The uncertainty of the invisible

Bettina Haiss

The uncertainty of the invisible

Yury Kharchenko’s paintings are like fairytale forests, whose changeable moods are seductive and unsettling at the same time. They lure with enigmatic flickers of light to then once again solidify in leaden darkness. A dazzling beam of colour flashes momentarily, like sheet lightning – real event or imagination? A variety of painted apparitions create atmospheric effects: the colours, reserved and overcast, disappear, as if behind an impenetrable wall of rain.  Kharchenko creates this “downpour of rain on canvas” by trickling diluted paint over the already-painted canvas, creating rills, whose streams lend structure to the surface. They act as sedimentary trails and give the paintings, in places, the earthy quality of natural rock formations. The painting process seems to present itself in time and space as an eternal process of sedimentation and erosion. The composition is  made up of layers which are applied and removed and are complexly connected by Kharchenko with particular regard to their physical property. Thus, his use of different techniques creates a dynamic interplay between the pastose and the translucent, the dense and the diffuse, the solid and the fluid.

In earlier, small-format works Kharchenko explored the interactions between figuration and abstraction and it was not uncommon for figures and objects to make ghostlike appearances, occupying a fluid state of transition between the physical and the abstract. In the most recent, purely abstract works, he avoids all references to reality outside of the painting as well as to the illusion of space; there is no coherent perspective. Kharchenko instead opens the painted space into all directions and  explores totally and without boundaries the contrasts between the painted material states, beyond formal and motivic restrictions. The painter’s movements, free from  representational objects, act independently and fashion the pictorial space with a wealth of details that seem sometimes ornamental, sometimes symbolic, but always remain uninterpretable.Thus, any bright light appearing in the nebulous darkness of Kharchenko’s pictorial world, can not be traced back to a window motif. A coincidental effect of paint and its application, the light source is unrevealed in the image. Everything in the painting is veiled and shrouded, remaining only cryptically hinted at, open and without meaningful resolution. In this diffuse and mysterious collection of elements filling the image there are therefore no motives beyond painting, no clearly identifiable symbols. All impressions arise from the free interplay of pulsating, vibrant colour compositions on the surface, which render the strict framework of classic spatial coordinates ineffectual. Even the huge canvases, which exceed human scale, are bottomless, allowing the artist drift without anything to hold on to. Without localisation and carried only by the process of painting, he loses himself repeatedly in the trajectories and transformations of the lively brushwork. Kharchenko searches for the potentiality of the unplanned and unpredictable in the movement in the pictoral space.

According to Mark Rothko the viewer must be gripped by this movement within the painting. In painting “plasticity is achieved by a sensation of movement both into the canvas and out from the space anterior to the surface of the canvas. Actually the artist invites the spectator to take a journey within the realm of the canvas. The spectator must move with the artist’s shapes in and out, under and above, diagonally and horizontally; he must curve around spheres, pass through tunnels, glide down inclines, at times perform an aerial feat of flying from point to point, attracted by some irresistible magnet across space, entering into mysterious recesses – and, if the painting is felicitous, do so at varying and related intervals.

This journey is the skeleton, the frame work of the idea.”[1]

In order to endure the turbulence on this journey within the picture and to domesticate the overwhelming flood of free forms and fleeing forces, Kharchenko has provided his recent works with a frame. For this purpose he selects the archetype of a house in order to, as he says, “hold the painting together” with this shape. As Kharchenko says, “paintings must also take on shape.” Thus, this superordinate structure is like a metaphorical roof which delimits and holds together the representation of painting and is not a painted representation of a house! This taming of an undirected drive by way of an organizing form reflects the duality of human nature, which Friedrich Nietzsche described with the principles of the Apollonian and Dionysian. Accordingly the Apollonian strives for form and shape, while the Dionysian follows the intoxication and the creative drive that breaks all form.  By using the house, although a symbol of protection and security, Kharchenko does not attempt to abolish this conflict, which is inherent in any creative work, but rather, to endure it and, above all, to visualize it through painting.

In the impenetrable thicket of Kharchenkos artistic expressions the boundaries between materialization and liquidation, between compression and destruction are blurred.Captured by the diffuse atmosphere, which is exuded by the paintings, the eye tries to focus and find clarity and accuracy and yet is clouded over and over again.Yury Kharchenko says that every picture is like a window, providing views inwards and outwards. But if his paintings are like windows, they are pervaded by a veil of watery tracks which hinder vision (or visibility). The liquified, diluted paint is like rain, streaming down the window pane and making everything seem unclear. Their downward movement leaves behind bright trails of extinction, whose fine web, like scars, reveals the vulnerability of the naked surface. By washing away the material, and by dissolving the colour mass, the painting also washes itself clean of the visible.At the threshold of immateriality and invisibility, it destroys in this fluid movement, that which it first created. In the encounter with the “nothingness” the seeking gaze is freed from the desire to see and recognize something, leaving the sense of vision made deeply insecure. Without focus or foothold the viewer is blind and thrown back upon himself.

It is as if Kharchenko wants to redefine the existence of the painting, detached from access through the sense of vision and stimulate a “different” seeing beyond the visible. In this artistic self-liberation the invisible reveals the spiritual quality of the painting. The external sense of vision gives way to introspection, inner insight and enlightenment. Yury Kharchenko’s paintings are therefore symbols of artistic self-reflection,which also the viewer, carried by the uncertainty of the unseen, must accept as an unsettling movement in the painting.


[1]              Mark Rothko,  “The Artist’s Reality”: Philosophies of Art, published by Christopher Rothko,  Yale University Press, 2006

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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