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Mariya’s Suns


Olha Dubovyk admires the art of Mariya Tomen, a golden-haired Ukrainian artist with piercing eyes, whose works are full of sunshine and spirit, and her essay reflects her admiration.


When I met Mariya Tomen recently, I realized we had not seen each other for at least five long years. Looking at her paintings which have been created in these past years, I could definitely discern “divine inspiration” in them.

Mariya’s new works, whom many consider to be extraordinarily gifted (and I am among them too), have something of the icons in them. The artist’s creations have been blessed by the bishop Hlib Lonchyna from London, and the priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church at Ascold’s Tomb in Kyiv Father Ihor and Father Oleksiy.

Mariya has never broken the spiritual umbilical cord that connects to her native village of Kosmach in the Land of Zakarpattya. Her creativity continues to be fed by the Ukrainian cultural heritage and by the spirit of her native land.

Her grandmother, Hafiya Polek (nee Tomen) was her spiritual mentor. Hafiya turned her house into a center where the Ukrainian spirit flourished — poets, artists and actors were frequent guests and they made a very considerable contribution to forming Mariya’s worldview. It was in her childhood and adolescence that the bright national spirit entered her life and became part of her personality so much so that it shines in her artistic works.

The many colors and moods of the religious feasts of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ivan Kupala (St John), Pokrov (The Virgin’s Protective Veil), of weddings, of the autumnal harvest celebrations, of the scenic nature, and of the change of seasons and much else contributed to shaping her artistic soul — the soul that was on the same wavelength with the soul of Ukraine, in all of its rainbow magnificence. As an artist, Mariya has been doing her best to reveal this soul to the world.

When she was fourteen, Mariya, who had shown an aptitude for drawing in her childhood and developed a healthy ambition to be an artist, sent some of her drawings to an artist, Roman Selsky, and to another person, Lesya Krypyakevych, the wife of an historian, who was a noticeable cultural figure and could help with advice. Mariya’s drawings were appreciated and forwarded to the city of Gdansk in Poland where an art contest was to be held.

Mariya’s drawings won her the first place and a prize. It greatly encouraged the budding artist and in 1990 she showed some of her works at an exhibition of decorative and applied art which was held at the Museum of Ethnography in Lviv. Two years later, with the help provided by the Shafranyuk Family Foundation, Mariya’s works were shown in Toronto, Canada; a year later, her paintings and graphic works were exhibited in Kyiv, and in 1994 — in Paris.

Paris fascinated Mariya who had not had a formal training at an art school, and she stayed there for five years, taking in new ideas and techniques, developing her art, and mastering French. She showed her works done in oils, her watercolors, pastels and paintings on fabrics several times a year. Among the galleries she exhibited her art at were Galerie de Valois/ Jardins de Palais Royal, Modern Art Colers, and Galerie Francois Miron. Quite a few of the exhibited works were purchased for private galleries in France, Canada, the USA, and Australia.

Mariya is one of those Ukrainian artists like Mariya Pryimachenko and Kateryna Bilokur whose originality and artistic talent could have been spoiled rather than enhanced by art schools. Mariya preferred to go her own way, working hard many hours a day.

Some time after her return from France, Mariya exhibited her works at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the central art collection of her country. Mariya called her exhibition Zhyttya odniyeyi troyandy (Life of One Rose), comparing the life of a woman with that of a rose — growth, proud blooming, wilting and sad final losing of petals. Some of the journalists who wrote about the exhibition referred to the artist as “Rose”. There is indeed something of a rose in the artist — she is beautiful, perfumed but she also has thorns.

At one point in her life, Mariya felt she did want to have some formal art education and she studied at the Department of Artistic Weaving at the Ivan Trush Applied Art School. She brought into the world two sons and a daughter, never stopping to develop her art and exhibit the results in Lviv, Kyiv Toronto and Paris. She produced wonderful decorative and applied art designs, she decorated the interiors of a boarding school, and she designed postcards. Among her cherished hobbies are dancing, singing, writing verses and cooking — and she does everything with great verve.

Many people find that Mariya’s paintings have some hidden magic in them — I am one of them. Among the admirers of her art were and are Vyacheslav Chornovil, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian national movement, the singer Nina Matviyenko, the artist Petro Honchar, the diplomat Yury Kochubey (former ambassador to France) and the popular television journalist Vasyl Ilashchuk.

Among Mariya’s recent creations are several series of paintings and drawings. One of them, in black in white, Vichne (Eternal) is devoted to such eternal themes as love between man and woman and mystery of the Universe. Such works in this series as Adam and Eve, Rendezvous, Bouquet, Angel and a Sheep, Angel’s Dream and The Blessing Angel are poetic insights into the happiness blessed by divine forces. Landscapes painted in France and in the Land of Lvivshchyna form two other series of her works.

I personally consider her Ukrainian landscapes, in which her spirit soars high to the sublime, to be among her best works. She never fails to be inspired by her native land which is the primary source of her creativity — the very names of such paintings as Pumpkin Field, Bouquet with Mint, Bouquet with a Butterfly, Mushrooms, My House in Kosmach, My Brother’s Chickens, Pregnant Woman reflect the central themes of Mariya’s paintings. Her most recent exhibitions — Syaivo zolotoho yanhola (The Radiance of the Golden Angel) and Nepovtornist (Inimitableness) at the Mariya Zankovetska Museum in Kyiv and at the Palats Mystetsv Art Center in Lviv presented works created in the same lyrical vein.

I have been privileged to find out that this autumn Mariya is working on the image of the Virgin with Child Jesus in her arms, and I am sure it will be a masterpiece.


From the series Velykden (Easter). Watercolor on paper; 27 x 37 cm. 1993. From the private collection of Vasyl Ivashchuk, Kyiv.


From the series Velykden (Easter). Watercolor on paper; 36 x 51 cm. 2001. From the private collection of Vyacheslav Ostrovsky, the city of Chernihiv.


Vechir (Evening). Watercolor on paper; 35 x 47 cm. 1987. From the author’s collection.


Kosivsky yarmarok (Fair in Kosiv). Watercolor on paper; 35 x 49 centimeters. 1988.


Bohomatir z dytyam (Virgin with Child). Watercolor on paper; 29 x 35 cm. 1992. From a private collection in Canada.


A Present of Three Angels for Slavko. Watercolor on paper; 32 x 52 cm. 2009. From the private collection of Vyacheslav Ostrovsky, the city of Chernihiv.


From the series Osinni natyurmorty (Autumnal still-lifes). Watercolor on paper; 82 x 62 cm. 2009. From the author’s collection.


Rizdvo Khrystove (Nativity). Watercolor on paper; 49 x 131 cm. 2002. The church of St Mykola, Ascold Mohyla, Kyiv.

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