Mira Hnatyshyn Studio Visit August 3, 2017
When visiting the studio of Mira Hnatyshyn, the first artwork encountered is a large mixed-media on raw canvas. Hanging in the fashion of a tapestry, the work tackles the Texas-based artist’s Ukrainian heritage. Hnatyshyn says its title, The Braidbasket, is a word-play from the Ukraine nickname as the “bread basket of Europe.”
Previously shown at Bluestar Contemporary Museum in 2014, this work is based off of a photograph the artist took while traveling to the country just before the Maidan Revolution that same year. The artist said that she photographs tirelessly on her travels in attempts to capture the “real moment” or true essence of each place.
Hnatyshyn’s great command of painting is demonstrated within the angelic face found on the figure near the left edge of the picture plane. Her pale flesh and pastel lips are delivered with realism, while the soft hues of the figure contrast greatly with the bold of her auburn locks.
When I inquired about the figures grandiose fabric-curtsy, Hnatyshyn said “everyone wants to be queen.” The young woman in the painting is based off of a flower-lady Hnatyshyn photographed in the market square of Lviv in the Ukrain. Viewed in a beautiful peasantry dress, Hnatyshyn chose to employ dramatic golds and shimmering fabrics to embellish the figure and emphasize her attire.
The canvas naturally reads from left to right in a wonderful rhythm of baroque excess to subtle absence. The canvas flows effortlessly from over-activation to quite areas of underdeveloped space. For example, the boldly colored lead figure transitions to a number of figures rendered solely with white pigment and outline.
Other materials employed include embroidery in traditional Ukrainian patterns. The artists mother sent her these embroidery samples that she started as a young lady, hoping that she would “finish them.” So, Hnatyshyn did—just not perhaps the way her mother intended.
A much smaller size abstract work also demonstrates Hnatyshyn’s love for experimentation of material. Traditional Ukrainian embroidery is again included, as well as, pieces from the New York Times –with newspaper articles from the year of the revolution. The illegibility of the text included causes a great tension with the viewer’s desire to read the excerpts, resulting in a forced focus on the formal qualities. Expressive, emotional, and intuitive explorations are asserted with canvas, fabric, newsprint, pigment, and glue.
A stunning painting of another female figure harks back to art history in a number of ways. My Darlin’ Clementine lures the viewer’s attention with her playful gaze and seductive half-smirk. Hnatyshyn seemingly captures the personality of the woman within her facial gesture for a beautiful full-length portrait reminiscent of the great American portraitist, John Singer Sargent. Amidst an architectural setting, reduced to only a few geometric shapes, the surrounding negative space directs the viewers’ attention to contemplate nothing but the sitter.
As in The Braidbasket, Hnatyshyn adds yards of lush fabrics to the figure’s garment in My Darlin’ Clementine. Pink, green, and black fabric flows from the picture plane and the pink cloth rolls off of the canvas into the viewer’s realm. This breaking of boundaries between the sitter’s realm and the viewer’s, intensifies our desire to know her story. However, her facial glow and hand gesture hint to her tale.
The lady’s cascading fabrics remind us of another full-length portrait from 1434, The Arnolfini Portrait (or The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait) by Jan van Eyck. The woman in the portrait rests her hands high on her torso in a similar fashion to the bride in the Van Eyck painting suggesting that she is also with child.
Hnatyshyn’s artistic practice tends to focus on women. She expresses herself best with large scale works and the highest beauty can be found in what is not articulated. Hnatyshyn is a master of negative spaces using them to accentuate the painted.
This was a fun visit with a fantastic mixed-media artist. It was great to learn more about her Hnatyshyn’s work. She also showed me Ukrainian children’s books and introduced me to chocolate hummus—just try it—it’s so good!
To see more works and to follow the artist check out her website at www.mirahnatyshyn.com