The Kherson Art Museum has been named after Oleksii Shovkunenko, People’s Painter of the USSR, winner of the Taras Shevchenko State Prize, since as long ago as 1981.
This Kherson-born personality once gained recognition abroad, for he in fact founded the industrial landscape branch in the school of socialist realism.
But today the name of Oleksii Shovkunenko is almost unknown to the average Ukrainian, and he is not often mentioned in modern-day art circles.
The first, and perhaps the last, thorough study of the artist’s oeuvre saw the light of day 1983 – it is Leonid Vladych’s essay-cum-album Oleksii Shovkunenko. In 2009 the Kherson Art Museum published the proceedings of an international conference devoted to the artist’s 125th birth anniversary. Yet neither the museum nor any other institution has done any periodic and more detailed research. In the view of Vladyslava DIACHENKO, art researcher and Kherson Art Museum associate, this is not sufficient.
“Oleksii Shovkunenko has not yet been adequately appreciated, although his works can be considered classical today.
The artist was a luminary of his time, the second half of the 20th century. Shovkunenko not only painted pictures – he also taught as professor of painting at what was then Kyiv Art Institute (Kyiv Academy of Arts now).
In spite of this, the early period of his creative life still remains almost unstudied. Incidentally, he was not a traditional socialist realist. The artist’s canvases clearly show the signs of impressionism, which he was reproached for at the time.”
The artist spent his green years in Kherson. Then he studied at the Odesa Art School and, later, at the Petersburg Academy of Arts’ studio of Vasyl Savinsky, a professor of historical painting. In 1937 Shovkunenko won the gold medal as best aquarellist at the International Exhibition in Paris.
The 1958 Brussels Fair awarded him a silver medal for watercolors and graphics on the construction of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Plant. As a matter of fact, this series, “Dniprobud,” launched the style of industrial landscape in the oeuvre of Shovkunenko and in Ukrainian art in general.
Ms. Diachenko says that Shovkunenko’s canvases typically show a broad stroke of the paintbrush and bright juicy colors. What remains especially expressive and masterly executed in his works is the light and air medium.
The Kherson museum keeps 152 works of the artist, including paintings, graphics, pastels, and watercolors. The artist’s works can also be found in the museums of Kyiv, Odesa, and Mykolaiv.
“Shovkunenko’s socialist realism is perhaps no longer topical today, but what always remains topical is professionalism and talent, which the Kherson artist never lacked,” the art researcher emphasizes, “for the artist was in fact an impressionist (even though he had never called himself so) even in a vise-like grip of social realism.”