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Resilient Beauty: Iryna Maksymova's Art Captures the Vibrant Spirit of Ukraine Amidst Adversity

Iryna Maksymova, Ukrainian artist, contemporary art
Image courtesy of the artist. Photographer: Yuliia Stepanok (IG @y.stepanok)

Iryna Maksymova, the talented Ukrainian artist, captivates with her figurative artworks that delve into personal and global issues. Since our first interview over a year ago, where Iryna shared her artistic beginnings and inspirations, her life has undergone profound changes due to the social-political shifts brought by the war. Born and raised in Kolomyia in western Ukraine, Iryna's journey as an artist began after graduating from Lviv Polytechnic National University in 2013. Her creative endeavors have taken her across the globe, showcasing her talent in solo and group exhibitions.

Iryna's distinct style combines figurative and naive elements, presenting an innocent and unassuming voice that addresses complex world problems. Her art explores the human body, celebrating both its feminine and masculine aspects while promoting equality and interconnectedness. Embracing her Ukrainian heritage, Iryna constantly seeks innovative ways to incorporate traditional motifs, infusing her work with the essence of Ukrainian primitivism.

Residing in Lviv, Ukraine, Iryna's artistic achievements have garnered recognition worldwide. Her solo shows, including "Pieces" at Svitlo and "Kalyna" at Dzyga and Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, have showcased her talent and vision. She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, captivating audiences in renowned galleries and art fairs across the globe. With her works housed in international collections, including the Bunker Artspace Museum and the Hong Art Museum in Suzhou, Iryna's art has made a lasting impact.

In this follow-up interview, Iryna Maksymova invites us once again into her vibrant world of artistry. She shares insights into her creative process, inspirations, and the transformative power of art amidst challenging times. Join us as we embark on a journey through Iryna's captivating brushstrokes and discover the profound messages she conveys through her evocative artworks.

To read my first interview from 2021 with Iryna Maksymova, click here.

Image courtesy of the artist. Photographer: Yuliia Stepanok (IG @y.stepanok)

I want to start by asking- how are you? A lot has happened since our last interview in April 2021.

Thanks, actually, since 2021, my personal focus and goals have remained relatively consistent. However, the situation in my country has drastically changed as Ukraine is currently in a war. This has significantly impacted the themes and messages I aim to convey through my art. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to communicate what is happening in Ukraine and to share its story with others. That is why the majority of my recent paintings are dedicated to showcasing Ukraine, its resilient and brave people, its stunning landscapes, and its rich cultural heritage.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Power on a horse," 2023. Acrylic, pastels, spray, markers on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Creating art requires immense emotional and mental energy. In the midst of a war that continues to affect people in your country, how do you find the strength and motivation to continue working and expressing yourself through your art?

For me, there is a beautiful symbiosis between the act of creating art and the immense strength and energy it imparts. The process itself becomes a source of motivation, propelling me forward to witness the transformation taking shape. The positive feedback and genuine interactions from those around me only add to this infinite engine of inspiration. But yes, I also have periods of stillness, or better retrospect, to calm down and choose the next path.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Odesia," 2022. Acrylic, pastels, spray, markers on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

Your artwork often features giant, pink-skinned naked women portrayed as goddess-like figures in lush, mythical scenes. How do you see these figures representing the strength and vibrancy of the Ukrainian people, particularly in the context of the ongoing war?

By depicting them in lush, mythical scenes, I aim to convey a sense of empowerment and transcendence. These women embody the spirit of the Ukrainian people, who continue to face adversity with unwavering strength and determination. They stand tall and unapologetically, radiating vitality and energy, reminding us of the indomitable spirit that resides within each Ukrainian individual. In the context of the war, these figures become even more significant. They symbolize hope, reminding us of the inner power and beauty that can emerge even in the darkest times. Through their presence, I seek to convey a message of unity, resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges. These goddess-like figures represent the unwavering spirit of the Ukrainian people, celebrating their strength and vibrancy in the face of adversity.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Blue and Yellow," 2022. Acrylic, pastels, spray, markers on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

The title of your solo exhibition in London, "Kalyna," refers to a flowering tree native to Ukraine, symbolizing the Ukrainian people's ongoing war, bloodshed, and strength. How has the war influenced your artistic practice and the themes you explore in your work?

Since the beginning of my artistic journey, I've been fascinated with including Ukrainian motifs in my paintings, like little hidden gems waiting to be discovered. However, when the war began, these Ukrainian elements took center stage in my artwork. I use my paintings as a way to express the themes that deeply touch and concern me, and with the war, the focus of my art shifted almost entirely to Ukraine and its struggles. It has become the heartache that occupies my thoughts and fuels my creativity.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Tiger," 2022. Different types of fabric sewn together. Courtesy of the artist.

In your recent artwork, you incorporate textiles to create intricate and visually captivating compositions. Can you share with us the inspiration behind using textiles as a medium in your work and how it enhances the overall message you want to convey?

