Heorhii Narbut is one of the most iconic figures in the history of Ukrainian design
Born in a small village outside of Hlukhiv in eastern Ukraine, Narbut was attracted to art from a very young age and started by cutting patterns out of paper and sculpting dough. During his school years, he was far more interested in copying ancient fonts from old books than in studying itself. This love of nature and Ukrainian history that he developed in childhood later defined his artistic style.
After school, Narbut went to St. Petersburg—then the art capital of the Russian empire. There he was quickly got recognized inforrecognition in book design and illustration. Another important part of his artistic personality came from his work in Munich. Fascinated by Dürer’s graphics work, he later trained to achieve the perfection of old German style of cross-hatching.
In 1917, when the Russian Revolution started, Narbut moved to Kyiv with his wife and children, fueled by patriotism. He was offered a professorship at the recently founded Ukrainian Academy of Arts, which was to be the first art academy in independent Ukraine.
Narbut immersed himself in his work—teaching, supporting the academy, doing print design, and creating symbols for the new state. He sought for inspiration for his new visual style in Cossack history, the scripts in ancient manuscripts, ethnic dress, and Ukrainian artisan glass, adorning his graphics with his signature ornaments.
These experiments in art took place against the violent background of constant war and changing governments. The Academy lost its funding and Narbut, by then its president, moved its facilities into apartments bought with donations; his own apartment became the graphics workshop.
Soon after, Narbut fell ill and died in 1920. An almanac of articles dedicated to his work was destroyed in the wave of Soviet repressions of the 1930s. Still, his legacy lives on and inspires various generations of Ukrainian artists and designers