DUBOVYK OR PAINTING IN METAPHYSICO-POETIC ACTION
The opulent pictorial work of Alexander Dubovyk has experienced a first wide recognition from the 1990s, which saw the fall of U.S.S.R as well as the independence of Ukraine. However, his creative work had begun to manifest itself in an original way as early as the 1960s, in other words after a certain “thaw” that followed Stalin’s death in 1953, and it has become fully original over the 1970s and 1980s, bearing the unmistakable signature of the Ukrainian artist : constructed spaces, enigmatic subjects, fully idiolectic polychromy.
Facing the socialist realism then dominating in the 1950s and 1960s and not brooking any “formalistic” deviation, Dubovyk build/t, in a total creative freedom, a world of unprecedented richness.
His work coincides with what we call, badly in my opinion, “postmodernism”. In reality, it is a new modernity, heir of a whole series of avant-gardist movements since the start of the 20th century where are conceptually dominating the Abstraction (lyrical, neoplastic, objectless) and picturologicly, the freeing of colour (impressionism, fauvism), the geometrizing construction (cubism, purism, constructivism), the freeing of the line (Art Nouveau, primitivism), the surreal (Malevichians alogism and supronaturalism). Thus, the artist of the second half of the 20th century stands on a legacy. And the new movements, like Action Painting, Minimal Art, informal art, art brut, conceptual art, Arte Povera and performances only push some partial elements of this and that movement to their maximum consequences, kind of like religious sects that favour some parts of the Scriptures whom they inflate the importance of, and erect them as new dogma…
Dubovyk too is an heir and fully assume this situation, not
seeking, according to the Freudian euro-centrist approaches, to “kill the father”. He doesn’t belong to any group1 and will take what appears essential to his “inside necessity” and will rebuild it, as Malevich had invited the innovators to do in the 1920s, notably at the Kiev Art Institute in 1928-19302. The whole work of Malevich is, indeed, grounded on this reconstructor poietic principle. It is not about imitate models but to extract, from chosen existing formal structures and coloristic specificities, new quintessences matching personal Kunstwollen of the artist. It is not by accident that Dubovyk has dedicated an incredibly penetrating text to the “Palimpsest”. He speaks of life as a constructive game there, quoting the παιδεία (paideia), the children education, in Book VII (803c) of Plato’s Laws3. Hence, Dubovyk’s interest on palimpsest that allow playing with various layers of objects and facts of life. Moreover, the Ukrainian artist add a confucian cosmic dimension to the Platonic ludism, quoting a saying from Confucius in which he sees the « Palimpsest of mind » : “A man is not measured from his feet to his head but from his head to the skies”.4
Canvases of the 1950s and 1960s, yet still figurative, challenge socialist-realist codes which were the official standards in U.S.S.R then. These paintings have already
1 To justify not belonging to a group, Doubovyk quotes the words of the Gascon d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (chapter XI), when Cardinal Richelieu tries to get him to leave the King’s musketeers to join his own guards : « I should, therefore, be ill received here and ill regarded there if I accepted what Monseigneur offers me. »
2 Cf. Kazymyr Malévytch i Kyïevs’kyï Aspekt/Kazimir Malevich, Kyïv 2019 Aspect (ed. Tétyana Filevska), Kiev, Rodovid, 2019
3 Doubovyk, “Palimpsest [Le Palimpseste]”, in Doubovyk, Kyïv, 2005, p. 123
4 Ibidem, p. 220
structures and motives that were to be found in the non- figurative creation of the artist from the 1970s onwards.
Among the self-portraits from the 1950s, the one from 1953 is admittedly realist, but its black near-monochomy with the single light spot, mixing tenebrism and luminism, has mysterious Caravaggesque accents. As for the Self-portrait from 1958 (painter is 27 then), it is a nod to modern style, like a dream emanating from his brain : we notice the silhouette of a famous painting from Nesterov depicting Olga, the artist’s daughter. The 1968 Self-portrait, therefore ten years later, surrounded by a bloom saturating the background of the canvas, already refers to the primitivist-fauvist manner of the Jack of diamonds, in a Machkov style. The Ukrainian artist is still “learning” from the great ancients but does not copy them, yet already his specificity and his originality are manifesting determinedly.
