20.02.2015. Igor Vulokh: A Builder of His Universe

Andrei Tolstoy

 The work of Igor Vulokh is known to the wider public as well as to connoisseurs, and he has had solo shows at foreign galleries (including Nadya Brykina Gallery in Zurich and Brauner und Popoff in Berlin) as well as prominent Moscow art institutions (notably the Tretyakov Gallery, Fine Art and Art4.Ru). Almost all of them have been accompanied by weighty catalogs featuring several texts and numerous reproductions of works from different periods. A variety of his pieces from various stages of his career are held by Moscow’s Tretyakov and St. Petersbug’s Russian Museum as well as some respected international collections, for example the Danish contemporary art gallery Kunstmuseum and the museum in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Nevertheless Vulokh remains a "mysterious stranger," mostly because it is hard to place his work in one of the standard contexts: As a non-conformist and abstractionist, one would assume he had links to other independent masters with whom it would have been easier to oppose officialdom and the "cultural powers." But Vulokh was mostly a loner and stood by himself. In one of his last interviews he said: "I don't fully identify with my generation and see myself as independent of the label given to it by the press and other connoisseurs. Here I'm also speaking as a member of the audience. Abstractionists, '1960s artists,' nonconformists – all these labels are relative. Sometimes I feel closer to more distant eras, and those that are closer – the so-called avant-garde – by comparison seem very distant. So commonly accepted categories aren't of crucial importance to me."
Still, Igor Vulokh did of course maintain relationships that were important in a spiritual sense. Particularly invaluable were his many years with his wife and colleague Natalya Tukolkina-Okhota. His meetings and collaboration with Troels Andersen, a Danish specialist in the first Russian avant-garde, the avant-garde collectors Nikolai Khardzhiev and Georgy Kostaki, and the renowned poets Gennady Aygi and Tomas Tranströmer were of the utmost importance in his life and work. Vulokh had commonalities with the classic avant-garde and contemporary poetic minimalism: the untiring study of the surrounding world and the ability to generalize it and reveal the essence of every one of its inexhaustible diversity of forms.
Despite their external differences, Vulokh's works from different periods are always light on detail and extremely metaphysical in terms of the relationship between the compositional elements and their connections with the surrounding space. In his pieces Vulokh worked with foundational forms of the universe, transforming them into seemingly complex but actually profoundly simple compositions - visual-textured metaphors built on a harmony of form and color. "World-building" was a typical activity of the majority of the renowned masters of the first Russian avant-garde, who strove not only to transform their environment but to rethink and rebuild the entire universe in accordance with their artistic projects. In the 1960s and 1970s several nonconformist artists tried to follow in their footsteps. But not all. In the same interview Vulokh added: "Before I became an artist I was a researcher. I researched exceptional events that seemed impossible. This was in regard both to art school and my dialogs with nature and history. And this is where my research led me – often some revelation of the present is merely a continuation of the past."
Gathered together, as at this show, Vulokh's work are striking for being so undogmatic, for their inner freedom, and for their style and approach, which Vulokh himself pioneered. The essence of Vulokh's approach is the tireless study of the dynamics of motion of the building blocks of the universe (space, color, rhythm, energy) and their interactions, as well as of the basic forms and genres of representation (portrait, landscape, interior, still life, abstract composition and so on), and on this basis the synthesis of his own artistic (meaning natural-imaginary) universe. Vulokh did not strive to be esoteric or encode his meanings. Quite the opposite. Most of all he valued those around him understanding what he wanted to express. As he said in the aforementioned interview: "The best prize is understanding. It's when something I do for myself is intelligible to other people, independently of their rank or circumstance. This is probably the highest award an artist can receive. These things don't fall to me very often." He appreciated his creative and spiritual closeness with certain of his contemporaries on these terms: "Gennady Aygi and I understood each other a great deal, which is not so common. Aygi is a very sensitive person. He had one very rare characteristic: a finely structured spiritual temperament (the only and most important)." This special spiritual temperament, reflected in the subtle gradations of form and rhythm in Vulokh's graphical cycles and inspired by Aygi's poetry, is a quality that undoubtedly belonged to the art and indeed personality of Vulokh himself, the significance of whose legacy still remains to be properly appreciated. One would like to hope that the present exhibition will further this worthy cause.