Vasily Sad is one of the Ukraine’s most respected abstract artists. After graduating from Odessa Grekov College of Arts in 1977, Sad joined the Odessa School of Non-Conformism; a movement that has come to be associated with the so-called second wave of the Avant-Garde in the 1960s-1980s.
This period saw the Soviet government attempting to re-write history: actively denying the rich heritage and traditions of Russian civilisation. People were bombarded with slogans that focused on the bright, communist future and commanded to repudiate their pasts. They were deprived of the freedom of expression and forced to support the official ideology. The art the young Sad grew up with was state approved Socialist Realism and Monumentalism. The Soviet art policy of the time discouraged individual artistic pursuits, and this resulted in the segregation of non-official art as opposed to Socialist Realism.
Every part of Sad’s training as an artist in the 1970s was conventional. It was well known that the Soviet artist’s role was to produce politically correct works that reinforced the Party’s message. Yet even as a young man Sad realised that the Communist Party commissions failed to really reflect the lives and essence of the people they were purporting to represent. For the artist the system was like a tree with decaying roots. He realised that if he wanted to become a ‘real’ artist, his works needed to come from the very soul of the people around him, from the custodians of long-held historical traditions which the system had buried, but not deeply enough for the people to have forgotten them.
Ukrainian non-conformists concentrated their attention on artistic issues, emphasising the importance of colour and light in an expressionistic manner. They had an ardour for national folk traditions and were preoccupied with the challenge of maintaining a sense of national identity within the context of the wider state. This is something that they shared in common with a number of artists working across Eastern Europe at the time making their own kind of ‘protest’ through art, though often in a necessarily quiet or covert way.
Before Sad really embraced Abstraction though, he had a high regard for Impressionism, and his earliest works reflect this. Yet in early 1980s Sad became increasingly preoccupied with Abstraction, a love affair that he would sustain throughout his life to the present day. Sad came to believe that only ‘through Abstraction can one reach the secrets of human existence and nature'. In the early 80s he joined the Odessa group of non-conformist artists called ‘Mamay’. The group took its name from Mamay Cossack, the Ukrainian national hero. Along with his fellow ‘Mamay’ artists, Sad participated in unofficial, so called "apartment exhibitions", but it wasn’t until Perestroika that he and his fellows were to gain wide-spread recognition.
As transition led to the collapse of the Soviet system itself, Sad became noted for his grounded, organic practice. The art of the early ‘wild capitalism’ years distinguished itself by its apparent disorientation and aimlessness. Painters either copied the newly imported American artists or created profane and vulgar interpretations of fallen Soviet icons, such as ‘Lenin-as-monkey’ or: ‘The McDonalds-arches-flying-over-the-Kremlin’. Sad stood out from this general trend of post-Soviet artists because of his love for his native land and its long unbroken traditions. He reacted vigorously to the challenges faced by the Ukrainian nation in the aftermath of the Soviet system collapse, and his art of the 1990s and 2000s was driven by his desire to highlight the individuality and independence inherent to traditional Ukrainian art forms.
In his search for manifestations of Ukrainian identity, Sad drew inspiration from folk craft such as traditional wood carving, Easter egg painting, weaving and embroidery. The colour palette of the paintings he produced in reaction to these impetuses evokes the bright colours and textures of Ukrainian folk craft. Creating layer upon layer, like a carpet-weaver working with numerous colourful threads, Sad makes reference to the traditional symbols of the Ukraine, such as the ‘lyalka-motanka’ doll with the archetypal crosses made from embroidery that cover its face. The twinning by Sad of traditional craft with the formal qualities of Abstraction lends his work both depth and fragility. They are multi-layered and powerful yet the surfaces resemble fine lacework. Sad succeeds in marrying high art with folk art; something that clearly distinguishes him from the American Abstract Expressionists.
Sad mediates his quiet contemplations of traditional Ukrainian life via the tropes of the modern world, carefully balancing bright colours and delicate brush strokes against the weight of wood, cardboard, canvas and metal. This way of working reflects the dualism of the human spirit: all that is hopeful, light and tender is also inextricably linked to that which is dark, destructive and violent. It also reflects the increasingly global concerns of Sad’s practice. Still responding to local stimuli, he is nevertheless a very contemporary artist who is acutely aware of the impact on local people and traditions because of our rapidly changing world. After working with paint and canvas for so long, Sad struggled to find a medium that he felt could also reflect the more tortuous side of the soul. He eventually arrived at working with torn and punctured metal.
