Art 08:40 13 Nov 2019

Unknown Ivan Marchuk: the art of the Ukrainian Van Gogh

Ivan Marchuk's name could feed Ukraine the same way Van Gogh's name feeds Amsterdam. On one condition. If you create a long-promised museum of his work. The legendary artist has said this once again at the exhibition, which he calls the last in Kyiv. The Rubryka journalist visited the exposition and asked Ivan Marchuk what's unique about the exhibition viewers should come for

Video fragment from ARTAREA gallery

50 years of work by Ivan Marchuk, 178 paintings, and even a new "thirteenth" cycle, painted this year. The exposition "Ivan Marchuk. Secrets of Genius" takes place in the Kyiv art space ARTAREA.

The exhibition presents:

  • parables and graphics of the 1960s-1970s
  • early period cycles (1965-1980)
  • landscapes
  • abstractions

There is no getting rid of the visitors. On weekdays, the number of people willing to see "100 Unknown Works of Ivan Marchuk" reaches 400 people, and even more on weekends. The exposition lasts from October 18 to December 15 and has already become an important cultural event in Kyiv.

The artist himself tries to visit the exhibition and communicate with visitors almost every day.

Ivan Marchuk's works have long conquered the entire world, and the most meticulous art lovers recognized his mastery. The founder of the complicated new "plontanism" technique (from the Ukrainian word "плести" – to weave) was included in the rating of 100 modern geniuses, compiled by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. However, the genius artist called his exhibition the last in Ukraine.

Ivan Marchuk. Секрети геніальності.

Why visit the exhibition "Secrets of Genius"

1. To understand Ivan Marchuk's early period graphic.

It is exhibited for the first time within the "Secrets of Genius: 100 Unknown Works by Ivan Marchuk" project. You can see it in the small hall of ARTAREA.

Early periods in the artist's work are the starting point from which it's exciting to trace the author's relationship with different cultural contexts. Ivan Marchuk belonged to the free-thinking generation of the sixties. Although using the terms "abstraction" and "objectlessness" were the arrestable offenses, a partial liberalization took place. Creative circles could get acquainted with avant-garde and modernism achievements. One of the most important movements that artists reimagined at the time was naïve art. Naturally, Ivan Marchuk also approaches this genre. And it's not surprising: he grew up in a village, and his works pulsate with Ukrainian traditions and culture. Rural motifs are an important part of the artist's early works. The artist interprets them in the sense of parables-reflections. In early works, the artist uses a minimum number of colors, but it doesn't narrow the palette of emotions he conveys. This hall presents us with works that art critics strongly associate with graphics. Marchuk notes that he worked with ink a lot at an early stage. The black-and-white graphic method attracted him with a combination of conciseness and depth.

But the period when he held the position of a craftsman at the Institute for Superhard Materials in Kyiv became special for the artist. It was there that the artist began to express his thoughts and delusions with ink and tempera on small cardboards, which he then secretly carried out through the entrance checkpoint of the institute.

No matter how quickly the artist's name gained popularity in his formative years (the first exhibitions were held in apartments, and the first admirers were fellow scholars), his works did not fall under the characteristics of "officially permitted art." Therefore, the artist gave many paintings to friends he trusted; and some canvases went abroad.

2. To feel the power of Ivan Marchuk's landscapes

Landscapes occupy a vital place in Ivan Marchuk's work. Landscapes of the 1980s, early 2000s, and new paintings of 2019 (thirteenth cycle) are presented.

Nature appears on the artist's canvases as a great powerful force. Spaces impress with their scale, and light strikes with realism.

Looking at the snow in Marchuk's landscapes, you feel cold. If you look at summer nights, it feels warm.

Now the author is working on a new 2019 series and it's mostly night landscapes. However, the night light is conveyed as if in a red filter. The author admits that he adores snow, winds, the moon, and the field. These natural elements excite his soul.

"Night Magic," Ivan Marchuk, 2019 / Photo: ARTAREA

Looking at Marchuk's landscapes, you often seemingly feel eastern Zen. For instance, in the canvas of the early 2000s "You will find peace here," the author depicts something incredibly close to his heart. His childhood spent in the Moskalivka village in the Ternopil region immediately comes to mind. Marchuk often portrays rural landscapes with characteristic details as squat houses, haystacks, boats.

"You will find peace here," Ivan Marchuk / Photo: ARTAREA

Ukraine appears like an amazing vision of a moonlit night on the canvases of the 1980s, for example, as in the painting "Night in the Steppe." The artist noted that he painted the night at the end of August. The sky in the painting draws the viewer inside, the moon brightly illuminates the Earth. In fact, it seems that the canvas hides additional lighting. It's the magic of Ivan Marchuk's talent and craft.

"Night in the Steppe," Ivan Marchuk / Photo: ARTAREA

Often, the artist only sketches in the open air, working mainly in the workshop. Both reality and fantasy play a role in creating his masterpieces.

3. To see "alive" paintings by the artist

In addition, a 20-minute digital installation reproducing the master's pieces was created for the last show of the artist's works. For the panoramic project, the authors used Myroslav Skoryk's music and Picardy's third singing. The installation was created at the request of Ivan Marchuk, who was impressed by a similar display of Dali and Picasso.

Video-art of Ivan Marchuk / Photo: ARTAREA


After hearing the question "What paintings would you advise looking at first?" Ivan Marchuk shrugs: "All my paintings are like children. How can you single out one? I put a lot of work in each."

