Daniel Geiger, Oleksiy Koval, Veronika Wenger / Art Talk / University of Hertfordshire

B E A U T I F U L . F O R M U L A
Oleksiy Koval

Valeriy Lobanovskiy (1939 – 2002)
Picture: Imago

In January of 1997 coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy returned from Kuwait to Dynamo Kyiv. At that time the club was in a deep crisis. However, the Ukrainian soccer coach succeeded to bring Kyiv back to the top of European soccer that very same year.

On October 22, 1997 at a UEFA Champions League game in Kyiv, the Barcelona soccer team played against Dynamo Kyiv. Barcelona lost 3-0. Bad luck was how Louis van Gaal, manager of Spanish champions at the time, described the loss of his team at the press conference. One week later in Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv won the return match 0-4. And within a month, Kyiv was the winner in the C Group, which in addition to Barcelona included Eindhoven and Newcastle.

The reason for this success was the special way they played, which Lovanovskiy described as universal soccer. In contrast to European soccer philosophies, where a list of quite complex strategies and tactics are crucial, Lobanovskiy’s organization is really a philosophy. It is derived from a kind of Eastern European tranquility.

For Valeriy Lovanovskiy, soccer is a physical process, where two critical masses participate. The task of these masses is to seize and control the space. Control means not only occupying space, but imposing the rhythm of the game on the opponent.

442 v 351.  Soccer formation tactics on a blackboard.
442 v 351
Soccer formation tactics on a blackboard.

imposing the rhythm of the game on the opponent. What does that mean exactly?
To answer this question, rhythm must first be defined.

Biological rhythm is caused by periodic states and changes of organisms. In poetry, rhythm is considered as sequences of different accent patterns within the constancy of the verse metre. In language, rhythm is defined as the temporal division of speech. And rhythm in music is the accent patterns designated through the sequence of different note values that overlay the basic pulse.

Søren Kierkegaard’s book Works of Love, describes the way rhythm can manipulate the meaning of the same sentence. Kierkegaard, philosopher and poet, finds a way to attach different meanings to the same sentence – just by altering the rhythm. For example, in the second paragraph:

(Thou Shalt Love Thy N e i g h b o r)
(T h o u Shalt Love Thy Neighbor)

In this case, the rhythm is an accentuation within a regular, recurring constant.

Defense and attack are Lobanovkiy’s accent patterns during the game. The implementation of such accents means forcing or imposing the rhythm of the game on the opponent.

I consider painting a game. I am interested in soccer strategies, because painting and soccer have common aspects and share similar processes. As in all other games, in painting the successful result is crucial. My goal is to triumph in the battle against the surface, however I am satisfied, not just by achieving any successful result, but only if I have realized my concept. Such an accomplishment can not be planned beforehand, but one can try to find procedures to make it possible. Just as in soccer, I am looking for the rhythm in painting.

So what is the rhythm in painting?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the essence of painting. Painting is applying color to a surface by hand or by using other tools. This applying of color to a surface is a movement in space and time. And the accentuation of this movement is the rhythm in painting.

Picture: Jim Pickerell

To illustrate rhythm in painting, let us imagine a bus. The bus has a specific number of seating and standing capacity allocated by the designers. The accentuation or the rhythm, happens within a basic pattern – within a set number of places to be used. This creates passengers, whether large or small, heavy or slim, alone or in groups, with prams or in wheelchairs. The units which a painter applies to the surface, are the size and character of the passengers of a bus.

Life is a permanent movement in cycles and rhythms. Such rhythms shape my physical and psychological state and have a direct influence on my painting. The more secure and the more conscious my use of them are, the higher my chances for a victory over the surface.

The pleasure of painting quickly vanishes if the concept cannot be realized. The impossibility of realizing it, often does not depend on varied techniques of painting, but rather, on how one is able to implement the different techniques. Working with different techniques allows one to change the terrain and raises the chances for beating the surface. Such shifting movements form a technical rhythm which gives me the possibility to use my physical rhythm efficiently.

