Dialogues with Giotto / Evgeni Dybsky

The works I have been making since 2003 may be termed "historical". At first, they were attempts to introduce my habitual, artificially-aged structures into new spaces. Later I began a series of works based on photographs of fragments of classical works in the Pushkin Museum. In 2005, while on my way to Venice, I stopped off as usual in Padua in order to visit my beloved Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel - for the first time after their restoration. My disappointment knew no bounds: the chapel been turned into a tourist attraction, where you had to queue and then watch an educational movie, after which you had 30 minutes to view the "originals". In fact, what I saw couldn't be termed original: the restorers had so overworked the frescoes which once breathed time and magic, they had so coloured them in (inspired no doubt by the example of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel), that I recalled the saying that from love to hatred it is but a short step.

I fell in love with Giotto as a student. Later in a second-hand bookshop on Sretenka Street in Moscow I got hold of a Hungarian reprint of an Italian monograph from Rizzoli, which was of good quality for its time - indeed for our time. On my first trip to Italy in 1988, again on my way to Venice, I saw the originals for the first time. I've noticed that original works of art don't always live up to the charm of their reproductions. But this time everything coincided with my hopes and expectations: I and my friends, whom I dragged off the Venice-bound train, couldn't get enough of them; we completely forgot about the city on the lagoon. I felt the same pleasure on several later occasions.

Recently I began a dialogue with Giotto, who has long and exclusively been my favourite artist. I'd kept the book from the Sretenka shop. I made a series of small works based on some motifs. And more recently I had the idea of "restoring" the works  in the Scrovegni Chapel. Of restoring that which I loved in them. We tend to supply the objects of our love with fantasies, including fantasies about form. I began to sublimate my Paduan Giotto on canvases the same size as the frescoes. Of course the result is "my" Giotto, imbued with the characteristics of my painting. These characteristics have emerged after long years of work and are, for me, a logical progression. But they have also been formed over the years under the influence of Giotto.

I never tire of the contemporary nature of Giotto's achievements. He anticipates colourful painting, and abstraction, and surrealism. His incongruent flatnesses and volumes encouraged boldness in many, inmcluding myself. His primitivism seems today like avant-gardism. I don't know whether I'll be able to "restore" all the frescoes of the Padua Chapel, it depends on whether I can find something new for myself in this "restoration of love". I'm in the process of exploration...

(Translated from Russian by Eduard Friesen)