Excerpts from the correspondence between Oleksandr Chepelev (Alchevsk-Kyiv) and Yura Pikul (Kyiv).
Allow yourself to make a mistake. Picasso once said: «There is nothing better than a great start». And this is true, because otherwise you feel obliged to somehow cover this violet in gold, and you are afraid of the dung beetle that will come and shit himself. And usually, he comes. And you will panic, feel blue and maybe abandon what you started. That’s why I usually put a stain at the beginning or just doodle.
I like the following words of Francis Bacon: «Risk is the destiny of every artist, otherwise academicism will capture you». Awareness of this gives freedom. Here you see that a good fragment appeared, but you want to go further -— and you go. And maybe you will spoil the fragment, but otherwise— it is not interesting. And then you no longer perceive it as «spoiling», this word disappears from your heart. Only the «way» remains. The way of an experiment. And it is interesting to take it, to find out where it will bring you.
It is impossible to paint like old masters. I do not worry about it, but sometimes my acquaintances say about kind of a retard that until you reach a level of, for example, Velazquez, it is a shame to exhibit your works. It’s just ridiculous. Firstly, it is rather strange to suffer behind the camera lucida (almost all artists of the past used optics, and it is proved by old Hockney). And secondly, it is simply unrealistic. To paint like Velazquez, you need at least to live in that time, in that rhythm, with those ideals of beauty and brutality. If you think about it, the time was really lousy. Usually, old masters made portraits of wealthy people-kings or painted beautiful illustrations for one of the world’s scariest books. There are exceptions (like self-portraits by Rembrandt), but they are obviously rare. It is often just a vanity fair, like Holbein’s work «The Ambassadors» with a strange skull, where the main heroes boast about the loot, taking from other nations. This is a closed chapter, and it was described in «Ways of Seeing» by John Berger, but we still have such a retard because of our educational system’s peculiarities. By the way, I adore an old art (especially the so-called Northern Renaissance) and can talk about it for hours, but one step at a time.
Originality. I don’t think about it. I draw what is in my heart, I invent my own concepts. And most likely someone has already done something similar (at least, what I’m doing now can be compared to Dadaism, neo-expressionism, outsider art and who knows what else). Or one can call it amateurism. I’m OK with it.
And the acceptance of it leads to happiness.
Yura Pikul: «Only the «way» remains. The way of an experiment.»
Have you managed to delete the word «spoiling» forever, or do the recurrences occur? I have them all the time. I have a feeling that I’m riding down a slide on a sledge, which has curved skids. And they are constantly trying to turn in the direction of «spoiling». Suppose you do not try as hard as you can, bending your whole body in the opposite direction and digging snow with your foot to go straight, as you say — by way of an experiment. In that case, you inevitably slide towards the edge of despair and fear of spoiling or feeling disappointed.
«For one of the scariest books in the world.»
Oleksandr Chepelev: You know, I just recently understood it through talks with some friends, and somehow empirically, when the anxiety went away. Before that, it was more like an action painting, when you turn off the brain and draw only with emotions. Otherwise, you’re terrified that you will make a mistake, you will fail, and for some reason, you have no right for this mistake. It both stopped and paralyzed. At the institute, I could hardly paint at all, and only afterwards with the help of abstraction, the release came. The comparison with sledges is perfect, and I understand you. Now I feel that I managed to delete this word, because when I see a good fragment, I’m not scared to do something with it. It’s exciting what will happen next, and I often spoil the seemingly good works, then tear them and attach their parts, for example, to another work to see what will happen. I’m playing. The easiest thing for me is to make a children’s illustration or so-called realistic portraits, because they have something meditative, familiar, simple. But in this case, I don’t have «the way of an experiment». Here is the way of an ordinary, probably some kind of professionalism, if you can call it that.
Yura Pikul: Yes, professionalism is like your back, a zone of reliability and predictability. One must have it. But an experiment is a necessity! But mine looks prudent. Firstly, I decide, think about how I will experiment, and then follow the plan. But the thing is that the experiment, or rather its result, very rarely looks as you conceived. And it turns out into something else. This is my gap for the randomness. This is my actio painting! ..))) And besides, it all happens not on the work itself, but on the sketches. For the trivial reason of the high cost of materials. In fact, all the time that I practice painting, I invent various ways and methods to make a work look beautiful/finished at any stage to eliminate the possibility of losing control. Because if it happens, the different bullshit appears on the canvas, which quickly demoralizes through panic attacks, and then leads into disappointment. Of course, I exaggerate a bit, but in general, everything goes like this.
Oleksandr Chepelev: «In fact, all the time that I practice painting, I invent various ways and methods how to make a work look beautiful/finished at any stage» — this is an interesting way.
Of course, as far as we have many options for creating our own picture, we still may have different points of view). My friend, a realist artist, once described his way of works’ creation: to start driven by impulse, to continue involving the brain, and to end led by impulse. And concerning the experiment, I think that there is some kind of gradation of the experiment. For example, now I’m interested in drawing without sketches. I just have a sheet of paper, and when an idea comes to my mind, I start to paint. It is interesting to spoil the beauty to see what will happen next. Probably, it’s comparable to children’s game. But there is no chance for beauty, because it is a coincidence that makes you stop working. And if you think about the experiment and try to perform it with precision, it will be an illustration of the experiment with some part of the coincidence. And that’s fine. And if the bullshit appears, then you either try to correct it, or exaggerate it so that, perhaps, something new will be born. Have you tried that? But in general, I understand you. It seems to me that disappointment can be avoided by abandoning the ambition for the so-called success. But it is difficult when you invest your efforts, time, etc. And sketches, in general, is an interesting topic. You’re experimenting while working on them, looking for different options, and only after you bring the idea of the sketch into life. In this context, «The Appearance of Christ Before the People» by Ivanov (the first thing that came to mind) is an interesting example, because the sketches are better than the picture itself. The experiment is out of the question (the time was different, as well as the tasks), but the thing is that many sketches are more interesting than the pictures. The sketches are more about the search and the movement away from the canons. It looks like you see the real life on the sketches, and it seems to me that the most interesting thing is to turn the picture itself into a sketch.
