Two weeks ago, I came across Ulyana Gumeniuk's extraordinary painting Family in a dark hallway of Murray Edwards College.
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.
The man lightly grasps a staff.
She looks determined and anguished and strong.
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.
The leg braces appear dangerous and harsh against his skin. And look at all that Baroque drapery.
He clutches a helmet under his arm and has a very smooth chest.
Two dead sheep and one dark red puddle of blood on clinical tiles.
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.
The right hag wears a white headscarf, brandishes a walking stick and screams at the other hag.
We see some industrial piping.
A trolley on tracks.
Some sinister meat 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.
The sky and a delicate 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.
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 in my other blog posts about New Hall art.
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