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Nikolay Prokopenko
(Nikolay Prokopenko. Ukrainian Painter)



This book presents works of a wonderful Ukrainian painter — Nicolay Prokopenko. An extraordinary style created by this Master expresses Ukrainian mentality exceptionally well; he is a painter-restorer who restores national sacraments and world art Masterpieces, a man-engine, constantly working in high rhythm. More than two thousand pieces of art have been created in his atelier. He works in easel and monumental painting, as well as in iconography. During twenty years of creative work, he has had more that 50 solo exhibitions, and up to 250 joint art exhibits.

He has collected an imposing number of titles and awards. Hundreds of articles have been written about him. In the Ukrainian Art Galleries' Association poll many gallery owners, art critics, colleagues, and ordinary spectators voted him to be «The Best Painter of Ukraine»! Getting to know the Master’s works became a real holiday for them.

Prokopenko’s full-blooded, living, potent painting is a genuine «Ukrainian noon» with hot breath of the steppe. It is the world where the Sun is mostly embodied in female images. Intrusive noises of modernity do not reach this world; a magic songful melody sounds there. His sphere is poetry and exclusive vision of the world that turns nearly everything into symbolically parabolic themes of Ukrainian folk art. In his work, Prokopenko on the one hand looked for support in folk art, and on the other he used classical avant-garde achievements. In this way, he created a unique «national-international» art form.

Some foreign art critics call him the «Ukrainian Picasso»; others see commonality with Gauguin, Rubens. All of them are to some extent correct. Prokopenko is not afraid of any influences. He consciously cites his favourite artists, and still remains «inimitable». Many of Prokopenko’s works have been bought by Ukrainian museums; some of them are in Dutch and Polish National libraries, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in galleries and in private collections of Germany, Spain, Romania, Greece, and Switzerland. People from different countries — Paris art critic Jean-Luc Rigau and the wonderful Mexican composer Manuel Mora — are delighted with his pieces and believe that Prokopenko’s paintings are a real wonder!


DOLIA (fate, destiny — Ukrainian) is a poetic image, which, in Ukrainians' beliefs is identified with happiness and is often represented as a sightly woman. Everyone has his or her own happiness and it depends upon this person’s ruling planet horoscope and exact time of birth.

Prokopenko is a Leo, he was born on the 17th of August 1945 in Usatovo, Odesa Oblast, a wealthy village founded long ago by Cossacks. Folk embroidery, pysankas (coloured Easter eggs — Ukrainian), wall-paintings in the village houses, icons he lived among, imprinted themselves on his subconscious memory, literally went in his flesh and blood with his mother’s milk and the songs. In his mind, he still keeps a plentitude of folk forms, and colour chords, and decorative features of his works, which are closely connected with decorative character of folk art in general. See «The 20th Century Still Life» with pysankas.

Dowering him with talent, temperament, handsomeness and strength, Dolia has been benevolent to Nicolay since his childhood. He began to draw when he was five. Once he saw a neighbour, who was slightly older than Nicolay, drawing a swan in his notebook that stole an apple from a hare's forelegs. This drawing made before his very eyes amazed and enchanted young Nicolay, and he tried to replicate it on the spot. Only the bird was drawn well. The bird’s image is apparently his favourite and constant guest of his works since then: «The Bird of Fairy-Tale», «The Bird of Poetry», «The Bird-Dream», «The Bird of Childhood». What is this? Is this the boy’s amazement at colours of the sun and birds’ bright feathers? What if he dreamt that the bird of happiness who cast a spell on his gaze, gained his heart. So he took off to find his dream, his fairy bird of good luck.

And the lucky Dolia brought Nicolay first to the Odesa Art College (1964-1971), and then to the newly opened Department of restoration at the Kyiv Art Institute. Complex, polyphonic profession of restorer includes both drawing and painting, as well as an extensive knowledge of chemistry, restoration and conservation methods, the knowledge of history of development of materials used for creating classical paintings and icons. This unique profession introduced him to the most inner secrets of the painting craft, gave him a chance to follow, while restoring pictures, the Masters’ tracks.

