Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Oleksandr DUBOVYK: “I keep putting together the jigsaw puzzle of my picture of the world”

An exhibit of works by Oleksandr Dubovyk to open at the Artists’ House in Kyiv on November 9
7 November, 2017 - 12:18

Artist and philosopher Oleksandr Dubovyk, with his masterly command of both the brush and the word, does not really need an introduction. His wisdom and daring, professionalism and a continual searching, expertise, and the youth of his soul are what makes him so attractive. One could write treatises on him. Now the Master has the floor.


Recently an unprecedented exhibit was held at the Arsenal, with Dubovyk’s retrospect. How is the new exhibit different from that one? What is its concept, and how is it supposed to shake the public?

“What was display at the Arsenal is only a part of what I could have exhibited. My graphic works were not shown. There were a couple of old works, but it is too little. Right, there was not enough room at the Arsenal for me.” (Laughs.)

Is the kingdom too small?

“I could have filled all of the Arsenal (like I now hope to fill all of the Artists’ House. As a matter of fact, I will have an entire floor, and retrospect will be there although I am afraid of this word. An artist is not retrospective, he either exists, or he does not. Every individual gets charged with energy and thinks he or she is eternal, but this is not true. Some people splash this energy at the start of their lives, others on the climb, and some somewhere closer to the end. This charge is exhaustible. Even an artist needs to watch carefully where he loses or gains this energy. By a lucky coincidence for me, the idea came first, so everything that came next resembled a kind of jigsaw puzzle. Those little pieces kept coming up. And a whole keeps appearing. It is all so curious. There is no truth, we create truth ourselves on the basis of our own experience and our major inner impulses. Those puzzle pieces eventually fall into place and create a whole, and at the start you do not even have an idea what it should look like. This process takes place in major signs. They appeared at once, right from the start. This is an amazing stroke of luck. An artist begins only when there is a concept and signs. The signs of recognizing. Creating this sign is the most complicated thing in art. Not only in painting, but in everything, a sign of recognizability. If it is there, then you do not even need to do your work. Speaking of energy in a piece of art, it can be expressed on any stage: on the level of conception, drawing, study, or execution. Execution is the sense, but there is also the idea. In my case, they appeared at once, the idea and the signs. This is my big stroke of luck: simply adding certain elements which accumulate mass and create a sense of something whole and huge.”

Dubovyk is famous for his masterly command of both the brush and the word. He has always given precise names to his works and exhibits. What did you call your exhibit this time around?

“‘Dialog with the Inexplicable.’ A bit too sophisticated for a title, but very apt, because how can you have a dialog with something non-existing? At what level can one speak with something non-human? How to dig into what concerns not only me as an artist, but everyone else? Some deep things which make art necessary. The politicians’ daily blabber is so pervasive that it seems the main thing, and people do not realize that if art (this parallel life) does not exist, then life itself will not exist… A human remains a human while s/he enjoys life and what surrounds them, while s/he thinks associatively and can perceive things not as they are, but make them undergo some sort of inner transformation. If all this is present, then we have a human, and the problem is that we must remain human. Without this, no culture is possible, we will turn into beasts. This is happening everywhere around.”


Is this where your books come from? Is this an attempt to explain?

“I do not consider myself to be a poet or a writer. That came into being accidentally. I kept memory albums not to lose the precious moments which I had not remembered. They flash and need to be captured. My moments were not meant for someone else. I do not expect anyone will read it, moreover, I was sure that it all would perish. Now I have more than 50 albums. First I recorded the wheres, whens, and whats. Later it grew, and sort of aphorisms began to appear.”

Like, with and without a reason?

“Yes. About art, about my mood, a lot of good and bad things. A lot of what I should never have written. These texts are my bastards, so to speak.”


Back to energy charge. Some exhaust themselves instantly, others accumulate energy in the course of their lives to reproduce it. But energy does not come out of nowhere; it is drawn from the world around us, from what we experience day in, day out. And (sad as it is) from our daily routine, whether we like it or not. To what extent can today’s reality charge Dubovyk with energy for creating art?

“I have lived through hard times. I had enough incentives to prove myself, to make some statements. They always had a nerve, a background, and I believe that art must be furious. Not that it must be a flow of evil, but in the sense of tension. There must be a backbone in it. And behind it there always must be another charge, knowledge, subtext, other definitions, and in a way it is a prophesy for the future. Art is a parallel, induction thing. When artists painted Venuses and Naiads, they talked about life: gentlemen, you kill one another, cut throats, poison, and what for?! After all, not everything is so horrible if such works appear. This is not a hymn to a concrete person, but a hymn to man as such. It is a global view of art and its place as a bumper which soothes the rough life and ennobles it (I hate this word, it is too sweet and unpleasant). But a lot depends on us, on how we think and see, and how we treat one another.”




You are a person who can build a retrospect or a bridge for himself, or to assemble a jigsaw puzzle into a complete picture. What can you say of the present day – or maybe tomorrow as well – of our country?

