NEW YORK – A new exhibition explores the prolific career of Ukrainian-American artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, a master of intricate woodcuts and paintings depicting an array of stylized flora and fauna.
“Jacques Hnizdovsky: Content and Style” at the Ukrainian Museum in New York’s East Village covers the breadth of his creative output, from 1944 until his death in 1985.
“There are many times when original prints by one artist are more or less interchangeable with prints by other artists, but this is never the case with the woodcuts and linocuts of Jacques Hnizdovsky,” said William Greenbaum, a Massachusetts art dealer and expert in 19th- and 20th-century fine prints.
Recognized especially as a woodcut artist, Hnizkovsky’s works are in the permanent collections of many museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Library of Congress; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition shows “how Hnizdovsky’s career developed, his creative thinking and how it was influenced by his background,” said Maria Shust, the museum’s director.
Hnizdovsky found inspiration in the rich folk art tradition of his native Borshchiv region in western Ukraine that’s especially evident in his intensely detailed woodcuts.
After the outbreak of World War II, Hnizdovsky fled to Warsaw, Poland, and then Zagreb, in then-Yugoslavia, where he studied art. In 1944, he wound up in a displaced persons camp near Munich, Germany. One of his masterpieces from that period, “Displaced Persons,” is on view at the museum. The painting depicts the cramped quarters of the DP camp with an image of six adult refugees and two children occupying three-tiered beds.
Hnizdovsky emigrated to the United States in 1949 and settled a year later in New York City, in the Bronx, where he began experimenting with printmaking, a medium for which he is best known. The nearby New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo offered a place to observe plants and animals, the subjects of many of his works.
His graphic work displays an immense clarity and intricacy, whether it’s a singular tree, two rams locking horns or a hand-colored woodcut of string beans in a wood crate. He often imbued his works with humor as seen in a woodcut titled “7:45 A.M.” depicting a group of factory workers — naked and carrying their lunchboxes — heading to work.
“In addition to his brilliant design sense, his prints often display his immense patience with carving repeating patterns, his inventiveness in juxtaposing contrasting patterns and his delightful wit when portraying animals and birds,” said Greenbaum.
His still-life paintings possess the same simplicity and painstaking detail, as seen in a canvas of cabbages arranged in symmetrical rows inside a crate or a loaf of bread or eggs in a basket. He also painted landscapes and cityscapes, among them “Avenue Breteuil,” a large 1957 oil of a tree-lined Parisian boulevard.
“Hnizdovsky’s prodigious oeuvre … places him in a long, distinguished tradition of painters-printmakers from Albrecht Durer, whose woodcuts were Hnizdovsky’s earliest inspiration, to the present,” guest curator Jaroslaw Leshko writes in an essay accompanying the exhibition.
The show runs through Aug. 7.