Years in the Academic institution did not make another emotionless academician of Prokopenko. Folk art helped him much. It was Nicolay’s second year in the Institute, where during his practice in Potelychy — a village in L'viv region — while restoring paintings on wooden walls in an old Holy Spirit church, he was studying original folk technique of painting. The most impressive things in this folk primitivism were deep imagery and colour austerity of palette, also certain syncretism (combination of pagan and Christian world view). This helped the painter to realize how deeply rooted was paganism in everyday life of the Ukrainians, their traditions and rites.

His restoration practice passed in old historical places: in Velikiy Ustiug, Vologda, Ferapontovo, in Moscow Kremlin cathedrals, Tretyakov Gallery, Saint Petersburg and Kyiv. He was enchanted by anthropomorphous vessels of Tripolye culture, archaic character of the Polovtsy statues, song-like line and golden shine of Kyivan Sofia Cathedral mosaics, decorative character of Ukrainian icons and free folk art fantasy. It was the great school of folk art technique that was forming his taste in art, his view of the world.

Researches of Ukrainian spirituality found that the most characteristic feature of Ukrainian mentality, particular national way of thinking is «cordocentricism» (from Latin cor, cordis — heart) or in other words «philosophy of the heart», an emotional and sensuous character of the heart. It is the source of emotionality, sensualism and lyricism, which are so evident in Ukrainian rituals, musical and figurative culture and soft humour. Emotions are much more important in the Ukrainians’ life than intelligence and will. Such national characteristics like emotional gentleness, tolerance, emotional and poetical perception of the world to the fullest correspond to the character and nature of Nicolay’s talent.

After Prokopenko graduated from the Institute, he was sent to work to Odesa. Odesa is a port on the Black Sea coast, an active, mobile city, open to winds of change. From its foundation, Odesa spoke in different cultures’ languages. It was easy to work for the Greeks and the Italians, the Ukrainians and the Jews, the Germans and the French in this multilayer city with a permeating international atmosphere. Odesa, which inherited classical European culture, generously gave away its bright colours to many painters, who created atmosphere of high artistic strain in the city. That was «Izdebsky salon» in Odesa, where in 1910, the First International avant-garde art exhibition in Russia was opened. The future father of abstractionism — Wassily Kandinsky — spent his youth in this city. Odesa’s school of painting is still prestigious outside the country. European style of painting and strong national spirit get along well together there.

At first, Prokopenko’s career in Odesa’s art world was somewhat unusual: for ten years, he was known only as a painter-restorer. During this time, he «rejuvenated» many museum masterpieces and thoroughly learned classical art technology. He restored an icon of The Virgin of Iver — the major church relic of Orthodox Odesa. The icon was created in 1894 in the year of Odesa centenary and was said to be a wonder-working one. The painter was blessed for icon restaurations by Odesa and Izmail archbishop Agafangel.

A painter-restorer can be compared somewhat with a translator. The 1980-ies are characterised by increasing nonconformism in creative work of the young. In order to avoid hypocrisy and writing in so-called socialist realism, many talented writers became translators enabling people to read foreign literature in their native languages. Prokopenko became restorer due to the same reasons.

He devoted the first years of his career to understand himself, learning and evaluating the world. His interest in Ukrainian heritage and avant-garde movements of the ХХ-th century — Symbolism, Primitivism, Fauvism, and Cubism — was shaped by «indirect routes». «Inimitable» David Burlyuk who founded Russian-Ukrainian Futurism and was among the founders of Cubism-Futurism movement in France and Germany, the author of the «Black Square» and founder of Suprematism Kazimir Malevich, abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky, inventive and radical sculptor Alexandr Archipenko — all of them were to a certain extent discoverers of the New Universal Art together with Picasso, Derain, Matisse… All of them declared their love for folk art, derived from it, as from an eternal reservoir, certain poetic principles and motifs.

Neodecorativeness, which tried to put ancient folk art symbols (circles, crosses, stars, zigzags, spirals — elements of all national cultures common to all people) into new postmodernist ways, was popular in the West in the 1980-ies. The same processes took place in the artistic life of Ukraine at the same time: expressive decorativeness of «Neobaroque,» supported by folklore was in full bloom.

