Evolution of the Mask Series — Part 1

«In the beginning was the Word… » — I disagree. In the beginning was the Thought, and the Thought was with Art, and the Thought was Art.

The word is just another imperfect medium for thought. It is up to us to decide, which medium to use to interpret, materialize and communicate the thought. As a painter — my choice is obvious and mostly I refrain from too many words. But it’s a multimedia world and in response to a few requests I will employ a number of words to shed some light on the Great Unmasking series and its evolution, which looks interesting when I align the masks in a chronological order.

In the beginning was the thought embedded in the initial painting of this series — an auto portrait that I did in 2015 and the only painting in this series, where no one has argued that it was not I. What I see is a man resting his heavy head on his hand in contemplation. Here, the body is the mask for thought. An auto portrait, as the body itself, is a treasure-house for privacy and I would feel much more naked if I put up all my thought on public display then if I would find myself without any clothes on in front of a crowd. This is what this auto portrait means to me at the moment. However, I am not going to lie: this connection came in hindsight — three years after painting it. There was no genius idea that I sought to realize on canvas. It is the viewer-I that gets a certain understanding for an artwork that the painter-I has created. The painter-I and the viewer-I are two very different models for being.

The series didn’t feel complete, there was no beginning until I’ve considered the Autoportrait as a part of the series and its initial seed. Paradoxically, the most recent addition is this painting that predates all others in this line.

To share with you a little secret — that was the first time ever that I’ve painted using a palette knife. It felt good — so nice, quick, clean, crisp and looked surprisingly fine to me.

Little that I knew — it just was not enough. Too simple was the thought of portraying a physical shell, a figure that anyone can see as it is. So as it happens quite often — the circumstances lent a helping hand. To be honest, I just got into an argument with my wife and I was just angry as hell! Why? It was probably something ridiculously trivial and I would not have been able to recall it in a day, but…

Dammit, I painted anger! This really felt like grabbing a monumental emotion with my bare hands like it was a heavy boulder, picking it up and pushing it way above my head, perceiving the pressure in every vertebra of my spine, my knees and feet, my shoulders, elbows, palms to launch it with all the might I could imagine onto the canvas! Quick, violent, intuitive, simple yet powerful smears of vivid colors gave birth to the Friday Guy (it was a friday — the name was evident). That must have been an act of self-inflicted art therapy. I painted from within and when I was done it was good and I was good.

Eureka! Here it hit me like a lightning. It was a mask that I took off and realized how much I gained by doing so. The concept for a series of paintings seemed as clear at once as Adriatic waters between Dalmatian isles. The primary goal became to capture another part of self for every day of the week. I wanted to see, what I would come up with. And I still do.

The fact that I can simply do this entertains me greatly, because just a short while ago I would put on a shirt, tie and suit every monday morning and go to work to an office, make the company goals my own and make sure that my teams did just the same. A sort of tunnel vision that structured life into its flow, which is good in many ways, but that was another role to play, another mask to wear. I failed to see the light in the end of that tunnel, instead I held up a burning match at arm’s length to follow it for years. Just for as long I failed to see that there exist as many other ways as one can imagine. That was the mask of Monday Guy I wore.

I bequeath this mask of the routine to hundreds of millions of people who wear it in good faith around the world. They make the world tick as it does and I trust fully and pray that they will continue to do so. Among them are many of my good friends and great acquaintances with whom it is always a pleasure to reflect on such ideas over many pints of some good craft brew. Some love their roles, some write their own scripts and the Monday Guy mask may not apply any more, some loathe — whatever… Work hard, play hard — is the philosophy of quite a few hard-working ladies and gents I know.

One thing that quite a few of them (and I) may find in common after long conversations and too many drinks is the Sunday Guy — a mask that everyone is surely conscious of, when wearing. As blue as sunday can ever be. That’s for the color, though: blue, black and white. I’ve simplified the form and painted with a minimum of bold strokes to emanate an ancient timelessness and mystery like a giant Moai statue on the Easter Island — another association that appeared in retrospective. Yet, I am not made of stone and the feeling that all of this, good and bad, is here to stay sooner or later fades away like clouds in the skies.

