Guéorgui Narbout, artist, graphic designer ahead of his time and above all creator of the graphic identity of the Ukrainian nation from 1918 to 1920, has inspired artists and graphic designers in Ukraine for a century, which is today celebrating its 30th anniversary. His art, his works and his legacy are at the center of this exceptional evening.
The existence of the new Ukrainian state at the beginning of the 20th century will have been as brief and brilliant as a shooting star in the sky of a month in August. However, it was during this long-awaited period of independence, from 1917 to 1919 – between the collapse of the Russian Empire and the takeover by the Bolsheviks – that Guéorgui Narbout succeeded in creating a Ukrainian graphic identity. designers today.
Narbout has synthesized hundreds of sources (from medieval manuscripts and engravings of the 11th century to fine jewelry, luxurious fabrics and architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries) into a single visual form that contributed to the national awakening not only in his time, but also in his time. in the following decades. The fact that his achievements survived two world wars and a totalitarian regime only confirms their value. Today, a new generation of Ukrainian artists and designers is developing a graphic identity for the post-Soviet and post-Maidan Ukraine,” writes Myroslava Mudrak, author of the monograph “Narbut: From the Imagination of Georgy Narbout to a Ukrainian Identity”, which Publisher Rodovid presents this autumn 2021 to the attention of graphic design enthusiasts.
When and how did the artist’s creative quest begin? Perhaps when young Georgy, surrounded by the Baroque architecture and Cossack legends of his native Ukrainian Hlukhiv, copied texts from old books? Or when Narbout, although self-taught, became the right arm of the Saint Petersburg artist Ivan Bilibine? Or is it the impulse he got while studying at art academies in Munich?
At every stage of his development, Narbout, who had an excellent photographic memory, retained the key elements of what he saw, until finally his own Ukrainian style began to manifest itself through various influences. A bon vivant and a lover of jokes, Narbout also mixed eras and styles, past and present, with such mastery and such a graphic perspective that his former mentor Bilibine proclaimed, “Narbout has an immense unlimited talent”.
Also the artist and graphic designer Mstislav Dobouzhinsky wrote in his memoirs about Narbout: “His taste and skill progressed extremely fast, and in about three years he became a real modern master. He very easily assimilated and acquired what is called a style, which bears witness to a certain innate sensibility, impossible to learn.”
Known as a graphic designer and illustrator, Narbout was already a designer when he lived in Saint Petersburg (1906-1917): he designed books from A to Z, made covers, framed certificates. But it was in Ukraine, when a young state that had just obtained its autonomy, turned to more functional projects related to the graphic identity of the country, such as the design of banknotes or stamps.
“When Narbout realized that a Ukrainian state was being created, he left everything behind and started creating the graphic identity of his homeland. He already knew what to do. Therefore, the Narbout style appears in Kiev. I believe Narbout is our “Ukrainian Bauhaus”. During the short period in Kiev (1917-1920), when he was teaching students at the Kyiv Academy of Arts, other graphic artists, who were not even his students, appropriated Narbout’s style. , explains Lidia Lykhach, an editor at Rodovid and responsible for the project.
After his untimely death in 1920, some Narbout-influenced designers remained in Ukraine before merging into the USSR and continuing his style through the Soviet identity. The others left the country and built their careers in Europe and the United States. A century later, Narbout’s heritage is inspiring a new generation of Ukrainian artists and designers and spreading a ‘Narboutian’ Ukrainian identity around the world.
Let’s also quote Fedir Ernst, one of the first Ukrainian art critics and close friend of Narbout, who insisted that the name of the artist be known to all Ukrainian citizens, because “it is not only our duty to the nation from which Narbout comes but also to the whole cultural world, because the great cultural achievements of every nation must belong to humanity.”
It’s finally here.
“DNA of UKRAINE: the art of graphic design by Narbout” is presented by Éditions Rodovid in collaboration with the Center Anne de Kyiv with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, the Embassy of Ukraine in France and the Cultural Center of Ukraine in France.
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