SERHIY SAVCHENKO | An­to­nio Luis Ra­mos Mem­bri­ve

GS Magazine - - Front Page - An­to­nio Luis Ra­mos Mem­bri­ve

The­se frag­ments I sho­red against my ruins. t.s. eliot

I be Co­lum­bus of my ships

And sail the gar­den round the tears that fell in­to my hand.

ka­mau brath­wai­te

From the out­set, I feel obli­ged to con­front the rea­der with th­ree war­nings: I am not a pro­fes­sio­nal art cri­tic; I ha­ve so­mehow be­co­me a co­llec­tor of qui­te a lar­ge num­ber of Serhiy Savchenko’s works; and I re­main, abo­ve all, a de­vo­ted friend of his. The­se war­nings should not be in­ter­pre­ted as so­me sort of de­te­rren­ce against furt­her rea­ding, but simply as an unin­hi­bi­ted con­fes­sion: when it co­mes to Savchenko’s works, my judg­ment is ut­terly par­tial. What I pro­po­se to the rea­der, the­re­fo­re, is to em­bark on a little jour­ney with me in or­der to shed light on and, ex­po­se in all con­fi­den­ce my reasons for such par­tia­lity. I met Serhiy a long ago in Lvov- tho­se we­re ot­her ti­mes, su­rely me­rrier; Ukrai­ne was a country qui­te dif­fe­rent from what it is to­day, less infused per­haps with ent­hu­siasm, but pos­ses­sed of a can­dor which now seems to us irre­trie­vably lost. My wi­fe and I we­re in that beau­ti­ful city for the se­cond ti­me. Serhiy pic­ked us up from our ho­tel and took us on foot to his ate­lier: I re­mem­ber it–ideally- as a rams­hac­kle lodg­ment full of can­vas, per­so­nal ba­ga­te­lles, and flying spa­rrows; tho­se birds, he said, hel­ped him con­cen­tra­te. His initial re­ser­ve ga­ve swiftly way to an ex­plo­sion of gaiety, not so­lely, I ho­pe, be­cau­se of the pros­pect of ha­ving en­coun­te­red a pos­si­ble bu­yer. He was li­ke an open, used book, full of dis­pa­ra­te and co­lor­ful sketches. One could almost ins­tan­ta­neo­usly reali­ze that most of his ob­ser­va­tions came from di­rect ex­pe­rien­ce rat­her than from eru­di­tion; his trail of thought –just as his wor­king spa­ce- was not exactly ori­gi­nal in the cu­rrent mea­ning of the term, but it was re­so­lu­tely per­so­nal. Many ar­tists as­pi­re to crea­te vo­lun­ta­rily or in­vo­lun­ta­rily an “ar­tis­tic” mold for them­sel­ves as well as for the unad­vi­sed vie­wer: behold the great sanc­tuary of Ba­con at Ree­ce Mews in Lon­don, con­ve­niently tur­ned in­to a mu­seum, or Pi­cas­so’s at Rue des Grands Agus­tins in Pa­ris, whe­re cen­tu­ries be­fo­re the plot of Bal­zac’s Le Chef D’Oeu­vre In­con­nu had ta­ken pla­ce. In the ca­se of Serhiy, his “mold”, his den, was, and is, trans­pa­rent and irre­ve­rently na­tu­ral. Its “or­ga­nic de­sign” de­mands si­ne qua non the pre­sen­ce of spa­rrows. Which, by the way, spo­ra­di­cally

con­tri­bu­te to his work, in qui­te an as­to­nis­hing proof of unin­te­res­ted co­lla­bo­ra­tion (or even cri­ti­cal ap­prai­sal?).

Savchenko’s uns­wer­vingly per­so­nal ap­proach to almost everything in­ter­min­gles with a very un­com­mon fea­tu­re: his ho­nesty. Even his bour­geo­is si­de pops up as if it could not be ot­her­wi­se. So­me cri­tics, Ukrai­nian and non-Ukrai­nian, ha­ve com­pa­red him to a grown-up, play­ful child, I think, be­cau­se of that com­bi­na­tion of traits. And though in my view the com­pa­ri­son, or rat­her the cli­ché, is not en­ti­rely co­rrect –he is, af­ter all, one of the most ma­tu­re and even se­rious hu­man beings I ha­ve met in my li­fe­ti­me-, it stri­kes a chord. One of the reasons he works and re-works a sin­gle can­vas over a pe­riod of years, with the or­derly pa­tien­ce of the ex­pe­rien­ced crafts­man, might lie pre­ci­sely in that fact.