“Firstly, I think the Ukrainian nation is a feminine nation. It is emotional, but it is ruled by intelligence. It is so hot-tempered! It makes a mess, and it cools down soon. Unfortunately, it means a lack of ability to step aside and look at what is going on. Meanwhile, important things are going on. These 20 years of independence were wasted. The most recent few years are, actually, independence. We have already undergone changes inside. We have become different. In four years, we have totally changed, it is a different nation now, it is a prerequisite for all the rest. Not to speak of cardinal transformations, which take centuries. Where are you hurrying? Why are you making mistakes? What is it all for? There will come a moment when time is ripe for everything. For transformations to come, changes must happen within us, when something collapses and something new is created, when not a civic law but a citizen grows, who will become the source of civic laws. And they will exist, and they will work. I am optimistic about Ukraine. It is doomed to be a great state. Doomed due to its location, population, mentality, eagerness to work, positive energy and desire to start a family. Whatever might be going on in this world, it is not destruction but involvement. That is why I believe everything will be okay. But it takes time, patience, reserve, and great loyalty to state and to one another.”


Today we often hear of the new generation’s lack of guiding lights, or of the generation gap. Is everything that bad, really?

“This is not the matter of being lost, this is the matter of landmarks. Everything is upside down now, and when we might not do things, we did them just because we might not. There was an inner stimulus to do it. Not because you were against state or ideology, I even did not think about that stuff, we were not even protesting against that ideology. But there was a sense of urge to say something. Nowadays money is the key factor, and its effect is pernicious. You just graduate and start thinking where you can earn a few dollars, you have got to have means for living, you cannot wait. Everyone around is in a race, and you need to grab hold onto something. The established things are in demand. This is the way it has always been, in principle. Simenon has this image: a crowd runs into a tunnel, but only a few people re-emerge. What happened inside, no one knows. It is selection. Such historical selection will always be happening. What concerns youth and art, I think that Ukrainians are an incredible, talented nation, it fertilizes all countries around it but here is a vacuum. Why? I hear that each top orchestra around the world must have a couple of Ukrainian musicians. We are squandering our wealth, like we do not need it. This is the most terrible thing.

“Speaking of art as a trend. There has always been a lack of fresh ideas. It is quite a feat if you find one tiny grain in art. No one cares. The closest thing will be what they were able to understand, see, what they believe is contemporary. There is no contemporary art, though. There is art speaking about the same things as hundreds and thousands years ago. One must look not at the exterior, the looks, but at the energy and ideas planted inside, at the human standpoint. It must be an inner impulse, motion: I want to do this, and I will do it. Like Luther’s position: here I stand, and I cannot help it. But it also takes time to get established. Now art is going through such a troubled period, and our names, both in theatre and in movies, they all orbit Ukraine. Smart people need to be lured, promised the sun and the moon. Like dukes and emperors used to steal philosophers from one another by luring and attracting them, because the luster of a philosopher was the luster of the empire, the luster of the nation. They need to be lured, not driven away. They will find their controversies themselves, and their own anger, to make art harsh and strong. Being cherished will not stand in their way.”


Cherishing is a foreign concept for our state, especially cherishing artists. State has neither inner need nor a stimulus, nor knowledge to realize that it is only culture that can represent Ukraine abroad (and even at home, for our own people who might be not ready for it yet).

“The sign I invented, a bunch of flowers, is a great sign. At the moment it is not understood by people, it does not reach them. There have always been two colliding continental plates, mind and intuition. Mind and the inexplicable (like the title of my exhibit). Inexplicable does not mean non-existing. This is what we cannot penetrate or touch or understand from our human standpoint. The major event happens at the point of collision. This is the real thing, which can be sensed and even comprehended to an extent, and examined, and then it turns into a concept. It becomes either beautiful or pleasant. Where did this transformation take place? The bunch of flowers is the point. They interact and penetrate each other, and you cannot find the boundary, but it exists all the same. This is a breaking point, a whole different kind of thinking, a transition not to mystic but to dissidence. This is the plane which has always been surrendered to religion because science did not know what to do with it. Freud tried, and Jung did, but they went down to business with their scientific methods, and that is why they got such rough results.”

Approximate results…

“And very dubious. These connections are much more complex. The bunch is the form and the symbol. The symbol is blood and objects. And these symbols should be only compared to symbols, they are incomparable to anything else out there. Symbols like the cross, the disk, the square, and a whole range of such universal things. This symbol is charged and simultaneously is shaped like a bunch of flowers. Our idea of a bunch is a collection of something. On the other hand, a bunch is open into another space, into an inexplicable world which continuously accepts all things new. The bunch is an antithesis to Malevich’s Black Square. Because these symbols are correlating. How? Malevich’s sign is nothing. Firstly, it originated as a formal idea, and later added on all sorts of mystical beliefs, like this is the re-encoding of the world. What is re-encoding? Destruction! He destructed the past. This is the sign of nothingness, emptiness. The Bunch is the sign of fullness, diffusion, but not the limit. A new Dao. The Bunch is the Dalai Lama of culture, something more superior. I am happy to have found this sign, my divine infant.”

It is boundless in itself. The bunch has no boundaries, so does it mean eternity?

“That is why the bunch is wholeness. This can be correlated with Leibnitz’s God, the closed space.”

For me, the bunch is an indirect correlation to Japanese culture which I am crazy about. But, by its development, it is the world’s only culture capable of developing in the depth. Is that what preserves it intact?

“Today the Ukrainian idea is very popular, and it is right now that it appeared. Yet it could be formulated from very many points of view, and this is not an empty thing. Because we are really different as a nation, we must have our own symbols, our own view. I juxtapose my bunch with that black square. I consider it to be the sign of the Ukrainian idea, and not because I am Dubovyk. The sign must be powerful, clear, simple, cut in stone. I think such an idea would be very powerful, beautiful, full and very cheerful, because it is not filled with evil, but supersedes it.”

By Svitlana AHREST-KOROTKOVA. Illustrations courtesy of the author