Between two worlds

Dr. Barbara J. Scheuermann

Yury Kharchenko – Between two worlds

Visual worlds – this frequently used term seems to be particularly appropriate for describing Yury Kharchenko’s images. Once the viewer has adjusted him to the painting’s special lighting conditions, in the same way he might adjust his eyes to darkness for the first time – then he is given an insight into another world, full of puzzles and forms, which appear strangely familiar and yet foreign.
„To be Between Two Worlds“ is also the title of Yury Kharchenko’s series of small-format oil board paintings. In these works, he hints at the inbetween state of dreams and the sometimes frenzied state between consciousness and sleep.

The frequently muted and sometimes murky colours in these “Verlaufsbilder” („Sequential/Processual pictures“) are dabbed, dribbled, washed, and poured. The paintings are simple yet complex, and almost playful exercises. Yury Kharchenko would like the series to be understood like a chamber music concert. „Spirit“ is a central concept for Kharchenko, referring to another level of perception and the suggestion of its transcendence, which is evident in the images.

The artist does not want to divulge the exact way in which he works. Unlike some other painters, Kharchenko isn’t interested in revealing his techniques. His actual painting process thus remains a secret, and assumes an alchemistic character, which the artist is responsible for, as scientist and magician, as it were.
Every painterly gesture made by Kharchenko shows that the artist engages intensively with painting techniques, employing them precisely. It is not his aim, however, to push the actual process of painting into the foreground. It is rather about balancing the meaning of painting and painted, like the storyteller, for whom the story is as important as the way in which he tells it. In a good story, as in a good picture, these two levels blend together into one, so that one forgets to differentiate between them. In the same way that sometimes the best and most daring twists and turns first emerge when a story is told, Yury Kharchenko’s secretive figures and their stories often first appear during the process of applying the different layers of colour.

The palette is broad, but contains particularly muted and broken colours: vermillion, petrol, pale golden yellow, blue-black, rust red, watery blue, dark grey, and violet. The colours are linked to many coats. They are what creates the impression of spatial situations in the paintings. There is a hidden and exposed architecture between these colours, the precise purpose and function of which, remains unclear. It is these spaces which offer a place for a possible plot. Figures and ghostly beings emerge from them, some more prominent than others, often surrounded by window-and doorlike framing, which both structures the picture’s composition and organise the narrative context. Sometimes, within these sectors, there are openings in the middle or background of the image. In some images, the parts of the surface carrying the paint – the board or canvas – remain completely untreated, and thus function as a blank space.
In the canvas paintings, these marks appear pure white and seem surprising, when viewed amongst the otherwise subdued and undone colours. They attain an eminent presence, without however, fulfilling the promise of their transparence and luminousity. They are therefore an interruption within both the composition and the narrative context, and despite their openness, offer neither insight into what is taking place in the picture, nor an exit from it.
Visible in these nondescript spaces, between this „architecture“, there are forms, infront of, or behind doors, which rarely come into contact with one another, despite the fact that the compositions often suggest a narrative. They seem to remain framed within their own designated parts of the picture, protagonists in phantasmagorical dramas with unknown outcomes. Within the complex painted surfaces of the image, they appear closed in.
Alongside the narrative organisation and the painterly composition, the framing and different coloured overlays also serve to keep the viewer at a distance. Despite their suggestive colourfulness and transparency, the images appear hermetic, and as such, evoke an unquiet longing for this other ‚world’, which is locked within the picture space clearly representing the ‚Other.’

In many of the images, horizontal stripes appear in the lower quarter of the picture. The idea that these represent a stage within the space, seems to be particularly apt at a time when a strikingly large number of visual artists are engaging with the motifs and gestures of theatre. Kharchenko however, uses this stripe purely as a functional compositional means. The stripe represents the complexity – in every sense of the word – of his painting. It can be interpreted as a border, where painting and history meet, and abstraction and objectivity blend into one another, or perhaps also as a border, or rather: a barrier between the viewer and the picture narrative.

The figures in Kharchenko’s pictures sometimes appear fantastical to the point of grotesqueness. This grotesqueness is necessary to undermine the beauty of the painting, because „if something is too beautiful, then it becomes monotonous“ (Yury Kharchenko). Ghostly dramas appear to develop within them, with heroes at their centre, whose membership of the human race could sometimes regarded as questionable. The images are populated by darkly clad shapes, spectres and the undead, the charred and emaciated, the dislocated and overstretched, but also by strange anthropomorphic forms, as well other equally unidentifiable, animal-like creatures. Sometimes they are dissolved to the point of total abstraction. Pictured in-between these are often objects which appear to come from a classic still-life repertoire – fruit peel, oranges, and drinking vessels, which can be read as references to Cezanne. Some of the forms also appear equally familiar. One closely resembles a traditional representation of Christ, and another image seems to reference „The Scream“ by Edvard Munch, and there are also heads – or dabs –which evoke Alexej von Jawlensky’s portraits.