The format for the compositions of this period is fairly large. From the very beginning, Dubovyk’s creation has had a sense and concern for space, which has been a constant throughout his production up to present day. This space is built. During this research period, from the late 1950s to the 60s, even if one still feels hesitation on his choice of references, the Ukrainian painter already shows a strong personnality as can be seen in an already highly constructed painting like The Atom(ist)-physicists (1963), or The Operation (1965), Picket(line) (1966), Wernigerode (1968 and 1970), or even paintings matching the softness of the lines, more geometric planes and a primitivist decorative lighness – Portrait of My Brother, Dawn (1962), Doll (1965), Amsterdam (1970) ; it is also characteristic of his northern landscapes that reveal a colouristic affinity with the best Finnish painting : Lake Ladoga (1953), Karelia (1958), Landscape (1968). It is also combining with an original cosmicity of the forms in works such as Eucumene (1963), Remote Islands (1969), Lake Ladoga
(1967), Tranquillity (1970). Those primitivist decorativism elements are especially present in Portrait of Mr. Jouravel (1966), The Girl With the Hoop or the exquisite Portrait of Irina.
FROM POETIC REALISM TO POLYCHROMIC CONSTRUCTIONS.
From the 1970s onwards, we already see Dubovyk’s affirmation of his exceptional individuality. Every element of the subsequent fifty years of work are already there.
What Dubovyk keep from constructed art, is the abstract transformation of historical cubism, in other words, abstract geometrization of pictorial elements, for instance in House/Home (1975). Beside, the treatment of colour, the triumphant polychromy of dubovykian art is in line with the malevichian suprématism legacy as well as Ukrainian popular art. Malevich is often quoted in the writings of the painter and in many works of Dubovyk we assist to a dialogue with the author of the “Squares” (see, for instance, Metamorphosis (1989, G-383-5-400 ; 199O, G-384-5-401,1991, G-385-5-402 et G-385-5-403) where quadrangular forms are opening on new formal and coloured worlds as in Black square, 1980). Here we have therefore a new poiesis that take hold on the achievements of the recent past to create his own system.
In such works as Water Clock (1977), Harmony (1975), the series of paintings called “Signs” (end of 1970s), Eternity (1978), Organ (1979), Ark/Arch (1978), Nirvana (1989), Memory from Poitiers (1992), or the Wall paintings of Notre- Dame des Anges in Berre-les-Alpes (1996), space is built like an architecture.
Verticality gives a monumental aspect to those pictures tell timelessness. It is no coincidence that his first monograph of 2005 start by a paper entitled “Space chronicle” :
“Space determines the place for a certain whole – in the
cosmic diversity where the fifth dimension is realised – eternity.”5
Verticality, it is life, a flight through the cosmos, as we can admire from the early 1990s in the Triumphant series (one of the finest example is the Triumphant from 1991 which been the subject for a stamp from Ukraine’s national Post in 2019). It is the beings and the things in the heart of universal infinite. We do find an instance of those elements in the Flight in Space painting from 1976.
We also notice, from the very first works of 1970, in which verticality is dominating, that it is framed on large rectangular stripes horizontally rythming the quadrangle of the canvas, like an abstract metaphor of earth and sky, sea and sky. Thus, gouaches from the “Great Council” series (1992, G-082, G- 085), Birthday (1993, J-020), Space (1994), Meditation (1996).
