“Wild Honey of Leonid Pervomaisky”

Volodymyr Melnychenko and Ada Rybachuk

opening on February 11

“Wild Honey of Leonid Pervomaisky” by Volodymyr Melnychenko and Ada Rybachuk

In the fall of 2020, amid quarantine restrictions, Kyiv artist Volodymyr Melnychenko searched for the director of the Odesa Fine Arts Museum, Oleksandr Roytburd. At the age of 89, Volodymyr Volodymyrovych follows the museum life of the country with interest, not everything in it arouses his admiration. But watching how the OFAM bravely resisted the pandemic, trying not to lose touch with his audience, the artist decided to donate to the museum’s collection a collection of drawings and graphics by Ada Rybachuk, based on the works of their close friend, prominent Ukrainian writer, translator and poet Leonid Pervomaisky. Thus, the exhibition “Wild Honey” became possible, which opens the museum after the lockdown in 2021.

Volodymyr Melnychenko and Ada Rybachuk

The scale is the most impressive in the works of Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko. The scale of the impact. The scale of the idea and implementation. The scale of expectations.

Today, it might seem that they are driven by the scale of creative ambitions … and the life of artists shows not so much ambition, but a rare combination of lack of fear with an incredible ability to love.

The geography of the works of Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko is easy to imagine, knowing that the largest museum collection of their works is located in Naryan-Mar and it became the first art collection in the Arctic. But how did they get there?

In 1954, a couple of students in love at the Kyiv Art Institute traveled to the White and Barents Seas for the first time on the island of Kolguyev in the Arctic Ocean. Fascinated by the courage of the local people and the immense grandeur of the island nature, they stayed there for two months, promising to return. Over the next decades, they will spend more than seven years on the island: living with local people in their daily lives, depicting their way of life and the beauty of nature, and receiving their name, Draw-Ngo-Da (“The one who paints”) – the highest degree of respect for strangers.

“Creativity needs courage – as a material and condition of creativity. Human, and with it, art, become omnipotent and eternal at a difficult price, ”Ada Rybachuk wrote in 1959 in a text before the opening of their Naryan-Mar exhibition. This phrase can be considered an epigraph to their lives.

The ability to unmistakably recognize and admire the talent of another is an essential feature of generously gifted people. In 1959, the Naryan-Mar exhibition of yesterday’s students, thanks to art periodicals, became the subject of lively discussions in the broad circles of the Kyiv intelligentsia. The looseness of the artistic style, the courage to interpret the forms, the exotic landscapes, and the people of the North – captivated most, but not all. Local union functionaries, in the voice of Vasyl Kasiyan, criticized the artists for deviating from the methods of socialist realism, accusing them of formalism and “boychukism”.

These were Thaw times – in Ukrainian realities – vegetarian-only at first glance. Even one article by an “authoritative person” in an “authoritative publication” could mean a ban on the profession for the audacious. And so, one evening, amid that harassment campaign, three well-known Soviet writers, Mykola Bazhan, Viktor Nekrasov, and Leonid Pervomaisky, visited the young people’s studio. The meters wanted to meet the violators of public peace personally.

That evening began the friendship of the artistic tandem with each of the three, a quarter of a century older than them, writers. Today, Volodymyr Melnychenko remains the only guardian of this friendship.

“We met Leonid Pervomaisky, not as illustrators of his books. No. He came to us himself. He came and stayed. Forever. For now.” – Ada Rybachuk will write after the death of a friend in 1973.

Ada and Volodya had something to learn from the Jew Pervomaisky, who consciously chose Ukrainian rather than Soviet identity. It was from Pervomaisky that they, thirsty for knowledge of Kyiv, learned about Ukrainian literature and art history, and gained life wisdom. Pervomaisky helped to adjust the optics about the world, history, and memory, which allowed artists to live and create even when they did not recognize, persecute and destroy the most precious things. The mastered optics of “love and complicity” is the only filter through which they will continue to perceive any artistic task.

The works presented at the “Wild Honey” exhibition are a chronicle of that study. Not exactly illustrations, but rather visual comments on the first prose work of the poet Leonid Pervomaisky – a modern ballad – as the author himself defined his novel “Wild Honey”. They were created in 1965 – two years after the book’s first publication and a year before the release of the film of the same name- and became the leader of film distribution in 1967 with an audience of 21, 5 million viewers.

At the heart of the novel is a love story unusual for military prose of the time. Pervomaisky made his main character a girl, photo-correspondent Varvara Knyazhych, who met the courageous Colonel Lazhechnikov on the front line while performing a combat mission. Met and almost immediately lost. The writer managed to show the war truthfully and terribly and to portray his heroes first of all as human and only then as brave, courageous, and worthy. This work is rightly considered a dedication to humanity and humanism in inhumane conditions of war.

The most valuable thing in the works of Volodymyr Melnychenko and Ada Rybachuk to the novel “Wild Honey” is the opportunity to observe their search from drawing to drawing, the desire to resonate with their teacher, to get into the right emotional tone, do not be mistaken in the veracity of the reproduced image.

It is noteworthy that every time Volodymyr and Ada turned to the images of the Second World War, these drawings became for them a tuning fork for the right mood. They are easy to recognize in sketches of epic reliefs of the Wall of Memory – the main work of their lives on which artists have worked for more than 10 years, but destroyed before its completion.

“Simple feelings of his poetry are revealed”,
simple as the earth and the sky are the images of his words
we tried to make it tangible
in eternal – or at least durable material,

to a kind of story-reminder in
black and white, or colored memorization
not so much “pleasing to the eye” –

but to teach –
as in Poetry Lessons! –
feeling anxious –

and patience
and most of all – love
and communion

We never tried to illustrate
his prose, or even more so his poetry –
we were just studied
and we tried to convey what we understood – to tell what we recognized –

tell someone else what we heard –
and what else he might have wanted
even if we didn’t fully understand what it meant”

Volodymyr Melnychenko and Ada Rybachuk

Olga Balashova, Kyiv, 2021