Silvester Makai – an artist through and through

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vojvodina has no shortage of wonderful Rusyn painters, photographers, writers, journalists… Silvester D. Makai is yet another one. A native of Kocur, who spent his whole life there just because it was his home and he loved it, is an accomplished sculptor, painter and writer. In February 2017 already the 36th solo art show was organized, this time by The Cultural Center of Kula, a testimony to his quality and popularity as an artist who is able to bring his own artistic vision to life not for anybody else, but for himself, as he puts it.

Makai was born in 1941. After finishing his studies of technical drawing and metalworking, he briefly worked in that vocation only to realize it didn’t give him enough creative freedom. So he went on to study art where one of his teachers was Eugen Kočiš II, from whom he learned a lot and with whom he later collaborated.

Back in Kocur, Makai was commissioned to make sculptures and memorials for the victims of the fascist regime, which was a commission on a large scale that took up all of his time, but in which he could use his technical training as well. Later, he got interested in making sculptures from scrap metal, and his metalworking skills came in handy. Makai was also an art teacher – and all the art forms he was supposed to teach to his students had to master first himself.

The creed that he holds as prerogative for all his art projects is this: follow your original idea through till the end. It requires an immense effort, but it’s worth it.


Vladimir Koljesar – the color spectrum wasn’t enough

Vladimir Koljesar (1931-1980) was a painter and ceramist from Kocur, Vojvodina. During his formative years he was restoring religious icons in Austria and designing pottery in Sweden, where he also found his signature style as a painter. His works were well-received by people and critics alike. When he returned home, he worked as a graphic designer and an illustrator.

In his compositions he relied on triangles and circles as his favorite forms, as well as expressive colors juxtaposed and mixed together in ways that often made him dissatisfied – he yearned for more. The detailed geometric figures were inspired by stone, which Koljesar saw as the oldest element surviving in the universe, as nearly eternal, and he wanted to transfer that quality into his works with colors. The sun, and for that matter, the circle turned into his most interesting and most exploited symbols. His sources of inspiration ranged from simple everyday impressions (flowers, lemons on the plate) to more innovative one, such as songs, or even microorganisms as seen under the microscope.

Koljesar painted on what he could afford, mostly using tempera or colored ink on paper or cardboard. Naturally, time is taking its toll on many of his pieces, yet the owners are doing the best they can to preserve as many as possible.

Julijan Kolesar Rusnak – “neither naive nor realist but… unique”

kolesar 2
The artist’s grandmother’s house (1978). Source: Video Rajski Zahrady Julijana Koljesara

These are the tentative words that a local priest and a friend of Julijan Kolesar, Father Yoakim Kholoshniay, used to described his first impressions of the artist’s work. But the more he studied them, the more he appreciated their value as unique expressions that didn’t lend themselves to any easy categorization. The artist himself described his style as “lyrical realism”. He didn’t need any models – he drew from his vivid imagination, from memory. The nature as such wasn’t an attractive source of inspiration, it was rather spirituality and human nature. He recalled his keen interest in folk patterns that were all around him growing up: on houses, dresses, Easter eggs.

julian 4
Source: Courtesy of Slavka Kolesar

He left Djurdjevo as an adult and ended up in Montreal, Canada, where he made a living as an artist. Yet all his creative efforts were for and about his people, the Rusyns of Vojvodina. When, for example, during his 1978 visit to Djurdjevo he saw that the old houses were being replaced by a new build-up, he went ahead and painted all the remaining ones, including his grandma’s house. He kept sending his artworks and writings back home and to important cultural institutions. And Father Yoakim made it his goal to collect as many of his paintings and ethnographic writings as he could, which led to creating a permanent exhibition at the parish in Djurdjevo.

julian 5
Source: Courtesy of Slavka Kolesar

Michal Čabala – the last bohemian of the Prešov art village


It was in 2001 that Michal Bycko sat down to interview one of the most famous Rusyn artists, Michal Čabala, and  later created a beautiful and a touching documentary about his life and work that you can listen to below – in Rusyn. A fair warning, though, you might well up.

Michal Čabala (pronounce Chabala) was from Čabiny near Medzilaborce (1941-2002). He was raised by his grandparents because his parents died when he was very young and he couldn’t quite remember the way they looked, which bothered him. His grandpa once told him not to worry anymore and to try drawing them. When he was done, grandpa praised the likeness achieved, but in retrospect the artist couldn’t tell if it was true or just to encourage him. From that moment, though, he got to be very interested in drawing and especially, in drawing that fog that he saw enveloping the hills around his village every day before the sunrise and that he thought was hiding something magical.

It was actually our one and only Štefan Hapák who told him to go study art in Brno. And so he did, at 17. After the initial culture shock, he was able to find his place there. Later, in Bratislava, he studied under Dezider Milly, who encouraged him to keep painting the region he came from, as this was where his true soul as an artist lied. And so after graduating in 1969, he settled in Prešov, where he played an indispensable part in the cultural and artistic life as a Rusyn “freelance” artist. At an annual art event called Prešovsky Montmartre, during which artworks are created in the streets in front of passers-by, he was the one who attracted the most people wanting their portrait done. He participated in over 60 art shows; the last and the biggest solo exhibition was held at his 60th birthday in 2001 in the Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce.

His portraits, still lifes, theatrical scenes and landscapes are characterized by misty, muted, earthy tones, and certain unfinishedness, smudginess even, which he defended as intentional, probably brought on by his fascination with that elusive fog of his native hills.

Dominika Novotna – Rusinske Trio

Source: Courtesy of Rusinske Trio

Slovak National Television came up with a great idea this year: a competition of folk singers called The Land Sings. Now Slovakia is a tiny country, but so rich and varied in its folklore – every village has its own folk traditions, customs, songs, dances, and clothes. We are proud of it all and we do preserve it in a very active way, making sure the knowledge is not only recorded for posterity, but also passed on to the younger generations in folk dance groups and other cultural bodies.

I am proud that one of the finalists (who were voted second by the viewers) was Rusinske Trio founded by my friend Dominika “Kontra” Novotna (neé Pročková, on the right), who comes from the same village I do, Ulicske Krive, and who has been researching and promoting the original, unstylized Rusyn dances and songs for many years. She even brought folklore back to our village by creating a folk ensemble Polonina.

I am sharing with you two videos from that show in which the girls combine the beauty of their voices with the beauty of their costumes to create a touching and unpretentious visual representation of Rusyn folklore. The strength, decisiveness and confidence of Rusyn women shine through – I mean they make the musicians follow their lead! 🙂

In this second video the girls are wearing Hutzul dresses because, as Dominika explained, Hutzuls are only up and down the hill from Ulicske Krive, and I love that inclusiveness about her. I hope that the CD they are working on will be a hit, speaking to a conscious audience.