There is one thing that strikes the viewer at first about your works available online: their extreme variety, both in their technique and in their motifs. Oil paintings, pastels, acrylics, digital works, mixed media, watercolours, sculptures, installations, … Gentle lyrical abstractions and roadside landscapes as if captured on the spot, reflections on image and communication …
With regard to this extremely prolific and eclectic body of work, how would you define both the singularity of your artistic practice and its red thread?
Through the years of my presence in art, I’m trying to answer this question. You may often hear about the artist’s recognizable style, it’s the common discourse. This question disturbed me and was even painful some years ago because I’m the kind of artist always seeking. But then, in the time of the darkest crisis, I understood one simple thing: I don’t care about this thing much. Art for me is about sincerity first, and it is not something due to someone’s expectations or rules. I don’t want to become a machine, that has found some approach once, and uses it for the rest of his life. Life and the world change so quickly and unexpectedly, that my art just does the same. So, I realized the fact, that CHANGES are the only thing that defines my artistic practice.
Do your different mediums and practices (sculpture and painting for example) feed each other or are they completely distinct?
My sculpture series is called Fantastic fungi and the first works from it were exhibited in my Gamma show last year together with a painting of the Liquid technique. That were different manifestations of one theme about fading and calm state, about the natural processes. Similarly, most of my series are connected with each other, there are even a couple of migrating works from one series to another.
Your abstract paintings, especially your “Gamma”, “Classic abstract” and “Liquid” series, recall the lyrical gestural abstraction of the 1950s, in particular tachism (Camille Bryen, Wols, Jean Fautrier, etc.) and informal art (Bernard Schultze, Fred Thieler, Fritz Winter, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, etc.) in Europe, or abstract expressionism in the United States (Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, etc.): Which artists or which works have marked your work? Who inspires you?
In my early art steps, I was inspired by French Impressionists, as well as famous Ukrainian artist Kasimir Malevich, who invented and followed his own abstract method (suprematism). Later, I reveled abstract expressionism movement and liked Mark Rothko much. Later on, I admired Marcel Duchamp and Joan Miro. But that didn’t mean that I inherited approach of the artists above, instead, they helped me to understand how important is to go further all the time and follow your own direction. Then, I came to contemporary and conceptual art, minimal art, metemodern discourses, and that all enriched my understanding of my own practice.
Colour plays a central role in your work. Sometimes pastel and tender, sometimes vivid and raw, always contrasting, you consider it a medium in its own. Can you tell me how you actually work with colour, your studio becoming a “scientific laboratory”, according to your words?
Oh, colour was my first real love in art… I know about colour beginning from my art school and University art studies in an academic approach. Then I was fond of it, studying it by myself after graduating. I was interested in various color circles and theories by Goethe, Steiner, Ostvald, and Itten. When I began studying it as an independent medium, I was actually re-studying, trying to forget all my precious classic art education. I took one of the basic spectrum colors (like yellow, blue, or red) and worked with the single one a lot first with watercolor, and later with oil painting. After training with the basics, I began to take more complicated combinations, but the approach was the same: I took shades in a specific sequence, one by one and worked mainly with many layers.
The way I interact with colour now depends on my tasks of the moment. It could be absolutely cosmic and dissolve, like in Liquid series (including most of Gamma, like the Moons), vibrant, when I work without the sketch in a big garage experimenting with various mediums like varnishes and different kinds of paint, with my own know-how method. It’s rather intuitive and requires a perfectly balanced state of mind, though I understand that my previous academic background gives me much understanding and confidence. “Classic abstract” means the simple way when I use only one medium: oil or acrylic for example.
In Ballet Mechanique abstract series (called after Fernan Leger’s eponymous movie 1924) the colour plays one of the roles together with graphic elements and texture, creating together a visual synonym of the strange orchestra and becoming more tangible, structural and compositional than ever before. It dances, giving a hint to the vivid sound composition.
I may also use a compositional approach sometimes with the beforehand sketches for big paintings when I want to work with colour considering masses and tectonics.
You seem to be looking for a form of spirituality and connection through colour, within the creative process I mentioned above, but also at the moment of its reception through a search for purity of the observer’s gaze. What do you expect from the viewer?
The only “spirituality” of colour for me is in the absence of the subjects, of the narrative, and in the needed calm balanced state of my mind for working on the Liquid series (it works in both directions: needs this state and leads to). Still, as there is some hint on composition, unlike in the monochrome painting, the viewer often tends to find some personal narrative within. It’s normal, this is how our brain works, somebody calls it imagination. This is actually our evolutionary heritage for survival. So, I’m not expecting anything from anyone. There are different minds and viewers, they are absolutely free with many interpretations! The only hint I can give – the abstract is much simpler than any medieval narrative painting with many forgotten symbols. Colour appeals much more to your intuitive emotional essence, rather than your mind. It’s about freedom and an open mind.
What is the origin of your extremely interesting research on the Image in painting, and are there any conclusions you have reached?
