Sunday, 7 October 2012

Realism plus fantasy: An extraordinary painting by Ulyana Gumeniuk (2001)

Ulyana Gumeniuk in the New Hall Art Collection

Two weeks ago, I came across Ulyana Gumeniuk's extraordinary painting Family in a dark hallway of Murray Edwards College.

gumeniuk family

The painting is large; the figures are almost life-size. The painting is a mixture of Socialist Realism, Renaissance altarpiece and magical realism.

A man and a woman face each other in profile. Both wear odd bits of armour, and pieces of cloth on their hair, arm and waist. Metallic bands circle their legs. They are barefoot and have naked torsos.

The woman holds a sword.
gumeniuk family woman

The man lightly grasps a staff.

gumeniuk family man

She looks determined and anguished and strong.

gumeniuk family woman face

His eyes look down; they seem almost closed. His expression is dreamy, and there is a slight smile on his lips. Is he serene? Is he evading reality? Is he saintly?

He reminds me of St John the Baptist, with his staff, and of the Archangel Gabriel, with his armour.

gumeniuk family man face

The leg braces appear dangerous and harsh against his skin. And look at all that Baroque drapery.

gumeniuk family leg warrior

He clutches a helmet under his arm and has a very smooth chest.

gumeniuk family chest warrior

Two dead sheep and one dark red puddle of blood on clinical tiles.

gumeniuk family sheep

Further up, two old crones in black dresses scowl at each other across the painting. They sit in what look like wheelchair elevators.

The left hag wears a black headscarf.

gumeniuk family left hag

The right hag wears a white headscarf, brandishes a walking stick and screams at the other hag.

gumeniuk family right hag

We see some industrial piping.

gumeniuk family machine

A trolley on tracks.

gumeniuk family trolley

Some sinister meat hooks.

gumeniuk family hooks

And in the central middleground, there is a family, incongruously posed behind a barrier, all facing the front, as if sitting for a photograph. They look old-fashioned, from a hundred years ago. The boy and the girl each clutch a puppy. The mother clasps her hands. The father wears round wire glasses and what looks like a peasant's cap.

Behind them, we see a house surrounded by nature.

gumeniuk family family

The sky and a delicate tree.

gumeniuk family tree

Ulyana Gumeniuk is a Ukrainian artist. I first came across her work when I was amazed by her paintings displayed in the lobby of the Cambridge University Library. I immediately loved these works, and Family is one of my favourites.

gumeniuk family new hall in situ

You can see this painting to the world-class New Hall Art Collection , Britain's only collection of women's art (established in 1986) and entirely built up from artists' donations. It is currently displayed in a somewhat dark hallway but a major rehang is planned.

More on the artist at Ulyana Gumeniuk's website.

What and and where:
Ulyana Gumeniuk, Family, 2001, oil on canvas, 200cm x 245cm
New Hall Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. Artist's donation.
Last visited on 14 Sept. 2012

Update:  The New Hall art collection has now been rehanged, and Ulyana Gumeniuk's painting is displayed in a well-lit, airy position in the south corridor off Fountain Court.  (27 Jan. 2013)

Read more:
Read more in my other blog posts about New Hall art.

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  1. What a weird and cool painting!

    1. I just realised that when I initially replied to you, I didn't hit the proper button... (Still new to the blogging world!) So here goes properly: Thanks so much for commenting and I'm very happy that you find this painting intriguing!

  2. I'm so glad you find it interesting! Thanks for commenting.

  3. It's fabulous isn't it. Thank you so much for your careful detailing, both verbal and visual. I find this incredibly useful, as when I saw it I just swept my eyes randomly around, letting them stick just two or three times.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment; I really appreciate knowing your reasons for liking the post -- oh, and the art! I've since been to a talk given by the artist at the U.L. where more of her paintings currently hang. They are just stunning. :-)

  4. What a remarkable artist. Just beautiful. At first I got angry when I saw the dark hallyway, but was relived to hear that it's now in a proper setting. Wonderful for you to intorduce her work to your blog readers. Loved the details you photograped. Just a lovedly post.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting. Yes, the dark hallway was a bit sad but the college bravely tackles its collection and I have a lot of time for the way they try and deal with their wonderful art on a shoestring budget for curatorial support. And it's so nice that the painting is now in a well-lit area. I'm so glad you like Ulyana Gumeniuk's art; I think she's an absolutely amazing artist.


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