Along with the­se at­tri­bu­tes co­mes a ra­va­ging and hum­bling cu­rio­sity, which de­ri­ves, I sus­pect, from an un­quen­cha­ble thirst for li­fe, es­pe­cially in­ner li­fe. And I say this be­cau­se this out­going and no­tably so­cia­ble man is al­so one of the most in­tro­ver­ted peo­ple I ha­ve ever known. He does not un­ders­tand li­fe (who does?), but wrestles with it in a very par­ti­cu­lar way, li­ke so­me sort of fu­rious, lust­ful monk, at­tac­king it from all flanks, of­fe­ring his vi­sual elo­quen­ce as a tri­bu­te to the great si­len­ce that en­cir­cles him (and all of us). De­void of any com­ple­xes, ea­ger to in­ter­act, Serhiy works in a va­riety of dif­fe­rent met­hods, sty­les, ma­te­rials, and si­zes; he is a part­ti­me pho­to­grap­her; a part-ti­me vi­deo ar­tist, an en­gra­ver of ta­lent, but abo­ve all, he re­mains at heart a pain­ter.

On ac­count of everything said thus far, it co­mes as no sur­pri­se that his work is pro­li­fic to the ex­tre­me, in what re­gards not just the num­bers but mo­re cri­ti­cally the many paths he has un­der­ta­ken. Savchenko’s oeu­vres do not just ran­ge ea­sily from the abs­tract to the fi­gu­ra­ti­ve and all the way back, but re­joi­ce in the many pos­si­bi­li­ties of­fe­red in-bet­ween; and yet, in spi­te of it, the­re seems to exist a ba­sic need to lea­ve an “ex­pres­sio­nist” tra­ce of him­self at the core of all of his pain­tings, li­ke a reac­tio­nary cry of alle­gian­ce to his own self.

Savchenko needs the pain­ting to fi­nally show it­self, and will not ti­re un­til the true co­lors of it, so to speak, de­ci­de to come to day­light. But such hard­hea­ded­ness hap­pens to be a by­pro­duct of sin­ce­rity, not ob­ses­sion.

In Bras­saï’s Con­ver­sa­tions with Pi­cas­so, the mas­ter re­mar­ked ca­sually to the Hun­ga­rian pho­to­grap­her: “one does not de­li­mit na­tu­re, one does not copy it eit­her; one allows ima­gi­ned ob­jects to ta­ke on real ap­pear

.1 an­ces” Or, as Klee put it: “art does not re­pro­du­ce the vi­si­ble; rat­her it ma­kes vi­si­ble”.

2 Si­mi­larly, the lands­ca­pes, the free com­po­si­tions or the “erup­tions” of Savchenko are not bound by na­tu­re or try to emu­la­te it to the let­ter, but ori­gi­na­te in a see­mingly cons­tant pro­cess of in­ter­na­li­za­tion and “ow­ners­hip”, a flow of thoughts, emo­tions and in­tui­tions which are then pou­red on­to the can­vas, on­ce and again, day af­ter day.

Un­li­ke many of his Ukrai­nian con­tem­po­ra­ries, the­re is no tra­ce of “mo­ra­lism” or “fol­klo­re” in Serhiy’s pain­ting. The po­wer of his vi­sion re­pla­ces the ho­pe of a self-suf­fi­cient sys­tem or the de­noun­cing pamph­let; and, th­rough vi­sion, the ar­tist im­prints a sha­pe of him­self on the thick, blas­ted sur­fa­ce of the can­vas, wrought and re-wrought, cea­se­less tor­tu­red along suc­ces­si­ve in­car­na­tions, which ul­ti­ma­tely aim at fin­ding its im­pos­si­ble soul. For­get the vis­ce­ral at­tri­bu­tes, the desire to cau­se “shock and awe” of an Ar­sen Sa­va­dov, prai­se­worthy of cour­se; you will not find it in he­re. No savvy sta­ging of any kind of so­cial pro­test, no aim at ca­ri­ca­tu­re for the sheer sa­ke of it eit­her. When wor­king, Savchenko is very much po­li­ti­cal, of cour­se, but in the con­tra­dic­tory man­ner of a Wal­ter Ben­ja­min, in­ca­pa­ble of se­pa­ra­ting his in­ner­most be­liefs of trans­cen­den­ce from pu­blic and so­me­ti­mes mo­re down-to-earth ideas. For this reason, even Savchenko’s at­tem­pts at de­pic­ting can­ni­ba­lism as a te­net of our con­su­me­rist world simply re­main wit­hin his “per­so­nal” or­bit and the­re­fo­re do not at­tain, strictly spea­king, the po­li­ti­cal sp­he­re:

