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. 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. Zhyvotkov masterfully combines powerful ancient history with the fleeting events of today. His artwork goes back to the Neolithic pottery of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture, Scythian and Cuman stone idols, dark images of saints on folk Ukrainian icons and glittering fragments of Byzantian mosaics. Zhyvotkov uses the modernist approach to interpret the ancient artworks. At the sametime his art tells a story of spiritual revival and return of sacral meanings in art, which was lost at the age of postmodernism and its uncertainty.
“For answers to questions about the future, look to the past”
Alexander Zhyvotkov was born in Kyiv on March 31, 1964. Zhyvotkov’s aesthetic training began within his close circle of family and friends long before he commenced his formal education at the Shevchenko Republican Art School. The artist’s father is a prominent Kyiv based artist Oleg Zhyvotkov. Also, Alexander Zhyvotkov has often referred to his uncle, the artist Michail Rudakov, as his mentor and a creative influence. The young Zhyvotkov could also freely access his father’s vast library, which contained an array of artistic albums, including books on artistic research and a collection of reproductions by some of the most influential European artists of the 20th century. The Zhyvotkovs’ social circle mainly included artists who publicly or privately voiced opposition to the official Soviet art.
Zhyvotkov, who at the time was fascinated by modernist art of the 20th century, joined the Picturesque Sanctuary art group which mainly focused on exploring the limits of artistic expression. Meanwhile a close-knit band of artists practicing plein air painting is formed in a small Ukrainian town of Sedniv. This non-formal association of artists has brought forth the New Ukrainian Wave, the term used by some art critics to describe the emerging postmodernist art in Ukraine.
Zhyvotkov has come into his own in terms of developing his distinct signature style after Ukraine has proclaimed its independence. Now, he stands firm on the path to contemporary art which has led him to large scale projects executed in the 2000s. At the same time Zhyvotkov delves deep into the past in search of artistic images which reflect on his understanding of the world, his practical approach, and artistic interpretation.
The seeds of Zhyvotkov’s unique style can be traced back to his student sketchbooks (1986–1988). The young artist painstakingly explores compositional solutions, and transformations of form. His sketchbooks from various years include patterns of recurring subjects – a female silhouette, a male portrait, portals of doors and windows, a bouquet, a cat, a dove. Some of these symbols would later become pivotal in Zhyvotkov’s body of work. The colours in the drawings are monochrome and restrained. The drawings are made in pencil, charcoal, sanguine, black and ocher paints. The text is illustrated with pictures. And this is exactly when artistic calligraphy becomes an integral part of the artist’s textual and visual narrative.
Zhyvotkov’s easel paintings created in the 1980s and 1990s build on the discoveries of his student years. They also reflect the monochrome and minimalist style of the Zhyvotkov family school and ideas developed by the Picturesque Sanctuary art group. With his early landscapes and still lives Zhyvotkov confidently moves on toward suggestive artforms and non-figurative compositions.
By the end of the 1990s, Zhyvotkov had acquired enough confidence and creative freedom to forego oil and canvas – the mundane standard mediums of expression, which are as reliable as they are limiting and debilitating to the artist in his expression and to the spectator in his perception. He began to work with such marginal materials as cardboard, textiles, chipboard, and tarpaulin. He used them as the basis of the work, adding a layer of various pigments on top and carving with a blade for the final touch.
The figure of Alexander’s brother Sergei, as well as his tragic death in 2000, prompted Alexander Zhyvotkov to create suggestive non-figurative painting series. The compositions, based on conditional landscapes, expressed a sharp line of the horizon and secant lines of the “earth and sky” planes. According to the Doctor of Arts Olga Petrova: “During this period, Alexander spontaneously began to dismantle his own pictorial system.”
After experiencing personal trauma, Zhyvotkov turns to art as a way out of darkness into light. It will become the fundamental principle of his artistic practice in the coming years, overshadowed by dramatic events in the history of Ukraine.
“I believe that the art medium is both insignificant and magnificent. You can draw on the sand, on the floor or inside your head… The medium is everywhere: it’s under your feet, it’s on the street. It’s here now, gone later. The oil paints, chainsaw, wood, metal, and paper – all of it serves one single purpose…”
The new artistic system exists outside the canvas. Since 2014 Zhyvotkov’s body of work includes reliefs on cardboard, wood and stone and quite simply monumental installations. The artist’s deep interest in ancient cultures and history commences to manifest in the artworks. A symbol system based on ancient signs and the artist’s philosophy passes from work to work, like a kind of dictionary.
Uncompromising in the subject matter he tackles, Zhyvotkov’s work powerfully captures the human experience and draws on history, mythology, philosophy and faith. Zhyvotkov’s art tells a story of revived spirituality and the sacred meaning in art which was lost in the age of uncertainty. Zhyvotkov stands apart from the rest of critically oriented artists who discuss jokingly the most pressing current issues by engaging in figure pointing, instead he deals in eternal truths and symbols.
- Скрижали. Александр Животков. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2018 / Tabulae. Alexander Zhyvotkov. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2018.
- Alexander Zhyvotkov. Cardboard. Wood. Stone. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2017.
- Motherboard. Александр Животков. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2016 / Motherboard. Alexander Zhyvotkov. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2016.
- Символи і Знаки. Олександр Животков, Наталія Лісова. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2016 / Symbols and Signs. Alexander Zhyvotkov, Natalia Lisova. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2016.
- Дороги 2014-2015. Zhyvotkov Live. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2015 / Roads 2014-2015. Zhyvotkov Live. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2015.
- Київ 2014. Олександр Животков. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2015 / Київ. 2014. Alexander Zhyvotkov. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2015.
- Александр Животков. Холст, дерево, картон. Работа с материалами 1984 – 2014. Stedley Art Foundation. Киев: 2014 / Alexander Zhyvotkov. Canvas, wood, cardboard. Work with materials 1984 – 2014. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2014.
- После слов. Александр Животков. Stedley Art Foundation. Київ: 2012 / Afterwords. Alexander Zhyvotkov. Stedley Art Foundation. Kyiv: 2012.
- Живопис. Олег Животков. Сергій Животков. Олександр Животков. Київ: 1997 / Painting. Oleh Zhyvotkov. Sergiy Zhyvotkov. Alexander Zhyvotkov. Kyiv: 1997.
- Олександр Животков. Каталог творів. Галерея Bottega. Київ: 2008 / Alexander Zyvotkov. Catalog of works. Bottega Gallery, Kyiv: 2008.