Garry Kasparov
Picture: Copyright 2007, S.M.S.I., Inc. – Owen Williams, The Kasparov Agency

In painting, I learned from Garry Kasparov. The game of chess was just as reputable as soccer or ice hockey during my childhood in Kyiv in the 1980s. Especially, the rivalry between Anatoliy Karpov and Garry Kasparov provided for this popularity. While Karpov was regarded as a favorite in the capitol of the Soviet Ukraine and as a representative of the Moscow Government, Kasparov won the sympathy of Kyiv. Kasparov’s art of play enabled the Grand Master to win the world title in 1985, which he successfully defended for the following 15 years.

The Grand Master makes moves, not only because he responds spontaneously to events, but because he wants to checkmate his opponent in 10-15 moves. I am applying the colors on the surface not in direct response to an event, but because I want to conquer the painting as a whole.

The goal of chess is to checkmate your opponent’s king. The goal of painting is to dominate (to beat) the surface.

Achieving the goal requires strategy and tactics. Each touch of the surface of the painting with color is either consistent with my strategy or contradicts it. The continuous reflection on the procedure of painting helps me to get over the obstacles of indecision and mere self- confidence. I decide at the start of the game, whether I go slowly on the surface, step by step or fast, dynamic, attacking. There is however, no universal strategy that guarantees success. I love to paint in a fast, dynamic and aggressive manner, but many times I have lost using this procedure! The situation changes often on the surface while I juggle with the colors and I have to decide during the process whether to retain my original strategy or pick up a new one.

In chess and in painting, there are moves that contradict absolutely the strategy of action, but save the game. If the strategy is a gameplan, then tactic is a conscious reaction to the game. Often when I paint, I get to a balanced position – I have achieved a draw (peaceful solution). But I want to go further and if I do, I lose this attained position. So I must hold out. A state like this in chess is called mindful idleness.

The balance between me and the painting does not last and it is then clear for me when I should attack. If I cannot get myself under control, there will be no draw anymore and I will lose.

This strategic goal must be converted into organic tactical thinking.

Often however, breaks in intuition mandates a new step in the course of the rules. Every successful painting of mine has points that are beyond interpretation. Such points on the surface are contrary to my intentions and nevertheless they play an essential role. But when I entrust too much to intuition, I make mistakes, and the painted surface crumbles.

The calculus must not degenerate to the scheme.

Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

What is The Beautiful Formula?

In his book Conversations with Cézanne, Joachim Gasquet quotes the french painter:

… It is necessary to be a good worker. Nothing but a painter. To have a formula and to realize it.
He looks at me, sad and sublime.
The ideal of heaven on earth… is to have a beautiful formula.

During my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, I was looking for a polarity in painting: I wanted to avoid spacial representations and instead produce a difference in which the color remains on the surface and yet wins visual vastness.

In order to not lose control in my experiments with the properties of color, I was looking for a way of organizing the surface that could provide me with an obvious entry and a clear conclusion in painting. Thus, I have developed a basic model, which divides the surface into equal intervals of numerical impulses such as 1/4, 1/9, 1/16, 1/25 or 1/36.


Such meter encourages not only the concentration of spontaneous choices between events, but also causes a conscious attitude towards the pace, in which colors can be attached on surfaces.

Oleksiy Koval, 'Lamed', 2002, acrylic on MDF, 132 x 132 cm. Private collection Munich
Oleksiy Koval, Lamed, 2002, acrylic on MDF, 132 x 132 cm
Private collection Munich
Photo © Bernard Larsson

According to the division of the surface I focused my thoughts on the procedure of the movement in painting. An outstanding element of the process of painting is the rhythm in which the fabrication of an art work is accomplished. Rhythmical structures generate the process of painting as a more or less determinated movement in space and time. It gives form to the application of colors on surfaces.

Oleksiy Koval, RM10, monochrome lithography
Oleksiy Koval, RM10
monochrome lithography

The rules of such a shaping, its sequence and number can be set and handled as rhythmical motives, such as 2,2,3,1 or 1,1,2. Here the 1 is to be conceived as a basal unity of movement that can be freely chosen.