This has been especially developed in the western painting after World war two. Probably reinterpreting many landscapes from the Dutch golden age, even from the German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, arranging the pictorial plane in two segments meaning earth and sky, or yet in the horizontal stripes in the “supronaturalism” of Malevitch from the late 1920s and early 1930s, western artists of the first half of the 20th century have carried on this wide stripes’ abtractisation. Nicolas de Staël made masterly use of this process, like Rothko for whom this double-triple segmentation of the pictorial surface will peak in the grey-black duplication in the last paintings of 1969. Space (1993) a painting from Dubovyk is paradigmatic of such poiesis : the earth and sky separation is dominated, on the superior stripe, by a circle which is like a metonymy of the solar system of the Universe such as men can perceive it. The painter himself gave mystic and spiritual clues of this balance he achieves between
5 Doubovyk, op.cit., p. 8
horizontality and verticality6, embodied in the mystic and spiritual world differently than Mondrian who operate by minimalist semiologic equivalents of reality, whereas Dubovyk’s poiesis use an abstract vocabulary to tell the world in its complexity.
Note here, with regard to the dubovykian spatial conception, predilection for square canvases, yet another connivance clue to Malevich. The square is an opening window on life, it is a metonymical microcosm of the universal macrocosm.
In addition to the constructivo-suprematist elements, a fascination for the surreal was added from the outset, although the artist never allows himself to be lured into European Freudian interpretations. A painting like Water Clock from 1977 is a mythification of the ancient clock that was measuring time by water flowing into its apparatus. Dubovyk makes a mysterious passage of it, almost iconic, with the reverse perspective of the temple where water appears, while a tremendous red arrow aim two small clouds and an ornamental banner in a deployment move. It could be a nod to the best of Magritte to whom the Ukrainian painter reveal an affinity, with his appetite for high philosophy and magical thoughts. Dialogue with Magritte is striking in a painting like Trapeza (2001), but the Ukrainian painter remains faithful to a strictly architectonic structure. If, obviously, Dubovyk is not “ideologically” close to European surrealism, as we will say it further, we notice formal correlations with what is best in this movement : beside Magritte, it is with Max Ernst that the Ukrainian painter confront himself in many works from the 1990s : gouaches from the “Great Council” series (1992, G- O77, G-078, G-080, G-083, G-086, G-087, G-088), Meditation (J- 023), Triumphant (1995) are masses that are both surface and depth, in “the border area of the inside and the outside
6 Doubovyk, “Horyzontal’ – Vertykal'”, in Doubovyk, op.cit. , p. 195-198
7. Paintings like the Dual (2000-2010) diptych sees masses initiating dancing motion in efflorescences.
TOTEMS AND PICTORIAL FLORALIES/FLOWERING
Another poietic vector manifested itself in Dubovyk from the 1970s onwards, namely the tendency to “totemise” the geometricised formal elements. This is particularly evident, for example, in the Mirage canvas (1977). In a poem from 2014, the painter says :
“With renewed delight
A mirage in a desert arises.”8
In Mirage or Tablets (1977) the abstract motif of a rounded shape appears, forming a single pictogram with a short column. It resembles a face without a face, much like that of Malevich’s enigmatic characters around 1930. In fact, we see throughout his later creation that this pictogram became for the Ukrainian artist his trademark, his “mascot”, having a polysemic value, which he would sum up in the idea of a bouquet, this Bouquet, which he had named a painting of 1965. Sometimes stylized, sometimes flamboyant (Carnival, 1987, Carnival, 1991, Birthday, 1993, D-021), receptacle of a whole world (Holland, 1971), he ended up with this abstract sign, which, alongside concentric circles and squares (Tablets, 1977, Holidays/Parties, 1979), are essential elements of the painter’s formal vocabulary. We know that roses have thorns and that life is not without thorns: perhaps this is what the beautiful painting Thorns Bouquet (2005) tells us.
In his writings, Dubovyk rejects several trends of modernity. In 2011, he criticizes contemporary art for having
7 Max Ernst, « Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme ? » in catalogue Max Ernst, Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, 1983, p. 104
8 Alexandre Doubovyk, Slova [Des mots], Kiev, Sofiya-A, 2019, p. 187
“lost energy”, for being “an art of impotent people”9. And he asserts :
“Life is energy. The flat surface of the painting is a magnetic field “10.
