Tag: carpatho-rusyn painter

Michal Sirik – the carpenter with a palette

Please note: this article is an English version of the original article written by Helena Dvorakova for Pravda newspaper, translated and reproduced here with the Chief Editor’s permission. Click here to view the original.

Michal Sirik is from eastern Slovakia, just like the family of Andy Warhol. They were peers – one, however, was an avantgarde artist in the USA, the other painted naive art at home. Sirik, too, exhibited in the Warhol’s Museum in Medzilaborce, and his paintings are in many galleries and collections, like the one in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

The artist at work. A photo by the painter’s son Miroslav Sirik

Michal Sirik was born in 1925 in Sterkovce that is now a part of Čabalovce near Medzilaborce. His family was poor, and so he was expected to help out from an early age. He took care of the cattle, worked in the field, accompanied the lumberjacks and assisted them in making lump charcoal. This now rare craft used to be wide-spread back then. The lumberjacks who “burnt” the lump charcoal in the forests were called “miliari” in Slovakian.

Based on these memories, in 1987 Sirik created a set of six oil paintings titled Miliari. They capture not only the process of making the lump charcoal, but also the interesting and demanding life style these lumberjacks led, often spending winters in the forest, and working at the lowest temperatures. On the turn of the 20th century, charcoal burning was a regular source of supplementary income for people in eastern Slovakia. Young boys were apprenticed at 14.

michal-sirik-miliari-1987-nestandard2 (1)
Michal Sirik: Miliari (1987)

“Miliari” lived in cottages in beech or oak forests, and every day they felled and sawed trees, and tightly layered the logs into a tall spire. They covered it with leaves and soil and set on fire on the inside. The logs burned slowly, changing into charcoal within twelve days. The fire had to be kept day and night, and in any weather. When the charcoal was ready, they filled the sacks and took them in wagons to Sterkovce and Medzilaborce, from where they were transported by train to towns further away. The blacksmiths in that region used exclusively lump charcoal made by “miliari.” Michal Sirik captured it all, and according to Rusyn ethnologists Nadezda and Jozef Varchol, these six oil paintings are among the most valuable and captivating artworks of his.

The life of the Rusyn people

It is only natural that work is a common subject of Sirik’s paintings. It was his world, the world he knew, and so he documented it. He convincingly portrayed many themes from the Rusyn life that was not always easy. Some titles give us a clue as to the subject matter: Wheat Harvest, Hauling Grain, Threshing, Making Sauerkraut, Hazelnut Harvest, Hauling Trees, Slaughter. He painted not only scenes, but procedures, too. He showed how people used to process crops and wild berries, what crafts they relied on, how they lived.

Michal Sirik: Dressing the Bride (1988)

Sirik painted many typical village customs and practices – from kitchens and backyards of the Rusyn people; practices that faded away with time. He showed people weaving, grinding flour in millstones, baking bread, plucking geese. The ethnologists Varchols are convinced that this part of Sirik’s art has an immense value as a historical documentary – he often depicted religious events and customs of the Rusyns, their holidays, rituals, weddings, newborns, Christmas and Easter.

Brides at a fair

Michal Sirik was a carpenter by occupation, but when he retired in the 1980s, he committed himself only to painting. The dates on his artworks are therefore fairly recent (he passed away in 2012), but their subject matter is from the old world, the world that is no more. Sirik had a phenomenal memory and was a great storyteller, so he was able to paint from memory with great precision. The ethnologists are in awe at his ability to vividly capture such long-forgotten moments as, for example, girls’ Easter games.

He was also interested in architecture and landscape. The monastery in Krasny Brod has a special place in his work. They used to hold famous fairs near the monastery. A legend has it that during these events young men would pick brides there. Young girls would line up and the men would look for their one and only, chanting: “Come to see a priest if you need a husband!” Later, a basilian monastery was erected on that spot, yet Sirik painted the ruins of the original building from the 14th century. The new monastery building that stands there now is from the 1990s, and, of course, young men don’t pick their brides there anymore. The problem was that these couples could go from the fair straight to the priest and get married right away, without the consent of their families, which would then fall out. This was the reason these fairs were banned in 1720.

Michal Sirik: The Monastery in Krasny Brod (1988)

Sirik did not paint contemporary themes too often, but there are some paintings that show, for example, rebuilding a local road that crosses a beautiful landscape, and Medzilaborce – a square with pedestrians and a busy traffic. His characteristic works are paintings of abodes. They are welcoming and pleasing to the eye because they contain many characters and stories; and they are composed with a strange order and peace that is rather rare today. They feel almost therapeutic.

Jews also used to live there

The paintings of the life of the Jewish people in eastern Slovakia form a special chapter in Sirik’s work. Before the Second World War, the Jews were numerous and well-established around Medzilaborce and Humenne, and they actively participated in the economical and social life of the region. Sirik painted street scenes full of  small shops and pubs owned by the Jews. An oil painting from 1997 titled A Selling Jew captures a market with villagers and townspeople. Sirik also masterfully painted a Jewish wedding and the synagogue on the Rybne Square in Bratislava and the Staronova synagogue in Prague. Whereas the pre-war period was depicted peacefully, Sirik added a lot of drama in his works on holocaust. The canvases from 1991 titled Deportations of the Jews convey the tragedy of this experience. The critics agree that naive artists usually do not deal with holocaust, which only adds urgency to Sirik’s message.

