Vasiliy Ryabchenko (born 1954 in Odessa, Ukraine) is a Ukrainian painter, graphic artist, photographer, author of objects and installations. One of the key artists in contemporary Ukrainian art and the New Ukrainian Wave. Vasiliy Ryabchenko was one of the first in Ukraine to start working in the installation genre. Since the early 1970s, the artist has also actively experimented with photography, which, subsequently, he uses in installations and collages, and also uses them as a material for paintings and creating digital graphics. He is also a founder of the Art Laboratory creative association.
Vasiliy Ryabchenko was born on July 23, 1954 in Odessa in the family of a Soviet graphic artist Sergey Ryabchenko.
His art education started in 1966 at the Odessa Art School located on the territory of the Odessa Art College.
In 1969, Vasiliy entered the painting department of the Odessa Art College which was named after M. B. Grekov.
1974 — 1976 he was auditing courses at the Leningrad Higher School of Art and Design named after Mukhina in Leningrad. After returning to Odessa, he acquainted and made friends with Valentin Khrushchev and others who would be known as the Odessa «nonconformists».
From 1978 to 1983 Vasiliy Ryabchenko studied at the South Ukrainian State Pedagogical University named after K. D. Ushinsky at the art and graphics faculty, where his teachers were Valery Geghamyan and Zinaida Borisyuk.
Since 1987 — a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, later the National Union of Artists of Ukraine.
During this period, a group of artists from Odessa appeared: Sergey Lykov, Elena Nekrasova, Alexander Roitburd, Vasiliy Ryabchenko. Known as the “Odessa Group”. In the late 1980s, this group, which was not very popular among «official» environment of the Union of Artists and wasn’t connected with the unofficial environment – these new «nonconformist», held two major high-profile exhibitions «After Modernism 1» and «After Modernism 2» in the space of a state institution, the Odessa Art Museum. The themes, plots of works, and large-scale formats marked the beginning of a new direction in the fine arts of Odessa. This period included paintings from Vasiliy such as: «Coast of Unidentified Characters» (1989), «Red Room» (1988), «Victim» (1989), «Death of Actaeon» (1989), Diptych «Catchers» (1989), «Method of Temptation» (1990) and others.
In between the two above-mentioned exhibitions, an exhibition, «New Figurations», was held at the Odessa Museum of Literature, in which, young artists from Kyiv were involved. This was the beginning of the integration of the «Odessa Group» into the context of the all-Ukrainian art movement that was a current trend at that time. Ryabchenko’s works which were displayed at that exhibition were: «Rejection of Grace» (1988) and «Love is Not Love» (1988).
Vasiliy Ryabchenko, was among the first who started working in the genre of installation, and his very first work in this direction was «Swings for Stumps», for a project «Steppes of Europe» (1993), curated by Jerzy Onukh. Later on, he created a great number of installations: «The Great Bambi» (1994), «Dedication to Madame Recamier» (1994), «Princess» (1996), «Academy of Cold» (1998), and others.
Since the early 1970s, Vasiliy was constantly experimenting with photography. At first, the main subjects were non-staged, still lifes from everyday objects. He followed that by photo fixation of improvisations involving different objects and the human body. In which he used “emptiness” and asymmetry, which was characteristic of the Eastern tradition. He used this style for a series of photographs, which were put together in the project «Naked Dream» (1995). For this project Vasiliy Ryabchenko received an award along with the title of «Best Artist of Ukraine» according to the results of the first all-Ukrainian art festival «Golden Peretin» in 1996. In the same year he founded a creative association «Art Laboratory».
Museums and collections:
Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University (New Jersey, United States)
Udmurt Republican Fine Arts Museum (Izhevsk, Russia)
National Art Museum of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Museum of Modern Art of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Odesa Fine Arts Museum (Odessa, Ukraine)
The Museum of Odessa Modern Art (Odessa, Ukraine)
Nikanor Onatsky Regional Art Museum (Sumy, Ukraine)
Chernihov Regional Art Museum (Chernihov, Ukraine)
Ministry of Culture of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Exhibitions directorate of the National Artists Union of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Zaporozhye Regional Art Museum (Zaporozhye, Ukraine)
Cherkasy Regional Art Museum (Cherkasy, Ukraine)
Museum of Contemporary Ukrainian Art Korsakiv (Lutsk, Ukraine)
Vasiliy Ryabchenko’s early works are distinguished by the synthesis of «western» and «eastern» approaches to pictorial art — almost «english» aristocratic asceticism the language organically flows into the Chinese «dance of a brush», restraint is balanced by freedom and ease. In the second half of the eighties Vasily Ryabchenko imbued with the transavantgarde ideas. But if in general the Ukrainian transavantgarde appealed to the aesthetics of the Baroque, Ryabchenko’s works at this period of time could be more simply described as the «new Rococo». For «transavantgarde» Ryabchenko, peculiar by programmatic emptiness and adjusted aestheticism, frivolous playfulness and mechanistic combinatorics. The artist pretends to be a courteous decorator. Virtuosity becomes an ideology.