Working with textiles has always been a passion of mine, starting as a side hobby during my high school years when I completed a proper course. I have the skills to cut and sew something from my own closet whenever I want, which I often do. Over the years, I became increasingly bothered by the fabric leftovers that would go to waste, especially when they still held vibrant prints and beautiful patterns. That's when I had an idea: why not bring these pieces together to create something new? And voila, it worked! The result brought me immense joy and motivated me to continue exploring sewing techniques and incorporating not only fabric leftovers but also jewelry and embroidery found at flea markets. I believe using recycled fabrics as my canvas is a special and fulfilling way to create visually stunning art while also being mindful of the environment. It's a creative outlet that aligns with my values and has a positive impact on the world around me.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Self-Portrait," 2023. Different types of fabric sewn together. Courtesy of the artist.

Your artistic practice encompasses both working with fabric and painting. Could you share your thoughts on the differences and similarities between these two mediums? Do you find yourself drawn more to one medium over the other, or do they both hold equal importance in your artistic expression?

I enjoy working with both painting and textiles, as each medium offers its own distinct abilities and advantages depending on the desired outcome. Painting is my original way of expressing my thoughts, allowing me to explore ideas and make revisions by layering new elements. I use various tools such as acrylics, pencils, markers, and sprays, combining them to create transformations and intricate details within the painting. On the other hand, working with textiles is much more of a free-flowing process. When I begin working, I start with one fabric, and as I continue creating, I incorporate additional fabrics. My initial vision for the artwork is quite abstract, so the final result always brings a sense of surprise and wonder. Each fabric carries its unique history and story, adding a layer of meaning and depth to my work. The tactile nature of textiles also invites viewers to engage their senses by touching and exploring the different textures and patterns within the piece. Regardless of the medium I choose, I always strive to incorporate hints and address issues that hold personal significance to me.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Leda and the Swans," 2022. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

One of your paintings, "Leda and the Swans," presents a defiant and empowered portrayal of the mythological figure Leda, in contrast to previous depictions that often depicted her with downcast eyes. What inspired you to reinterpret this myth and present Leda as a sexually confident and challenging figure?

I wanted to address the issue of women being shamed for their sexuality and desires. It's common for women to be judged based on their appearance or behavior, especially if they are perceived as too sexual or too liberated. I believe that women should be able to embrace their own needs and desires without fear or judgment. When women have confidence in themselves and their bodies, it radiates beauty from within and reflects outwardly. It's important to celebrate and embrace the freedom of women to be true to themselves without societal pressures or criticisms.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "Holubka the dance," 2023. Acrylic, pastels, spray, markers on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Your artwork often exudes a sense of joy and celebration of life, even in the face of difficult global crises. How do you believe art can serve as a source of strength, subversion, and joy in challenging times?

Art possesses a special kind of magic, for sure. Artists have this unique ability to unleash their superpowers and create something truly extraordinary. With their artistic creations, they can transport people to entirely new realms, stirring up deep emotions and sparking self-reflection. It's as if they tap into the boundless energy of their imaginations and give it physical form to share with others. Whether it's a painting, a sculpture, or a piece of music, artists can forge connections with others that transcend words and logic. In my own artistic journey, I embrace vibrant colors and cheerful themes for several reasons. Firstly, I simply want to spread happiness and bring balance to everyone who experiences my art. Secondly, even when tackling serious or challenging subjects, I've learned that instilling fear or negativity doesn't lead to effective communication. People tend to rebel against what they're told not to do. And last but not least, it's like a personal mantra for me—

creating something positive inherently attracts positivity in return. By using my art to uplift and inspire, I hope to contribute to a world where joy and positivity prevail. It's my way of making a difference and touching the lives of others.

Iryna Maksymova
Iryna Maksymova, "50 Portrait Grid," 2022. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

The colossal "50 Portrait Grid" presents a riotous crowd and a celebration of life. What inspired you to create this piece, and what do you hope viewers will take away from the energetic and vibrant atmosphere it portrays?

I'm delighted to learn how you connect with my artwork, as that was exactly the intention behind it. From the very beginning, my goal was to portray vibrant, curious, and kind-hearted individuals who possess unique perspectives and strong beliefs. Each of these individuals is Ukrainian, and they are all fighters for our freedom. Some have sadly passed away, but their memory lives on. These 50 portraits were created as a tribute to all the brave Ukrainians who have stood up for their country, their heritage, and their future. My intention was to show them courageous, cheery, and vivid- the way they live their lives despite the horrifying events around them.

Jenny Munoz (author, left) and Iryna Maksymova (right). Image from Iryna's London solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery private viewing on 25th of May 2023. Courtesy of the author.

Thank you for reading!

To stay up-to-date with the artist's career, make sure to follow Iryna here:

Instagram: @maxymova


If you want to invest in Iryna's career by acquiring her artwork or need help discovering similar talented artists, I can help. As an art advisor, I do the research so that you can make informed decisions when buying art. With my help, you can discover artists that best fit your taste, space, budget, and goals.

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