Socialist Realism of Volodymyr Kutkin

Special Project of the Library of Ukrainian Art

Text by Kateryna Lebedieva

“An artist who never lied in his art”

A painter and a graphic artist Volodymyr Kutkin (1926-2003) is not known well, although his work deserves a wider recognition. The obstacle for the latter was that in 1950 Kutkin, a student of the second year of the graphic arts faculty at the Kyiv State Art Institute, was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison because of Ukrainian nationalism convictions. The young man spent five years in Vyatskie concentration camp doing the hard work of tree felling with other political prisoners. In 1955, after the death of Stalin, for the absence of a crime the artist was prematurely released and completely rehabilitated.

Kutkin returned to studies and after graduating with honors from the institute, got the job of art editor in the publishing house, worked hard and fruitfully in the field of easel painting, book graphics, monumental art, participated in several exhibitions, including international ones (Japan, Czechoslovakia, Canada, etc.) , received awards (in particular, the Silver Medal of the International Book Fair in Leipzig (1965).

“Volodymyr Kutkin is a devoted artist of inviolable conscience,” recalls a friend of the artist, Gennadiy Pollyov, a graphic artist and publicist. “A man of great, fierce temperament. An artist who has never lied in his art and has never betrayed his convictions , like many colleagues. A painter who was not afraid of the extreme and risky decisions , and was able to make others respect himself. “

Kutkin was born on November 12, 1926 in Zhytomyr to a civil servant’s family. In 1933, the family moved to Kiev. The boy started to draw under the influence of his grandfather Pavel Bilkov, a graduate from the Kazan Art School, who never became an artist.

In 1938 Volodymyr Kutkin entered Kyiv T.Shevchenko Art School, studied well and was rewarded with a trip to Moscow. But in 1941, the Second World War interrupted his training. At that period he could paint only at night, and at the daytime he was doing any work trying to survive. The family of the boy were his grandparents because the mother was in the evacuation, and his father died in the hospital from a serious wound …

All those tragic events of his childhood became remarkable themes for outstanding series of works by Kutkin: “Victory Day” (1971-93), “Ukraine. Images of the Heroic Age “(1977-2003),” Hunger. 1933 “(1988),” GULAG “(1987-2003). Volodymyr Kutkin had the gift to reproduce not only the material world of the past, but also the state of mind and feelings of his heroes. He worked in many graphic techniques: watercolor, etching, linocut, pastel.

Let’s have a look on the book graphics of the artist: he created a series of lyonorites “Based on the works of T. Shevchenko” (1959-65), illustrated “Kobzar” in 1963 and 1986, created the series “My Earth” (1966), illustrated the novel ” Tronka”by Oles Gonchar (1966) and the collection of short stories “Harmony” by Gregory Kosinkii (1969-71; published in 1981).

Illustrations by Volodymyr Kutkin to “Tronka”

I n the special project of Library of Ukrainian Art his “Tronka” illustrations are presented: the cover, 30 illustrations, 12 illuminations of sections. The book was published in 1966 with a circulation of 25 thousand copies, and is now a bibliographic rarity.

The novel, first published in 1963, became the first large-scale work of Gonchar devoted to modern life ,that is,the life in the USSR. The work highlights the ordinary life of ordinary Ukrainians depicting a range of characters, images, and situations. This strict simplicity of socialist realism was reflected in the engravings of Volodymyr Kutkin,a minimalist at first glance, but sincere and skillful. The best works of the artist create the illusion of flickering silver. Most of them are portraits harmoniously combined with the characteristic Ukrainian landscapes. “I have always liked his work, but over the years more and more,” says the widow of the artist Elena Voyevodina-Kutkina. – Especially landscapes, they are very emotional.”

Volodymyr Kutkin’s workshop was located in Kyiv, at Reitarska Str. 13. There he created his outstanding works of the Ukrainian graphic art until his death on March 9, 2003. That is, he died on the day of the 189th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko. We can see certain symbolism in this date, since Kutkin’s destiny was also very difficult, and his creative was full of exceptional talent.