The «Rococo line» is also traced in Ryabchenko’s subsequent works, up to and including which were made recently. The artist is still committed to the passions of the nineties. It seems that the «inspirationally irrational «recomposition» of the motives of his own yesterday’s creativity» acquires the character of a delusion. However, obvious changes are taking place within the narrative. It becomes more emotional and slightly confused. There are notes of irrationalism and anxiety. Pastoral carelessness sometimes gives way to reflection and growing drama. «Shadow Theater» is more like a movie, or even a video. Only impeccable quality of painting remains unchanged.
Vladimir Levashov (1989)
Elegant annihilation art
In the place of the exhibition catalog «BABYLON», where a text to reproductions of Vasiliy Ryabchenko works should be, — there is a clean page. Perhaps this literal emptiness is a perfect commentary on the creativity of the Odessa artist. Medieval painting solved the most complicated problem of transmitting the intangible through material means. Vasiliy Ryabchenko in his works is a mediator of objective vacuity according to the laws of beauty. Figurativeness does not diminish, but strengthens this intention.
For the vacuum embodiment, the artist multiplies the rocaille grace, the stylized modernity and luxury of the high-society baroque to the absolute mythological meanings deconstruction.
The lines refinement, the color coolish flashes, as a rule, of planar compositions express what is outside the plane of the images, that is, nothing. Neither material nor transcendental is found in the pseudo-reality which is surrounding us.
Ryabchenko portrays the phantoms of nothingness, but he does it beautifully. He represents «illusion,» «shadow theater,» in which there is no shadow-forming objectivity as an ideology. Thus, secondaryity acquires the properties and qualities of the original. Often, Ryabchenko’s painting is applicative, and the applications are picturesque. A plane break opens the plane. The place for the imposition of each fragment is selected by the author exceptionally accurately, with the taste and tact of an authentic professional depicting nothing. The artist can be called a «master quasi» and already from this position we can speak about his sensuality, irony and philosophy.
The formal beauty of Ryabchenko’s works is not valuable, for it reveals the ugliness of emptiness. But the reverse side of emptiness is the divine sensation of super freedom. Art of the artist slips on the edge, balancing between the absence despair and the carelessness frivolity.
Mikhail Rashkovetsky (1990)
Born as a Prince, should not be happy. Fate did not protect him, and so the consciousness painfully sought excuses for its existence, creating narcotic phantoms of imaginary meanings, deeds, events, images designed to drown out the debilitating pain of the «failed hero» / from the author’s text/.
The fate of every Prince is an endless path from the understanding that the only true paradise is the lost one, to the understanding that the only true paradise is the lost one. From Elisha to the Nutcracker, from Hamlet to Florizel, from the Duke of Anjou to the Prince of Wales, from the Happy Prince to the Prince-pop-star, who changed his name to «Mr. Nobody» — their stories are full of gravity that is a mixture of exaggerated, fantastic, passionate and naive /Susan Sontag/. Their views are torn from the earth — they are directed to the sky, the past and the dreams.
The nude flash-back of the dreams of some «failed hero» is broadcast through the Obscura camera of the mediator-artist and freezes in statuary somnambulism, without aspiring to become something more than a vague object of desire. The body is abolished and in this it is its temptation / Jean Baudrillard /. Depersonalized Galatea resists the transition to reality, clinging to the hallucinations of details, meaning love and mortal remains of her life-in-the-dream. Released from time, actions and spaces, dream creations drown out their ambient silence with silence around the «failed hero», hide with their illusory horrifying emptiness, over which the Prince’s mind balances.
Imitating the experience of the end of the century in anticipation of another, disturbing and tearing his affective body-in-the-art, the artist transmits the message: Nacked Dreams / naked dreams-daydreams-slumbers / are the gifts of the bulimia of glamor dissolved in a new decadence.
