Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
Today we’re in discussion with Inna Didenko, a photographer, artist, and curator based out of Basel, Switzerland, and San Francisco. She’s chosen to talk about Yuriy Zakordonets, a Ukrainian painter widely recognized in his homeland’s art scene, but underrepresented outside of the country. How did you first come into contact with Yuriy’s art?
My first encounter with Yuriy’s art was actually an online experience. Although I visit Ukraine and the Ukrainian art scene quite often, I heard about Yuriy through friends who admired his art and talent. Then I wanted to explore his work right away, online, without waiting for a next opportunity to go there in person.
Yuriy Zakordonets has a very rounded experience in art. He has been a painter for over 30 years now. In the 80s and 90s, he also curated art exhibitions (in Ukraine and abroad) and was a director of (at that time) a Soviet-British art association called “Artbridge Gallery”.
What about Yuriy’s art do you find especially strikingly or uniquely moving? How would you describe Yuriy’s art to the uninitiated?
Yuriy Zakordonets has a very peculiar style. He has worked with different materials: wood, metal, and canvas—but also leather, which almost became his signature, like a “proof or origin” of his art. Ukraine is a country where farming is very well integrated into its economy. Many people have (or used to have) connections to rural life. And leather is somewhat a symbol of stability, original crafts, local business, hard work. When I look at Yuriy’s leather art I find myself sheltered, I feel rooted. His works include elements of cave paintings; lines are soft, human bodies are rather symbolic and tattooed and images are graphic. They remind us of ancient alphabets.
Additionally, the city of Odessa (where Yuriy lives and works) was a Greek land in the past. I’m saying that because often times Yuriy uses black color on dark red background and that combination has something in common with Greek antique ceramic traditions. Its lines create a labyrinth, a maze where you can easily get lost…I believe his work amazes us by its aesthetics as well as its power of traditional art. It is authentic. It has a decorative magic.
Why do you think it hasn’t translated (for lack of a term) into the greater art world? Is it a matter of aesthetics, politics, or something else?
When speaking about access to the international art market, I believe every artist has a story, and his or her own ‘why’s. However, there are several common (and very objective) barriers on the way i.e. political (restrictions to travel abroad or even getting a visa) or financial (lack of funding turns many opportunities to exhibit abroad into a massive project or sometimes into a dream). We shouldn’t exclude linguistic obstacles too. Although, younger generations are more comfortable with English, there’s still a huge population of very talented artists who remain somewhat disconnected from other countries. Having said that, I don’t want to diminish the role of the local art market as well. At the end, talent can’t be measured by geographical representation. The value each individual creates goes beyond borders, politics and social issues. Art is a universal language and I personally see Yuriy Zakordonets as an artist who reaches people’s hearts and makes a change in their lives.
In general, do you feel as though Ukrainian artists have a harder time breaking into other markets? Do you think the globalization of art is, in general, skewed in favor of certain nationalities?
Well, here is an interesting fact you touched upon. On one side, a wider audience or an international community will probably never see most of Ukrainian artists. That is a loss. And when I travel and enjoy art from Namibia or Columbia the same thought crosses my mind: how sad that many others will not experience these pieces of art. It is a problem of globalization. Organizing a solo-show abroad still remains a huge challenge for many locally recognized artists.
At the same time, on another side, there are collectors, who are very smart people. They are very clear about their taste, about work they look for and they do a lot of research and they do find those unique pieces. Especially when it comes to a very particular kind of art, they will visit the place, attend the events and try to explore as much as possible about artists creating in that genre or dedicating their work to a very specific topic. Collectors will bring those works to their cities and potentially display in their studios and that, on my opinion, is more likely to bring exposure to local artists abroad.