He stands against formal and coloured asceticism, against obscurity, but for hermeticism, against Freudianism and against the idea that art is “marginal”; he rejects narrow nationalism as much as he rejects “over-art” everywhere and without borders (Beuys); he is for the painting, for creative individuality, for ethics11. And to propose :
“To create a contemporary totem, figures and forms capable of embodying a maximum of the content of human consciousness and faith, those of the most important and stable traditional ideas, a certain unified centre of ‘magic’ force as a guarantee of accordance and mutual understanding between humans”12.
In this “contemporary totem pole” where Dubovyk sees the true face of his art until today, the bouquet, has undergone constant transformations from its immutable structure, ideographic or pictographic, one might say. It can be found in a very large number of paintings, like a musical leitmotiv. In this archetype is contained the Universe in its formalo-coloured multiplicity. It is a conceptual embryo of all the possibilities of pictorial efflorescence, a germ (Bouquet, 1966, J -042-5-009). This “White Bouquet” is “the symbol of the Human Dimension, it is the Tao of singularity. This symbol is turned towards the future”13.
In Cut Bouquet (1974) it is divided into two “cervical”
9 Alexandre Doubovyk, 25. Faksimil’naya kopiya bloknota Alexandra Doubovyka (avgoust 2011-yanvar”2012), op.cit., p. 9
hemispheres with a dark and a light side, one in need of lighting and the other that is naturally, spontaneously, a source of life. Here is magnified this “floral aesthetic” that Malevich detected in Fernand Léger, but which, for Dubovyk, is conditioned not only by the graphic substrate of icon painting, but also by the incredible richness of his homeland’s popular art. This is beautifully represented in the gouache entitled Ukraine (1995). That is to say, Douvykian “florality” explodes the strict constructions in a colourful firework display. In this, he is unique in 20th century colourist abstraction. In my opinion, a Sonia Delaunay, who told us that her pictorial memory had its root in the polychromy of the Ukrainian world of her early childhood, could be invoked here, mutatis mutandis, for this colourist enchantment. But, obviously, Sonia Delaunay’s picturology is quite different from the one of Dubovyk, it is more on the musical side than on the architectural side. And she does not seek, as Dubovyk does, new semantic dialogues, nor new reinterpretations of pictorial modes.
PALIMPSEST AND PLAYFULNESS
Hence, the importance for Dubovyk of two elements that are specific to his poiesis: palimpsest and play, as briefly mentioned above.
It is no coincidence that the Ukrainian painter chose as one of the essential paradigms of his creation this metaphor designating a surface (parchment, manuscript or tablet) where a new text was written on an erased one. To write is to paint in Greek, Ukrainian, Russian and Chinese. “The work of Dubovyk is a palimpsest” wrote the Ukrainian critic Alexander
Soloviev14. The knowledge of the artist is very erudite, as his writings, treatises and thoughts testify. This allows him to make the present dialogue with the hidden past. Several paintings from the early 2000s are called Dialogue, Duel or Labyrinth. Let’s listen to the artist :
“The essence of the palimpsest is the dissatisfaction of the present and the quest for revelation […] New reading of a worn text […] Appearance of a new meaning and “new energy”15.
The palimpsest is “an undermining of consciousness”, “the combination and confrontation of images, facts, symbols, nano technologies and archaic strata of consciousness on a multitude of levels “16.
The palimpsest is not the one he finds in Europe when he visits Francisco Clemente’s exhibition in Frankfurt on 1 September 2011, precisely entitled “palimpsest” :
“Colour pigments mixed with urine. I then experienced a rupture: contemporary art gives a feeling of boredom, of something that has been seen again and again for a long time”17.
