Published in June 2019 in Russian Week magazine, Canada.
A recent exhibit of a private art collection at Palette Art School (Concord, Ontario) has attracted a large audience of art lovers and artists alike. Today we are meeting with the owner of the collection, Svetlana Matskiv, to talk about this cultural event in more detail.
How long have you been acquiring works of art and how did you come up with the idea of building up this collection?
My family has been collecting art for about 25 years, yet the very first painting I came to own dates even further back. It was a hot summer in my native city of Odessa, Ukraine, during the turbulent year of 1991, marked by a coup d’état in Moscow. The only central TV channel was airing an endless rerun of the ballet, The Swan Lake. With a lack of available information, panic quickly spread across the city, and tourists staying for the beach flooded the airport to return home. That was when I decided that I would leave my country for Canada, for good. In my frenzied preparations, I had to say some hasty and difficult goodbyes to some of my oldest friends. One of these friends was Natalia Migolatieva, a reputable artist and professor of fine arts at the Odessa University of Education. Natalia said she would not let me leave without a portrait, despite being short on time and so, she captured my image with only one eye visible, the other side of my face covered rather dramatically with the brim of a hat. I brought the painting with me to Canada, where it lived as a reminder of that summer marked by discontent and upheaval. On my first return to Ukraine, I sought out Natalia with the intent of purchasing more of her paintings. They soon became the foundation of my collection.
As of today, how many pieces do you own?
You know, I had never really bothered to keep count. Before this exhibition, I decided to have the works catalogued, and so I invited a professional photographer to my house. When he asked me how many pieces I had, my guess was about 30. When we were done with painting 82, I realized we had to stop, as the exhibition space was limited.
Why did you decide to present your collection in the Palette Art School?
The studio has long outgrown its strict definition as “school.” Its founders and instructors, Oleg Danilyants and Shushana Danilyants, as well as their daughter Kristina, and Oleg’s mother, Nina Dmitrieva, have managed to create a community that attracts large numbers of like-minded people who believe in the power and potential of art. After I casually invited them to view my collection, they insisted that it deserves to be seen and shared with a larger audience. They offered to display it at the school, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it. I was very excited by the idea of seeing my collection as a cohesive body of works in an environment where they can “talk” to each other, as much as to the viewers.
For a body of artwork to be dubbed “a collection”, something must unite all the canvases around a certain axis – a common theme or idea.
I have never purchased artwork only because it has value as an antique or vintage piece, nor have I followed political or ideological trends. I lived the larger part of my life in the city of Odessa, which in many ways can be defined by its love for fine art. In every apartment, you could find a wall of original paintings, at a time when people were experiencing shortages of essential goods. My taste was shaped by the tradition of the South Russian School of Painting, which originated in my city in the 19th century. Its founder was the painter Kiriak Kostandi, who along with his associates, established an artistic and aesthetic movement that served as an antithesis to the Moscow-centered school of realism. In Moscow, artists were producing technically flawless works that were heavily imbued with the politics of reform and revolution. Kostandi and his colleagues, on the other hand, followed the European vision of art as impressionistic expression. Their aesthetic credo was that every moment of life was to be viewed as beautiful and worthy of admiration and reflection. Under the communist regime, the South Russian School of Painting was labeled a dissident deviation from the canon of Socialist realism and was officially frowned upon. The Southern school artists refused to depict happy peasants and workers toiling on collective farm fields––they resisted the idea that their works had to serve an overtly political cause. Instead, they favoured the intimate and the contemplative, concentrating on seemingly mundane subjects, such as landscapes, genre scenes and still life paintings. I was in awe of these works and continued to seek the emotional connection I felt toward them. As far as a theme or common thread is concerned, I tried to put together the most typical works of my contemporaries. Thus, my collection became a sort of a testimonial to the dominant artistic trends of the last 25 years, from abstract paintings to contemporary realism.
Which artists are most important to you personally?
We feel especially lucky to own paintings by an Honoured Artist of Ukraine, the Odessa painter Konstantin Lomykin. A highly prolific artist, Lomykin exhibited and sold works not only in the entire former Soviet Union, but internationally, which in itself was a rare phenomenon. Today, his works are part of the collection of Odessa Fine Arts Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Kiev, and the fabled Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. For me, his level of mastership is a token, a measuring stick for other works in the collection. No matter the style of the piece, I believe that in each work there should be an expression of expert knowledge of composition, anatomy and the forms of nature.
After Lomykin, who comes next?
I think the true gems of the collection are paintings by Canadian artists Shushana Danilyants and Costa Dvorezky. Shushana’s paintings invite the viewer to ponder eternal philosophical questions and are full of dramatic contrasts and strength. Costa Dvorezky is an internationally acclaimed artist, richly deserving his reputation as one of the best contemporary realists.
Which is the oldest painting in your collection?
It is a portrait of a young woman, known as “Femme Fatale”. Two years ago I visited Ukraine and stopped in the Western city of Ivano-Frankivsk. My planned mountain trip was cancelled due to heavy rain, and so I casually dropped by into an antique store. There I saw a canvas depicting a young woman, holding a cigarette between her exquisitely elongated fingers. I was struck by the tragic shadow over her eyes. I had no idea who it was by, and the shop owner was of little help. All he remembered was that he had purchased the canvas in Denmark, and that the young woman in the image was apparently the legendary Mata Hari. Once I was finally able to identify the artist’s signature, I found out that it was done by the Danish painter Higo Vilfred Pederzen, who was well known by art collectors at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. This particular painting dates back to the late twenties or early thirties of the last century.
The final question: which works are dearest to you, and why?
They are three portraits of my daughter, Jacqueline, depicting her at different ages. One of them, done by the Ukrainian artist from Lviv, Tetiana Mohylyat, essentially became the trademark of my collection. There are also four small graphic sheets by Andriy Pikush, an Honoured Artist of Ukraine. Pikush pioneered the resurrection of Petrykivka painting, a traditional decorative folk style which originated in the Ukrainian village of its namesake. In the 18th century, local artists painted murals on the walls of their houses, around windows, doors and even ovens, to keep evil spirits away. The colourful murals featured fantastic birds, animals and flowers. In 1902, Petrykivka women stunned Paris during the 1st International World Exhibition by painting panels in front of the eyes of an awed audience, Henry Matisse being among the crowd. They used gouache on white paper, painting magical themes without preliminary sketches. They used very fine brushes, apparently made from the fur under a kitten’s chin, as well as their fingertips.
Unfortunately, Petrykivka murals did not fit into the uniform canon of the communist cultural ideology and were reduced to the status of kitschy crafts. Andriy Piyush managed to revive old style and to elevate it to new heights, training a whole new generation of artists in the genre. The works presented in this exhibition were created on his visit to Canada 20 years ago. I was lucky to see the works in progress. My hope is that anyone who visits our exhibit finds a painting that appeals to them individually. Admission is free and open to all art-lovers!