Works of the Lesia Ukrainka Prize-winning artist can both stir up sincere and highly emotional excitement and prompt a cool and restrained, slightly skeptical reaction, irony or even ruthless criticism. However, his imagined world absolutely cannot be ignored by anybody interested in arts, as it was born and is being born daily in his studio, where, quoting an interview by Butkovsky, “life is timeless, subject to my rules only.” Moreover, there is no reason to ignore the artworks since the painter, far from hiding them, submits them to public judgment, with more than 20 solo exhibitions, and some more collective events, already held.
What did the prominent Ukrainian painter do to amaze, please, annoy, entertain, amused, encourag to think and to dream, promote positive attitudes, enchant and disenchant, soothe, and introduce to the beauty of his imaginary world the audience of his latest exhibition, held at the Zhytomyr Regional Union of Artists’ gallery? By the way, recent years’ works comprised the lion’s share of 47 exhibits put on show there, which in itself testifies to Butkovsky’s artistic activity.
He said once: “I do not usually paint landscapes.” It is still true. The exhibition includes no landscapes as such, but a few of them do play ancillary roles, primarily as a background, for example, in At a Waterfall and Evening Melodies paintings. Take a look from the symbolic perspective at the girls pictured in the first of them. It is a real hymn to life! Water and woman are highly meaningful, both representing that fundamental nature, being pure, defenseless, and definitely timeless creatures! A clever play of light and shadow is attractive, too, seemingly warning of the present danger or the dark side of life, or, maybe, calling to protect that life.
Liking for nude figures can be considered one of the signature features of Butkovsky’s work. Look at Summer. Coffee. A nude, imperfectly tanned girl reclines, holding a cup of coffee in her hand propped against her thigh, with a book and a large candy in the foreground. She is definitely not drinking coffee, only holding the cup, nor is she enjoying her candy. Her eyes wander far and wide, not focusing on the book. The only thing she surely does is keeping in a position, which can be best described by a line “the lady lies down and asks for it” from a famous movie Chasing Two Hares. Thus, it could well be named Summer. Pronia Prokopivna, after a similar character in the movie.
The magic of the relationship between the sexes has, apparently, attracted the artist. An Old Fool, Touching the Truth, A Hellenic Pastoral, Magnolias in Bloom, The Classical Music, The Calm, Satyr and Nymph, and A Game of Chess clearly illustrate this point. The latter work shows superiority of the woman in the relationship game, and another victory coming for her. Her male partner’s position is uncertain, half-turned, and shrinking away. His back, arched in the shape of a question mark, says: “Where again was I wrong?”
When looking for a Man, Diogenes of Sinope, a Greek philosopher, got tired and fell asleep in a barrel, recreated for him by Butkovsky in his painting Diogenes, but the philosopher’s lantern still shines, reminding us that his work has not been done yet.
Still lifes were on display, too, despite the artist’s declared dislike for the genre. Selection of articles in one of them, including a watermelon, a pear, grapes, and a bottle (Still Life with a Watermelon), serves as a reflection on the transience of life, illustrated by grapes turning into a wine bottle in a short time, and the bottle itself getting quickly covered with dust. Still, we want to have wine, not vinegar as the final fruit of our lifetime labors. A decrepit teapot surrounded by early peppers in Still Life with a Teapot is full of subtextual meanings, bringing to mind modern slang (the Ukrainian word for teapot is also used to translate dummy, as in For Dummies book series, while Ukrainian word for pepper can also mean cool man). Paradoxically, there is no such deeper meanings in Bacchus which is just a sort of veiled banal male dream to be well-to-do, carefree and surrounded by women.
Butkovsky’s five female portraits show that the master can paint a likeness artfully. Unfortunately, his ladies and girls look somewhat constrained, except for one named Olenka.
We can say, therefore, that the artist has created a wonderful world of his own where women, unlike men, do not age and outnumber the latter. Even though his characters are asleep or just lie down with closed eyes, we still believe, for some undetermined reason, that they create their own worlds, too.