I specify how long it can take to create a piece.

"There are paintings that I do very quickly. I'm counting minutes, not even hours. I paint some for a week, then I get bored and have to finish. I work fast, and time goes on and on. Others wanting to be implemented are in turn."

"My creative work is on all 5 continents," says Marchuk. "And I didn't even sell any, just handed them out. When I was banned for 18 years, my painting was my business card. I was told: this person would help you with an exhibition or something. So I was going to Moscow, and no one could set up an exhibition, because I was banned but they took the painting. There are over 4,500 of them, all of various formats and sizes."

Іван Марчук

Ivan Marchuk

Ivan Marchuk doesn't stop working even now. "I live by the black calendar," he smiles. "It's a calendar that doesn't have a red weekend color. It means working for 365 days a year." He even jokes, "You know, in Soviet times I said: if they'd imprisoned me, I would've painted much more, no one would've disturbed me."

To the question "So what is the secret of your genius?" (after all, it's the exhibition theme), the artist just smiles with a white mustache:

"Ask the audience, not me," and immediately he remembers. "When I studied at the Institute, they would break me. They said that I should be a normal Soviet artist. And I said: I want to be an abnormal Soviet artist. I didn't know what kind yet. I knew that I was different. When they sent me to Kyiv to work at the Institute for Superhard Materials, I was quite free there, although I still had to spend 8 hours there, and then I started painting. My paintings are on the 2nd floor (exhibition in the ARTAREA gallery – Ed.), real drawings, parables. My work was breaking social realism, breaking anatomy. Further, I was looking for myself and was happy that I'd wanted to find my way among a million army of world artists for all 11 years of study. Gradually I found my path. And, in fact, you see where I've already come."

Іван Марчук

Ivan Marchuk

Until 1988, Marchuk remained outside the official art and lived in Australia, America, and Canada. For 12 years of his life, he was engaged in art there.

"The fact that I was alone with myself and managed my time inspired me. There were no muses in America," Marchuk jokes. "I am an eternal traveler chained to an easel."

"I go to the opening of the exhibitions every day. I have a monthly gallery guide that has info where and which exhibitions are planned, who is exhibiting. I have visited over 7,000 exhibitions during my stay in America," the artist says.

Video: ARTAREA. For the first time at the exhibition, Ivan Marchuk's works are exhibited in the video art format


Ivan Marchuk has been an underground leader all his life and is now a world-renowned artist. He replies sadly, "People have a different attitude. But the state of Ukraine doesn't. As it was a graveyard for people like me, it remains one, and always will be. No talents spring here, though this country gives birth to the biggest number of the most talented people per square meter. You know how smart our children are now. They take the best places in international competitions, but every talent must grow and give their talent to humanity. If it cannot grow on this soil, it must find another land, where it will be watered like a flowerpot. In Ukraine, unfortunately, it doesn't happen."

Ivan Marchuk has long complained that he has no place to exhibit his works in Ukraine. Many times, presidents, such as Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, and private individuals have promised to create a museum dedicated to his works, but so far nothing has changed. I ask, "How do you see your museum?"

And I don't see it, because it'll never be here. I can tell the Turkish now and they will start building a museum right away. And if I announce it on the Internet now, then any country will accept me with my baggage, and then all that baggage will be theirs. It will serve as their museum and will be like the museums of Picasso, Salvador, Van Gogh.

Poor Van Gogh feeds all of Amsterdam because people from all over the world travel and stand in line to see his work. And Ukraine doesn't need it and doesn't want it. It's a vast enemy of culture.

Іван Марчук

Ivan Marchuk / Photo: Anisia Stasevych, ARTAREA

For the first time, this exhibition presents the thirteenth cycle of the artist's work. Mostly landscapes in the prism of red.

"Have you seen the red moon?" the artist asks with a smile. "You didn't see, but I did. What kind of ray does the red moon create on the white canvas? Red and exaggerating for more effect. The artist must lie, so the truth of that lie is convincing to the viewer." 

Although all my landscapes are very natural, more than natural, just hyperrealistic. Even to the red ones that I painted a little, I added my love to that red color, and to the red snow. My God, I've seen this in Kaniv from 4 o'clock, near the Dnieper. But I want a little conventionality. If we exaggerate the piece a little, it is always interesting, because nothing stands still.

I ask: can we expect a new fourteenth cycle of paintings? But Marchuk again sadly shakes his head:

I don't want to paint in Ukraine. It's a country that respects only the dead, it has never respected the living, today and will not do it tomorrow.

What plot would you never portray?

Military. I would never paint a war. I hate war; I hate weapons, everything terrible connected with war.

Finally, I ask, is it true that he wants to end his exhibition activity in Ukraine?

Yes, it may be the last exhibition. I have 4 collections outside Ukraine. An exhibition was brought to me from Chisinau 2 days ago. Another exhibition was continued in Chicago because people are thrilled. I was there in the summer, and it still works. There are over 50 pieces. Another exhibition in Geneva. The most valuable ones for me are my paintings in Bratislava. I don't see any point to bring them here. I would like exhibitions to be outside Ukraine because Ukraine has tormented me all my life.

І наостанок Іван Марчук каже:

Finally, Ivan Marchuk says:

"My art belongs to humanity because you must give the rare talent God has given you to people."


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