© 2012 Tyson Skross. All rights reserved.

Malaya Yuzhnaya

 

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Malaya Yuzhnaya, oil on canvas, 50″ x 39″, 2010

 

Sometime during the process of making this painting I started to listen to Dan Carlin’s podcast Hardcore History, specifically his 3 part series Ghosts of the Ostfront*. I realized that I knew relatively little about this dark chapter in history and started to read more about the topic. I don’t remember how it happened exactly but in the end I wound up reading about Malaya Yuzhnaya.

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Malaya Yuzhnaya is the Russian name for the “Southern ninespine stickleback”, a type of fish. It is also the name of the children’s railway in Kharkov, Ukraine, which was opened in November of 1940 a few months before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

From railways.id.ru (as translated on the site):

On June 22, 1941, fascist Germany perfidiously attacked the Soviet Union. Because of the real threat of capture of Kharkov by fascist armies, the Children’s railway was closed, having worked only a few months. It was not possible to evacuate the rolling stock from children’s railway. To prevent the enemy from making use of the steam locomotive, it was disassembled. As in the summer of 1941 everybody still hoped the war would soon end, all the fittings were removed from the steam locomotive, carefully protected and hidden underground close to Park station. But the occupation of Kharkov turned out to last much longer than had been expected…

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Kharkov was the site of 4 major battles and changed hands between the German and Soviet armies several times during the war. Wikipedia page for the Battles of Kharkov

Again from railways.id.ru :

After Kharkov was liberated, on August 23, 1943, the children’s railway represented a rather sad sight. The station building at Park station appeared half ruined – in it there were no almost all internal partitions, a roof has almost failed. The locomotive depot and signal box had completely burned down; the white stone bridge was blown up. From the rolling stock there was only the skeleton of the unique car which had burnt out completely from within.

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While I was making the painting I was not consciously thinking about this small chapter in history. In fact the painting began as another in the series of houses that I had been working on up to this point. But as I worked this story seeped into the painting, slowly at first, until finally it began to take over the whole painting. Again this wasn’t conscious, and it is only in hindsight that I can see it happening. It began with the abstracted tree forms in the lower half of the painting spilling over into the poisonous green and purple of the sky, built up through the exposed rafters of the structure in the background and billowing out of the clouds of dust and ash rising to the center of the painting where a single, relatively small geometric form rests in the center of the painting.

 

The skeletal form in the center of the painting is an abstracted drawing of an Sonderkraftfahrzeug 250 (or sdkfz 250). A German armored transport used in the second world war. I would later go on to use the shape in casting, sculptures, and further abstracted, in other paintings. But this is the first time it appeared in my work. I was attracted to use it because I felt like its shape was iconographic. A very distinct and recognizable one that seemed to hold all of the darkness, death and light of those 6 years of the mid twentieth century.

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What interested me was the shape as an abstract form, but also what it represents. The intermingling of the formal and the expressive .This shape that was originally designed to be the most efficient way to transport and protect the passengers within, to perform their mission, ultimately of violence. But it is also an animal skull a form engineered through evolution to serve a similar purpose. It’s hexagonal basis is reminiscent of mineral structures that occur naturally under extremely high pressure and heat. It is also a coffin, in many cases literally.

These are all things that have occurred to me after working with this form, simplifying it to its basic shape. At the time it simply seemed to be a shape whose abstraction contained deeper meaning. A meaning that seemed to be connected to the way the rest of the painting took shape around it.

 

 

 

 

 

*It is well known that the war on the eastern front (as we call it in the west) was extremely brutal. Not to get into a history lesson here, but I think that in the west we have a bit of a skewed perspective on WWII, here is some context; The total length of the second world war was 6 years, 2 months, 1 week, and 3 days of which the war on the eastern front lasted 3 years, 10 months and 16 days. Of the roughly 70 million casualties suffered by all nations in europe, africa and the pacific theatres, 30 million were on the eastern front. That breaks down to 539,785 deaths every month of fighting. Or 19,830 per day. Or 826 per hour. Listen to the podcast, Carlin does an excellent job of conveying the surreal nature of this reality.