Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Yet it has never been "urbanistic" as his windows, all of them, are constantly open to the breath-taking vistas of outside natural environs, the broad scenic Dnieper valley, groves and forests that seem unobtrusively to join and merge into Kiev hills, streets and planes forming its singular landscape. Kiev prompts an artist to take up painting scapes, for such is one of the most outstanding features of the city's geographic and historical visage. In the thousand-year history of pictorial art in this land, I don't think I could find a single more or less significant area in Kiev that would make a poor landscape on an artist's canvas. By its very scenic essence Kiev teaches an artist a tender, poetic love for living nature rather than for things made of stone, for softly rustling green grass and ever mysterious magnetic blue skies, rather than for the noisy urban daily surroundings.
One might say that Kiev made Heorhiy Babiychuk into a landscape painter, too. Indeed, any artist inherently fond of nature would hardly find a better place to apply his talent than Cantral (Naddnipryan-ska) Ukraine, particularly Kiev with its steep hills on the right bank and the flat lands on the left bank of the Dnieper. This vertical contrast between the banks, divided by the sparkling horizontal line of the Dnieper, bestows an artist with a monumental vision of nature, as though he had opened before his dazzled eyes the entire vas expanses of Ukraine. Only people poor in spirit and insight fail to become aware of the country's unique grandeur standing on either of these banks. Taking in this beauty, you seem to unerstand Historical Tradition and the legend in the annals describing in such touching detail how Apostle St. Andrew, desciple of Jesus Christ, stopped his boat as he reached this place, disembarked and spoke his prophetic words that upon this very spot ther would emerge a great city with many churches in which people would praise the name of Our Lord.
It is true that there is something about Kiev, something one cannot put in simple words, something not easily noticed or defined, but which grips one's heart and stays there forever.
Heorhiy Babiychuk is a typical urban dweller. He was born in Kiev (1942). His childhood was riddled with scattered yet painfully vivid impressions as the boy watched people raise Kiev from war-time, almost complete rubble, inflicted by Nazi artillery shells and Luftwaffe bombs (the city suffered greatly during WWII) to its new postwar charms and grandeur; how Khresh-chatik, its main thoroughfare, gradually dressed in its present bewitching rosy tile and reddish granite attire. He then lived in the Podil towntown section. One thing that made that section of the city very much different from the rest was — and still is — that it was adjoining the mighty waters of the legendary and powerful Dnieper. When you are small, all things surrounding you — hillocks, houses, rivers, even trees — look so very big, overpowering. Small wonder that' little Kievites took for granted Nikolai Gogol's hyperbolic description of this river, that hardly ever a bird could find enough strenght in its wings to fly as far as the middle of the Dnieper. Still, gazing at its rapid waters, one finds oneself tempted to yield to its rnagic strenght, to follow its course, to travel to some faraway seas, to discover unknown islands and countries.
Babiychuk's parents weren't Kiev old-timers, even less so aborigines. They settled there at the turn of the 20th century. On his father's side Heorhiy's relatives come from Volyn, from a village currently known as Ozera, located in Koros-tyshiv District, Zhitomir Region. The place, indeed, boasts extremely scenic lakes surrounded by fragrant meadows. These natural charms haven't yielded even to the present-day all-consuming and polluting industries and their reckless, merciless oslaught upon such peaceful age-old localities that were kept intact before the second half of the 20th century. The painter's grandfather, Valerian, and great grandfather Mykyta were both furriers, and his grandmother Yarina's family were weavers. Only Heorhiy's father, Yevdokim, once he became a citizen of Kiev, brought his family to a new, urban terrain. It should be pointed out, however, that even in big cities peasants retained their traditional patriarchal mode of life. The Babiychuks were no exception. As most people born and raised on river banks, Heorhiy was very fond of swimming and fishing since early childhood. For- many years he went in for water-skiing and took long voyages in his boat. During one such travel, early in the 1970s, being quite familiar with the swift Dnieper currents and tracts as he was, Heorhiy suddenly discovered the quiet beauty of the Desna. He remembered what the great Olexander Dovzhenko and other writers had had to say about this tranquil bewitching river. It was while sailing down that „enchanted Desna" he spotted fairy-tale panoramas and inimitable amphitheaters created by Mother Nature. On a second trip he took with him a book from his Dovzhenko collection and read the writer's "Enchanted Desna" right there and then, in the natural setting of the plot, as though wishing to reassure himself that the beauty of the locality hadn't faded since, and that the river was still withstanding the urban onslaught, with man of the industrialized age as the carrier of deadly ecological garbage.
