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Taras Voznyak

The dark tornado that sucks all into death
(graphic art by Myroslav Yagoda)

ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή

Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος

The road up and down is one and the same

Heraclitus of Ephesus

 

The life and work of Myroslav Yagoda, who passed away one year ago, can be reflected as a tornado ripping through the sky before our eyes and disappearing into the heavens. We, who have continued walking normally along the path of life, see the tornado as a hurricane because we are not in its way. However, Yagoda was at the very heart of the tornado, perhaps he himself was the tornado. It is indeed a miracle that he had the energy and vitality to reach the age of sixty. That dark tornado was meant to lift him off the ground and suck him into death much earlier than expected.

Of course, the dark tornado of his work is just a metaphor. However, it is a useful one. Today, we can look more peacefully at everything that Yagoda created and try to understand the sources and mechanisms that inspired his art for he was a painter, a graphic artist and a poet. All these fields, although different in essence, are inseparable. We cannot understand the spirit of his poetry without referring to his paintings or graphic art. In the same way, we cannot penetrate the realm of his paintings unless we comprehend the intrinsic nature of his graphic works.

I would like to dedicate this essay to Myroslav Yagoda as a graphic text. He left behind many graphic works but perhaps far from enough. However, there are enough of them to help us reconstruct his way of viewing the world.

His graphic works, especially the early dark period (1980-1990), are incredibly powerful. This period makes us think about what was essential and important in Yagodas creative work during that period his dark oil paintings or the black darkness in his graphic images? In fact, did colour mean anything at all to Yagoda, at least during that period...?

During his dark period, Yagoda painted blackness or darkness - both in the literal, metaphorical and philosophical sense of that word. The different shades of darkness and the depths of infernality constituted his basic colours. Of course, if darkness was absent, some other shades had to be added, namely white or light shades. There are no other coloursalthough anyone, who thinks these two colours - or their absence - are not enough, is mistaken. For Yagoda, this was not so.

It is not without purpose that I confound these two tones (black and white but, are they really colours?) with ascension and fall, approaching the heavens and falling into the infernal spheres... because I believe that Yagoda painted both ascension and fall. Of course, the connection between light and ascension, light and darkness is commonplace, as is the connection between darkness and infernality. However, not everything is so simple in Yagodas graphic works; rather than painting the radiant heavens in white, he would choose this tone for a skull, or a shade of black to convey the dark confusion in the lines of Our Lords face, which translate further as a swarm of darkness. Psalm of David: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from my deliverance, from the words of my groaning? or אלי, אלי, לשבת - My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) (Mark 15:34). Indeed, it is He...

In this sense, Yagoda is an explorer researching the depths, the darkness. And therefore, his breakthrough works are this period of darkness. But, this is not darkness in the simple, popular sense of the word. Yagoda sensed the terrible secret that lies on the surface, known to everyone, but hidden so deeply from our eyes. It is only in the depths of their hearts that children - and Myroslav Yagoda can see it...

Yagoda discovered that a Flash, dazzling and blinding, cutting into our eyes like a scalpel that a Flash is Darkness. Everyone knows what happens to the retina when we look directly at the sun. We are ordinary people, who take precautions; we look at the sun either through glasses or through a piece of smoked glass. Very few people will actually keep their eyes wide open and gaze at a Flash until blood squirts from their eyes. Something dazzling is actually dark... The word Lucifer is made up from two Latin words: lux (light) and fer (to bear/carry). Lucifer light-bearer or light-bringer, Φωσφορος he who brings the dawn) ...

Lucifer is first mentioned in the Book of Isaiah, written in Old Hebrew. The Babylonian dynasty is compared to a fallen angel; the reader learns the story of a cherub who wanted to be equal to God and was therefore cast from heaven. In the original version, the Hebrew word haylel (morning star, son of the dawn, הילל בן שחר (Hêlêl ben Šàḥar)) is used. The Jews and early Christians did not use the word haylel for Satan; for them, this word did not have a negative meaning. It should be borne in mind that in the New Testament, Jesus Christ was compared with the morning star or the dawn of the day (Numbers 24:17; Psalm 88: 35-38, 2 Peter 1:19, Revelations 22:16 NM, 2 Peter 1:19).

And, here is another incredible fact until the end of the fourth century, the word Lucifer was one of the many epithets used to describe Jesus Christ...

However, lets return to the pre-Christian era. Hêlêl ben Šāḥar, morning star, dawn of the day, is nothing more than Aurora, Venus. Venus was the personification of an abstract concept the grace of the gods (venia). So, is Lucifer, with whom, as many suspect, Myroslav Yagoda struggled so violently during his sleepless nights, the personification of the abstract concept of the grace of the gods...?

Yagodas battle with Lucifer is constantly accompanied by the affirmation, but also by the denunciation, of the material world, in its most brutal form. Hypocrites look at Yagodas work somewhat sanctimoniously. They are obscene, and frankly hideous... They are, in fact, overcome by a hurricane of fear. They are afraid to see themselves as they really are and to meet Him - both the Radiant One and the Dark One... They sense that Yagodas dark oils and graphic works convey things that are beyond their world, beyond horror, beyond good and evil. So, they hide their heads in the sandby putting on airs, and looking on with feigned responsibility. Such is the position of philistines - people with a limited world outlook, people with no spiritual needs, self-satisfied individuals that do not share aesthetic or spiritual values, uneducated ordinary fellows with their hypocritical, vindictive behaviour on which their petty-bourgeois morale is based. Indeed, they remind us of our dear old Galician colleagues who never understood what Myroslav Yagoda the artist actually wanted to say. Moreover, to confirm their misunderstanding and fear, they present Yagoda as a seedy homeless drunkard And there they go, the same Galician philistines, strutting and preening themselves not realizing the depths of their malice and depravity!

