Artist Oleksandr Ackerman talks about the phenomenon of the Zakarpattia school of painting and the sanctuary that is his own soul
His works are not easy to define as sculpture, painting or installation alone. The artist simply refers to all his artwork as graphics. He lives and works in his own fourth dimension. Kasimir Malevich called it Suprematism. Marcel Duchamp called it living time where love is born.
I left Ukraine a long time ago but I always aware of how much I gained from it in terms of color and ornamentation. I often dream of the Uzhhorod that is gone now, and the land of the Hutsuls with the landscapes I remember from my childhood. When Paris hosted a big Moscow-Paris exhibition, I was listed in the catalogue as an artist from Zakarpattia, Ukraine. I insisted on this.
For Western art critics, Kasimir Malevich, David Burliuk and Oleksandra Ekster are all Russian painters. But it takes just one visit to Ukraine to realize that they are Ukrainian. It’s all about colors. Malevich’s green is the natural shade of the spring flourish in Ukraine. It’s what gardens, fields and meadows turn into. David Burliuk’s colors burst into pictures as natural elements:winds and waves - pure, undiluted and natural. This is the power of Ukrainian freedom and anarchy.
Oleksandr Arkhypenko, by contrast, is more European than Europeans are because he intuitively found new horizons in sculpture, just like Constantin Brâncuşi. Europe had paved the way for the emergence of abstract sculpture, but it was discovered by a Ukrainian and a Romanian. Perhaps, this is one way to prove that Ukraine leans towards Europe in terms of art; that it is really is Europe.
The country ultimately became soviet after WWII, but people remained who continued to influence its art life for another 20-30 years. It was a stand-alone oasis, which, even though remote, it could not be compared to the arid cultural desert of Ukraine’s Center and East. This, first and foremost, is how one can explain the phenomenon of the Zakarpattia school of painting.
Nobody painted in my family. I parents were religious, so they didn’t encourage me to paint. My father thought it was a sin but eventually came to accept my passion. My mother had been in Oświęcim (Auschwitz) before she met him. In 1944, the Nazis brought all the Jews from Zakarpattia there. Her family died, only she and her brother survived. My father was in a different labor camp. They met after the war. They spoke Yiddish to each other and in the Zakarpattian dialect to my brother and me. It was a funny mix of Ukrainian with the Hungarian and Slovak languages thrown in. I also spoke Ukrainian in school and college. See, I still remember it.
It was my parents who decided to leave for Israel. I would probably never have plucked up the courage to do it myself. That’s where I became an artist. There were three of us - Mikhail Grobman was a dissident from Moscow; Avraam Ofik, a well-known Israeli artist, born in Bulgaria, and me. We founded the Leviathan community and had a few successful exhibitions.
It was Dmytro Horbachov, a Ukrainian art critic, who called me a Hutsul suprematist. He was the curator of virtually all my shows in Ukraine. A show, which is an artistic report of sorts, requires a great deal of responsibility. I always worry, because this is the only way that you can evaluate yourself as an artist. I had many exhibitions, but there is always something special about them in Kyiv. 1995 was the first time I presented my work in Ukraine. In 2000, I had a significant exhibit called “The Shade of Ashes”, a dedication to Paul Celan. The central installation was the “Knives and Dandelions”; with knives posing a threat to the world and art on the side, and on the other, art that is born of sacrifice, so you have to injure your hands to plant the dandelions. Later, the small parachutes with seeds will be blown by the wind and give life to new plants. This is a Celan image.
Later, I proposed the idea of organizing a Marcel Duchamp show in Kyiv. This artist brought a lot of humor and irony into modern art. I thought his sense of humor made him close to Ukraine, to early Gogol or Illia Repin’s painting of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks writing a letter to the Turkish sultan. Duchamp’s main themes include art and money. So, I took a bicycle wheel with purses and covered it with a huge see-through shawl with cherry blossom that I remember from my childhood. When spinning, the wheel looks like a dance of purses and the shawl hints at the veil that covers Mona Lisa’s head and Duchamp who painted a mustache and a beard on her face once. This “profanation” shocked everyone.
I love to work with wood. This comes from the Hutsul culture with its wooden shingled churches and all kinds of carvings used in the household. My black and white works often feature fences. My family and our neighbors all had gardens with fences in various shapes that fit the landscape. They looked like beautiful graphics, particularly in winter. They started to appear in my work, which I found very unexpected . Fences are like symbols: they keep the territory of your own soul untouched and a dream that there will never be any real borders, and if there are – only peaceful ones.
1951 – born in Makarove village, Zakarpattia
1970 – graduates from the Uzhhorod College of Applied Arts