Oleksiy Koval, Klitschko vs Chisora, 2012
80 x 70 cm, adhesive foil, marker on FPY
Private collection, Starnberg
Photo © Klaus Mauz
Any surface, any material can become a challenge for Oleksiy Koval. Armed with his favorite tools, paint and creativity, Oleksiy Koval struggles with surfaces that attract his attention because of their form, texture, structure, or color. His battle, painting, develops in a series of deliberate instinctive movements, drawing rhythmic forms, almost musical brush-strokes, on his adversary, the canvas.
Laura Sánchez Serrano: Do you remember when you started painting?
Oleksiy Koval: I was about three years old. My father is a designer of children’s books; he worked at home so he always had material and paint I could use.
LSS: That means you grew up in a family of artists?
OK: Not exactly. My father is a graphic designer and my mother an architect. I also have an uncle who sings at the opera, but no family members involved in visual arts.
LSS: You had your first art education in Kyiv. However, you came to Munich when you were only 19 and have been living here since then. Why did you come to Munich in the first place?
OK: I was curious about how art is taught in Germany. Art education in Kyiv was pretty conservative and I wanted to learn more about contemporary art. At that point in time, teachers in Munich were quite famous in the contemporary art scene. That’s why I decided to come here. Additionally, the Academy of Arts in Munich was the only one renowned in Kyiv.
LSS: And then you stayed?
OK: First I thought I would only stay a couple of years and then return to Kyiv. But when I went back to Kyiv I realized that it wasn’t anymore the place I had left; It was better to stay in Munich to continue my artistic career. Munich is a city with a lot of opportunities; and is well connected. From Munich it is easy to travel anywhere. Besides, I already had friends, connections, and my family here; so I had no reason to go back to Ukraine.
LSS: Which artists influenced your work?
OK: Garry Kasparov, Valeriy Lobanovskiy, Segiy Paradzhanov, Andrey Tarkovskiy, Blinky Palermo, Robert Ryman, Steve Coleman, Medardo Rosso, Paul Cezanne, Piet Mondrian, Tizian…
LSS: An odd group of people. Interestingly, the first two aren’t artists, but a chess player and a football trainer. How did they influence your work?
OK: I think there are a lot of similarities between chess, football and painting. All of them need a surface (a chessboard, a football field, a canvas), elements moving in a rhythmical way (chess pieces, football players and brush-strokes), and a strategy. All of them have the same goal: winning. Whether this means winning against a chess player, a team, or, in the case of painting, winning against the surface.
LSS: Is painting a game for you?
OK: Mostly, painting is my biggest passion. But yes, it’s like a game: The surface is my adversary and my aim is to defeat it and win the battle.
LSS: Are there rules in this battle? What is your painting process?
OK: I first choose a surface that attracts my attention. The process starts with the act of observing. I carefully observe the colors and the surface for hours. First I decide on a strategy based on color, material, rhythm, movement, or structure. Then I attack. The goal is to find the balance between control and improvisation, freedom and knowledge, understanding and intuition. The final result depends on all these factors. If I win, there will be a part of myself on the beaten surface.
LSS: Most of your works are created following a premeditated schema. Actually, you have developed a sort of visual score dividing the surface in areas, determining rhythm and tempo of your brush-strokes. Isn’t it too restrictive as a method?
OK: My method is not static. I combine structure with improvisation. The structure allows me to have more freedom. It is an equation that contains variables. Painting, just like living, needs structure. We have agendas, watches; we arrange meetings like the one today. But what we do during those meetings can be spontaneous and creative. The same is true for my method. I have a framework that allows me to freely react while painting. In the end it is the spontaneous reactions that will determine if I win or lose against the surface.
LSS: Why is rhythm so important in your work?
OK: Rhythm allows me to control space and time. Sometimes you start painting and after some hours you find that you have lost yourself in the painting. I realized I needed some structure to prevent this from happening. The rhythmic framework that I set up before painting allows me to paint the surface without losing myself in the process. Rhythm gives structure to my painting. It helps me out not to get lost in the surface.
LSS: You work with a lot of different materials. How do you choose them? What are your criteria?
OK: I use the materials that I find attractive. Those who look interesting and nice. The way to find them is fairly random. It can be the carton of a package I receive, the wood I find in the shop of a carpenter… I have worked a lot with classic materials; but I really like to work and experiment with new ones. For example, lately I have worked with polyester fabric I found at the atelier of a fashion designer. I love trying new materials. It’s fun and I think fun should be an essential part of painting.
LSS: What role has color in your work?
OK: It’s one of the basic elements in my work; together with material and rhythm. Color is the essence of painting. Painting means to apply colors on a surface. And that’s what I find fascinating about painting: to apply colors, to combine them, mix them and see how they react; the effect they have on the surface. But also how we perceive them. When I paint, I consciously apply the fundamental three parameters, material, color, and rhythm, to the surface.
LSS: In 2010 you founded the group Rhythm Section together with Stefan Schessl and Kuros Nekouian. What is the idea behind that project?
OK: In 2005 I met Stefan Schessl in China at an exhibition we both participated in. We became friends and regularly discuss about rhythm in our works. Kuros Nekouian joined our discussions a bit later on. We decided to research the concept of rhythm in contemporary art. We created a group which supports artists in exploring the subject. Artists in the group exchange ideas with each other, learn from each other’s experiences, and organize exhibitions together.
LSS: How many artists are members of the group?
OK: By now the group consists of more than 25 artists. Not only painters, but all kind of artists. We constantly receive requests from artists to join the group. In almost every exhibition we invite new artists. We choose the artists based on the project, the country the exhibition will take place, etc. All artists interested in working with rhythm are welcome to join us, as long as their work fits in the concept of Rhythm Section.
LSS: In 2011 you created another group The Beautiful Formula Collective. What is the nature of this group?
OK: The Beautiful Formula Collective is an open group that collaborates on single paintings following an initial formula: a rhythmical structure that gives form to the application of colors on surfaces. In contrast with Rhythm Section, The Beautiful Formula Collective is about only painting, and about creating collective works. We use an initial pattern or structure, where areas of action, rhythm, and tempo are determined. Each of us paints following the rules; but at the same time also reacts to what the others do. The final result is as interesting as the process. That is why we often do it in front of a public, as a performance; or together with other artists or students, as a workshop.
LSS: In a sense it is a group version of the rules you set up for your personal work. Thanks to The Beautiful Formula Collective you are no longer alone in your battle against the surface?
OK: Sure, it is teamwork. The most interesting part is to see how artists from different countries and backgrounds (e.g., traditional painting, street art, graphic design) paint together following deliberate rules to achieve amazing results. Painting together with other artists is really interesting and fun. We learn a lot from each other.
LSS: Since you created these two groups, you have showed your works in many group exhibitions all over the world (Zurich, Singapore, Kyiv, etc). Where will the next project take place?
OK: We have many projects this year. On the 9th and 10th of February I will be in Kiev organizing a workshop at the School of Visual Communication. In April we have three exhibitions: one in China, one in Greece, and one in The Netherlands. It will be a year full of nice projects.
LSS: It sounds exciting. Good luck with all your projects and thank you very much for sharing with us some thoughts about your work. I hope you keep on defeating the surface!
For the catalogue Beating The Surface. Munich, January 2013