Simchowitz Gallery is pleased to present Lettre à mon poète by Ukrainian artist Lera Derkach. The exhibition opens on Wednesday, October 11th at our DTLA gallery (725 E Washington Blvd, Los Angeles 90021). The exhibition continues through November 4.
There are a number of significant parallels between the work of Ukrainian artists today and those of the avant-garde of the early 1900s. As professor Mayroslava Mudrak has pointed out, artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Sonia Delaunay, Dziga Vertov, Maya Deren and others, who were so crucial to the birth of Modernism, often broke from their Western European peers in terms of their inspirations and ideological concerns. Instead of African influences, for example, they believed that local Ukrainian folk traditions were more interesting and relevant. They viewed abstraction as an essential articulation of freedom and as political as it was aesthetic, they actively resisted the 'Russification' that was being foisted upon them by their hostile neighbor to the north.
With that in mind, Lera Derkach and other Ukrainian artists of her generation, including Andrey Samarin whose exhibition, Myroslava can be seen in an adjacent gallery, are contemporary heirs of that same avant-garde. Born in 2000 in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, Derkach graduated from art school in Krivoy Rog, which primarily taught classical academic painting. At the time she didn't know many contemporary artists and ended up painting the way she was taught. After meeting Samarin, she quickly fell in love with abstraction. "He showed me how free you can be in art," she recalls. "Before I met him I was in a soap bubble, and then he came along and burst that bubble!"
Both she and Samarin see abstraction as the highest form of self-reflection and expression, where each gesture can be a direct translation of their day-to-day experiences, thoughts and feelings. Therefore, given the extraordinary horror that she and her fellow Ukrainian's are experiencing due to Russia's invasion of their homeland, it's not surprising that her paintings, drawings and collages often exhibit an intense erratic quality, full of childlike energies, vivid colors and shaky, restless—sometimes violent—slashes. Derkach claims that her aesthetic would be the same with or without the war and that most of her works find inspiration in the images, memories or phrases that she stumbles upon daily. "I don't draw about the war," she explains. "My works are literally a mix of everything I absorb each day. My characters can be both playful and harmonious, and sad and contradictory; They feel what is happening around me—and in me—through my brush."
Derkach explains how the drawings in _Lettre à mon poète _came: "When the war started my dad insisted that my mother, my younger brother, and I leave the country for a while until it calmed down," explains Derkach. "Dad stayed in Ukraine, and we went to Luxembourg to stay with my mother's sister. And there I had a small room under the roof, where almost all the space was occupied by the bed. My aunt's house is located near the forest, so there are lots of birds around, and in Ukrainian mythology, birds are one of the most important and powerful creatures. They appear in folklore, in traditional embroidery, in paintings, in everything, and they're often seen as messengers of both good and bad news. But, since I was staying in this room under the roof, birds would fly in through the window all the time. One flew in every morning so I decided to draw it. And then others came too and I drew them as well. And this was right at a time when I was finding it difficult to come up with ideas for my drawings. So these birds appeared at just the right moment, right when I was looking for inspiration. I see this as very meaningful, and these birds represent this period to me. In Ukrainian folklore they are a symbol for new beginnings and a fresh start."
Lera Derkach studied at the Warsaw University of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Graphic Design between 2017-2020 (Poland) and the Kryvyi Rih City Art School №1 2007-2016 (Ukraine). This is This is Derkach's first solo exhibition. Recent group exhibitions include Galeria Młodych Twórców Łazienkowska, Poland (2019); Galeria Ta3, Poland (2019). Her work was recently featured in Playboy UA in the article, Art in a Time of War in 2022.
Press release courtesy Simchowitz Gallery.