The positive side of transition conscience is that it «summarises» the past and is actively experimenting looking for the new. The painter’s individual development of style coincided with the beginning of perestroika and reached completion by 1994, when Ukraine took its first steps as a new independent state. As time went on the painter did not betray his calling. He began «regeneration» of the culture — restoration of its lost and damaged parts.

In his article «Everybody Have the Same» the French sociologist Michel Aucouturier wrote, «Time of social disturbances, political and journalistic boom, crucial changes in the world of socialist countries — this is not the best time for the culture to bloom. People just do not have time for it. But, obviously for the future of the culture’s sake, the disturbances should be endured, the Empire — ruined, the changes — accomplished and, simultaneously, psychology and cultural attitudes to the world should be radically changed».

After the collapse of the USSR many people of the creative professions found themselves in a unique unexpected situation; they could enjoy unlimited freedom of creative life without prohibitions and fears. There was a mosaic representing hundreds of individual styles. In the situation of shaping new life and different art, activity of a painter as the person who reunites viable traditions with current art was important. For Prokopenko it was clear that without the past all attempts to create something new would fail. Picasso said about this once:

«But when art lost all connections with the tradition, when it was decided that perception and emotions of a painter are the most important things, and that everybody could update painting at his own sweet will, on any basis, the painting became extinct, only individualities left… From Van Gogh on, no matter how great we are, we are in some measure self-taught people — almost primitive painters. A painter does not live within the tradition any more, and each of us has to invent the language of art anew. In a certain sense, it is liberation, but at the same time, it is also heavy restriction. To gain more freedom means to lose order.»

Like an archaeologist, Prokopenko moved from extremes of individualism to the opposite direction, looking for the origin. The world of primitive, pure culture attracted him. He was supported by the experiences of his favourite painters: Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso, whose works he loves and knows thoroughly and can faultlessly recognise them by a small fragment or even a separate brushstroke. Paul Gauguin was once carried away by Peruvian anthropomorphous ceramic vessels and Polynesian primitive folklore, he studied and copied Tahitian gods; as for Pablo Picasso, he learned the cradle of Iberian archaism and primitive powers of the country in a small village of Horta de Ebro (Spain), and discovered African art then.

Prokopenko drew a lesson from this, understanding quite well, that following the masters’ ways does not mean to forget about himself. That is why he went «back into the future» to his own roots. Every human being is a little part of the nation, to which he or she is tied genetically and spiritually. The Ukrainians are the distant successors of the original Tripolye culture which is characterised by a powerful feminine spirit. Thousands of years ago, skilled women decorated ceramic vessels with magic ornaments, beseeching the forces of nature to be merciful to the grain-grower-people. This eldest pagan tradition appeared to be long and preserved in folk art its power of expression in lines, colours, shapes and images. Later, joining the Christian religion, it affected icons and was continued in Ukrainian baroque art.

There are two types of painters and folklore interaction. One of them is when a painter borrows images and language from folklore and uses them as his personal property; another one is when he refines folk art, recovers lost tradition, and improves the craft. Prokopenko represents this last type. He does not imitate folk craftsmen directly but learns by incorporating their style with his own art form. In his pieces, he revives anew gaiety and paganism of the ancient folklore images.

Skill (talent) is not just another person’s ability, it is a complex of skills that evolve at different stages of this person activity. The first is an eye for colour, the second is ability to learn (some people cannot learn), the third is ability to see an artist in himself; the forth is ability to grasp the art context and find his own place within it; the fifth talent is ability to create his own myth. The latter is a rather rare one.

Prokopenko is a hero of mature creation. How does a young painter differ from a mature master? — By experimenting. Those who create original ideas or original interpretations of cultural patterns are creators. Prokopenko is the artist who has creative abilities and his own way of thinking. When designing his «new reality» he uses different strategies of the modern artist:

1. He uses pagan rituals, the power of charms and spells. Picasso dreamt of art able to cure toothache. Prokopenko also aims at art able to heal, to make healthier, still further, to make happy.

2. Ironic eclecticism of educated European who is experienced in citing. Prokopenko plays with languages using cubist, classical and folklore registers in one piece.

