MICHAEL MURPHENKO

He who lives Art

Kostyantyn Doroshenko [curator's text]

Art as life.  Life in the Art.  In the past two centuries plenty of truisms were produced based on the relationship of these concepts, having as an axiom their natural opposite.  At times artists themselves contributed to the social stereotype of perceiving the union of life and art as something out of the ordinary, a miracle - with "ivory tower" theories, demonstrations of bohemian asocialism, haughtiness or grotesque tricks in the style of Salvador Dali.  The readiness of critics and artists to play up to the rules of dialectic contrasts, would seem to have finally destroyed the possibility of Art as “an expression which strengthens the feeling of harmonious relationship with the life-process, with the sources of fecundity” - which Jack Lindsay, the British historian of culture, saw in archaic cultures.

It would seem that postmodernism, full of its social reflection, pretentions of the multilayeredness of information and the senses as well as the legalization of the personal hysteria of the artist, has only permanently asserted the global victory of Baudrillard’s simulacrum, leaving sincerity to marginal folk-masters-primitives only.  The 49th Venice Biennale, which in accord with its concept, was aiming to demonstrate world and historical diversity of the perception of Art, has instead merely exemplified this tendency: the universal art-dialogue conceived by Harald Szeeman, bore a closer resemblance to an ethnographical bazaar with its entourage of chatterbox video documentaries.  The outcome of the 50th Venice Biennale, for which its curators chose the motto of returning to beauty, can be summed up in the conclusion reached by Lindsay in regard to the revolution of consciousness, which already occurred in human civilization during Sumerian times: "They intensify all that side of humane thinking which tends to abstract, to make rigid and dead, to turn processes into things."

Against this background, the phenomenon of the Ukrainian artist of Australian origin, Michael Murphenko, is an unexpected exception.  An exception which proves: personal experience and following your own path, backed by art school and art tradition, can take you in-between the Scylla and Charybis of the contemporary art - the choices of practicing either conjunctural sophistry or naivety and even tomfoolery.

“Art is a freedom and everyone who participates in art enjoys that freedom.  Art is the material form of Grace", - thus in one of his own projects, Michael Murphenko formulated his credo.  And as his works testify - obtaining Grace cannot be easy and carefree.  Grace is given to those who have loyalty and courage.  In the case of Art – the courage is to be your own self, without flaunting or boasting as if in front of the mirror or video cameras.  Instead this is opening yourself - to yourself, and your soul - to life.

The originality of Michael’s art style is precisely the consequence of his openness.  Murphenko acquired his art education in Europe, with its powerful intellectual and formalistic emphasis on art.  And he found his love in the Ukrainian girl Oksana, in this way discovering for himself a unique country that for millennia was at the cross-roads of cultures and energies between the Great Steppes and the Catholic World, on the way "from Varangian to the Greeks".  Having fallen in love with the girl - he fell in love with Ukraine, which became the motherland of the artist’s creative maturity.  What better atmosphere can there be for openness than love?  It is symptomatic that one of the first projects, which drew the attention of the Ukrainian art world to the figure of young artist Murphenko, was titled "Do you remember love?".  In the explication of that exhibition, Michael and Oksana wrote: "Children are able to feel love in its pure state, primarily because they do not erect any defenses against it.  They want to eat it so much that they don’t want anything in the way."

Love and openness form the unique, creative intonation of Murphenko as an artist.  In him interlaced the intellectuality of the European school, its contemporary code - from Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Munch to Josef Beuys, with the vitality, emotionalism, freedom of the brushwork and boldness of color of the Ukrainian artistic thought.  This combination has fortunately made it possible to avoid the extremes of both approaches: the antiseptic, sterile spirit of Old World contemporary conceptualism as well as the minutiae that weakens the overall impression and often makes content primitive in the Art of today’s Ukraine.

Having observed Michael’s work in the course of the last five years, I can state: for him, Life and Art truly is a unified process.  He lives art, not as life, but simultaneously together with life.  His canvases, graphic works, installations are each time a separate event or state that afterwards open and occur before the eyes, in the consciousness and subconsciousness of the spectator.  Life flows in his pictures, transforming the object into the process.  Certainly, this effect cannot be proved scientifically.  Yet inevitably some of the diverse human reactions to the art of Murphenko - from confusion and irrational fury to peacefulness, joy, the happy sensation of confidence in the fact that everything is beautiful and wise in the world - will be felt by you, when you encounter the work of this artist by yourself.

Nature was never vulgarly frank.  So is the sincerity in the paintings of Michael Murphenko, though at times childishly defenseless, sometimes - to the point of heartache - is never blunt in its directness.  It speaks and is felt without external manifestos.  And the simplest of images – a woman with a child, lovers, flowers, – is always directed towards the internal experience of the event or the moment, rather than towards the symbol of visualization.  Everything is clear in the pictures of Murphenko, but in a way that it is impossible to immediately put it into words.  Rather, akin to life, even behind the most instantly understandable information, there is still something that at a later time needs to be further contemplated.

 The best explanation to this riddle of the human perception is given in Gilbert K. Chesterton’s essay on Francis of Assisi, where he reveals the one, who preached to birds and flowers, understood that all in this world, each minute, each event, each impression is a continuous miracle of God.  For each is woven from the myriads of the interlacements of fate, nature, time and space.  This magic sensation of the advance of life - life as a miracle - is the very process of Michael Murphenko’s art.

Kostyantyn Doroshenko, Kiev - Mirgorod, April 2007