In a way, Serhiy Savchenko is an old ar­tist who gets ca­rried away by his ad­mi­ra­tion for XXth cen­tury icons. He is es­pe­cially at­ta­ched

to a cer­tain tra­di­tion, which pa­ra­do­xi­cally was boos­ted by the dis­so­lu­tion of an ear­lier tra­di­tion, and which preached the in­trans­mis­si­bi­lity of cul­tu­re. Ob­ser­ve, for ins­tan­ce, the fo­llo­wing “pa­ra­llel li­ves”:

Such ad­mi­ra­tion, at any ra­te, is highly cri­ti­cal, highly in­tui­ti­ve, and ca­re­fully sif­ted by his in­sight. Su­rely, many a can­vas from Serhiy’s new se­ries “Not­hin­gness” will re­mind the rea­der of ot­her well-known “abs­tract” pain­ters, from Kan­dinsky or Mi­rò on­wards: Now, the­se rich in­fluen­ces are just a means. What really mat­ters in the­se pain­tings is the dri­ve behind. In Savchenko’s head, not­hin­gness is not an ab­so­lu­te ab­sen­ce. His mind can­not let it be so. And so not­hin­gness be­co­mes a collection of strings of ob­jects, sug­ges­ted by a deep la­yer of his ima­gi­na­tion, cons­tantly mo­ved by an in­vi­si­ble whirl­wind arou­sing from a thinly co­lou­red abyss.

His lands­ca­pes, his ci­ties, his roads, might ma­ke us think of Ni­co­las de Staël or of Van Gogh, or of Du­buf­fet. They are all ne­vert­he­less only Savchenko. I am par­ti­cu­larly at­trac­ted to his nights­ca­pes: their un­can­ni­ness, their an­ti­ci­pa­tion of fear in a sus­pen­ded sta­te of joy, their wi­se re­lian­ce on co­lor, ma­ke them uni­que. The­se illu­mi­na­ted nights re­lea­se de­mons at a dis­tan­ce, who might de­ci­de to come to­wards us, or not. Savchenko’s in­di­vi­dual at­tach­ments com­pli­ca­te things, though, with re­gard to his own re­la­tion to the post-mo­dern. The la­te Zyg­munt Bau­man wro­te: “art is li­ke a win­dow over the chaos: it shows the chaos at the same ti­me that it tries to fra­me its enor­mous flo­wing (…) Great art can, behind each one of the forms it ma­kes ap­pear, ma­ke us

3 see the un­li­mi­ted chaos of being” . So­mehow I feel the­se thoughts are alien to Serhiy Savchenko. I sus­pect that he is not a re­li­gious man, at least not as we cu­rrently un­ders­tand so­meo­ne to be re­li­gious. But then, his pain­tings are so full of a sen­se of mor­ta­lity and a sen­se of ho­pe that so­me­ti­mes he seems pre-mo­dern or mo­dern in his con­cep­tions and his quest for beauty.

His work is not ba­sed on the ce­le­bra­tion of the ep­he­me­ral or the ac­ci­den­tal; it is not ba­sed eit­her on an aest­he­ti­cism that glo­ri­fies em­pti­ness. He re­lies on the po­wer of myth, he is per­mea­ted by it, but not in the in­tri­ca­te and yet sua­vely iro­nic man­ner of a Cy Twombly, for ins­tan­ce. Ser­gei does not seem to be­lie­ve that hu­man frailty hap­pens to be a tech­ni­cal cha­llen­ge, or that the pur­po­se of every ar­tis­tic ac­ti­vity ul­ti­ma­tely con­sists of

Serhiy’s almost Pi­cas­sian ob­ses­sion with wo­men brims with pu­re, strong, car­nal vio­len­ce, which is mi­xed at dif­fe­rent in­ten­si­ties with ten­der­ness and a dis­tant re­flec­tion of both the ot­her and the self.

ma­king the spec­ta­tor feel and ex­pe­rien­ce a spe­ci­fic yet flee­ting sen­sa­tion.

Aest­he­tics wit­hout art means the triumph of kitsch; art wit­hout aest­he­tics ra­rely ta­kes pla­ce in a world sa­tu­ra­ted with ready­ma­des, un­der­per­for­ming per­for­man­ces, and easy re­pro­duc­tions, and very of­ten de­va­lua­tes in­to so­met­hing el­se, li­ke the de­pic­tion of an ideo­logy or a so­li­tary sta­te­ment of po­li­ti­cal or me­ta­po­li­ti­cal na­tu­re. A gap, ap­pa­rently un­brid­gea­ble, is open be­fo­re the ar­tist, who does not count on tra­di­tion to sur­pass it. He can only count on him­self, and on his own abi­lity to put everything un­der scru­tiny.