Thus, dialogue is a favourite theme in Duvovykian canvases, it is also at work in the palimpsests that confront the present and the past. He sees it, in part, as a reference to the Byzantine conception that rejects “the ‘I'” in favour of “the beyond of the ‘I’”, that is, the spirit. Hence, the dialogues, hence the verticality as the axis around which this spirit conducts its round. Permanent structure. »18
The juxtapositions, the mise en abyme, the symbols which are “a buffer zone between the rational human world and
14 Doubovyk, op.cit. , p. 6
15 Alexandre Doubovyk, Slova, op.cit., p. 145
16 Ibidem, p. 149
17 Alexandre Doubovyk, 25. Faksimil’naya kopiya bloknota Alexandra Doubovyka (avgoust 2011-yanvar”2012) [25. Facsimilé du bloc-notes d’Alexandre Doubovyk [août 2011-janvier 2012], p. 9
18 Alexandre Doubovyk, Slova, op.cit., p. 143
chaos, the unknowable”19, emerges from one of the essential vectors of Dubovyk’s poietic, game. We noticed at the beginning that the Ukrainian artist explicitly refers to a section in book VII of Plato’s Laws , where the Greek philosopher states that game is part of education of all citizens, be they artists, soldiers and philosophers :
“I say that we must apply ourselves seriously to what is serious and not to what is not serious; that by nature the divinity is worthy of any seriousness tinged with happiness, but man […] has been made as a toy of the divinity, and that it constitute, from his own being’s point of view, the best part of him: it is therefore by conforming to this way of being, by playing the most beautiful games possible, that every man and woman must spend their lives.”20
After Plato, ludic practice in all the arts and literature on play are very abundant. I will just mention a few facts that will situate the creation of Dubovyk in this universal line. In 1938, the Dutch scientist Johan Huizinga published a pioneering essay entitled Homo ludens, in which he showed the aesthetic dimensions of play:
“The terms we can use to designate the elements of the game reside largely in the aesthetic sphere. They are also used to convey impressions of beauty : tension, balance, swing, alternation, contrast, variation, sequence and outcome, solution”21.
Art shares with social play its total disinterest in utilitarianism : like it, it is free and unproductive. Both participate in symbolic “ceremonialization”, making it possible to fill the existential anguish caused by the mystery of world and man. In order to ensure balance with his laborious life, man has always instituted play, from the sacred liturgical game
19 Ibidem, p. 142
20 Platon, Lois, Livre VII, 803c
21 Johan Huizinga, Homo ludens. Essai sur la fonction sociale du jeu , Paris, 1951, p. 30
to the carnivalization of life, which the Russian literary theorist Bakhtin has established as a universal category based on the life and work of Rabelais.
The ludic instinct, the Spieltrieb of man, was asserted in Schiller’s aesthetics, for which play is always authentic to the extent that it is free of any claim to reality22.
And it should not be forgotten that the painter, designer, poet and thinker Alexander Dubovyk is from the same country as the first Slavic religious philosopher Skovoroda, a Platonist, whatever the great Kievian phenomenologist Gustav Chpet23 may have said. Hryhoriy Skvoroda talks about serious matters while having fun, with joy. He claims fun – in Ukrainian, zabava; in Aristophanes, the Greeks called the rhetorical games on the agora diatribe; in old Slavic there was glum, the joke … All those ludic forms are the “pinnacle (the corypha), the summit, the flower and the grain of human life”24. In a dedication to his friend Kovalinsky, the Ukrainian thinker writes :
“Many ask: what is Skovoroda doing? What is he enjoying? Well, I am delighted when I speak of the Lord. I am in joy when I speak of God my Saviour […] isn’t it true that everyone cherishes his own amusement ?”25
I also note that Malevich the Ukrainian does not hesitate to make humorous comparisons in all his writings, and even in the naming of certain suprematist paintings? I have spoken
22 The French sociologist Roger Caillois published his essay Le jeu et les hommes, le masque et le vertige. See also Danielle Orhan’s thesis, defended at Paris 1-Sorbonne in 2009, L’art et le jeu aux XXe et XXIe siècles ou du jeu comme modèle et outil de subversion
