PICTURED: A watercolor landscape by Eugene Tkachenko
Born in Yugoslavia in 1934, Eugene Tkachenko and his family escaped World War II as refugees to America after surviving bombings, starvation and loss of loved ones.
“They came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs and he became a very successful person through hard work and determination,” said Nancy Smeets, the widow of Tkachenko, who died in 2014.
Among his many accomplishments, Tkachenko was a chemical physicist who helped put the rocket on the moon, spoke eight languages, “and he was an amazing artist, too,” Smeets said.
Originally working with watercolors, he turned to plein air painting when he picked up acrylics. His work has been exhibited in juried shows in Ventura County, and his acrylics have been purchased by art collectors. Some of Tkachenko’s most poignant artwork, however, came about after he suffered a stroke in 2002. He had to re-learn how to use his left side, had no use of his right side, and was unable to speak.
“It was tough,” recalled Smeets, of Westlake Village. “There were days where I would put that brush in his hand and he would throw it away . . . and I was just relentless, because I knew it was the one thing he could do that could still bring him joy.”
Slowly but surely, she said, “He began to do these fine line drawings. They’re really funny; kind of like cartoons, ironic and sardonic and very sweet, so they’re humorous. His plein art is very studied and beautiful and artistic, but with the lines, he didn’t censor himself.”
Art Tkachenko created before and after his stroke is now on display in the exhibit A Retrospective Tkachenko and Johnson at Pacific Coast Art in Oxnard. The exhibit will run through Feb. 1, 2020.
When it comes to her late husband’s artwork, she believes it’s important to “let it live — that’s the whole point of art.”
“He would be absolutely delighted to share his work and to inspire people,” Smeets added. “He was very resilient…what I would like people to take away is his resilience of his spirit, his love of life, his sense of beauty and his sense of humor.”
The exhibit also features artwork by the late Stanley Francis Johnson, born in 1907, who started illustrating for the motion picture studios during the Depression, and whose work is now on permanent display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
In 1926, before graduation from high school, Johnson started working in the family business as a craftsman. In 1927, he started his career with the architectural firm of Carleton Monroe Winslow, which was the beginning of his lifetime “freelancer” career. He was sought out by many architectural firms for his renderings, which he did for commercial buildings in and around Los Angeles. Some of his more notable renderings are the proposed remodel of the Ambassador Hotel, the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Prudential Building and the L.A. Times building.
Johnson continued his long art career and branched into the film industry as a craftsman and illustrator. He spent his last 20 years at 20th Century Fox as an art director, and had a reputation for his impressive ability to draw and paint in perspective, which is also apparent in his expressionism artwork.
“In the 1930s, it was the Depression, and the only place that really had jobs was the movie industry,” said Johnson’s granddaughter, Joy Roy, owner of Pacific Coast Art. “He started working for movies like King Kong, and then went to MGM and did some big movies over there . . . he worked on The Good Earth for Cecil B. Demille, did artwork for Bye Bye Birdie and the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1931.”
Johnson’s artwork was in storage for several years when Roy and her father, Carl Reed, decided to showcase the late artist’s work in Roy’s gallery, which opened four years ago.
“We wanted to promote my grandfather and his work,” said Roy. “My grandfather was an art director for Peyton Place and did renderings for architectural firms, and he still found time to do his personal paintings and abstract impressionism.”
Her grandfather was very humble, Roy noted, and didn’t publicize himself or his work. But Johnson’s paintings did win awards and the artist was frequently asked to jury shows for the National Watercolor Society and California National Watercolor Society.
The idea for an exhibit featuring the work of these two accomplished artists was born when Roy met Smeets during a meeting of the Channel Island Gulls of Ventura County, a nonprofit which raises money for Ventura County’s charitable organizations. When Smeets told Roy about her husband’s fascinating history and amazing artwork, Roy knew pairing Tkachenko and Johnson would make a great show.
“No two paintings are identical,” Roy said. “And we will have a room dedicated to Eugene — I think it’s going to go off really great.”
A Retrospective Tkachenko and Johnson through Feb. 1, 2020, at Pacific Coast Art, 2401 Eastman Ave., Unit 21, Oxnard. Viewings by appointment only; call 805-216- 2107 or email Pacificcoastart@att.net.