Bravely Naked: Iryna Maksymova’s Wartime Paintings
When the war broke out, painter Iryna Maksymova moved to Portugal to keep working and raise money for Ukraine by selling her paintings. Previously, Iryna was interested in feminism and animal rights, which she reflected in her works. In her recent paintings, a woman became a symbol of the entire country, and animals became the victims of war just as the people.
Painter. A native of Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, she graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic National University. Her works were exhibited in London, Madrid, Berlin, and Los Angeles. Before the war, she lived and worked in Lviv.
– I’ve always wanted to become a painter. When I was 20, I painted something akin to pop art and was fond of Andy Warhol. It grew into portrait commissions later, but I didn’t really enjoy that. Then I got a “proper job” as a designer at a tech company. Before the quarantine, I left and started thinking over my next steps. I took illustration classes and thought about working as a stylist. My boyfriend is an artist, too, so we had paints at home. Therefore, I tried to paint abstractions and get the hang of composition and colours in my spare time. I mean, I don’t have an art education. Still, everything I have learned helped, such as the basics of design and composition, layouts, illustration classes, and colour theory. Also, my style was influenced by Mariia Prymachenko — I have a few books with her paintings.
At first, I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this kind of primitive style. I am usually pleased with my work for two days at most, and then I look at it and realize that it’s not what I’d like. Looking at other artists’ paintings, you can feel they are finished. When it’s your work, though, it’s hard to feel when it’s done and everything is as it should be. Looks like I still have room for growth.
At first, I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this kind of primitive style.
I’m never out of ideas. However, I often consciously repeat certain motifs because I keep thinking about conveying some message and making a painting even more exciting. I used to paint my ideas on canvas directly. However, I have a sketchbook now and make a point of outlining them there first. I never do colour sketches, preferring to use a lead pencil. In my work, I use acrylic paints, pastels, pencils, markers, and airbrushing. I usually work briskly, and picking colours is not hard at all for me.
The war has pushed me to work even more. Although I used to travel a lot, it’s my first time away from Lviv for so long. On the eve of the invasion, many of my Instagram followers from abroad asked me why didn’t I try to flee from the imminent war. A Los Angeles-based gallerist I know even offered me to live at his place — he even wanted to buy plane tickets for me, my boyfriend, and my dog. Still, I didn’t take it seriously, dismissed the threat, and said I was OK.
When it all began, I was confident it wouldn’t last long and there was no reason to panic. The very next day, though, I was so scared that I remembered all the books I had read about the war and vividly imagined what Hemingway and Remarque wrote about. So I set out to Portugal.
When I made it to safety, I decided to do what I could and knew best. It was important to keep pushing the Ukraine issue because people eventually get used to any situation and stop paying attention. It’s easier for me to work now because I feel I have a mission to talk about Ukraine and show what happens there. People from various countries contact me, asking about what has transpired. It’s great that many galleries are currently approaching Ukrainian artists, inviting them for residencies and exhibitions.
It’s easier for me to work now because I feel I have a mission to talk about Ukraine and show what happens there.
In my paintings, I try to show resilience and will to win as well as the power of my country and nation. My pre-war and new motifs are similar, albeit with different meanings. In peaceful times, I reflected on women and their place in work situations and everyday life. My naked women defied judgemental gazes and criticism of their bodies, presenting themselves the way they wanted. When the war began, women became a symbol of my entire country. While the USA is akin to a muscular, rough, and somewhat old Uncle Sam to me, Ukraine is a young girl that faces many challenges but holds firm and keeps pushing to victory. She needs no clothes to cover anything.
In my paintings, I try to show resilience and will to win as well as the power of my country and nation.
Some subjects of my paintings have real-life prototypes, although I didn’t go deep into the stories of the fallen defenders of Ukraine. These paintings symbolize both living and dead fighters for our independence. I have painted 56 portraits thus far, and I plan to continue this series.
I often paint animals, and it’s a horrible injustice that they suffer from the war, too. I feel that I unintentionally made them look more aggressive, but it’s not the way I intended them to be. I don’t want animals to become a symbol of the evil that has invaded our country. Animals are kind and sensitive. Therefore, I donate much of the money I raise to animal shelters and the people who save animals.
I don’t want animals to become a symbol of the evil that has invaded our country.
Over these months, I had many exhibition offers. It’s wonderful that those who previously were not active or brave enough are getting their chance to shine. It’s an excellent way of pushing the Ukrainian culture forward.