The sky, no doubt, fascinates me. Clouds are wonderful and clear skies are amazing any time of year. I love looking up and seeing what’s going on in the world around me. Beautiful, light-hearted, light-blue — «the world is yours», they tell me. And so it is — I won’t contest. That sounds quite romantic. And beauty is. As is the sky whenever and wherever. Yet, when you are in it — dozens of thousands of feet above the ground in an airplane (I envy pilots), you always find yourself surrounded by this beauty — so peaceful and calm above the clouds. Sometimes — in between of layers of clouds, where there is the sky — so clear and divine ahead, those clouds that seem like whipped cream below and above — mesmerizing… dreamy… divine…

There was a feeling of balance in everything as I was on a plane to Amsterdam. Right between such clouds it looked like there were two horizons. It was a Tuesday. But only when we were back in Kiev, have I thought about this. Maybe I am slow to recognize many a thing, but that’s just how it is. Making a sense of images and feelings requires time — sometimes years. Yet, hopefully, it is fruitful. This time around it was a bit faster as for a few weeks straight (only on Tuesdays, for some reason) this picture just reappeared in my mind. It was this idea of balance that didn’t let me go.

I kept imagining those two even, straight, well-defined layers separated by a few hundred yards of blue skyline — as if they were painted. Next Tuesday this transformed into the idea of a new look at balance — a new Yin & Yang of a personal kind. The Tuesday Guy was born. So solid, yet transparent. So dark, yet letting through all the brightness. So new, yet looking like he’s aging thanks to the craquelure. A character of his own.

The character that always exists and does not shut his eyes. The character that loves, what he does. The character that does not care, whether his embodiment is I or anyone else. The character that has the unquenchable thirst to create. The character that forgets about anything besides his… I forgot what…

Well, Tuesday past and it’s saturday night. I am on the balcony on my floor opposite from my flat. I see those street lights and cars from my fifth floor. Across the drive way is a nine story building that is a shabby dorm of some institution. Below me are a bunch of cars under the street lights. As lights keep going out in the dorm I feel that I am the only one awake and working. I don’t mind. I paint late into the night. It is a pleasure.

That is now — the moment that I always enjoy. This ever faster fleeting present — is life. The present is what fascinates me more and more throughout my life and my work. So I paint. I paint through good and bad, through wise and foolish, through all the colours. In the present I try to grasp the past and the future. But it seems that in the present moment itself there is no room for anything. It is a humble, elusive moment — always at a crossroads.

With the Wednesday Guy there is no present in the picture. There is a past and a potential future. The two I’s are not I, which is somewhere in the void between them. Now, I believe that there are other universes, where time is like «left» and «right» and is to be navigated. And I can imagine this and put a hint of it in oil paint on canvas depicting something that is no more and another state of the same thing that has yet to occur. In a way this is the best and simplest definition of the present as neither the past, nor the future.

No surprise that there are sayings in different languages referring to people not living in the present or living in the past. I catch myself sometimes living in the future, sometimes — in the past. Both feels like imagination to me. And the present becomes the past just way too quick to even pinpoint. It’s like star-gazing and seeing light that at present is millions of years old. Even our beloved sun is 8 minutes and 20 seconds away from now.

The Thursday Guy stands with the back to the viewer and faces the sun. He has no face, or rather, he has potentially them all. That is the Saint Painter that is either a genius or a fool that risks getting his retina burned to either discover something new with this action or to just go blind. Isaac Newton did such an experiment to provoke after-images, but his vision recovered, luckily. Yet, an after-image of the sun literally burned into one’s eyes is an extension of the 8 minutes and 20 seconds — an attempt to see whatever one hasn’t yet seen whatever can not be seen in normal circumstances — neither the past, nor the present, nor the future. A quest for the timeless idea, for discovery, for the pleasure of new thought and alternative perspective, but that may go along with certain sacrifices in the process, where the cost my be just a bit too high like the realization of one’s own total blindness.