3. He creates his own myth, his own artistic space.

Like Gauguin and Van Gogh, at first he limited his colour palette to earthy brown tints that recall heavy and fat humus, nutrient medium for a seed that will be sown by a critical mind and will and come up as a new shoot. Such is a monochrome portrait of his mother with a thorny black wreath in her hands — «The Wreath of Thorns».

There is one permanent value in the past of human life — a granting life woman-mother. In the Ukrainian culture, the female image was often juxtaposed with the ancient image of the Great Goddess — loving and fertile mother Earth — and was a major ethno-cultural symbol. This archetype, based on the ages of grain-grower people’s life, emphasised the matriarchal character of the culture and freed the Ukrainians perception of the world from aggressiveness.

In a group composition «The Harvest» the painter put the figure of a pregnant woman with a ripe fruit on the dish in the centre. Who is she? Perhaps it is an ancient image of Didiliya, a Slavonic goddess of fertility, who was given flowers and fruits as offerings. It could be also Lada, or Berehynya, or Zhyva, or Zarya (ancient Slavonic goddesses who brings joy). However, this could be even Eve with a bitten apple showing her mates the meaningful «result» of her action. The image created by Prokopenko is not simple, it has mystery, is multifaceted. It is a «universal symbol» placed as in icon upon a ground of eradiating gold.

Prokopenko gives many of his works song titles: «The Evening Song», «Village Romance», «Singing in the Daytime and in the Evening», etc. Songful Ukraine lightly, almost insensibly sings its clear melody on the Master’s canvases. Prokopenko has his own type of woman who moves from one canvas to another changing but keeping certain particular features. Almost on all canvases we meet this face: sometimes it looks like a sketch, sometimes like a saint’s face: enormous dark eyes, cherry-ripe lips on an apple-cheeked face; besides, this pretty woman appeares always nice and sweet. Each new creation makes it easy to recognize this image. Though it is not connected with any particular person, it is so alive and convincing that everybody sees in it a Ukrainian beauty known to him.

It is possible, that a considerable number of spectators do not like this type of female beauty with such voluptuous body. Nicolay protests, «A woman who has a figure like lace — this is just the fashion. Let us remember female characters of great painters — Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Renoir with their queenlike bodies! Aren’t they beautiful?» However, those who do not agree with the painter argument will nevertheless admire the paintings. The painter’s buxom brunettes (rarely blondes) are woven from light and colour, everything shine and appease the «visual hunger» of the modern art spectator. See «Eve».

The painter intentionally uses hyperbolism making the figures larger, overdoing dimensions. The art image is being treated as the myth where life won death. The Master’s works always include elements of fiesta where death is being mocked at and fat carnival wins lean fast.

Prokopenko’s abundant still lives that show the tastiest, ripest, most tempting, most savoury things could be considered from the point of view of the national baroque aesthetics. The painter raised all the flowers and fruits to a higher level of perfection. The flower arrangements which shine from inside do not consist of plain flowers (it is very difficult to recognize their names), but present some quintessence of blossoming, life asserting. The watermelons, pears, apples show their sensual ovalities and literally bulge out of the canvas. The favourite size of Prokopenko’s paintings is the square (100 cm x 100 cm) — symbol of earth, of material word. Therefore, «fleshliness», the «trend towards basic national values», «abundance» of the painter’s images should be considered within the context of the Ukrainian mentality as manifestations of the people’s spirit.

Like nature, the painter’s female characters have many meanings, and belong to the same world together with the sun, night, flowers, dawn. See «The Sunny Summer», «The Rape of the Moon», «The Autumn in the Countryside». Looking like sisters, they differ in many cases in accessories: the beauty’s head is decorated with a circlet of flowers, or with a red band, or a flower. The girls’ circlets of flowers and red bands in the Ukrainian costumes function as protection from malign forces, but this protection is very beautiful. From time eternal, Ukrainian women like to embellish themselves with flowers. Prokopenko’s «Flora» — the goddess of blossoms, flowers and gardens — is the favourite child of nature and at the same time its soul. A Ukrainian proverb says, «A beautiful girl is like a poppy flower».

