Odessa artist: Alexander Shevchuk
The name of Alexander Shevchuk was widly known in the 90s. An Odessan who, without vulgarity, could express any thought with the help of nudity.
Alexander Shevchuk is one of the brightest, but little-known Ukrainian artists of the 1990s, working with photography. Shevchuk was born in 1960 in Odessa. He graduated from Odessa Engineering Constructing Institute in 1982.
He began to take an interest in photography as a child: his mother was an amateur photographer. But he learned to shoot and work with technology on his own. Graduated from the Odessa Civil Engineering Institute; his plot and thematic searches were influenced by the artists of Kyiv and Odessa – Alexander Roytburd, Anatoly Gankevich, Valeria Trubina.
Alexander Shevchuk himself, before getting into the authors of modern art of Ukraine, began as a rock photographer who captured the rock life of Odessa and the touring megastars of Russian Rock, who in those distant times were not yet rock stars. Many iconic photographs of Boris Grebenshchikov (“Aquarium”), Igor Gankevich, Sergei Chigrakov (“Chizh”), Max Lande (“Koshkin Dom”), Evgeny Lapeyko (“Bastion”) belong to the authorship of Alexander Shevchuk.
Shevchuk is often remembered as a documentary photographer who created a massive photo archive of the bohemian life of artists. However, his photographs are not so much a document of a rave or everyday life as a reflection on the artistic reality of that time. His works is an integral part of the history of contemporary art in Odessa. In the 90s, it was created by a small circle of people who regularly took part in exhibitions and promotions.
For the first time, the public was able to see Shevchuk’s photographs at the exhibitions of Alexander Solovyov “Calm” and “Summer” in Kyiv in 1992. Then his photos were shown along with the works of the AES group, Alexander Gnilitsky, Oleg Golosiy, Arsen Savadov and Georgy Senchenko.
In most of his episodes, Shevchuk refers to female and male nudity. In his early photographs, the body is usually androgynous, “sculpted”; the artist often makes references to mythology and the ancient world.
For example, in the series “The Tomb of the Artist” the author flirts with the artistic environment, presenting in the form of the pharaohs and gods of Odessa authors – Anatoly Gankevich, Alexander Roytburd, Leonid Voitsekhov, Oleg Migas, Dmitry Ligerois, Dmitry Dulfan. Each of the heroes of his photographic series is depicted surrounded by naked guys. Such an emphasis on artists, a certain queerness and carnivalism convey the irony characteristic of the Ukrainian art of Odessa at the turn of the decade.
Another example of flirting with the history of art is the untitled series (sometimes it is signed as “Homo – Games of Asteria”), in which human naked bodies are presented as if they were antique sculptures. Scarlet-coloured photographs create a surreal perception and convey a kind of mysticism. The author has embodied a similar plot and idea in another series – “Garden and park sculpture”. Nudity in Shevchuk’s “nudes” is deceptive, it is masterfully covered with an invisible drapery of sculpturality or irony. In the photo, the bodies are placed in classical compositions on pedestals. Such sculptural groups were widely replicated in sanatoriums and rest homes of the Stalinist Empire period.
The series of works “Garden and Park Sculpture” amazes not only with its exquisite aesthetics, but also with ingenious brevity and multi-layered associations …Tatiana-Margarita Xu, curator of the exhibition “Garden and park sculpture 18+”
In the early episodes of Shevchuk, the naked body is shown rather as asexual, although sometimes there are elements of eroticism and even queer eroticism. The artist was more interested in texture, composition, geometry, experiment. For example, his series “Heat-2” with nude models on the Odessa coast may seem sultry, but the attitude to the body in these pictures, despite the sometimes too frank poses, is not vulgarized. In some photographs, the body completely fuses with the hot sea shore, mimicking a sandy relief.
The search for composition led the author to the creation of the Tic-Tac-Toe series, where the artist literally recreates a board game using human naked bodies.
However, since the mid-1990s, his “bodies” have acquired features of sexuality, and often even hypersexuality. The author increasingly turns to political and social topics, which he also reveals through exposure, but in a different, more radical way. His approach to photography is also changing: Shevchuk is working more and more with digital photography and less with analog printing methods; more and more color “seeps” into his photograph.
In the 2000s, the works of Alexander Shevchuk often appeared in the cult magazine “NASH” along with photographs of the artists of the Kharkov School of Photography and Nikolai Trokh. Curatorial practice was also important for Shevchuk. He was one of the authors of the exhibition “OURS”, dedicated to the artists of the “Paris Commune”, and a number of other projects.
With his photographic heritage Shevchuk slips out of the conceptual textual and pictorial Odessa context and, despite close ties with the tusovka, is an autonomous author.