He befriended a number of residents of local villages. He grew very fond of those serene, unhur-rying Polishchuks, an ethnic Ukrainian group believed by historians to descend from the Grand Dukes (kings) Igor and his wife Yaroslav-na of Old Rus. He made several boat trips down the Desna for quite a few years and this inspired him to produce a voluminous series of water colors under the name "Visiting Dovzhenko's Places"; landscapes marked by some noticeable identity of what was writted by the author and painted by the artist, having poetic overtones in both versions. Babiychuk found himself keenly aware of the lyrical poetical character of Olexander Dovzhenko as a man of letters and film director, by his unique ability to find the only right harmony between the written word and creative vision of the surrounding reality in all its overwhelming scape, something concrete, un-changable,. eternal. To a degree, this awareness is reflected in Babiy-chuk's water-color landscapes. The painter's panoramic view of time and space fills the viewer with the understanding of the serene grandeur and of something like a moment ordered by an omnipotent magician to stop in the ever-flowing current of time. Also, and perhaps simultaniously, one can sense a subtle yet concrete about these paintings — perhaps Dovzhenko's intrinsic lyricism as though dilluted in the vastness of the environs, yet present in every picture.
Water colors, a kind of pictorial art in which we find some gentle combination of colors, clarity of tone, and a boundless domain of creative decorative search. Babiychuk, was attracted to water colors by precisely that promising range of decorative opportunities at the turn of the 1970s, the early period of his painting career. Still, several years later, he abruptly switched to a different artistic technique, even the very creative approach to the motives of nature. Instead, his brush produced paintings with a predominant tone already in the 1970s — in contrast to his previous bright multicolored canvases. At that period the painter focused on the problem of proper lighting. Dispersed lighting seemed to unite water, soil, plants, skies into a single whole, a remarkably material one yet term-bling, whimsically changeablel light, elusive...
Babiychuk's boat trips down the Desna helped him create a series of water-color landscapes with predominant grayish colors. Of course, gray doesn't have anything in it to attract an especially great number of art devotees. Gray is habitually associated with that which is routine, dull, unexciting, tiresome. Yet with the aid of this color Babiychuk succeeded in producing sparkling, genuinely poetic images of nature, which in many respects tally with the poetic writings of Olexander Dovzhenko; this renowned man of letters and film director. Babiychuk relied on the principle of single light-color tone in his series of water colors and he managed to achieve an organic unity between the elements: water, land and air. In his creations one is able to clearly ascertain the author's epic note as expressed through the grandeur and singularity of every motive borrowed from nature and portrayed as a kind of Temple to the Human Race. At the same time, the artist could and did perceive of the tiniest charming details of the environs embellishing the Desna River, and this makes Babiychuk's water colors tally with the concepts of traditional Ukrainian lyrical landscape painting. Now and then the artist becomes indulged in the so-called diffusion effect, making his objects dissolve in the air, that his tree crowns look as though half-diffused, vague in form, damp spots.
After he felt he had had enough of inspiration from Chernihivshchy-na, Heorhiy Babiychuk directed his creative gaze toward the Carpathian Mountains, another scenic locality of his beloved, grand Ukrainian land. "There is something about the Carpathians which is as attractive and arresting as all those boundless stretching flat lands," says the painter. "I have climbed some of the mountains in the Caucasus and painted mountain ridges and Armenia, but I have never experienced such creative upsurge as I did in the Eastern, I mean Ukrainian Carpathians. While there I kept on asking myself what made those .wild bluish mountain slopes, all those forests high above so close to my heart? I was born far from here, wasn't I? What brought me all that secret whispering and music that came from the mountains, which I could almost feel with my physical senses? Why? I have no answer still. I simply have no idea what magic force compelled my brush as I painted my Carpathian Series — but that wasn't water colors. It was done in crayon. Indeed, I decided I would use pastel rather than water colors for my Carpathian pictures. Every new kind of environment asks for a new artistic approach and technique." Heorhiy Babiychuk is an extremely laborious and exacting landscape painter. While getting prepared for yet another creation, he makes sure every detail is checked against the natural prototype. He treats every color and shade in a similar manner. His main paintings are done outdoors, facing Mother Nature in her original attire. It is from such trips of painting from nature that Babiychuk brings back to his Kiev studio almost ready water color and crayon pictures, ones that actually call for no finishing touches... It is there, high up in the mountain valleys, or when climbing up the mountains, reaching their peaks, that the artist's conscience focuses on concrete natural objects, thus developing an eagle-eye view of all that which is intrinsic to his beloved Ukrainian land. His is an art tried and enriched by experience, imagination and innate romanticism. His is an art that indeed adds to Ukraine's treasure-trove of creative talent, one that will live to see its renascence in the years to come.