RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND (continued from yesterday’s blog)

Having lived all her life in the village, Maria was quite unfit for the village life. Polio had crippled her when she was a little child. She was called “a beauty on crutches.” Those who know something about rural life will understand what it means to be a cripple in the countryside where hard physical work is the chief value and duty. However, there was a positive element in it too: that defect sharpened her perception of the world. It also explains Prymachenko’s pictures. Art critics characterize her scenes and objects as “kind” – for me there’s much of childish pain and fear in almost all of them.

Her talent was noticed due to the communist slogan of the 1930s: any person who “delves and spins” can become a poet and an artist. Her works – pictures as well as pottery- and textile painting – were promoted by the regime and sent to international exhibitions in Paris, Warsaw. Sophia, Montreal, Prague.

She was an odd bird among the villagers. Her husband, a professional soldier, was killed in the war in June 1941. Their son had been born earlier that year. Officially the marriage was not registered and that was a disgrace in the eyes of the rural folk. Even the very talent that made Maria Prymachenko world-famous was waved off in the village as something empty and not serious. Myself, I experienced that kind of attitude when, as a child, I would carry books to the village library to return them and borrow new ones. I used to hide the books under my coat not to be laughed at by dozens of those whom I met on the way. “There’s Olga’s son who knows nothing but his books”, they said (my mother’s name is Olga).

When in the 1960’s Maria’s family needed money, their good friend Serhiy Paradzhanov (the famous author of the famous film “The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”) suggested that some pictures of Maria and her son Fedir, also an artist, be displayed outside in the street for sale, none of the villagers turned up even to look at them — to say nothing of buying a picture. On the other hand, when Maria would send some 40-50 paintings to an exhibition in the capital, only half of them were usually returned – the rest were just “lost’ or “borrowed.” Later Paradzhanov sent Maria and her family a big parcel of oranges from Georgia (oranges were something exceptional in a Ukrainian village in the ‘60s). Maria and her son treated to the oranges everyone they met that day.

During her life Maria Prymachenko painted more than a thousand pictures. About half of them are now at Kyiv Museum of Decorative Art, some 200 – in other museums of Ukraine and the ex-USSR, another 200 are owned by private collectors. In 2006 her house was raided by a group of armed criminals and more than 70 pictures were stolen. Later the police found the pictures. Each of the pictures had been insured for a sum of $10,000.

Maria Prymachenko was right-handed, but she painted all her pictures with her left hand. She might have instinctively felt that this world and the world of her imagination did not overlap.

Maria died on August 18, 1997. She may continue living now somewhere in the naively fanciful and uneasy world which her left hand has created.

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