June 21 at the National Cultural-Art and Museum Complex "Art Arsenal" was presented unprecedented exhibition project "Vasil Yermylov" , created jointly with the Moscow gallery  PROUN .

Mystetskyi Arsenal for the first time brought together works of Yermilov stored in public and private collections in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Moscow, and London. This is more than 200 paintings, drawings, visual objects - from sketch boxes of cigarettes "Illich" to large-scale design projects.


Vasil Yermylov was born in 1894 in Kharkiv in the family of a tailor and died in Kharkiv in 1968. In 1920s he was one of the leading artists along with the leading Constructivists of Ukraine Anatoliy Petrytsky, Volodymyr Tatlin, Vadym Meller. These names are now recognized worldwide. Vasil Yermylov was called by Western art critics "one of the best designers of his generation."

He studied first at the school of decorative painting, then - at the Kharkiv Art College and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He admired Cubism by Pablo Picasso and arrogance of the Futurists. In Kharkiv, 1910 he was among the founders of the youth gangs "Thistle" and "Vycus".


Yermylov was a professor of the Kharkiv Art Institute in the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s. And in 1949 during the Stalin ideological destruction he has been expelled for decades from the Union of Artists for "cosmopolitanism - squatting in front of rotten western culture."


"There was a little bit of artists of such direction as I, in the 20's, so the glory will come to me" - said disgraced artist. In Europe, forgotten in the Soviet Union, he was recognized as weltmeister when his painted reliefs, secretly transported through holes in Soviet Iron Curtain, were shown in London in 1973. At the auctions Yermylov’s works are among the most expensive ones (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Meanwhile, for a lifetime he was constantly "beaten by the ruble" i.e. did not get earnings. However, he was not executed, as his friends, the founders of Ukrainian Executed Renaissance Valerian Polishchuk, Myhailo Boychuk, Vasil Sedliar, Ivan Padalka, Mykhayl Semenko. Yermylov was not demoralized by financial poverty. "My lot - with the naked ones" - he could say about himself with words of his fellow-counrtyman Hryhoriy Skovoroda.


Reformation of the Constructivists consisted of turning production and household environment of the poorest sections of society more aesthetic on the basis of rational and economical plastic geometrism. He lived in the attic, converted by himself "in a comfortable car for life," as said by Constructivists - you had only to be careful not to strike his head against a sloping ceiling. He decorated perfectly as interiors of native Kharkiv (Red Army club, the Palace of Pioneers, factory workshops, reading halls, Party committees) and the international project – Worldwide printing exhibition pavilion in Cologne, 1928: to make it festive, bright, expedient and artfully modern. Thanks to Vasil Yermylov and fellow innovators Alexander Bogomazov, Kazimir Malevich, Alexandra Ekster Ukraine quickly turned more like Europe and modernized aesthetically.


Book design by kharkiver Vasil Yermylov – is a worthy parallel to the polygraphy of the famous German "Bauhaus", where our artist was revered. Energy of his outside saving style – Yermylov monumental font, dynamic composition of typesetting text and illustrations, new, for that time, use of photomontage - still captivates. He had set to design modern Ukrainian, American and European literature.


So Yermylov had been created "poor", that is strikingly laconic art. Western historian said as a joke: "For the full composition Yermylov needs two sticks and Lisitsky - at least three". He was the precursor of minimalism and conceptualism. His famous covered with paint reliefs are a hybrid of sculpture and painting. Yermylov’s instruments are two or three local colours, two or three geometric elements, two or three texture material (tin, wood, tar). He claimed in his reliefs for high artistic (rhythmic composition, technically spent) effect with the help of proficient techniques of polishing, grinding, powder, contrasting oval and angular planes, and perfect "Dorian" proportionate way. Yermylov brings craft as well as masters of ancient Greece to a form of art. Workman inside his personality (precise eye, careful selection of material) from the practice of design rises to spiritual heights - divided forms of Picasso (relief "Guitar"), to the unparalleled, as heresy, ease of Kazimir Malevich (polychrome relief "Square and circle in tondo ").

Yermylov’s friends recall that the management of the Union of Artists of Kharkiv refused to give room for civilian requiem for him. As like, people who were expelled from the Union, although later again joined, not worth of such honour. Funeral car with the coffin stood near the Union building and went to the cemetery. Along the way tram ran into it. The red paint leaked out of the bus with the coffin...


Works for the exhibition "Vasil Yermylov" provided by:

- National Art Museum of Ukraine

- the Museum of Books and Printing of Ukraine

- Central State Archive-Museum of Literature and Arts of Ukraine

- From the private collections of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Moscow, London

The exhibition is open from 22 June to 17 July 2011. Look for more photos from the opening in the Gallery


ART-KYIV contemporary 2011

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Davıd Elliott is a curator and writer who has directed some of the most innovatory and dynamic museums of modern and contemporary art worldwide. He is presently advising on the development of a new contemporary arts hub for the former Police Station, Prison and Courts, a heritage site in the centre of Hong Kong. Herzog & de Meuron are the supervising architects.

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