One can find in Ukrainian folklore a belief that in the beginning of the world, the Holy Mother was created from flowers. In the artist’s painting, a golden sky illuminates barefooted Mothers with flower nimbus over their heads, which resemble icons. They give life and enjoy life.

In his work «The Rape of the Moon» the atmosphere of the painting corresponds to Nikolay Gogol enthusiastic depiction in his story «The May Night». A young witch is flying in the air in the midnight lights. The Ukrainian word ved’ma for witch derives from an old word that means to wit, to know. During the matriarchy era which lasted longer in Ukraine, each woman was considered to be a vedunya — the one who knew special transcendent secrets.

In the fascinating painting «In Search of a Day» a woman is flying over the ground with floods of joy and light «flying like a bird, and, it seems, she will fly out of the world». What are these images? Everything is mixed in them: colours, aromas, sounds. The painter managed to enter this fragrant folklore world. Light and symbolism of attributes and colouring are represented in his works which are characterised by mythological undertones.

The Master demonstrates luminescence of the paint and richness of oil painting by using a classic glazing technique. One can see light touches of his brush on canvas (alla prima technique) and impasto technique with the application of one centimetre thick paint on one canvas. It shows the individuality, temperament, and excitedness of the painter.

In the 1970-s, in Ukrainian belles-lettres existed phenomenon of «chimerical» novel (it should be noted, that «chimerical» in Ukrainian means eccentrical, fantastic, incredible, but never dreadful or monstrous). Having no parallels in other Slavonic nations, «chimerical novel» of Vasyl Zemliak, Pavlo Zahrebel’ny, Yevhen Hutsal derived inspiration from early Gogol writings, returning to times of folklore and national baroque, and perhaps pre-dated the magic realism of Márquez, Cortazar, Borges. The painter's style is close to that characterized by the «chimerical authors». Mysticism is represented in his works by mysterious light and symbols.


As a rule, female images in the painter's works are based on vase, fruits and flowers. With a smooth motion of the hand, he draws a vase, then transforms it into a figure of a woman and, finally, endows the latter with figurativeness of a flower. To the painter’s view of point, woman is the best and the most perfect creation of God. A figure of a woman is often accompanied with womanlike shapes of pears, guitar, small vases with flowers, and backs of a chair. And ribbons, hats, leaves connect female characters with the kingdom of plants. Flowers always were usual attribute of the goddess of Spring (See «Flora»). Vase — a vessel of life, source of love — was an attribute of Psyche and Pandora. Musical instruments symbolize love. Lines and forms of female images are concordant; they rhyme with each other or create assonances with other forms or surrounding space. Playing with analogy and adequacy Prokopenko, after Picasso, lays down for himself the law of «figurative imagery». He is a «super-developed» realist, who ascended the level of «generalized», «symbolical», «metaphorical» reflection of reality.


Creative work is a play for the painter. «Art is a game. It began when the Creator was playing and this is its only way of being,» thinks Prokopenko. He is a heaven-born painter! Painting is everything for him. Words «to live» and «to draw» are synonyms for him. He draws on drawing-paper, on fragments of posters, even on matchboxes. It is difficult to find another man who spends as much time with easel and canvas as he does. His hands work permanently. He paints and draws on the spot, without preliminary deliberation. Happy genius of the Master derives benefit from the process of playing, transformation of colour spots, lines, textures. However, everything is tried in realising the principle applied. This is how «a lucky chance» turns in the Master’s works into «the Law of a lucky chance».

In the picture «The Morning Breeze», there is a female figure against the background of well-known sculptural balls at the Odesa beach «Lanzheron» entrance. Her breasts, buttocks, head, torso form circles that run into one another echoing each other. The painter humorously presents the Odesa beauty who shows to the world her triumphant ball-shaped flesh and holds the world in her hand! This is a characteristic sample of «visual poetry». Prokopenko’s works can be duped both verbally and musically. He has friends among poets and is a poet himself. Near a sunward figure of a woman he wrote, «The Muse came to me secretly up the shaky stairs of years.» In collaboration with the poet Igor Pototsky, Prokopenko created hand-made books (each book is made from the very beginning by the painter) that were bought by libraries of many countries.