Sad’s metal period coincides with the calamity and violence that accompanied the dying days of the Soviet Union. Taking sheets of metal that were once the shiny pride of the Soviet industrial machine, but in 1991 became useless overnight; detritus from a now null and void enterprise, Sad sought to use this torn and punctured metal to encapsulate the impotent rage of the abandoned Soviet worker. Punctured, shot and mutilated, the metal ‘canvases’ best represent the traumatised body and soul for Sad; they can also be taken as a metaphor for all the disenfranchised who become ‘surplus to requirement’ and have no or little means to change their circumstances when faced by the might of the machinations of power or regime change.
Yet as ever, Sad does not allow his work to reflect only darkness; there is always the balance that defines human experience. The metal canvases may be dark and twisted, but they also radiate subtlety and spirituality. Through these aspects of his works, Sad pays tribute to the dignified patience of ordinary people. Like his works with their vibrant panels that undergird them, they have hidden depths. Sad’s works exist as representations of suffering, compassion and hope for better things to come. They are iconic and inspiring and can be interpreted on many levels. On the one hand they are formally beautiful – their process implicit in their finalised shape and creation. On the other hand they also make reference to the movements that inspired their maker: Abstract Expressionism, Arte Povera and Conceptualism. However one chooses to read them, one feels the weight of the emotional intensity that lies behind them. An artist who has lived through a tumultuous time and understands and empathises with the spirit of his people.
In the 1970s Odessa Nonconformist Artists among whom was Vasily Sad took an active part in the unofficial, so called “apartment exhibitions”.
2012 15-28 February, BEAUTY IN THE ORDINARY solo exhibition, Mount Street Gallery, London
2011 25-27 June, Phillips de Pury Contemporary auction, London
2011 6-9 June, Auction MacDougall’s, London
2011 12-15 April, AFTERMATH solo exhibition in commemoration of 25th Anniversary of Chernobyl Disaster; Embassy of Ukrainein the UK
2011 20-21 International Art Fair, Kensington Gore, Royal College of Arts,London
2010 Edinburgh Art Fair, Scotland
2010 Zurich International Contemporary ArtFair, Switzerland
2010 II Russian Art Fair, HiltonPark Lane, London
2010 Chelsea Art Fair, London
2010 20-21 International Art Fair, Kensington Gore, Royal College of Arts,London
2009 Russian Art Fair, Carlton Tower Hotel, London
2009 Solo exhibition, NT-Art gallery, Odessa, Ukraine;
2005 “Mamai” art group exhibition, Museum of contemporary Ukrainian art, Khmelnitsky, Ukraine;
2003 Odessa artists exhibition, Museum of Westernand Easter Art, Odessa, Ukraine;
2002 Graphic art exhibition, Odessa Sea Art gallery, Ukraine;
2002 National art festival “Cultural heroes”, Odessa, Ukraine;
2001 International Biennale of modern graphical art, Kyiv, Ukraine;
2001 Ukraine Triennial “Art-2001″, Kyiv, Ukraine;
2001 Odessa Sea Art gallery, Odessa, Ukraine;
2001 “Mamai” art group exhibition, OdessaContemporary Museum, Ukraine;
2000 “Mamai” art group exhibition, Odessa, Ukraine;
2000 Graphic art Triennial, Kyiv, Ukraine;
1999 IV Ukrainian Art Congress exhibition, Odessa;
1998 “Mamai” art group exhibition (Odessanon-conformist), across Ukraine;
1998 Ukraine Triennial “Art-98″, Kyiv, Ukraine;
1996 Art club-96 exhibition, Khmelnitsky, Ukraine;
1995 Ukraine-95 Art exhibition, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine;
1995 “Kandinsky life in Odessa” exhibition, Odessa, Ukraine;
1994 Group exhibition of art group “Boat”, Odessa, Ukraine;
1994 3rd Anniversary of Ukrainian Independence exhibition, Odessa, Ukraine;
1991 Biennale “Impresa”, Ukraine;
1987 Odessa monumental art exhibition, Odessa, Ukraine;
1984 Ukrainian Art exhibition, Kyiv, Ukraine;
Works by Vasily Sad are in collections of the National Art Museum (Kyiv, Ukraine); the Museum of Modern Art (Kyiv, Ukraine); the Khmelnitsky Museum of Modern Ukrainian art, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Odessa, Ukraine), the Odessa Museum of Eastern and Western Art and reputably collected in America, Canada, the UK, Italy, Russia and the Ukraine.