As an example for one rhythmical motive I take a fig leaf. If you compare the proportion of a single part of the leaf, the following rhythm appears: 1,1,3,3,5


This basic pattern during the splitting, or dividing of the surface and the procedure of the movement during painting are represented with the help of certain signs and symbols. And so THE BEAUTIFUL FORMULA LANGUAGE was created. This language allows us to understand the procedure of the compositions, to realize the compositions and to create new ones.

Oleksiy Koval, Schar, 2012
55 x 50 cm, marker, tape on FPY
Private collection Starnberg
Oleksiy Koval, Schar, 2012
55 x 50 cm, marker, tape on FPY
Private collection Starnberg
Photo © Klaus Mauz

As an example of the use of and creation by The Beautiful Formula Language, is the composition Schar 2012 or the composition Stalker 2016.

Oleksiy Koval, Stalker, 2016
135 x 140 cm, marker on foil
Oleksiy Koval, Stalker, 2016
135 x 140 cm, marker on foil
Private collection Starnberg
Photo © Klaus Mauz

The idea, to apply The Beautiful Formula Concept in to a group work, was successfully realized in the winter 2012. Together with artists from various sectors of the visual arts (painting, drawing, graffiti), I founded THE BEAUTIFUL FORMULA COLLECTIVE.

Since 2012, The Beautiful Formula Collective has realized live-painting-performances, workshops and seminars at art colleges, galleries and museums in Munich, Leipzig, Zurich, Singapore, Kyiv, Wuhan, Tbilisi, Tehran, London to name a few. The spontaneous and reflexive reaction to visual conditions of a composition on the surface is the essential structure of the The Beautiful Formula Collective.

The Beautiful Formula Collective, 2012
Stefan Schessl, Oleksiy Koval,Veronika Wenger, Pascal Worsch, Daniel Geiger, Kuros Nekouian
Picture: LW44
The Beautiful Formula Collective, 2012
Stefan Schessl, Oleksiy Koval,Veronika Wenger, Pascal Worsch, Daniel Geiger, Kuros Nekouian
Picture: LW44

The Beautiful Formula concept allows not only realizing of artworks in different areas of the visual art, but is also cross-disciplinary.

Since 2000 I deal with the works of the American musician, alto saxophonist, bandleader and composer Steve Coleman. I am fascinated in Colman’s music especially his rhythmic forms and the way how he varies these. How Lobanovskiy’s Dynamo from defense to attack or Cezanne’s painting skip from white to black, so do Steve Coleman’s bands rhythmicaly from silence to sound. In an interview, Steve Coleman said, he wanted to express the recognition of the natural rhythms of the universe.

In the summer of 2008, I heard Steve Coleman live in Munich with two bands. The alto saxophonist and his Five Elements from New York met the rapper from the hip-hop collective Opus Akoben from Washington. Steve Coleman has succeeded via complex rhythm to make one band out of two. The musicians were playing their own rhythms in different cycles. The cycles overlapped and parted again. These fluctuations were supported by very intense groove. That changed in spectacular speed from soft and slow to loud and fast. The musicians responded reflexively to the changing musical conditions without losing the balance of the band.

Steve Coleman
Photo © Anna Drabinski
Steve Coleman
Photo © Anna Drabinski

I contacted Steve Coleman in order to undertake a performance with common rhythmical motives in which painters and musicians participate together. The performance was successfully realized at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in July 2013.

Last year, I was asked by Steidle Architects to try to implement The Beautiful Formula Ideas on the design of a storefront. Here is an example with the rhythmical motive 1,2,1,3,1,5.

Photo © steidle architekten

Just love the games and the dancing.
Look only for the rhythm in everything.


Oleksiy Koval
Munich, January 2016

Thanks for help realizing this text to Prof. Bernhard Lypp, Audrey Shimomura, Claus Stirzenbecher and Veronika Wenger


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