Andrej Dubravsky’s (b. 1987) painting themes vary unlimitedly using techniques conveyed through gestural and figurative iconography. His paintings contain a plethora of contradictory imagery; from impressive roosters to young male figures depicted in an unconventional setting, whether rural or industrial. The young artist, whose creative output mainly involves dynamic images of roosters and insects, has become widely well known for his contemporary cockerel portraiture. He demonstrates familiarity with these birds and their habits, and his evocative works reveal captures of roosters’ feathered bodies depicted in grace and beauty. Even though cockerel species are considered only as common domestic birds in the countryside, the painter mainly portrays them as distinctive personal emblems. Evincing them with well built bodies and vivid colours in large scale paintings, the roosters manage to become symbol of strength, competition and aggressiveness highlighting the power of the animal instincts.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Nevertheless in his most recent painting series, Dubravsky’s artistic language concentrates on the exploration of boyhood and young male portraiture, whereas insects, particularly caterpillars and bees, come also to the fore. The artist’s recent artworks put a great emphasis on a bees or caterpillar’s anatomy; no matter the canvas size, these insects significantly consist the main and only protagonists. Paintings such as Caterpillar named Katarina, 2020, or Blue caterpillar with red dots and orange leaf, 2020, depict the small creatures in truly vivid arrangements. Although their minuscule silhouettes showcase guiltless movements on canvas, their visual appeal seems vulnerable as well as repulsive at the same time. Thus, besides their beautifully dainty body colorations, their nanostructure can be frightening or even harmful like the bee’s sting.
Through the artist’s creative microscope, these small arthropod creatures turn up gigantic in front of the viewers’ eyes. His depictions on canvas are not an entomological photo calendar but rather well-rendered abstract insect representations. In this regard, the artist does not just vaguely play with geometric shapes or lines copying the insect’s structure; he also simulates his favourite insects’ kinetic energy on the surface of canvas. By painterly magnifying these characteristics, the protagonists’ vulnerability and revolting appearance transforms their existence in our eyes, whereas Dubravsky simultaneously captivates their multicolour as well as creepy features. On one hand, the artist is inspired by their rich colorations transferred through attractive hints on canvas, and on the other hand he emphasizes on their scary side depicted in segmented wormlike bodies with tiny hairy tentacles, miniature legs or small dots,like spiracles.
Furthermore, in his new painting series, Dubravsky continues his motifs around male representations. Whether he visualises homoerotic encounters, or celebrates the young boyhood and male friendship, the painter dives into the world of man. His creative exploration, though, takes place through an iconographic dipole: industrial landscapes are directly contrasted with rural scenes in most of his paintings. This narrative becomes more evident in paintings such as Bather (after Henry Scott Turke), 2020, or Three friends at the best outdoor party ever, 2020. Men, mostly naked, dominate his compositions in which smoke emissions from chimneys are dramatically highlighted in the background of his visual compositions. Smoke looks like a lurking threat. In such moody and highly-coloured paintings, the human protagonists are located in enigmatic landscapes where they casually pose naked or simply enjoy their friend’s companionship. These works painterly convey an oxymoron scheme for the viewer. Dystopic references amplify the contradiction in these works where the natural world seems affected by the side effects of industrialization. The artist’s environmental concerns could be an additional interpretation while observing the impact of big factories activity against nature.
Dubravsky builds up coherence between his themes throughout his paintings: visual characteristics from cockerel species or insects are imported into his young boys’ bodies. The artist creates feet or arms reminiscent of a rooster’s long, pointed, and sharp legs, softly covers parts of the human body with a feathered pelt or even adds a caterpillar’s tiny spiracles on the boys’ skin. Itchy inflamed blisters optically enhance an insect-like visualization and bring in mind the unbearable symptoms of chicken pox. His protagonists are not presented in an unwell or exhausted condition; on the contrary his compositions showcase young men who enjoy their time in an uncommon way. Dubravsky’s colour palette remains articulate and consistent in most of his work embracing and highlighting his visually distinctive identity.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
I must have a nice dinner and coffee, before I start to work in the evening, but I am trying to avoid painting in the late night. One of the reasons for this is because I paint outside in the summer. I don’ sketch on paper. I usually limit myself and pick one subject or one composition and I paint it 2-3 times, sometimes even more during the same session. Sometimes I paint the same subject for more days. I also pick a smaller selection of colors and I premix them in glass jars. I am trying to avoid too much thinking and too many decision making while I am in the studio. The more limitations I give myself the better the work is. I love to feel like there’s some autonomous “printer” deep in my reptile/painter brain and just need to let him do his thing. The next morning I usually decide which version is the best and will be stretched and framed, and which version(s) will be disposed. I often paint on both sides of the canvas. If the canvas sucks from both sides I sometimes donate it to my younger painter friends so they can apply gesso and paint something over it. I only paint on raw canvas. I threw some canvases on my compost before, it actually decomposed in less than 12 months.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
In the proses, organic, evolving…
You recently collaborated with LAUNCH F18 presenting your first solo exhibition in New York City. How do you feel about this opportunity as a young artist?