Let me re­call at so­me length an ex­cerpt from Ita­lian phi­lo­sop­her Gior­gio Agam­ben that at­tem­pts to shed so­me light on this. Ac­cor­ding to him, “irony meant that art had to be­co­me its own ob­ject, and, no lon­ger fin­ding real se­rious­ness in any con­tent, could from now on only re­pre­sent the ne­ga­ti­ve po­ten­tia­lity of the poe­tic I, which, den­ying, con­ti­nues to ele­va­te it­self be­yond it­self in an in­fi­ni­te dou­bling.(…) At the ex­tre­me li­mit of art’s des­tiny”, Agam­ben con­ti­nues, “when all the gods fa­de in the twi­light of art’s laugh­ter, art is li­ke a ne­ga­tion that ne­ga­tes it­self, a self-an­nihi­la­ting noth

Not­hing is mo­de­led on man any­mo­re; man has go­ne as­tray, whi­le ti­me si­lently and ef­fi­ciently dis­po­ses of him.

ing. Art be­co­mes the an­nihi­la­ting en­tity that tra­ver­ses all its con­tents (…) be­cau­se it can­not iden­tify with any con­tent. And sin­ce art has be­co­me the pu­re po­ten­tia­lity of ne­ga­tion, nihi­lism reigns in its es­sen­ce.” 4.

Con­trary to this Zeit­geist and not­withs­tan­ding his va­riety of sty­les, Savchenko does not seem to be an “elec­tor of iden­ti­ties”: his works seem to be con­subs­tan­tial to his own cons­cien­ce; he be­lie­ves in the pos­si­bi­lity of cons­cien­ce, and the­re­fo­re he has not been de­vou­red by it. By the same to­ken, he pos­ses­ses the po­wer to keep irony un­der con­trol. In this res­pect, he re­minds me of anot­her emer­ging ar­tist, the Scot­tish Gay­le Chong Kwan, who achie­ves si­mi­lar re­sults th­rough a cons­cious ba­lan­cing of ele­ments and trends. Re­mem­ber how, in her ca­se, dim blue illu­mi­na­tion and se­ve­ral plas­tic whi­te bottles, co­rrectly arran­ged, dis­play be­fo­re the ca­me­ra the sub­mer­ged is­land of Atlan­tis. Every new pro­ject of Savchenko is clo­sely re­la­ted to the rest, and, qui­te of­ten, dif­fe­rent ima­ges from the past re­sur­fa­ce in the pre­sent: the fi­gu­ra­ti­ve lands­ca­pes and the abs­tract pain­tings speak a com­mon lan­gua­ge. The strip­ped li­nes of his “Vi­bra­tion” se­ries and of his “Dis­per­sion” se­ries point to a com­mon goal. Furt­her­mo­re, Savchenko cons­tantly recy­cles his pre­vious fin­dings in sub­se­quent works. This re­co­ur­se to in­ter-tex­tua­lity can achie­ve so­me­ti­mes a no­ta­ble de­gree of in­tri­cacy.

Ta­ke this ho­ma­ge to Go­ya’s “Sa­turn de­vou­ring one of his sons” (2012), one of the most sym­bo­lic of the Black Pain­tings of the Spa­nish mas­ter. In the ori­gi­nal, a gi­gan­tic el­der is caught ea­ting ali­ve the body of a youn­ger man. The eyes of the can­ni­bal are wi­de-open and wild: it is dif­fi­cult for him to be­lie­ve what he is doing. The mu­ti­la­ted and blee­ding cor­pse oc­cu­pies the cen­ter of the pain­ting, whe­re its light be­co­mes mo­re in­ten­se. The pri­mor­dial pa­rent –Sa­turn, Cro­nus, ti­me- who en­gen­de­red that hu­man-li­ke god brings him back to his belly in the most aw­ful fas­hion. Both ti­me

and god are re­pre­sen­ted as men and yet, the can­vas tells us that ti­me con­su­mes his cons­cious child, that that is the high­light of li­fe, and that it is a bloody bu­si­ness. To ne­ver ha­ve been born, said Sop­ho­cles.