The origin is the colour! All that I’ve mentioned above. “Image” is the essence of classic art, and is also the thing the brain always strives to find in any abstract painting. It is connected with some faces, people, and icons, which is an ancient Ukrainian art, (an icon is a sacred image used in religious devotion). In 2019 I felt that I needed to express some unstable relations with people surrounding me and maybe with myself, and an abstract approach was not suitable for this. I felt some inner foreboding, that something important changes, dying, and arises. That is why I came back to some figurative art, I had undeniable images I was to reveal. Relations with Image was a kind of self-irony period, extremely frank, unique, and bold.
What is your relationship to time?
This question is just like my psychotherapist asked me once) Time is one of my fav themes to work with. When you understand the same time may pass rather differently depending on the saturation with events (speed) and the quality of the actions, you begin thinking more philosophically about all your life. You may even come to the conclusion it’s a big illusion because everything we have is just now.
You can now unquestionably be considered a committed artist (“artiste engagée” in French is a concept for political commitment). Your Instagram post of 4th of April shows this (“I stopped being a pacifist at exactly 5am on 24 February 2022”), as well as your recent watercolours, but also part of the money from the sales of prints that you donate to volunteers engaged in the resistance against the Russian army.
What has the war in Ukraine changed in your relationship to your artistic practice and the meaning you give to it? Would you be able to paint “apolitical” works again? Do you think that a work of art can be “apolitical”?
My harmonious abstract works of the previous life are like a glance at the world on the Earth from a very big distance, I’d say, from the space. Especially my Liquid ones, like taking the far-away philosophical position, in the measures of eternity. If you are zooming on Google Earth maps in satellite mode, you would notice, that everything depends on the scale, on the distance between the viewer and the object. Earth is like our own body, it has a very similar algorithm of construction.
The war changed many Ukrainians either directly, or indirectly, through the trauma and pain, we all feel. It just made me feel very close to reality (like zooming that map to a maximum and then falling down from the sky to the earth): to society, I’m belonging to, to language, to the land, to the people I love. I feel responsible, and understand that even the smallest action of every person, if there are many of us, makes our victory closer.
Life, actions, thoughts, place, surroundings, and habits changed a lot for many of us because so large-scale tragedy is happening for more than three months now. I just can’t ignore it, like I could have ignored something happening in the world (with my art) before. I know many people who are defending us now, dying for us, who are volunteering from the very beginning. I’m so thankful to them and I’m sharing funds from each sold artwork, not only prints but paintings, sculptures, and graphics too. I want to help. I’ve spoken to many Ukrainians here during this period, and we agreed that this awful long-term event is making us grow up, it’s like a kind of initiation for every conscious person. From now, I just can’t stand aside, I must know what is happening in Ukraine, and in the whole world, much more than before. I have to spread the word about it abroad as an insider.
Till the nearest time I honestly still didn’t find the force to come back to my art process. There were more urgent actions with different kinds of speaking about and helping, mostly computer work. Only in the very few last days after 90 days of the war I began to think with the art further in a little format like A4, it came something little I called “Whether its flowers or explosions”… I think the time will show if it comes to anything bigger and art critics will tell more accurately what kind of art – political or no – will it be.
What I know for sure, is that I will not be able to ignore the war, it will be reflected with time in my artworks.
You say, in the same Instagram post, that you have moved from large, harmonious abstract and apolitical canvases to small figurative watercolours and digital works. Is it for the sake of expressive efficiency? Is it because of material constraints? Has the message you wish to convey changed and, if so, is this the cause of this transition?
Of course the massage changed. In February I was forced to move from my Kyiv home first to the village to my relatives because my district was shooted with russian missiles, and several civil houses not far were damaged. I thought it was safer there, actually, I was wrong. We were lucky to stay alive, the front was two km from us, and we lived there in total stress and fear of really close to death in uncertainty, and didn’t really know what is the safe way to run. After a week, we were lucky to flee to Lviv and I made these small watercolor and pen works about the war, which are actually handmade political posters, in a couple of different places, our friends hosted us. I took very little supplies with me and didn’t have any big place to work nor any forces with something more serious. I just forced myself to draw them asap in the very beginning of the war, because all I wanted was to scream about this crazy mass kills of civils, including women and children are happening in my peaceful country and the only way to keep ourselves alive is just to defend ourselves destroying the enemy.
How do you see the future of your artistic practice? What are your next projects?
The hardest thing nowadays is to plan the future, because for three last years life has joked on me really much about that. I’m looking to the Western European countries, and hope some of my series like Kill bill and Wide perspective will be shown somewhere within with the help of the Ukrainian curators, and I’m very thankful for everyone who helps in this direction. One group exhibition The Art of Resistance with my printed works has just opened in Valencia. I have three unshown painting series now and a couple of thoughts I would like to work with in some residencies abroad I’ve applied to, at least for a short period.
And after that, I dream to do a project devoted to our victory. It will be the happiest project ever!