Yura Pikul: «To start driven by impulse, to continue involving the brain, and to end led by impulse» — lovely strategy! I didn’t think about it at all. But I think it’s worth a try. As far as I involve my brain at any stage…) I rather set myself the task to reduce the level of control and perfectionism. I try to think about how the work will be perceived as a whole, rather than worrying about every inaccurate brush stroke.))
«And if you think about the experiment and try to perform it with precision, it will be an illustration of the experiment» — this is genius!!!) So it is. I want to do an experiment, and I make an illustration of it, or an illustration of my idea of what was conceived in a particular experiment! ..)
«…You either try to correct the bullshit, or exaggerate it so that, perhaps, something new will be born. Have you tried that?» — an excellent idea too! To use the reverse logic! It’s worth trying. To dive into the unpredictability of trash and entropy. And it’s scary. You know, it’s like you’ve got used to spending time on a sunny lawn, but there is a dark forest around it. And you do not know what is going on inside of this forest! And you only pass a few first trees and then immediately run away.) But maybe it’s worth going further!
«But the thing is that many sketches are more interesting than the pictures. The sketches are more about the search and the movement away from the canons. It looks like you see the real life on the sketches.» — I often observed it during my own practice! Maybe you’re right. Probably, if my sledges all the time want to turn towards the ideal result, it is necessary to use the leg not to slide to this familiar, convenient and understandable..) side.
Oleksandr Chepelev: In my opinion, the strategy «To start driven by impulse…» is the smartest while creating the so-called realistic picture. My friend at one time did a lot of painting in the style of «The Wanderers». This is his method. I find the idea of reducing the level of control very interesting. It’s like climbing the stairs, step by step. The words about the illustration of the experiment are indeed ingenious. I also understood it and rejoiced when I heard them. They are not mine, Francis Bacon said them in a documentary about him. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. The movie is hilarious (Bacon makes fun of his works and the works of other artists), and in general, Bacon tells a lot of interesting things about his creative method. I will watch it again with great pleasure. And the dark forest is terrifying, but maybe it’s not so dark and so scary. Perhaps it’s a flower meadow) If you don’t try, you will never know. So, I wish you strength, courage and joy along this way. It usually goes like this — firstly, it’s scary, then intriguing, and later annoying or exciting. And I especially like that it is unpredictable for you. When you say to yourself: is this also possible? And this way? And that way? Wow! Cool. I’ll try again)) And in the end, you look at the result of the work with curiosity, fear, love or something.
Yura Pikul: «Originality. I don’t think about it». I don’t think about originality at all, I even no longer believe that I have done or will do anything significant. At some point, I realized that the loss is inevitable, but I think that you still need to play till the very end.
Oleksandr Chepelev: By the way, firstly I also wrote about it, but then I crossed it out and decided to write something more detailed about this topic. Yes, the same thing, but what is the loss? What is the win? I loved reading the memoirs of artists — Somov, Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Kathe Kollwitz, and many others. And I don’t remember any artist who thought that he had won. Probably only Picasso, who said in his book about conversations with Brassai, that the «blue» and «pink» periods were like an umbrella for him that allowed doing anything he wants and it will be endorsed for sure. We have to choose by ourselves how to call the result: the win or the loss. And you can find a lot of criteria.
Yura Pikul: The feeling of winning or losing is rather existential. There are no objective criteria. Or they are very general, not clear enough. Of course, you can choose to win the first place in the contest at «PinchukArtCentre» or participate in the Venice Biennale as the criterion. And rationally, it’s a good idea. But still, for me, it is somewhere deeper.
Oleksandr Chepelev: The same for me. There is the criterion of popularity, winning the first place, etc. You can enjoy this for a long time and even make life’s mission out of it, but also it might get bored quickly. I want to dive deeper. But where? For me personally (and not only for me), it means going towards my style, something personal, perhaps from childhood. Or in this masterful invention, concept, you can find different similar words. But this is a crooked path of trial and mistake (or maybe not mistakes?), games, forgetting about already «learned» things. On the other hand, you need to somehow make money. The children’s illustration became my work. However, there is a «style», «aesthetics», and I now think about how to play with them. Turn in a different direction, make mistakes, stumble in this game as well as wonder, be upset or happy with the result. In this context, I like the term transgression. As far as I remember, Malevich also taught that today we will draw a picture in the style of impressionism, tomorrow — expressionism, etc. As a result, the styles are turning into an anecdote. Like asking — what will be the next? The artist Konstantin Somov is a sad example for me in this context. I don’t know if you read his memoirs, but the stars on his Venetian watercolour works are painted with his anger and tears. Although he had money, and was a famous and beloved artist. While Schiele is the opposite example.
It seems to me that he managed to come to success. When I was looking at his originals, I felt euphoria from the love he put in his work. There’s a poem in every stroke. Or, for example, Andrew White. For me personally, he associates with an amazing celebration of the landscape and his wife Helga (there is a cool book with his quotes and watercolour works; if you have not seen it, I can send you the link).
Oleksandr Chepelev, Yurii Pikul