REVELATION. Alexander Zhyvotkov

Alexander Zhyvotkov is a prominent Ukrainian artist who burst onto the art scene as part of the Ukrainian New Wave movement in the early- to mid-1990’s.

The New Wave is a turbulent and exciting part of the national history of art. Zhyvotkov’s unique style and deliberately minimalist technique together with his exceptional monochrome and melancholy poetic style make him stand out from the crowd.  Zhyvotkov’s work is immediately recognised by art lovers who specially value authentic work; the artist is famous for his dark backgrounds, expressive lines and shapes. The viewer is under the impression that Zhyvotkov’s hand is guided by time, as if time itself is painting a canvas, or carving on wood and in stone. 

The Revelation exhibition project follows Zhyvotkov’s artistic journey. The project began with his artwork created in 2013-2014 to commemorate the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, through work from 2015-2019 where Zhyvotkov reflects on the fickle nature of history and, finally, to large-scale works in the present day. 

His artwork is a testament. It testifies to the fact that genuine art exists outside of time, it is born in the here and now but always faces both the past and the future. Zhyvotkov’s motto in art is similar to what the philosopher and art historian Richard Tarnas once wrote – ‘the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its own being.’ 

In the past decades Ukrainians together with the rest of the world have been unwittingly thrown into the process of creating new history. At a time of trouble people naturally ponder over the eternal questions which have bothered mankind for generations, how to protect lives, defend our home, and preserve our culture.

Zhyvotkov’s art is always relevant as it uncovers the deepest spiritual links within history. The artist stays true to his chosen medium which includes emotionally-charged carvings on wood, stone, and multi-layered cardboard. He masterfully combines powerful ancient history with the fleeting events of today. His art reveals a plethora of allusions and hidden meanings, without damaging the artwork’s holistic unity. His artwork goes back to the Neolithic pottery of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture, Scythian and Cuman stone idols, dark images of saints on folk icons and glittering fragments of Byzantian mosaics. He revives once lost sacred meanings and brings them back into the process of creation. We, together with the artist, find strength and inspiration in the land’s tumultuous past, in the cathedrals once raised to the ground and then rebuilt, in the rolling hills over the Borisphenus-Dnipro, in the ballads sung by chumaks, the travelling merchants, and images of saints carved by Pinsel. Ukrainian heritage and Ukrainian art have a long continuous history. Such history helped Ukrainian culture emerge stronger and more powerful after The Ruin, a period in Ukrainian history characterised by continuous strife and civil war, as well as survive periods of persecution in the Russian and Soviet eras, and the devastation of WW2. The Ukrainian immigrant community of artists continued to create by finding strength and support in abundant Ukrainian heritage. They found inspiration in the eternal and wonderful ethos which helps Ukrainian history endure and revive itself in new contexts. The Revelation project prompts the viewer to look back to the 1990s and see the whole of Ukraine’s history since the proclamation of independence till the dramatic events of today.

The End of History? – this question was posed by Francis Fukuyama, a prominent political scientist and philosopher. Ukrainian artists have also joined the discussion by debating the end to ideological strife, end to global conflict and revolution, as well as end to art. Ukrainian artists of the New Wave also caught this new bug, as they introduced into the artistic process irony, critically revised artwork by the preceding generations of artists, and deconstructed traditional artistic categories in world art.

For almost thirty years Zhyvotkov has been wandering to and fro like a spirit over the abyss of space without touching on some of the most pressing questions. Instead, he delves deep into the cultural heritage and revives hidden eternal meanings. These ideas have reflected in his most recent works which deal with the birth of new and unique mythology. Zhyvotkov testifies to the end of secondary postmodernism in Ukraine, by affirming that “history continues and it will continue; it has more ahead than behind”. (Ivan Dzuba)

After decades of heated discussions about Fukuyama’s prediction about the end of history, his ideas were shot down in flames by the Ukrainian air defence system together with Russian cruise missiles launched on 24th February, 2022. Ukrainian history has stalled for a moment; frozen in fear but will continue regardless.

The Revelation project makes us hope so.

View pictures from event