Ukraine Special

5 Artists You Didn’t Know Were Born in Ukraine

Emily Snow 24 August 2022 min Read

From dancing colors to a kinetic steel monument, discover the lives and works of five influential and international modern artists – each of whom was born in towns of today’s Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century.

1. Kazimir Malevich

Artists born in Ukraine: Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Artists born in Ukraine: Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

In 1913, Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) changed the course of art history by making a painting without a figurative subject. As a result, he is remembered as a key figurehead of abstraction. This bold new approach to painting quickly dominated modern art.

Born in Kiev Governorate in then Russian Empire (today’s Ukraine) to a Polish family, Malevich was always captivated by the spiritual nature of simple shapes. He invented an art movement called Suprematism, which aimed to deconstruct a painting’s subject down to its most basic components.

Black Square demonstrated the straightforward power and potential of abstract art. Interestingly, Malevich first displayed the painting in a manner traditionally reserved for religious icons. Albeit controversial, this emphasized the artist’s personal spirituality.

It didn’t take long for Malevich and his followers to completely abandon painting real-life subjects. Regarding Black Square, the artist later wrote,

Trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.

2. Sonia Delaunay

Artists born in Ukraine: Sonia Delaunay, Electric Prisms, 1914, Musée National D’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris

Artists born in Ukraine: Sonia Delaunay, Electric Prisms, 1914, Musée National D’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.

In collaboration with her husband Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) created a new art movement called Orphism. Like other Orphists, she used dramatic colors and dynamic shapes to create patterns inspired by the properties of light and sound.

Delaunay was born in Odessa, Ukraine (then Russian Empire), but relocated to Paris in the early 1900s. There, she discovered all things avant-garde, from Cubist painting to modern fashion design. Her resulting body of work is an energetic patchwork of shapes and colors that evoke a sense of movement.

Sonia Delaunay’s vibrant paintings and eccentric fashion designs popularized the aesthetic of geometric abstraction in modern art. By the 1960s, she became the first living woman artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre.

3. Louise Nevelson

Artists born in Ukraine: Louise Nevelson, An American Tribute to the British People, 1960-64, Tate Gallery, London

Artists born in Ukraine: Louise Nevelson, An American Tribute to the British People, 1960-1964, Tate Gallery, London, UK.

Ukrainian-American artist Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) emigrated from Pereiaslav then Russian Empire, today’s Ukraine territory, to the United States as a child. Immediately upon arriving, she was captivated by the burgeoning modern art scene she discovered in New York City.

As a young artist, Nevelson gravitated towards wood assemblage sculpture. Like joining pieces of a puzzle, Nevelson combined raw materials and found objects to form massive abstract sculptures. Then, she painted her final pieces—each usually a complex arrangement of nested geometric forms—in monochromatic black or white.

Louise Nevelson’s monumental sculptures asserted the right of women artists to take up space in the art world, both literally and figuratively. She was one of the first women artists to enter the male-dominated realm of installation art.

4. Vladimir Tatlin

Artists born in Ukraine: Vladimir Tatlin, Monument to the Third International, 1919 (photograph of architectural model).

Artists born in Ukraine: Vladimir Tatlin, Monument to the Third International, 1919 (photograph of architectural model). Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

A Soviet architect who was brought up in Kharkiv, then Russian Empire, Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) became famous for designing a building that was never actually built. His epic plans for the Monument to the Third International (colloquially known as Tatlin’s Tower) were foundational to Constructivism. This movement favored the industrial assemblage of materials for practical purposes, including propaganda.

Tatlin’s Tower aimed to inspire the proletariat class to rebuild a stronger, and more modern, Soviet Union. It had a projected height of 1300 ft (ca. 396 m) – twice the height of the Empire State Building – and would use exclusively modern materials like steel and glass.

The monument was also designed to be in constant motion. It featured a bottom cylinder that rotated once per year and housed an assembly hall; a middle triangular element that rotated once per month and housed communist government offices; and a top cone that rotated once per day and housed the press. This made it the functional and aesthetic epitome of Constructivist ideals.

Although it never existed beyond a blueprint, Tatlin’s Tower challenged preconceived notions about the form and function of architecture in the modern world.

5. Alexander Archipenko

Artists born in Ukraine: Alexander Archipenko, Woman Combing her Hair, 1915, Tate Gallery, London

Artists born in Ukraine: Alexander Archipenko, Woman Combing her Hair, 1915, Tate Gallery, London, UK.

American sculptor, Alexander Archipenko, was born in Kyiv and attended the Kyiv Art School. After spending time in Paris, where he embraced Cubism, he became a citizen of the United States and pursued a career as a sculptor.

Besides Picasso, Archipenko was the first artist to apply the principles of Cubism to a three-dimensional medium. He reimagined the human figure as a conglomeration of simplified geometric shapes and the negative spaces between them. And, like the Cubist painters, Archipenko depicted multiple viewpoints of a single subject simultaneously in his sculptures.

Archipenko helped introduce Cubism to American audiences. His work was also exhibited as “degenerate art” under the Nazi regime—which only served to prove his important influence on Modern Art.

Recommended

Ukraine, Modernism, Fedir Krychevsky, Life Triptych: Family, 1927 Ukraine Special

Fedir Krychevsky – Ukrainian Modernist Painter

Fedir Krychevsky lovingly recorded the culture of his homeland and was one of the most influential Modernist Ukrainian painters.

Candy Bedworth 25 March 2022

Ukraine Special

Florian Yuriev – Colorful Portraits-Modus

Florian Yuriev (1929-2021) was a Ukrainian painter, architect, and visionary. His extraordinary, colorful paintings combine music, color, and linear...

Aniela Rybak 17 March 2022

Ukraine Special

Mykola Pymonenko: An Idyllic View of Ukraine

Mykola Pymonenko (1862-1912) was a Ukrainian Realist painter. He spent almost his entire life in Kyiv and dedicated his career to painting genre...

Jimena Escoto 28 March 2022

Ukraine Special

Meet the Ukrainian Railroad Ladies

Every once in a while there appears a piece of news describing a quirky, unknown, or forgotten occupation. Sometimes it’s the lightkeepers in a...

Joanna Kaszubowska 16 March 2022