Elena Mikhailovskaya (1996)
Vasiliy Ryabchenko: «I am for the art which is appealing to the feelings».
You are one of the brightest representatives of the «new wave», which involves significant changes in Ukrainian art since the time of the restructuring. However, in fact, your creativity began earlier, at the end of 1970s. What influenced your becoming as an artist?
All my life I lived among artists. My father was a graphic. And when I was five years old, we settled in a house that belonged to the Artists Union. Our neighbors were well known Odessa artists at this period of time — very funny and interesting public. Since my childhood I’ve loved drawing, so my life was chosen at once: the art collage, and then the Grekov Odessa Art School. There was a wonderful library in it, where in reproductions it was possible to get acquainted not only with classical art, but also with early modernism. And while we were taught by socialist realist rules, the library expanded the horizons, gave an understanding of the fact that art is a large and diverse space. An important development for me was the comprehension of internal freedom, the confidence that, in my opinion, is present in any work … The main guiding points were the search for harmony: plastic, color, composition, semantic. In terms of issues — the theme of beauty, harmony of human relationships, family, good and evil. I like to find the sign of this in simple, everyday plots, which, when the internal context is changed, have a different meaning. As an example of the works of the second half of the 1980s — «Cats», a story about two cats-rivals. In the subsequent version, made during the period of the final aggravation of relations between the two superpowers that led to the collapse of the USSR, the plot changed its semantic context due to a change in the size, color, manner of writing and title — «Deterrence». After the art school, I began to participate in exhibitions, joined the Union …., there were official orders, but they left the time for creativity. There was a certain compromise, but I never wanted to be a «revolutionary». I had the opportunity to travel a lot around the country, visit museums and paint what I wanted…
What events in your life have become the most important?
I spent two years in Leningrad Mukhina School of Art, though as an auditor, these were wonderful times. Then I became acquainted with Valentin Khrushch and nonconformists in Odessa. It influenced my creativity, as my father used to say, I became «left». Of course, cooperation in the group was very important — S.Lykov, E.Nekrasova, A.Roitburd and our group exhibitions in the late 1980s «After Modernism-1» and «After Modernism-2». In our city, they marked a real breakthrough: we were young, did not have serious support, and held two large-scale exhibitions in the museum! The great formats of our paintings, their unusual, often absurd themes impressed everyone. We were scolded, praised, we had our own spectators … It became possible openly to exhibit the works that we wrote in our studios, not to adapt them to the union orders … A new life began.
Has your attitude to art been changed since then??
Rather, it’s not attitude, but an understanding and sense of me in art. I started to think not about what I want to say with my works and how to express it, but about, so to say, the possible «consequences» of my works and their influence on the audience. I am against radicalism, against raising the «degree of stress» in art, both in its language, in ways of expression, and in the themes. The constant tension, as for me, causes immediately, and then indifference, a kind of «fossilized selflessness»…
You work in different media — paintings, photographs, installations. What do they attract you?
Painting for me is an endless improvisation. Beginning with a picture, I constantly change my first plan, and mostly on a canvas there is an entirely different version. Almost all my paintings are layering, the result of repeated rewriting of what did not suit for some reason … It is logical that with such «practice» there are many unfinished works left at the studio … But painting, paint on canvas for me remains almost the most engaging employment. I love to work with paint and invent new turns of some kind of «fictitious story», which, as it happened in particular with the «Prince» cycle, unfolds in various formats, complemented by new motifs… The photo is a special way of seeing, instant fixation, readiness for perception. In photography, I am attracted by the opportunity to grab a moment as a fact of life. This may be a still life that has emerged unexpectedly from some things. .. In the staging photo, which I also did quite a lot, I was also attracted by the «spirit of improvisation» when an unexpected change in lighting or repositioning of any parts can change everything, it remains only to fix those changes in the photo … Installation — the ability to transfer own ideas, images into space, play with it, construct it in its own way …
And what about installation? There are not so many of them in your creativity, but they are quite diverse in terms of insults and materials used..
The appearance of the installation I usually preceded by some kind of exciting topic theme. It only happens to «transfer» it into space and «real» subjects. This was the case with my work, «Swing for stumps». The impetus for it was our young discussion about the true, and hence — non-commercial art. Sergey Anufriyev formulated it’s signs very clearly: this is art which nobody needs. I tried to create such an unnecessary thing for anyone: a huge object — a swing with stumps in front of the canvas, which depicted the same images. But as I did not try, the installation with the canvas turned out to be quite aesthetic, and one of the Odessa bankers wanted to buy it all! Fortunately, the purchase did not work out, and my installation went to Warsaw and participated in the «Europe Steppes» exhibition, which was organized by Yuriy Onukh.