I think it is a very interesting opportunity for both sides, for me and for the gallery as well. I only hope the show brought something positive to people in New York in this dark moment. That was my biggest motivation for making the show even in this strange moment, and not postpone it.
Aggressive Slav is your show’s title at LAUNCH F18. How did you decide to give this name?
One angry American (former) Instagram follower tried to insult me after not being able to buy my painting, and texted me that I was a rural, aggressive Slav and much more. I kind of loved it. I’ve started to think about it… I am in the process of discovering the aggressive Slav identitty inside of me. I don’t want to be an eastern euro good boy anymore, I’d rather be an aggressive Slav.
Could you share with us some insights on your new painting ‘Bathers (Atfer Henry ScottTuke)’? Is there any particular story behind this painting?
I discovered Henry ScottTuke some years ago when I was writing my master thesis which was called “barely legal,” and it was a thesis about painters which were depicting adolescent men or boys. But when I started this series the age of boys was not important for me in this moment. I liked the idyllic outdoor scenes. In the early 20th century Tuke was painting some kind of (beach) boy queer utopia, so I wanted to take these compositions and turn them into dystopic, kind of post apocalyptic scenes and give them extreme contrast colors such as blue and red. I’ve painted this kind of childish factory in the back to make these paintings disturbing in some way. Gay man (and not only gay man but people in general) are trying to live in this kind of utopic scenes, trying to not to see what’s coming on the horizon.. but what else we can do except having some dance party on the beach…
Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?
There are themes and thoughts in my head which I’m thinking and reading about and there are subjects which represents those themes in very reduced or essential ways… such as caterpillars, or those childish like factories, or bees and wasps I have been painting recently. Since I bought the house on countryside, I keep spending every summer here and I can’t help but think about the environmental changes which are happening in my garden, my village and on the global scale which are affecting this region…
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
I love to create an entire environment. I don’t mind placing the unstretched canvases on the floor, or right on the wall and use it as a wallpaper, layering them and hanging paintings right on the top of it. The paintings have the biggest value for me when it’s in the studio, and I can learn something from it. Once it’s finished, I am not too sentimental about them. When I am working on the painting, I must be sure everything works perfectly in a formal way. I would sometimes deal with some compositional issues for hours, but once its finished I don’t mind just placing it on the floor or in the dark corner. In the end, the viewer can’t see how amazing the painting is (haha). But it’s all right if it’s right for the whole environment. On the other hand, I love when people live with my works and send me photos of my painting surrounded by their children and sofas.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
There are so many artists I appreciate, but maybe I should narrow it down to painters… Sometimes I think am not as free and expressive and radical as I could be, when I am painting and when am thinking as well. That’s why maybe I like artists like Jonathan Meese, Bjarne Melgaard, Keith Boadwee, Daniel Richter, Baselitz or Markus Lupertz and so on… I think I kind of like the strong expressive daddy painter figure. Maybe it’s something from my childhood (haha),but I like Marlene Dumas as well for example- I feel the similar energy…
Do you wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?
No, I don’t wonder…
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
When am in my house I paint outside. drying the canvases on wires just like a laundry or drying them on the ground, and I let my chickens and cat walk over them. In the winter when am in New York I just rent a studio place. This year I am spending my first winter ever in my house and its very interesting because I don’t even have a proper studio here now. I sort of refused to build one before because I never planned to stay here for the winter, and I thought it’s not very good for my mental health due to solitude and lack of social and cultural contacts to stay here for more than 6months. I know it could be a bit tempting… but now I am here because of the pandemic and it’s quite cool.
What does your mum think about your art?
She thinks I should paint winter landscapes to become very rich and famous… hahah I used to paint those kind of works in 2014 and she loved them the most.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
I’ve started to collect art… mostly art of my artist friends, and I bought some pieces from the galleries as well not that long ago and love to re-hang the paintings around my house every two weeks. It’s the best thing ever -to have the exhibition at home. Especially in this moment when we have the lockdown. I was last in New York because I was showing in the Armory Show in March of 2020 and I am happy I saw as much art as possible back then, I didn’t expect to have such a long break from seeing exhibitions…
Which are your plans for the near future?
I’ve been publishing monthly zine called “ANDREJ” since February 2020, it feels like it was the most important and most exhausting project I ever made in my life. Every issue had about 130 pages. I am currently working on the twelfth and last issue, and once it’s finished and distributed to subscribers… I can’t wait to dive exclusively into painting again for a few months before we open the upcoming shows in the spring of 2021.
FRIENDLY SLAV| DECEMBER 19, 2020 – FEBRUARY 6, 2021 | LAUNCH F18, NEW YORK
All images courtesy of the artist and LAUNCH F18, New York