The theme of man’s love for woman sounds powerfully in the Master’s works. Obviously, Prokopenko was not the first among the artists who glorified beauty of femininity, attraction of its sensual charms. His creative power blossoms in the moments when his attention is occupied with the passion of love. In places of southern climate, where feelings are more passionate, demanding and insatiable, and people are more emotional, the main law of art appears openly and brightly. And this is the law of sensuality.

Admiring the beauty of female body, the painter deliberately strips his heroines drawing attention to their attracting forms. A guitar — the sun — hangs over the girl in «The Village Romance». His heroine only wears sunny music and heat. Dreams and reveries are attributes of eternal femininity for him. Round, free lines of «Asleep» convey a state of rest. It is easy to recognize the painter's black-eyed muse in mythological and biblical scenes.

The painter transformed into erotic joke an antique myth about Zeus who in order to kidnap Europa, changed into a bull («Europa», 1998). The bull-Zeus looks as if he is deflated, with legs collapsed under him, he is gasping for air like a fish out of water (and his head resembles a fish): the burden of love in the form of plump and dashing Europa appears to be beyond the deity's strength.

The Fall of our foremother Eve is depicted with delicate irony. In the painting «Seeing off from the Garden of Eden» the bitten apple lies on the ground, Eve is not interested in the apple any more, but the angel is still interested in Eve. Even the dweller of another world cannot be indifferent to her alluring beauty. Many works of the painter are full of humour. And really who can keep from smiling when looking, let us say, at a fisherwoman. See «Odesa Fishing», «The Golden Coast». She has a fair and clear face, her body and gestures speak for themselves: such a beauty bound for the sea will have a fine catch of fish. Humour is one of the basic constituents of the painter’s festive and ironic world. This world is vivid, naïve and wise at the same time.


The painter is connected with the seasons and time of day more than with the years he has lived. Summer is Nicolay’s favourite season; the favourite time of day is noon. Of all twenty-four hours noon is the fleshliest, most material one, with bodies casting no shadows. Similar to midnight, noon is the most magic, mythic and mystic time of day. Full-blooded, powerful, energetic Prokopenko’s painting is a genuine «Ukrainian Noon» depicting the steppe’s hot breath. These are the pictures: «Noon», «The Dragon-Fly — the Sun», «Sunny Summer».

Femininity in Ukraine was traditionally connected with fire and light. This is also represented in a symbolic parallel that equates a woman-girl with a highbush cranberry. In old times this tree was connected with the beginning of the World and was named after an ancient name of the sun — kolo (kolo — means round. The Ukrainian word for highbush cranberry is kalyna. Therefore kalyna — kolo are the words compared — Translator’s note). Well-known linguist A.Potebnya believed that, since a beautiful girl was called a red one (i.e. beautiful), cranberry became a symbol of a girl according to the basic idea of fire-light in the words: cranberry, red girl. The painter created his Sun in female hypostasis.

The four elements constitute his universe: fire = red colour, earth = black, air = white, water = blue. Colouring is the organizing power of the Master’s painting system in the whole. «The Beautiful should be connected with objective and eternal criteria,» thought Hryhory Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher of the 18th century. In his canvases Prokopenko kept the colour chord (black-and-white-and-red) which he took from Tripolye pottery, the most ancient written beliefs – pysanka, and Ukrainian embroidery.

According to folklore-beliefs, on Midsummer Night’s Eve — the night of the 24th of June — a lurid fern flower appears for a short time. The one who can take it off gains a dreamlike power that brings ability to find mystic treasures. For some time it appears in his canvases embodying the vivid power of fire.

Still, there is no thermometer to meter the power of colour, but, obviously, this power exists. Intuitively, feeling the mighty power of folk art, the painter depicts the power of sunlight and that festive colouring which accentuates the brightest side of his talent. «In order to convey the power of colour, it shouldn’t be restrained, then it emanates rays. Art shouldn’t reflect, it should illuminate», thinks the painter. And his pictures are able to light up any room from the indoor space of a house to the classical museum.