You have collected a large photo archive about the Odessa artistic life in the 1970s-2000s. Tell us more about it.
For many years, I did not part with the camera, it was constantly with me. I took pictures for myself of everything that was interested for me: friends, shared meetings, exhibition openings … Unfortunately, my early pictures of the late 1960s, I did not keep … It was extremely interesting during the mid-1970s, when, on the advice of Valentin Khrushch, I began to shoot with old, pre-war German optics. It was «Carl Zeiss Ideal» 10 x 12, which I got from Arkadiy Lvov … I still own it. This optics gave almost filigree design of the smallest details and tone. My subjects then were still lifes from various objects, objects with figures …; in the compositions I used the void and spatial pauses, because I was fascinated by the oriental art … Then I began to shoot with «Leica», most of the photos from «artistic life» scenes — Odessa nonconformists were made with its help: Valentin Khrushch, Viktor Marinyuk, Eugen Rakhmaninov, Valeriy Basanets, Alexander Stovbur, Vladimir Naumets, they were added with photos of Alexander Roitburd, Alexander Gnilitsky, Arsen Savadov, Vasiliy Tsagolov, Illya Chichkan, Eugen Solonin, Alexander Solovyov, Sergey Bratkovа and others from our group. By the way, many of photos which I have made are often printed in various editions, though without the author’s indication … Separately there is our family photo archive, very dear to me. And yet — Valentin Khrushch photo archive was handed over to me, I have to introduce the viewers with it. This archive consists of two parts: so to say artistic (drawings, still lifes) and «documentary», where photos from the circle of Odessa nonconformists are collected. This archive is still waiting for its research; it provides a wealth of material for understanding the creativity of Khrushch, and for his whole era.
In the early 1990’s Odessa became one of the most interesting artistic centers of our country. Suffice it to recall the international festival «Free Zone» in 1994. How do you rate the current state of artistic life in the city?
True, in the early 1990’s in Odessa it was interesting, for example, that the «New Art» association was created, which worked perfectly, they organized the projects that attracted widespread attention in Odessa. At that, everything was done at a rather high organizational level: with various technical means, with proper financial support, with lively discussions and discussions that lit everyone. The then-city authorities also helped: two houses in the center of the city were allocated for the office and exhibitions of the association, there were money for projects … But with the change of «New Art» leadership everything came to naught: only their personal projects began to move forward, only that the leaders of the association considered as «correct» and «relevant». There is a long «calm» … Recently, life has intensified. Significant initiatives belong to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Odessa, which collects, promotes works of Odessa artists, and organizes exhibitions and more. Our Odessa biennale of contemporary art also appeared. But, in its scale, and in terms of its content, it is inferior to the projects of previous years; however, it may still «gain heights»…
And what is the most interesting thing in art today? In general, what do you think about Ukrainian contemporary art?
I cannot and do not want to give any estimation, because many pass by me, though, of course, I am interested in everything that is happening. Most of all, I am following the projects that my friends are involved in, my son, well known artist in Ukraine Stepan Ryabchenko, his young friends and colleagues. Most of these exhibitions are seriously prepared … I am not a supporter of globalization. Therefore, I am not close to the contemporary desire of Ukrainian artists to «fit into the world context» for anything. Mostly it only leads to dissolution in it. I am not a supporter of purely social-critical art, as for me, artistic relevance involves a wide range of perspectives. I was formed in an environment where the «artistic product», an art work which possessed artistic self-sufficiency, «spoke for itself», or invited viewers to a dialogue primarily because of the feeling. For me today, this vision of art remains close and understandable. I am for the art which is appealing to the feelings.
The conversation was led by Galina Sklyarenko (2016)
«…Vasiliy Ryabchenko, perhaps the most artistic artist of the group, steadily focuses on Russian modernity of the turn of the XIX – XX centuries. In the creativity of all group members, the game element is noticeable, but Ryabchenko “plays” more easily and gracefully than other do. At the same time, in his works the view of the world is certainly more realistic than of his comrades».