Meanwhile, it is safe to say that Yury Kharchenko completely respectfully, yet fearlessly engages with the tradition of painting, particularly from the 19th century onwards. He not only gives clear indications of the extent of his craft in his images, but also in conversation. He lists Picasso, Monet and the Surrealists as influences – the word ‚Example’ should be avoided here. Kharchenko also appears to be closely linked to recent art history, and regards some of his pictures as „transavantgarde,“ which can be easily understood as meaning that he and the Italian „Transavantguardia“ of the 1970s, are unified in their interest in symbolic coding, mythical figures and sages, as well as a deliberate poetic visual language.

More complicated however, is the frame of reference for the series of images „Hommage à Wrubel“, which is partly dedicated to the Russian Symbolist and acknowledged trailblazer of Russian Modernism, the painter Michail Alexandrovich Wrubel (1856 – 1910). The work also shares its title with one of Georg Baselitz’s early works, „Hommage à Wrubel – Michail Wrubel – 1911“ from 1963, a gloomy image of the exposed and vulnerable artist. For the reception and closer inspection of this series, it is important to know that Kharchenko did not paint it as a homage to Wrubel. It was actually some time after completing the first image „Tag,“ that Kharchenko became aware of its similarity to Wrubel’s work – „Flieder“ from 1840, and within it, an (unconscious) processing of the artistic influences from his homeland Russia, where he spent the first nine years of his life.

The images in the aforementioned series, which at the time of writing, remained unfinished, have significantly different themes, and incorporate painting techniques and formats to the (until now) much larger groups of “Verlaufsbilder”. This also applies to the large-format images of „Explosions,“ on which the artist has worked in a much more expressive way, using larger gestures, and a lighter palette, as well as experimenting with assemblage techniques.

Both groups of works represent a starting point on a path, which Yury Kharchenko must first test and explore. It is not yet clear what place they will take in his oeuvre. It is clear from these works, however, that Yury Kharchenko is determined, with deep conviction and concentrated perseverance, to find the synthesis from a kind of painting which has purposefully developed from a classical tradition, but which also arises in the consciousness of the contemporary context, with an eye on current and future developments.

About yurykharchenko

Kay Heymer, Director of Modern Art Department, Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf Yury Kharchenko’s Houses With his twelve wall-sized paintings in the cycle "The 12 tribes of Israel" the artist Yury Kharchenko opens up unchartered terrain to the art of painting and at the same time consciously refers to an heroic tradition of non-representational painting, which originated in the U.S.A. in the 1940s. The painters of that tradition - in particular Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb - wanted to find their specific identity in a sharp separation from European painting, especially Surrealism, as well as in the invention of a visual language which aimed not to portray, but rather to set free form and colour in order to charge their works with spiritual power. They did so with huge aspirations and equally huge formats. This tradition was heroic because it did not allow itself to be discouraged by the disillusionment caused by the social and historical experiences of the 20th Century with its disasters was not discouraged and believed unswervingly in the integrity of a transcendental form of painting which stood for mental and social freedom. Yury Kharchenko’s works can make one forget that such a thing as pop art and post modernism ever existed. His pictures are completely free of cynicism, and there is nothing second-hand about them. His painting is not that of an epigone. They focus on the formal and emotional possibilities of painting. They are both non-representational - pure visual phenomena like sounds – and representational - simple shapes such as the houses, which form the backbone of the cycle, or as the silhouettes of figures hidden in the thickets and scrub of the dark lattice structure of these pictorial spaces. Yury Kharchenko’s paintings are delightful in their texture and their sense of color, stimulating the senses and arousing strong feelings in the viewer. Kharchenko refers to his Jewish roots - particularly the tension between religion and philosophy- in order to give structure to his paintings. His ambivalent attitude towards the subject-matter might explain this, however that is not the key to the success of these works. They already have enough depth and power of conviction as pure forms in their own right. His paintings hold their own even without the viewer having knowledge of the branched and fascinating details of Jewish spiritual history. A decisive quality of these paintings is their individuality, which makes it seem logical that Kharchenko has given them the names of brothers. Their archaic quality shows itself in the reliance on the energy personified in each painting. Kharchenko’s painting relies on a general human spiritual force that has
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