Masterpiece of Special Collection (NAMU): Bohomazov, Oleksandr, "Sawyers"
Oleskandr Bohomazov's “Sawyers” refers to a triptych the artist worked in 1926-1929, but did not complete. As Elena Kashuba-Volvach notes in her essay for the catalogue Alexander Bogomazov, 1880-1930, the most famous piece “Sharpening the Saws” is held at the National Museum of Ukrainian Art in Kyiv, along with “Sawyers at Work.” The second painting in the cycle is not displayed publicly because of significant paint damage. The third piece “Rolling the Logs” was never completed, although Bohomazov did leave behind a number of pencil drawings and compositional sketches that indicate how the final painting and the project as a whole were meant to appear when finished.
Bohomazov worked on these paintings from 1926 to 1929, when “political considerations were becoming the main criteria for judging art in Ukraine and throughout the USSR,” as Kashuba-Volvach notes. This observation makes it even more remarkable that Bohomazov’s work on this triptych marked his return to painting. He took a lengthy hiatus following the October Revolution and Civil War, prompted in part by his ongoing battle with tuberculosis. During this time, Bohomazov concentrated mostly on teaching at the Kyiv Art Institute and his research into the foundations of painting. These endeavors ultimately dovetailed, leading Bohomazov to draft a teaching manual Experiencing Elements of Art. The desire to test the theories outlined therein inspired Bohomazov to once again pick up the brush.
Socialist Realism would not become official aesthetic dogma until 1934, but one can see how Bohomazov’s choice of subject and setting could come across as “formalist” to Soviet censors. As Simon Hewitt argues in his essay for the same catalogue, Bohomazov's triptych portrays labor in the countryside that features neither peasants nor city workers. Though his sawyers are conscientious and hard-working, they “work in a rhythmic tandem unchanged for centuries.” This work went against the emergent grain of a Soviet aesthetic that showcased cheerful peasants, industrious factory workers, electrification and industrialization. The “silent subversiveness” of the work is reinforced by its “abrasive color-scheme.” The futurists and the avant-garde “thrived on bright palettes,” but the “orangey-pink contrasts” used by Bohomazov in this work also made him a pioneer of color.
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Elena Volvach-Kashuba, "Rhythms of Creative Will: Creating and Reconstructing the Sawyers Triptych," in ed. Butterwick, James. Alexander Bogomazov, 1880-1930. London: James Butterwick, 2016.
Simon Hewitt, "A Twentieth Century Altarpiece," in ed. Butterwick, James. Alexander Bogomazov, 1880-1930. London: James Butterwick, 2016.
James Butterwick (London). Time, Forward!: Russian & Ukrainian Art, 1890-1930. London: James Butterwick, 2015.
Mudrak, Myroslava M. "Bohomazov, Oleksandr." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.. Oxford University Press, n.d. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T009615.