Max Vityk

Max Vityk at his studio in Cairo with Flower Man painting from the Warriors of Light series. Image courtesy of the artist

You said that your paintings were creating themselves and you were just an observer. Does that mean your works were more improvised than composed? What’s your working process like?

I usually don’t plan my work.   If I try to plan a painting, it fails. I am working based on immediate impressions and associations. The painting is finished when there are no longer any associations to make.

Sometimes I feel like a vehicle – the work rapidly goes through me and out of me. That is why it is difficult to plan. Instead, I am waiting for the “flash”. That is the moment of raw, unfettered dialogue between me and canvas.

Probably an exception is my most recent series The Outcrops, which is based on reconstruction of the earth history from it’s creation and until the present time. The earth history is based on geological studies – the science of paleontology. The re-creation of this history on canvas required careful planning – pre-selecting colors, textures, intensity of tectonic deformation, etc. Each color is assigned with a meaning – red reflects magmatic and volcanic activity, blue – ancient oceans, yellow and gray – sediments, white – ice periods, green – creation of life and growth. In this series, each geological time is represented with a series of color coded abstract paintings – reflecting events that were specific for this particular time – volcanic explosions, continental collisions, life creations and extinctions, ice ages and so on. The final painting execution is rapid and spontaneous – I spread my canvas on the floor and pour paint in colored stripes – to re-create a color code of specific time period. Next step is to build a texture by mixing paint with foam material. When the painting dries it is resembling ancient rock surface. The entire process is simultaneously – scientific (planned) and intuitive. And, often this combination presents a challenge as the subconscious struggles with the scientist.

Vityk’s painting Warrior of Light has been selected to be placed in a public space at CONTEXT New York, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist

Have you always been working in large scale? What do you expect the viewers to feel as they stand in front of those larger-than-life sized figures and landscapes?

A large scale painting surrounds you with color and energy. Pollock’s technique of repeated layering of line appealed to me as a geologist and artist, but I am particularly struck by the energy and size of his paintings. Many years ago, I went to NYC with the key objective to see his [Pollock’s] work—his large format was charged with energy and was mind-blowing! It was also after seeing Pollock’s paintings I began to work with large formats and enamels.

For your earlier works you referred to the “emotions” of American abstract expressionism. That was a particular post-war period in history. Do you think the emergence of your early non-representational style was relevant to your personal experience or any social-political context?

My earlier works have a strong Ukrainian folk influence – probably with overprint of American abstract expressionism. This is especially pronounced in The Houston series painted in 2001-2003 in the USA. During this time I was under strong influence of early Pollock. The works combine decorative folk pattern and the bright color of Ukrainian indigenous craft. Strong folk influence can be also seen in my small series entitled Hutsul, which was painted in 2003 in Ukraine. This series was inspired by Hutsul decorative patterns from the Carpathian Mountains which are traditionally geometric and brightly colored. In my later series Sin City, Transformers, Hallucination and Duindigt, painted over several years from 2007 to 2014 in my Ukrainian and Dutch studios, I return again to the archaic symbols. In the way, these series explore the clash of the modern world and that of Eastern and Western folklore legends handed down from generation to generation.

Then how did the transition from abstract expressionism to figurative heroic portraits occur?

I assume that under the “figurative heroic portraits” you are referring to the paintings from the Warriors of Light series. I am relatively smoothly alternating between figurative and abstract work.

The Warriors of Light series was created under impression of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. Similarly to my previous series, I have used symbolism and folklore to try and make sense of the harsh realities of war. While working on the series I was thinking about people I saw in Kyiv during the revolution: open, friendly, recklessly brave, naive and pure, almost like children. Of the twelve Warriors paintings, the first six canvases were painted in my studio in the Netherlands, and the last six were painted in Cairo under the influence of the echo of the Arab Spring.

Max Vityk’s solo exhibition at Tauvers Gallery International. Image courtesy of Tauvers Gallery and the artist.

The Outcrops Series is very unique in a way that it used the form of total abstraction to depict the Earth’s geological formations that it almost suggested a certain degree of honest realism. In a way nature itself is mysterious and abstract enough. Please talk about how those geologic landscapes came to be. It’s interesting to see the same brushstrokes that illustrate mysticism also embodying science.

I was trained as a geologist and have worked as a geologist all over the world. During my expeditions I have seen a fascinating beauty of geology. As an artist, I was always looking for the ways to reflect my observations on canvas, to transforms my “field’s science into an aesthetic experience”. My art is an exploration between figurative and abstract art, where my background in geology has greatly influenced my painting style. My canvases resemble multi-layered ancient rock surfaces.

In 2003 I painted my first geology-inspired abstract work “Grotto”, using enamel on canvas in a large format. In this work I used gravity forced the free-flowing enamel on the canvas. Ten years later in Holland I returned to this technique in the abstract Lava Series. This series was the start of the Outcrops abstract series. The Outcrops depicts the rise of the earth’s surface to form mountain ranges, subsequent erosion, movements of sediment by water, the rise and fall of seas—all these recurring events “of which the rocks themselves are records, comprise units of geologic time…” The idea for a geological series had been percolating for many years, as early as my first paintings in early nineties. To best express my idea for Outcrops series I would like to quote David Leveson from his book, A Sense of the Earth: “It is rock from which the seas were squeezed, the atmosphere expelled, the accident of whose mass keeps our molecules close rather than flying, wasted, into space.”

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