Natalia Zozulya. Ukrainian Expressions

by Janie Stangl

SHADES of Edades and Lorenzo, or even of the critic-painter E. Aguilar Cruz, but the portraits of women at an exhibition titled Expressions at the Plaza Gallery of the Westin Philippine Plaza are extremely good, in the vein of the postwar giants of Philippine art. The works are not done by a local artist, but by a painter who has flown in from halfway across the globeyoung Ukrainian instructor of art, Natalia Zozulya, whose first Philippine exhibit it is.

The exhibit, is a study in contrasts. Offsetting the large-size realist portraits at one end of the exhibition venue, are her impressions of women, angels and some still life. The works are studies in composition, rhythm and color that are tranquil and soothing. There are also several small canvases of the Manila Yacht Club, barong-barongs and the San Andres market, just to prove her hand at the Asian scene.

These paintings are a deja vu again from the works of Edades, Lorenzo and E. Aguilar Cruz, and perhaps Andres Cristobal Cruz. Zozulya is a portraitist of the first caliber, handling her tonalities and her depths with the skill of the American realist Mary Cassatt.

Zozulya has exhibited in Western Europe, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Holland and the US. A graduate of the Ukrainian Academy in 1988, she continues to teach there. Starting as a realist, she turned post-impressionist after a trip to Libya and some African countries. Zozulya was drawing at the age of five, mostly people and animals. She emerges as a recorder of the female psyche. Her realist portraits capture in fine detail the unique character of her sitters, but in her other works, it is more of the essence of woman that she expresses with her brush. The mysterious and the unexplainable in the female is what her works project, the impression of grace and strength, fragility and sturdiness. Albeit her colors were much influenced by her exposure to the warmth and vibrancy of Arabia and Africa, but this is tempered by her Ukrainian sensibilities, so that the overall effect is muted and dreamlike.

When Sonia Mendoza went to Kiev in July to accompany her husband on a business trip there on invitation of Isaac Shafir, Izabella Shafir made it appoint to introduce Sonia to the art scene. The Mendozas were one of the first Filipinos to visit the area. It turned out that Izabella was a friend of Natalie’s father, and after bringing Sonia to the Zozulya studio, the result was an invitation to exhibit in the Philippines. Since Sonia is treasurer of a new group of environmentalists called Mother Earth Un- limited, she got through to art event organizer Odette Alcantara, a director of Mother Earth, to arrange Zozulya’s exhibition.

The exhibit also has angel themes, showing fuzzy figures of angels with wings. Christianity began in the Ukraine because of Saint Vladimir. In Kiev there are many old monasteries that are now being restored, seven years after the dissolution of the USSR that made the Ukraine an independent state. Under the USSR from 1922 to 1991, the Ukraine is the second-largest country on the continent after Russia. It is a neighbor to Poland and Romania. Early Ukrainian art evolved around folk art such as embroidery, wood carving, ceramics and weaving, characterized by stylized ornamentation. With the introduction of Christianity in the 1 Oth century, the various forms of Byzantine art spread rapidly, resulting in the mosaics and frescoes of the churches of Kiev, notably the Cathedral of Saint Sophia (11th century).

Ukrainian visual arts are rooted in classicism and realism. Later, impressionists Ivan Trush, Mykola Burachek, postimpressionist Mykola Hlushchenko, and expressionists Oleksander Novakivsky, Alexis Gritchenko and Anatoly Petrytsky emerged. Gritchenko, for one, has won considerable renown in the West. Avant-garde trends became popular in 1918, with twd schools developing such as the Monumentalism of Mykhalo Boychuk and Vasyi Sedliar consisting of a blend of Ukrainian Byzantine and early Renaissance styles, and in the graphic arts, the neo baroque of Yurii Narbut. Modernist experimentation ended in Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s, when socialist realism became the only officially permitted style. But avant-gardism was rejuvenated in the ’50s, composed of expressionists such as Alia Horska, Opanas Zaivyvakha and Feodosy Humenyuk. The Zozulya exhibit, the first in the country of a solo Ukrainian artist, allows a glimpse of Ukraine’s modernist art. And it is an exceptional showing. Expressions is ongoing until September 30.


•Necklace Out of Petals of Jasmine

•Izabella Shafir, Sonia Mendoza, Ramon Orlina, Natalia Zozulya, Jameq Alien (Westin’s GM) and Odette Alcantara