Baptized by hazelnuts

A newly published book about the artist was compiled by a team of authors – Katarina Cierna, a curator of the naive art in the Slovak National Gallery, the ethnologists Jozef Varchol, Nadezda Varcholova and Maria Miskova, a critic of Sirik’s work in the Museum of Humenne. It was delightful that the book was “baptized” in a very original way – they pulled it out from a pile of hazelnuts! Maria Miskova compared Sirik’s work to these fruits: only when they ripen, they fall on the ground, and when we crack them, we feel their sweet taste. This is the case with Sirik’s work that was cracked open and went out to the world. The book contains 85 reproductions accompanied by texts in Slovak, Rusyn and English. The graphic design was done by Stanislav Stankoczy, the Dean at the University of Visual Arts in Bratislava, who also comes from eastern Slovakia. And one more good news – the Gallery of Naive Art at the Slovak National Gallery held an exhibition of Sirik’s work in Pezinok in summer 2016  where the book was introduced, too.

Diana Guralev – a woman’s life

The Life Series was painted in 2012 and was inspired by a woman’s maturing – by her journey from childhood to adulthood, her self-search, questioning her identity and contemplating those life experiences that shape who she is. It is also about leaving home and coming back to it, leaving “the mother” and all that she stands for and an inevitable sense of loss that accompanies such journey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Emil Hrabovskyi – realism with a poetic touch

The Beskyds (1945) by Emil Hrabovsky Source: Old Cherdak
The Beskyds (1945) by Emil Hrabovsky Source: Old Cherdak

Emil Hrabovskyi was born in 1892 in Uzhhorod. His artistic legacy of around 500 paintings and drawings became a valuable part of the Transcarpathian and Ukrainian art. His works reflect the influence of the Hungarian realist tradition, the Transcarpathian School of Art (that he helped to found) and his own sensitivity to those fleeting moments of the day when, for example, the sunset is almost over or the mist in the mountains is about to disappear. Hrabovskyi’s landscapes truthfully reflect the nature, but because he chooses subjects that are dear to him and focuses on those ephemeral moments, he is able to bring in a level of lyricism that the views before him offer and that he uncovers. Hrabovskyi was slowly building his reputation and acceptance. His art was flourishing during the Soviet area when the state was creating an atmosphere favorable to the artists, buying his paintings and making them parts of the permanent exhibitions in the museums of Lviv, Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk and others. Hrabovskyi passed away in 1955, two years after a solo exhibition showing over 90 artworks documenting his career development.

The Mountain View (1948) by Emil Hrabovskyi Source: Old Cherdak
The Mountain View (1948) by Emil Hrabovskyi Source: Old Cherdak

Július Muška – the painter of thousands pictures

The Portrait of a Daugther (1953) by Julius Muska Source: Duzpinkova
The Portrait of a Daughter (1953) by Julius Muska Source: Duzpinkova

No, it is not a metaphor, it is literal. Július Muška was a prolific, hardworking artist who throughout his productive decades created thousands of artworks, frequently changing techniques and genres, but relishing in his two favorites – landscape and figure painting. Muška was born in 1919 in Medzilaborce, eastern Slovakia, and after completing high school in Uzhhorod, he studied drawing and geography in Bratislava. He gave lectures on art at the University of Presov for several years, and debuted in 1962 with his first solo exhibition. Muška participated in numerous art shows, exhibitions and plein-airs at home and abroad, collectively and solo. He passed away in 2013, leaving behind a greatly cherished body of work that documents social, political and personal changes equalling one long and fruitful life.

When you click on this link, an online catalogue made for his 2010 exhibition will open. It is full of artworks that represent Muška’s evolution as an artist, the myriad of techniques he used, wonderfully captured scenes of the village life, atmospheric portraits, modernly cut urban scenes, enchanting landscapes, lovely views of Presov townscape, several etchings as well as edgy abstract experiments. You can also see a list of exhibitions and some private photos on the last pages.

The Farewell (1971) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
The Farewell (1971) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
My Town (1973) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
My Town (1973) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova

Štefan Hapák – devoted to his land and people

An Autumn Landscape by Stefan Hapak
An Autumn Landscape by Stefan Hapak

Štefan Hapák was born in 1921 in Pinkovce, and was one of the pioneers of modern art in the second half of the 20th century in Slovakia. He studied under world-class professors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (and in turn became a great professor himself, loaded with knowledge, honest and respected), and stayed tightly connected to the Rusyn culture in his life and work, capturing its architecture, lands, and even traditional garments, never leaving the lands of eastern Slovakia.

His first teaching position was at an elementary school in Zboj, eastern Slovakia, but the same year (1944) he was taken into a concentration camp in Hungary, from which he escaped in 1945. He helped to organize the return of incarcerated citizens after the war. Afterwards, Hapák worked as a teacher in different towns in eastern Slovakia, and from 1953 until his retirement at the universities in Presov and Kosice, becoming a professor of drawing and graphic design in 1972. He passed away in Ľubotice where a significant exhibition of his artwork was held in 2011, celebrating his contribution to the art world at his would-be 90th birthday.

Hapák’s paintings and pastels are executed in a style that is close to the Transcarpathian School of Painting in combining realist and more abstract, flattening elements, according to the curator Vladislav Grešlik.


A Gypsy Family by Stefan Hapak
A Gypsy Family by Stefan Hapak