23 Chpet, who is not a religious thinker, polemically asserts that Skovoroda is above all a moralist and that the so-called “Ukrainian Socrates” has not read Plato! Cf. G.G. Chpet, Otcherk razvitiya rousskoï filosofii[An essay on the evolution of Russian philosophy], in Sotchiniéniya, Moscou, 1989, p. 82-96
24 G. Skovoroda, “Dialog, ili razglagol o drievniem mirié” [Dialogue or peroration on the antique world] , in Sotchiniéniya, Moscou, “Mysl'”, 1973, t. I, p. 295
about Malevitch’s “grave humour” in front of Marcel Duchamp’s “serious childishness”…
Finally, to stay in the Ukrainian field, I will mention the contemporary Ukrainian philosopher Konstantine Sigov who has been conducting scientific research on gambling since the end of the 1970s, which led to his book Gambling as a Problem of Philosophical Anthropology, published in Kiev in 1991.26
So Alexander Dubovyk fits in well with an ethological vector that is specific to his country, but which, obviously, is also found in other cultures. Plato, of whom Dubovyk claims to be, gave the philosophical behavioural bases to many thinkers and artists. I will only mention Nietzsche here, who wanted to make ideas dance (see Die fröhliche Wissenschaft – the Gay Science). Or Robert Delaunay27, not to mention Picasso or Alexandre Calder.28
Of course, Calder’s and Dubovyk’s poiesis are totally different. But the ludic willingness has led those artists not to limit themselves to a single pictorial genre. The art of Dubovyk is also versatile. The artist has worked in the field of mosaics, stained-glass windows, tapestry, mural painting, book formatting and interior design. His own albums are masterpieces in themselves, they are total works of art, Gesamtkunstwerke, mixing cursive writing, collage, painting. Those Notebooks are the diaries of a painter, a designer, a poet and a thinker (there are more than 50 of them), where collages of all kinds of objects, cut-outs, reproductions, reflections, personal paintings are intertwined. It is a capital testimony for
26 See the dialogue conducted with Sigov and his thesis on play by the Russian poet and philosopher Olga Soudakova : “Pis’mo ob igrié i naoutchnom mirovozzrénii” [Letter on play and the scientific world view], in Moralia, Moscou, 201O, p. 198-207 27 See Pascal Rousseau, “Robert Delaunay. Le Manège des cochons (1906-1922) (p)opticalisme”, in Un texte, une oeuvre. Quatorze oeuvres du Musée national d’Art moderne, commentées (sous la direction de Denys Riout), Paris, Mimésis, 2020, p. 54-6828 Cf. Jean-Claude Marcadé, “Artifex ludens”, in Calder, Paris, Flammarion, 1996, p. 51-77
future authors of monographs and biographies on the artist, because those diaries bear a fascinating testimony on his thoughts, his interests, his relationship to the world and to art over the years.
For instance, the album Notepad 25 from August 2011 to January 2012 is a magnificent modern illumination that testifies the joyful invention of the artist, depicting his thoughts, his artistic interests, his leitmotivs, using collage of newspaper clippings or books and graffiti. The painter gives us the meaning of those notepads :
«These works are a total artefact that will never end, which has become a “herbarium”, a gathering and unfolding of ever new shoots, codes and signs as well as interpretations of fragments of space and time in the conception of the palimpsest. »29
There is a comic strip and film aspect to those illuminations. Here as well there is a certain taste for the Baroque which can coexist with the dominant constructed nature. For my part, I see a line that is very present in Ukrainian art in general (I think, for example, in twentieth- century painting, in the Kievan Alexandra Exter).
And the small marvel of book that is the Bouquet of 2019 alternates the poems of the artist on a page with graphics of human figures constructed like Assyrian totems that would have passed through Greek, Elizabethan, Japanese theatres and Kandinsky’s hieroglyphic symphonies. They are sumptuous actors, in the most varied attire, of a fairy-tale theatre where you can sense passions, excitements/emotions, sadness and jubilation. Those figures are sometimes self-portraits, sometimes human idols, men and women; they are also sumptuous silhouettes of biblical characters, as they appeared in Dubovykian art, for example, in the triptych Prophet (1989)
29 Alexandre Doubovyk, 25. Faksimil’naya kopiya bloknota Alexandra Doubovyka (avgoust 2011-yanvar”2012), op.cit. (préface)