Light is one of the mysterious characteristics of painting; the number of Masters of light is so limited: Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Grűnewald, Jan Vermeer of Delft, Rembrandt, Impressionists…

Prokopenko’s style is in understanding of light and the full transference of its function to colour. White background of his pictures acts like a screen reflecting light where local colours (pure colours) «emblaze» each other. He «declares a competition», in order to strengthen one colour by another one, he makes «the law of the colour’s contrast» work. Red bursts into the kingdom of white like a gleeful music; black strengthens radiance of bright, joyful hues and is essential for better orchestration of colours; white brings in the feeling of space.

The main quality of Prokopenko’s painting temperament is its sunny mood, dominance of warm and hot colours, feel of summer in colours. In a fairy tale, it is said:

— What is the most beautiful thing in the world?
— It is fire.

— And which fire is the brightest?
— It is the sun.

Red colour on the painter’s palette represents the image of fire — the sun. His works are literally «on fire», and the red colour produces an almost hypnotic effect. And one goes back to it again, coming under its influence. What is the secret? The painter himself hardly can explain why his pictures are so bright, sparkling and blazing since he uses common paints and technique. The mystery is hidden in the precious gift of colourist Masterhood that is the eternal enigma.

Prokopenko’s works have amazing wholeness. After you see his pictures, you will never make a mistake looking at other ones. But this world, stable and close at the first glance, also undergoes changes. His career could be divided into the following creative periods:

1. «Earthen Period.» The beginning of Prokopenko’s career, in the 1980-ies. Like the legendary Antaeus, he gains strength from mother earth. The works are painted in the limited earthy and goldish palette (tonal painting), with thin strokes, have certain angularity (aggressiveness); a realistic approach to models is typical. These are «Self-Portrait» (1985), «The Girl with the Cat», «Ukrainian Venus», «The Bouquet of Chicory», «The Bird-Dream».

2. «White Period.» «Transformation» of reality, plenty of light. Images appear on a white background emanating light and its complex nuances. Combining of graphic and pictorial forms in one piece are characteristic of this period. Lines and forms are in harmony. See «August», «Indian Summer».

3. «Striped Period.» It represents mature decorative style that was basically set by 1994, designing of «a new reality». The pictures combine carpets texture with poetic narrativeness. In his works, the painter represents imagery of a striped folk carpet both by coloured stripes that fractionalize the canvas space and by texture that resembles a woven carpet (tapestry). Fine-focused rays of light accentuate the stripes on the canvas. Dark flexible outlines mark off colour close-ups. The canvases are two-dimensional but, at the same time, have complex composition. «The Pear Holiday», «The Girl with Field Flowers», «Evening Song».

4. «Monumental.» In recent years, the painter arrives at simplification of his composition and abandons the overstructured space. Direct and steady light and figures without shadows create a two-dimensional decorative composition. «Plastic» and «colour» tasks are of main importance now. Woman is not only an object to be painted, but has also become a category of perception of the world. New aestheticism is seen in equalization of visual intensity and conceptual intension. «The White Fan», «Ballerina's Daybreak», «Pomona».

The painter's canvases contain a poetry and special vision of the world that turn nearly everything into Ukrainian folk art symbols. A rushnyk (a towel) — Ukrainian which appeares in many of his works is a symbol of Ukraine, a symbol of family unity. Sheaf of ears = of abundance. A she-goat = a symbol of birth and life force. A rooster is an amulet, it repels demons and evil spirits; it was believed that red rooster brings fortune. A bird = symbol of a soul, spring. An egg is the Christian symbol of resurrection. Prokopenko often gives his own interpretation of these symbols. For example in his pictures, the goat often personifies a man according to popular saying that «all men are goats». The rich rooster is the painter himself who was born in the Year of the Rooster and sees much in common with this bird.

And yet symbolic interpretation did not lead the painter too far astray and did not distort the design of his works. Their system of images is easy to grasp and does not need time to read a subject-puzzle. The meaning of his paintings does not need additional explanations. The painter respects traditions, but his style does not suffer from stagnation and slavery to routine.

