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Henry M. Robert

Oleksandr Bohomazov’s beloved Muse

In an exclusive interview with The Day, the well-known artist’s granddaughter Tetiana POPOVA speaks about the family atmosphere, her grandfather’s artistic milieu, and life philosophy
11 December, 2013 - 17:46
TOYS
CITYSCAPE. KYIV
A TRAM

Audiences are having a rare chance to see the early works of the famous cubo-futurist Oleksandr Bohomazov – his oil paintings and watercolors, drawings, linocuts, letters and photographs, as well as pages of the 1914 theoretical treatise Painting and Elements. The Day has published a special article on a unique exhibit of the Ukrainian avant-garde master at the Central State Archive-cum-Museum of Literature and Art (No. 75, November 28, 2013).

In an exclusive interview with The Day, the artist’s granddaughter Tetiana POPOVA spoke about Kyivite Bohomazov’s oeuvre and private life, his Muse-like wife and family, as well as about his colleagues and friends.

Ms. Popova, most of the research publications usually spotlight Bohomazov as an artist. It would be interesting to know about Bohomazov as a personality – about his family, friends, and life in Kyiv.

“My grandfather loved Kyiv very much and spent all his adult life in it, except for a few sojourns in Russia, Finland, and the Caucasus. He made a lot of Kyiv sketches, liked to paint old wise trees on the ‘hill’ between the house he lived in and the Art Institute, and would go for plein air sessions to Honcharka. From 1913 onwards, the Kyiv-theme works were full of movement and dynamism: an unusual rhythm of the silhouettes of buildings, roofs, lamps, windows, trees, and figures of the hurrying passersby make these works lively and inimitable. Associated with Kyiv are some of Bohomazov’s well-known pictures, such as Haymarket, which I still remember, A Tram, painted from life on Lvivska, now Vorovskoho, Street, and Prison, the still-existing Lukianivska jail.

“He wrote about his native city as follows in a letter to grandmother: ‘In its plastic outlines, Kyiv is full of beautiful, multifarious, and profound dynamism. The streets are set against the sky, the forms are tense, the lines are energetic – they fall, break, sing, and play. The overall pace of life still more emphasizes and, so to speak, legitimizes this dynamism which floods widely around until it rests on the Dnipro’s left bank.’

“He lived at 18, Voznesensky Uzviz (now Smyrnova-Lastochkina St.), from 1913 to 1930. The building has now a plaque in honor of Oleksandr Bohomazov, made by the well-known sculptor Borys Dovhan. My mother was born in this apartment in 1917. Mum’s grandparents, aunts with their husbands, and a cousin also lived here. I also lived there until I was 13. All remembered grandfather as a very responsive and kind person: from 1922 on, when he taught at the Art Institute, he helped all those living in this apartment.”

Please, tell us about the art people Bohomazov mingled with. Who did he maintain the closest professional relations with?

“Grandfather maintained a friendly and professional relationship with Aleksandra Ekster. She and he took part in the ‘Link’ exhibit. In 1906 went, together with Aleksei Grishchenko and Vladimir Denisov, to Alupka – they did a lot of drawing and painting and lived in harmony. He knew David Burliuk and Mikhail Larionov as participants of the ‘Link’ exhibit in 1908. In 1914 he organized, together with Ekster, the ‘Ring’ exhibit. In the 1920s cooperated with Viktor Palmov. In 1922-30 grandfather worked at the Art Institute with Mykhailo Boichuk, Ihor Vrona, Mykhailo Kozyk, Viktor Palmov, Lev Kramarenko, Vladimir Tatlin, and, finally, Kazimir Malevich. Artist Aleksei Grishchenko wrote in his diary about the Bohomazov-Grishchenko-Denisov alliance: ‘We were a close-knit troika, we worked from dawn to dusk and would go to make a study – each to his side.’ In 1930, the year grandfather died, Vrona resigned as director, and the situation in the Kyiv Art Institute began to change drastically, as did the social and ideological system.”

What presents interest is his correspondence with Wanda Monastyrska? The exhibited archival materials shed some light on their relationships. Please, tell us about this union.

“Grandfather met Wanda Monastyrska in 1908-09, when he was a Kyiv Art Institute student. He fell in love! This launched a long friendship, including meetings and correspondence. In the very first years of acquaintance, granddad wrote to his Muse not only about his feelings, but also about his attitude to the vocation of an artist, about serving the exalted ideals of art. Almost always in his letters and real-life contacts, granddad called Wanda ‘Dove Dina.’ In 1913 they were married in a Boiarka church. Wanda became his loyal life companion. Grandma took part in the ‘Ring’ exhibition, and they both painted over the Lutsk barracks (destroyed later) in the cold and lean years.

“In 1914 Bohomazov writes a treatise, Painting and Elements, dedicated to his Wanda: ‘I dedicate my publication to my heedful life companion W.W. Bohomazova-Monastyrska.’ Wanda wrote to him later: ‘I am so eager to say that you are not an ordinary mortal in art, that your oeuvres are majestic and deeply beautiful, that they display a passionate power of lines and the movement of all the world’s molecules, that they are as mysterious as is the power of all that exists in the visible world and in the one that thoughts and the soul can see’ or ‘I felt with all my nature the power of your convincing and irreversible lines, their unconventional life full of brilliant eloquence. They never tired the profound look of my eyes because you know how to find an immortal pivot of motion, and, therefore, you give them an eternal life.’

“This kind of mutual understanding very rarely occurs in art. Their correspondence is remarkable. Granddad drew and painted grandma. They lived a very difficult life, going through civil wars, post-revolutionary chaos and confusion, and battling the illnesses, but grandfather believed in his recovery and painted a placard, ‘Tuberculosis Is Curable.’ Naturally, their married life saw the happy years of love, the birth of their daughter Yaroslava (Asia), and a joint artistic pursuit.”

Would you tell us more in detail about the family atmosphere?

“Grandfather managed to create a very warm atmosphere. He was a very multifaceted and talented person. He played the cello, had a very pleasant, rather muffled, voice. He did some interesting woodcarving. The family still keeps a wooden doll that he painted over for his daughter and a glass in which I keep brushes now and which bears the granddad’s beautiful painting of dancing figures… He made and illustrated a real ABC book for his daughter to learn to read. My mother Yaroslava keeps a book of memoirs published with the assistance of A. Fedoruk and E. Dymshits at Ukrainske Mystetstvoznavstvo (issue 1, 1993). It recalls one of the remarkable evenings, when they all sat together in Boiarka and grandfather, already very ill, suddenly began to sing. Mother picked up the tune, and the song quietly flew over the sleepy woodland.”

Ms. Popova, thank you for the interview. We would also like you to comment on the exhibit of Bohomazov’s works from the collection of the Central State Archive-cum-Museum of Literature and Art of Ukraine.

“Naturally, I am glad to see any event dedicated to my grandfather. This exhibit is very interesting and unusual in that it simultaneously displays documents, letters, photographs, and works of Oleksandr Bohomazov. Our family furnished linocut elements for the treatise Paining and Elements, as well as grandfather’s pince-nez. An exhibit like this is hardly possible anywhere else… Our family is grateful to all the archive staff who took pains to organize this exhibit and the archive-cum-museum director Olena Kulchii without whom it would have been impossible to arrange this event. It also impressed me that the unveiling ceremony heard live music performed by Sonor Continuus.”

By Olena SHAPIRO, art historian. Photo replicas from the website AVANGARDISM.RU
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