However, this is not our main concern. This brief excursion into Yagodas esotericism reveals the extremely complex trend of his feeling, thinking and creativity, namely in that order: feeling, thinking and creativity. We should not have any illusions about his ordinariness or commonness. He had an extraordinary feeling for the fine and the delicate, the radiant and the infernal, and their profound innermost connection. The deepest connection portrayed as Salvation - and this obviously refers to all things was probably best explained by Lev Shestov (Yehuda Leib Schwartzman, 1866-1938) in his unbelievably Christian Sola Fide (1). It is this faith that Yagoda portrays in his complex study of radiance and infernality. The book appeared in Paris in 1966, but a few decades later it arrived in Lviv, and Yagoda must have read it. Today, this copy, which was then read by the entire intellectual elite of Lviv, is in my library, gifted generously by Hryhoriy Komsky in 1950. Taking it in hand, you can easily burn your fingers, as did Myroslav. It reveals too many terrible and apocalyptic things you can truly feel the breath of living faith, that of Hêlêl Ben Šāhar, the light-bearer, and not just the simple faith professed by Martin Luther (1483-1546).

However, lets return to Yagodas graphic art. Our short excursion into his world shows the importance of Myroslav Yagodas early graphic works. It is obvious that Yagodas philosophical and creative development started with his dark graphic works and continued with his painting of the dark period and not the other way around. Perhaps that is why these dark graphic works seem primary. In fact, I believe that Yagoda mastered the ink technique much earlier. This is only natural if we take into account that he started as a poor student, like all of us at that time and oil paints and canvases were way beyond his means. Poverty was a way of life. Later on, despite the fact that Yagoda spent a lot of money to create his paintings, he never parted from his state of ritual poverty.

If we periodize Yagodas graphic works, they certainly developed along with his stylistic changes in oil painting and in his verbal creativity - because they encompass much more than his poetic works.

When I wrote about Yagodas first oil painting period a year ago, I conventionally called it psychedelic (1980 - early 1990s). I defined the decisive feature of this period as his willingness to give in to this risky creative act, from which he was likely to never return. And, it seems he did not return, but not because of illness or alcohol but because he was blinded by the darkness... As soon as he came face to face with the Radiant or the Dark, he burnt out his eyes, so he did not see the world, as we, ordinary people, do. The Dark and the Flash were his colours yes, the Dark and the Flash, which obscured and lit up the presence of the Dark One and/or the Radiant One.

Even when Yagoda splashed colours on his canvases, in reality they were not colours, but emotions. Yagoda is, in fact, very far removed from the strong colours favoured by the expressionists. His colour is expressed as a shade of emotion, a paroxysm of emotion. It is not an impression, but an expression. In fact, it is a nuance of Yagodas two colours - darkness and light. Perhaps not even a nuance, but a profanation. Giving in to the dictum of colour, Yagoda tries to show Darkness and Light in forms that humans can perceive so that we do not burn out our eyes or brains, as he did. His graphic art of that period also changes. If the psychedelic was devoted to exploring the Dark/Radiance and the Light/Radiance, then in the second semantic period (beginning of the 1990s 2000s), the artist focused on conveying what he had experienced while sinking into the abyss of the Dark and Light. Having emerged from the whirlwind of his own self, he tried to use proper human language to share the ecstasy and horror he had experienced. If, in the previous psychedelic period he does not pay attention to the viewer using powerful brush strokes in ink to record soaring flights into infernal or heavenly spaces, then in the infernal period he delicately paints his tangled relations with these same spaces. He seems to be trying to say something that cannot be put into words. The lines snarl into coils; the coils descend into dark islands - and so again complete Darkness appears in his graphic images. It is during this period that Yagoda is obviously neither an impressionist when he paints with oils, nor is he an expressionist in the usual sense of the word. Before working on a canvas, he creates a miracle, drawing a sketch where the main instruments are Darkness and Light! Today, these sketches are perceived as independent works of art. And so they are while his oil canvases become more dependent from a philosophical or esoteric point of view!

But, was Yagoda able to convey what he had experienced during his long lonely nights in the basement of his home? Of course not. So, he writes writing what looks like poetry. Then, he goes even further and tries to convey what can be formulated in neither word or picture, but through signs ὁναξ οὗ τόν μαντεῖόν σστι τ ονν Δελφοῖς οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει ἀλλὰ σημαίνει  - The Lord, whose oracle is in Delphi, neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign - Heraclitus of Ephesus (Ἡράκλειτος ὁφέσιος, 544-483). In this way he builds his own semiotic field, a field of signs, which he uses to convey something. He does not speak, but only points to something, possibly to the Light and the Dark. Perhaps... perhaps not... His third period of creativity, which can be called semiotic and heraclitian, is already a period of fatigue, fatigue from the impossibility of relating, showing, explaining - because each one of us must be ready to plunge alone into those chasms that Yagoda explored so deeply. And we will all plunge and be submerged when the time comes.

Myroslav Yagoda tried to paint and describe what was virtually impossible to paint or describe. But, he tried

 

1.    L.I. Shestov, Sola Fide by faith alone, Paris, 1966, YMCA Press

 

Translated by Christine Eliashevska-Chraibi