Combination of «common» people’s perception and extreme individualism of the painter’s manner let us compare his style with the style of Hermann Hesse’s novel «The Glass Bead Game», a novel that seems to be deliberately archaic and surprisingly modern. The painter’s play with the colours of his palette and symbols of universal language of the ancient culture reminds one of the «Game of Glass Beads» with all its meanings and values of our culture.


The painter’s plastic method is of international origin. The content of his art is universal and clear for everybody. In fact, it is the normal ambition of any culture to step out from its region and to be recognized worldwide.

After 2002, when the painter had been to Spain, he created a series of pictures devoted to this country: «The Spanish Nocturne», «The Granada Elegy», «The Spanish Woman Dancing on the Roofs». It looked as if the painter brought some invisible changes to his usual images with slight touches of his brush. The silhouette became a bit sharper, black-and-red contrast sound more intensely — and there are Spaniards before us. One of the women has a fan in her hands, another dances her vivacious dance on a city house roof flying up over the town.

«The Granada Elegy» is an original interpretation of Velázquez’ portrait of the infanta Margarita. In Prokopenko’s picture this «fragrant flower of child grace» stands on a donkey in ceremonial pose wearing a luxurious dress. «It looks like the painter lived in Spain for many years, since only a connoisseur of Spanish beauty could create such beautiful portraits of women, full of romantic colours», wrote local Spanish newspapers.

Prokopenko has a series of pictures connected with circus life. Like a juggler he plays with forms and colours, reproducing buffoonery and festivity typical of circus life. In his work named «The Buffoonery», the bright skirt of a circus actress became an arena with a dog joyfully running round. The painter constantly reverts to the versatile, mosaic, kaleidoscopic image of a Harlequin. His hero always has sad eyes, from which emanates warm light. He is an eternal wanderer trying to be kind in spite of life’s failures. Manuel Mora, an excellent Mexican composer, has one of these Harlequins in his collection. He considers the painter’s work a real wonder. Paris art critic Jean-Luc Rigau admires the colour polyphony that sounds in tune in the painter’s works.

Prokopenko’s festive structure of images is similar to those of Marc Chagall. He showed his works in an exhibition titled «Marc Chagall and Painters of Ukraine» in 2000 in a gallery of Bad Nauheim (Germany). He created his own myth where fancifully interlaced are images of folklore origin, circus and fairy tale characters, everyday life objects. As for the pictures, they are full of humour, delightful play of colours and involve spectators in the active field of their actions rising degree of life, degree of spirits.

In Prokopenko’s pictures national colour is not so much on the surface as in depth, in the very heart of each piece. Even when the painter least of all thought about the symbolic meaning of detail, he caught the most essential and permanent matters that folk culture contains.

The art of Prokopenko is nothing but suggestive magic, and in his pictures the painter is a «charmer» of sun, happiness, wealth. Our Slavonic ancestors had a holiday that still is celebrated in some places: it is St. John Baptist's Day, the ancient holiday of midsummer, with the elements of sun-worship, agrarian magic, cleansing and erotic rituals. Since fire is a great doctor, the participants jumped over fires to get rid of diseases, evil spells, childlessness. The painter has mastered these spells by learning the ancient ornamental patterns and gave their «visual analogue». Spectators of Prokopenko’s paintings also undergo «a test by fire». The very sunny, fiery character of his art heals and lights a new life. It produces a good effect because it is created by a good man and real Master.

Conquering by their intelligible humanity vast regions inhabited by different races, Prokopenko’s works harmoniously join private collections in the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Mexico, enlarge collections of Ukrainian museums.


August is the crown of the year. Every year on his birthday in August, Prokopenko gives himself his own work as a present, which represents the labour of the past year. The Ukrainian name for this most fertile month is serpen’; named after a grain-grower implement to reap grain (a sickle). And the painter himself is similar to a ploughman who worked without end all year round on a field to harvest the crop in time. He calls these pictures «August pieces». They show young beautiful women, aiming to the future from the past. Their faces are the smile of Dolia who tries to love back those who love her so joyfully and well.

Irina Timokhova,

Art critic, senior research assistant
Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art


© Irina Timokhova, 2005.
© Serhiy Snihur, 2005, translation into English.