From the catalog text: Contemporary painting of Odessa (1990)
«My non-random journey to Odessa shrouded in a decadent atmosphere, bore fruit in the form of acquaintance with Vasiliy Ryabchenko. Vasiliy — «the salt of the earth», an artist who is sensitive to the radiant radiance of the southern shores of Ukraine. His special art archeology re-opens the old myths, although it retains the form of a Slavic «uncouthness» that is close to me».
From the text to the exhibition «Europe Steppes» (1993)
Swing for stumps
… All Soviet art is formalism. I grew up in this environment, from the childhood I hear … What did they talk about? Composition, color, smear … Only the form was there, and instead of the essence — a ritual. And also formal. Not your own, but from the outside. But the ritual is very elaborated and somehow branched out. Including, trips to Sednev. To the House of Creativity.
We received permits in the off-season. Cold and terrible slush. But you go, because it should be like this. And in advance it is known, what for: to be inspired by nature. In the open air. Shortly — Sednev. In the morning they put everyone in an osprey in a bus and take them out for creation. In some birch grove. At the edge of the field, then, disembarks, and everyone creeps, looking for a motive. And they begin to express it. Here there is texture, there is some kind of effect — a glaze, contrast … Here it is, the charm of nature!
And then an artist, one of our oldest… Without complexes. Quite simple. Without venturing, so to say, into the forest, he directly places the sketchbook by the bus, looks in the field and sees what he is displaying. The background is so gently gray painted, above the horizon — a strip of greens. And with a brush — three pokes. And at the exhibition — the signature: «Stumps.(Sednev)».
And he, as it were, opened the stumpness of this formalism very deeply. It is because of the strength of their abilities. That’s it, the socialist realists brought up this viewer by themselves and now they are complaining. Who needs not art, but a well-made thing to fit in the interior and was with a claim. And it’s all about this. Works, texts … People and … This is the only thing that art could be made of now…
Vasiliy Ryabchenko (1993)
The appearance of Big Bambi in this troubled time puzzled the Prince.
He remembers it small, spotty. Such a modified form teases him, obviously hiding the secret, having taken off the covers of which, he becomes the owner of a wonderful knowledge. Attempts to get it with the help of mind are defeated. Realizing this, the Prince suffers. Emptiness, anxiety fill all of his nature. Trying to dislodge them, and find peace, he reads: «In the first year of the impostor’s rule, under the motto «Establishment of a dynasty», an earthquake happened in the first moon. The Taoist monastery went underground, and at this place a pond with water, scarlet, like blood, was formed. Red evaporation reached the sky, and then from the pond a red dragon, resembling an eel, flew straight into the sky. Then the radiance lit up the earth, and from the Boötes constellation the flying star came off. The star fell to the ground. We went to that place, and it was not a star, but a piece of meat thirty paces long, and twenty seven width and it smelled of stanch. Not ceasing by day or night, in those places there was a weeping and moaning».
This lines are obviously hiding the secret, having taken off the covers of which, he becomes the owner of a wonderful knowledge. Attempts to get it with the help of mind are defeated. Realizing this, the Prince suffers. Emptiness, anxiety fill all of his nature. Trying to dislodge them, and find peace, he thinks about Big Bembi.
Vasiliy Ryabchenko (1994)
Prince or emptiness decoration
He was born as a Prince. The power of God lived in him. But fate did not protect him, and confidence in his own forces failed.
A muddy stream of routine carried him away, whirlwinds of changing situations were tossed from side to side. Sometimes the flow slowed down its run, in these rare intervals our hero made desperate, but unsuccessful attempts to free him.
The destructive power of the stream grew. The Prince’s body moved by the will of evil power. Only the prince’s consciousness painfully sought justification for his existence, creating narcotic phantoms of imaginary meanings, deeds, and events, aimed at drowning out the debilitating pain of the «failed hero.»
Ordinary pillows, on which Prince dreamed, became carriers of the coded information generated by his consciousness.
Further artfully decorated with the companion of our «hero», they came to the author of the project; the information was deciphered and reconstructed in the form of visible images and sounds.
Plots depicted in the «paintings» do not carry a deep generalizing meaning inherent in works of art; they do not raise questions and do not answer them.
Displayed by the project author are quite arbitrary, they are the product of the «intellectual climax of the hero» — a membrane — beautiful but illusory, hiding the horrible emptiness over which the Prince’s consciousness balances.
The number of paintings, objects, sounds and their combinations presented in the project, as well as the space of the exposition areas cannot, and should not be limited. On the contrary, their multiplication helps to identify the goal of the project — decorating the Emptiness.
Vasiliy Ryabchenko (1994)