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Futurism and After: David Burliuk, 1882-1967 at The Winnipeg Art Gallery
David Burliuk, Children of Stalingrad, 1944. Oil on canvas. Collection of Mary Clare Burliuk.

WINNIPEG.- David Burliuk, the "father of Russian and Ukrainian Futurism," inspired and promoted the earliest avant-garde exhibitions and publications in the Russian empire. His later career is less well-known. Although recent interest has led to exhibitions in the Russian cities of Ufa and St. Petersburg, the dispersal of his works over three continents has made a full account of his evolution difficult. Drawing on the extensive collection of his granddaughter Mary Clare Burliuk, who now resides in Canada, the WAG exhibition provides an overview of the most important periods of his life: his early years in Ukraine and Russia (1907-18), his travels through Siberia (1918-20), his time in Vladivostok (1919-20) and Japan (1920-22), and his life in the USA in both New York (1922-41) and Hampton Bays, Long Island (1941-67). This is the first major show of his art in North America since 1962.

During the Revolution and Civil War from 1917 to 1920, Burliuk travelled across Siberia giving Futurist concerts and selling his art. He then spent two years in Japan organizing numerous exhibitions and promoting Futurism. In 1922 he emigrated to the United States, living among East European immigrants in New York's Lower East Side before moving to Long Island in 1940. In later life he travelled around the globe, painting constantly. Throughout his long career, Burliuk experimented with various styles: Impressionism, Surrealism, a "radio style" that he declared in 1925; "naïve" art, and a manner that has been dubbed "ethnographic realism." The WAG exhibition brings together examples of each style, and explores the constants in the painter's art.

Burliuk is perhaps the least examined of the great avant-garde artists from the early 20th century. Critical opinion has focused on the aesthetic of rupture, the "futurist" desire to surprise or shock. However, a retrospective glance suggests that the core of this painter's inspiration should be sought elsewhere. Above all, perhaps, it is found in Burliuk's love of vitality in all its forms—biological, psychological, and cultural. It was this that enabled him even in old age to stand as enraptured as a small child before an urban or a natural landscape. Whether he was painting his native Ukrainian steppe, Japanese landscapes, Long Island fishing villages, or the streets of New York, he searched for the energy that vibrated within and flowed through scenes. Burliuk's landscapes shimmer with colour. They often depict a mid-day, summer scene that teems with intense activity, and suggests the existence of hidden patterns just beyond human perception. The viewer is left with the sense of an endlessly productive, generous, and mysterious natural world.

There is also an ideological Burliuk, represented by Children of Stalingrad (1944), a rarely exhibited work that represents his major statement on the Second World War. And, of course, there is the "naïve" style that Burliuk made famous in his recollections of steppe landscapes and Ukrainian girls. These works are "orgiastic in color and rhythm" (to use Henry Miller's words), convey a sense of intense joy, and suggest the promise of a harmonious future for humanity.

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