Now, in the ca­se of Savchenko’s ren­de­ring of the pain­ting, the who­le con­cept is subs­tan­tially chan­ged. First of all, man is not de­vou­red by man, but rat­her by the mons­trous ca­ri­ca­tu­re of a man; mo­re pre­ci­sely one of the bi­za­rre, round, his­trio­nic faces that first ap­pea­red on the “Cho­rus” se­ries, and which reap­pears he­re in an en­ti­rely dif­fe­rent con­text. It is as if the old works de­vou­red the new ones. It is as if ti­me we­re not was it used to be, both to art and to man. In fact, ti­me wears a crue­ler and less com­prehen­si­ble face, be­reft of fee­ling. Then, the­re is no tra­ce of blood, though an illu­mi­na­ted cor­pse re­mains at the cen­ter of the can­vas. The who­le set­ting is asep­tic and black, clean in its own way. The­re­fo­re, one could ar­gue that Savchenko aims at de­li­ve­ring a poig­nant cri­ti­que, using for that pur­po­se a well-known and po­pu­larly re­cog­ni­za­ble pie­ce of work of a mas­ter who is at the same ti­me of the pi­llars of tra­di­tion and one of the pre­cur­sors of mo­der­nity. Ti­me is no lon­ger mo­de­led on the sha­pe of man- al­beit on a gro­tes­que sca­le. The­re is no need for things to look messy or mor­tal. Soul and blood ha­ve no ro­le to play in this on­going pro­ces­sing of ghostly bio­lo­gi­cal exis­ten­ce.

As I said at the out­set of this brief es­say, I met Serhiy so­me years ago. Be­cau­se of our las­ting friends­hip, I ha­ve ob­ser­ved how he has evol­ved ar­tis­ti­cally, and I am par­ti­cu­larly im­pres­sed with his in­crea­sing mas­tery of por­trait, so­met­hing that may­be has to do with his own ma­tu­rity as an ar­tist. His la­test works in this gen­re allow him to re­con­ci­le fi­gu­re and co­lour in a way that he had not es­sa­yed be­fo­re. The coun­te­nan­ces of his por­tra­yed sub­jects used to be very sche­ma­tic. Lots of cha­rac­ters in Serhiy’s pre­vious works did not even ha­ve faces, or their eye soc­kets we­re em­pty. Com­ple­xity of com­po­si­tion and the gra­dual ap­pa­ri­tion of facial com­ple­xity go hand in hand and ser­ve the same pur­po­se: ex­plo­ring the sub­ject’s psy­che as a way to ex­plo­re the in­ner self of the ar­tist. Serhiy is –see­mingly pain­fully- lear­ning how to turn ot­hers’ faces in­to a mi­rror as well as how to draw so­me so­lid con­clu­sions out of it. It is no coin­ci­den­ce then that the eyes in tho­se por­traits ha­ve be­co­me so pier­cing.

Ta­ke this last pie­ce of work. A girl, almost a child, re­so­lu­tely and even in­so­lently looks at us. She is in com­ple­te con­trol of her­self; that self-con­trol, that fi­xed­ness, might ma­ke us feel un­su­re. The loo­ker on is being loo­ked at. Her re­gard is calm, but in­ten­se, and slightly me­lan­cho­lic. One ought to won­der if she is on the brink of crying, may­be out of des­pon­dency. She is loo­king at us so hard af­ter all. Cer­tain­ties -so we are told- are go­ne. Nihi­lism reigns. Ho­we­ver, from an ima­gi­nary th­res­hold, Serhiy keeps on sta­ring at the ruins, as if the­re was so­me real mea­ning in them. And he keeps on lea­ving tra­ces behind –dra­wings, sketches, ins­ta­lla­tions and abo­ve all pain­tings- in or­der for us to re­co­llect that his ur­ge to sta­re, to see, is ours as well. The re­sults are frag­men­tary, con­tra­dic­tory, they re­vol­ve around them­sel­ves, but they mat­ter.

Deep down in the eyes of that girl, too, lies the cen­ter of the strug­gle of Serhiy Savchenko: the en­du­ring re­sis­tan­ce of his own vi­sion.

— Pre­sen­ce, by Serhiy Savchenko, 2012

— Pu­blic re­la­tions, by Serhiy Savchenko, 2016.

— Al­ber­to Gia­co­met­ti, Por­trait of wo­man, 1965. — M.o.a.c, by Serhiy Savchenko, 2015.

— Not­hin­gnes­ses, by Serhiy Savchenko (sea), 2015.

­— Lemkyn­ya X, by Serhiy Savchenko, 2015.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Spain

© PressReader. All rights reserved.