytvyn paints constantly and sends her love messages on the back of his paintings.
The creative work of the artist can be viewed as an encyclopedia of life of Ukraine, its land and its people. The author of hundreds of paintings with irrepressible rush of non-human powerful temperament of Michelangelo’s type records the diversity of Ukrainian landscapes, sky that amazes him, people whom he meets in his life, flowers in the garden, still lifes. Characters from Shevchenko’s writing look just like his neighbors, like real people: the artist has a dialogue with Naimychka, Kazakh girl Katia, a soldier in stocks, and the death with a scythe. Literary reflections and life observations are fused in coloristic magma – in a panorama of spiritual and physical life of Ukraine. The feeling of being a part of Ukraine acquired at birth is not only an established plot, an image of land infinitely multiplied in the cycles of landscape paintings. Ukraine for Lytvyn is curse, delirium, and love. With each brush stroke the artist affirms his own spiritual affiliation to this land – hence, there is the urge to paint the curves of rivers, fields, plastics of hills and cliffs, stormy skies with rain, and wildly baroque still lifes. And the main thing for him is to create idyllic images with his beloved Hannusia. Narcotic love to her and Ukraine are synonymous. There is no distance between the two main characters: Ukraine equals Hannusia’s beauty, and her body, breasts, face, and her whole being is associated with motherland for Lytvyn.
In the time when the so-called “contemporary art” or the post modernism tired of itself praise their own boredom and glamorous whims that overshadowed the true emotions, when rationalist sanity is somehow attributed to “love,” sensual artistic frenzy of Lytvyn equals Shakespeare’s passion or Dante Alighieri’s appeal to the Lady: “Why don’t you cry as I am in my hell?”
Despite artist’s dedication to art, the history of exhibitions of his art work is too brief. He is the kind of person that is not capable of self-promotion and practical actions. Since 1965 his paintings occasionally appeared at national and regional exhibitions. Only in 1989 a large exhibition of artist’s paintings “Boiarka” was held in Lenin Museum in Kyiv. Finally in 2000 the fans of the artist’s talent got a chance to see a vast exposition of Lytvyn’s paintings at the Taras Shevchenko National Museum (Kyiv). Ivan Dziuba, who at that time was the chairman of the National Shevchenko Prize Committee, got imbued with the fate of the artist. Up until now Dziuba’s family has not left the artist without their support. Lytvyn’s paintings attracted attention not only for the evident love of the author to Ukraine, but also for the disturbing, dramatically tense interpretation of seemingly idyllic topics. Active black outline, typical for Lytvyn’s style, dark silvery scale quite openly spoke of the hardships of the native land. Artist’s soul and the rather stiff style of painting are reflected in this happy and dramatic, ambivalent swing in constant tension, in dynamics of rising and falling in the darkness.
Stylistically Lytvyn balances on the fracture between different methods of professional (academic) painting and naive art, maybe even kitsch. His style is like a chameleon, at each moment it as though changes the vector of the perception of his paintings. We can see a perfectly formed structure of bare model and right next to it is a trace of folk naive art, like, for example, carpets with swans. Opposite figurative systems are tied in a tight knot in the creative thinking of the author, which gives grounds to insist on marginal basis of Lytvyn’s creative work. Author of the wild baroque element is, in fact, an expressive existentialist. Lytvyn’s life got intense on the verge, on the bridge between two sides. He is a bearer of an intermediate type of sociality, a person in a center of conflict with generally established norms, he isolated himself form it all. Artist is a boarder man, he is beyond any system, neither here nor there. This artist is ambivalent. And only a powerful creative force, God-given human and artistic temperament, keeps him from falling and instead enables him to paint Ukraine with incredible vision of his own mission.
Leonid Lytvyn is akin to the first marginal – the ancient Cynics. He is an artist that is not familiar with philosophical vocabulary (ambivalence, marginality, creativity, etc.) in the time when Ukraine is overwhelmed with ignorance, appears as a chthonic figure. He and his powerful art, positive vision of the world, and the greatness of Ukraine are surprisingly important for us in the time of crisis as a reliable bridge for crossing over chaos.