I am not a proponent of martyrdom, like staring at the sun until complete blindness for some greater cause or burning oneself to death to spark the Arab Spring. Not at all. But there are sacrifices that accompany every decision and they sometimes add up in curious ways, which touches in a way on an underlying theme for several paintings after the initial «week days» in the Unmasking series.

In four square one by one meter paintings I introduce a new shape for masks that is visually more abstract and start sacrificing physical resemblance to the human face. I would love to know, what sparked this transformation and these forms, but I can not pinpoint anything. Also putting these four in a certain order is challenging because they got intertwined as I worked on all of them simultaneously.

Openness is the first thing that comes to my mind, when I look at the «Eclectic» mask, because it lies deep within its roots.

It is a concept that I wanted to embrace, when I was 16 years old as my parents and I moved from Berlin to Chicago in 1999. I remember clearly how I wanted to embrace whatever would lay ahead in that new chapter of my life to not fight against the upcoming circumstances. It seemed important to me at that point, because it took me a long time to adapt to Berlin after moving there from Kiev four or five years before and I wanted the move to the USA to be easier. I envisioned at that moment that being like a sponge to absorb whatever a completely new environment would offer, provided an easy way for assimilation, for accepting and for being accepted. And soon it was evident that I was right. However, there was much more to it…

Being like water in the city — taking on the shapes of its urban surrounding and becoming an indefinite, translucent blend-in, an enchanted mimicry of the multitude of colors around it — is a transformative experience. One that opens up or creates a new self through losing own characteristics, adapting and transforming into a self of other’s colors. That may sound and look great, but it may come at the cost of a great sacrifice — what happens with the initial self? Is the intrinsic self actually revealed in this process or does it get hidden under layers of compromises? And sooner or later it is great to be able to take off the «Eclectic» mask.

But, what do I do? I take one off and put one on.

This mask of Gold is easy and fine to hide behind. It is great as all hues become monochrome and what is left are simply riches on your mind — they are your lover and a friend — the one, who does not let you go as long as you just care. But in the moment of accepting this mask as my own I felt the sacrifice was made. Just like the Yellow mask is ripe to kill to get desire satisfied. The sacrifice is made. It is Ophelia’s last breath in light of fading love. It is the one that’s ready for last true loving touch even no matter if you hate. It is the final kiss goodbye that turns to last of thoughts. I’d paint it black for death, but it is not. As any black there is — just simply shines as my mind fades in darkness deeper than total lack of light. One that is there because it’s not, but my eye simply would just know. It is the perfect state of thing, which means — the end is here — the zero point at which in no time a new beginning just occurs, because it is the state of things as perfection lasts just this single moment that a human mind can’t really grasp — it is always now. Hence all reflection that occurs worldwide is art in all its forms. As thought bears all its might at any single point in time: The timeless time it is — the Now.

We do not have the time. The time has us. It is the sacrifice that rests within us all. The common denominator for all that we may ever know is constant transformation.

Now it just seems to me that the best thing for the art of life that I can do is spend more time with my kids and share with them each single choice’s sacrifice I made to make them truly rich at early age with all experience I have to never witness how it fades, but see it grow and blossom bright. If they will learn from the mistakes I’ve made, of which there are a lot, then it will be an early step towards wisdom — a concept that seems inapplicable to me. Instead, the dream of endless life is much more real as long as I am even just a single drop, a salty tear in the vast ocean of thought.

That multiplicity of roles and meanings, views and facets, identities that form even a single being in its own mind and ready to display is just immense. In «Silhouettes,» which derives its general outlines from the «Sunday Guy,» all shapes and lines are made of faces viewed in profile. Hundreds of silhouettes combine to form the lines. Moreover all silhouettes have two sides to them — a bright and a darker one, which are also made up of more layers that echo each small face. If I moved closer I would see each single part like every screw and bolt, each cogwheel of the whole machine. But at a moment, when I don’t want to ask way too many questions of myself, I take ten steps back and regard the simpler picture. With this in mind, I cease to be surprised about this painting causing distress to some people who found their desks too close to it, when it was a part of my solo exhibition in the open office space of the House of Decentralisation in Kiev. The emotions caused by this painting were on the opposite extremes of the spectrum…

End of Part 1

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