Елена Окунева
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VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Alexander Zhivotkov – between God and the Earth

VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Alexander Zhivotkov - between God and the Earth
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Alexander Zhivotkov is an artist with a rather special role: his non-publicity has become almost cult, while it has nothing to do with insecurity or shyness, as well as with the purposeful tactics of artificially heating up interest in his own person. Alexander Zhivotkov just really works a lot, devoting every day to his favorite business, including weekends and holidays.

Nevertheless, when Zhivotkov does give an interview or is published, his imposing figure itself creates an additional layer of gravity, becoming a point of balance and tranquility, which is supported by the author’s statements, both verbal and artistic. Both in his speech and in art, weight, strength and some kind of stability are felt, approaching eternity.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Alexander Zhivotkov - between God and the Earth
January 22. 2014. Author’s technique. Part 1, part 2, front and back sides


This impression can hardly be considered accidental: Alexander Zhivotkov deliberately works with ancient symbols, trying to get away from momentary topics. Zhivotkov prefers the more “classical” image of the artist, in which the artist himself is not the author of the idea, being a kind of repeater, a conductor between the Creator and the viewer, to the fashionable and in-demand role of the conceptual author of social-critical art today.

The analogy with the work of a translator, where the artist “translates” into the language of art non-verbal messages: feelings, emotions, meanings, would be appropriate here. Of course, it looks like a religious experience, and Alexander Zhivotkov does not deny it. On the contrary, his work is saturated with sacredness, both in terms of feelings and formally.

The artist often relies on traditional icon painting, choosing the appropriate materials and subjects. By the way, the large-scale wooden crucifix created by Zhivotkov and impressed Pope Francis has been “living” in the Vatican since 2019.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Alexander Zhivotkov - between God and the Earth
Anno Domini (detail), 2016. The work was donated to the Vatican in 2019. Photo: Evgeny Nikiforov


Another source of inspiration, rather even the subject of interest of Alexander Zhivotkov, are symbols that appeared in the pre-Christian era. No wonder art critic Galina Sklyarenko calls the artist an archaeologist of culture [1].

For example, a fish became a frequent guest on Zhivotkov’s canvases, which, by the way, “settled” on the artist himself in the form of a tattoo on his shoulder. The author says that the fish can be not only a Christian symbol, but, thanks to its shape, and a spear, and a cypress, and a penis – a sign of procreation.

Often in the works of Zhivotkov, one can see the symbol of Oranta, or the Mother of God – also one of the most common subjects and figures in the history of fine arts, found in cultures around the world.

The artist exploits the universality of the symbols included in the space of his art: a tree, a cross, a road, the sun, a woman – a set of keys to decipher the meaning, understandable for any person, a language accessible to everyone.

But, in addition to the symbolic code, other components, such as color, texture, material, “talk” with the viewer in Zhivotkov’s art. The artist claims that this type of decision is secondary for him, that it is not so important for him what to work with, but nevertheless the very choice he makes works best with the atmosphere and content of his art.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Alexander Zhivotkov - between God and the Earth
Kyiv hills, 2012. Author’s technique


For a long time Alexander Zhivotkov was faithful to canvas and oil, even a member of the Picturesque Reserve association together with A. Krivolap, T. Silvashi, N. Krivenko and M. Geiko. However, since about 2012, the artist felt cramped in the two-dimensional space of the painting and he first began to add volumes to the canvas, and then completely began to work with cardboard, wood and stone with a chainsaw and a grinder, creating his works at the junction of painting and sculpture.

It is curious that even with such instruments the author manages to convey expression without succumbing to chaos and laxity. Sometimes his works even resemble the works of Munch – in their mood, piercing, almost physical sensation of emotion.

Together with Zhivotkov’s proprietary, rather limited color palette, consisting mainly of deep earthy tones, the naturalness of the materials used by the artist and the sacredness of meanings create an integral system that expresses the author’s picture of the world with a special, unique spirit.

In this regard, the comparison of the works of Alexander Zhivotkov with wooden religious sculptures by the Baroque master Johann Georg Pinzel and his student Francis Olendzsky [2], which took place in August at an exhibition in St. Sophia of Kyiv, seems especially successful.

In such a delicate combination of religion and secularism, spirituality and down-to-earthness, materialism and idealism – the duality that the artist likes to talk about, and the whole depth of Alexander Zhivotkov’s art is manifested. The project was called Catharsis and, probably, it is what the artist strives for, creating his strong, thoughtful, soulful art.




[1] Art critic Galina Sklyarenko about the artist Alexander Zhivotkov – publishing house ArtHuss

[2] From an interview with Tatyana Voloshina, curator of the Catharsis project, art director of the Stedley Art Foundation MariIa Semenchenko

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