Above: Stepan Ryabchenko in front of his work. Photo by Juliia Abramovych 

Ryabchenko’s work spans a wide range of mediums including digital art, conceptual architecture, graphics, sculpture, photographic art and light installations. He is known for his large-scale digital prints and computer animations which depict imaginary plants and animals in a surreal virtual universe. He has been widely exhibited internationally, including at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, Art & History Museum in Brussels, MAXXI – National Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome, Saatchi Gallery in London and Ars Electronica. In 2021, he represented Ukraine at the Expo 2020 in Dubai. 

His work blurs the boundaries between virtual and material reality, digital and analog world, as well as the artificial and natural. Each piece is a new topos or character in his virtual world, which is self-sufficient and multidimensional in nature. The virtual landscapes he creates are inhabited by surrealistic life forms, inspired by nature but given new form and meaning through his creative lens. 

In line with the words of Kazimir Malevich, who stated “a true artist is an eternal worker of ordering and introducing new symmetries of nature’s creativity,” Ryabchenko, eulogizing nature, creates and introduces new images to the world picture. He combines baroque forms, biomorphic outlines, and bright colors with the refined coldness of digital images and materials such as aluminum, polymers, and neon, to bring his virtual world to life. Through his art, Ryabchenko appeals to the idea of human relationships with the natural environment, using technology as a tool to explore our values, fundamental understanding of our own identity and of the divine.  

“Virtual Garden” series by Stepan Ryabchenko

Your work often features non-existent images like characters, flowers, winds, which form a Virtual Garden. Is this your way of creating a parallel universe? 

For me, the basis of creativity is fantasy, so it is very interesting for me to create my own holistic picture of the world, with new images and habitats, landscapes and architecture, flora and fauna and all the accompanying elements that I can only imagine. Through creativity, to a certain extent, I get to know myself and the world around me. Therefore, the concept of the Virtual Garden is an opportunity for me to prove myself as the creator of my ideal world, which I constantly develop and supplement with great love and responsibility. 

Your artwork “Blessing Hand” alludes higher power. Do you believe in blessings?  

Personally, I thank God for inspiration and the ability to create, for me this is a blessing that I can share. I also think that God, being the source of Absolute Love, is always kind to us and always ready to bless us. And it is the moment of acceptance of this Love that, in my opinion, is connected with inspiration for creativity. “Blessing Hand” was created back in 2012 when I noticed this symbol on one of the ancient icons. It was modestly located in the upper corner, but all the power came from it. I decided to share this feeling with people and took this image out of the icon-painting context into the public space.  

“Blessing Hand” by Stepan Ryabchenko

Your work is filled with bright colors and unusual shapes. Does Ukrainian culture play a big role in your aesthetics? 

Yes, Ukrainian culture is reflected in my work, especially in the Virtual Garden where I create new plants and flowers that are symbolic of beauty, perfection, and the cycle of life and death. In addition, flowers are the first thing that comes to mind when I try to imagine Paradise, a fragrant garden with outlandish plants and animals. The theme of flowers that is inseparably connected with Ukrainian folk culture, which manifested itself in the paintings of rural huts, on rushnyks (embroidered or woven towels, used usually for a decorative or ceremonial purpose), vyshyvankas (embroidered shirts) and even icon painting. I get the impression that the Ukrainian people symbolically recreated this atmosphere at home, striving to fill their lives with heavenly vibrations. 

What is your real favourite flower?  

Lately I’ve grown so fond of my “Luminiferous Floralambler” that I forgot it was a figment of my imagination! But also love peonies, lilacs, and roses, which I associate with childhood and my mother. In general, all flowers are perfect in their own way, sometimes during a walk it is a great pleasure to encounter dandelions or wildflowers. 

Fragment of the “Luminiferous Floralambler” from the “Virtual Garden” series by Stepan Ryabchenko

Do childhood experiences play a role in your creative process? 

Absolutely, I bring the love and wisdom of my parents from my happy childhood, and the experiences I had with my family and friends.  

We lived in Odessa, not far from the sea, in a private house that included both my father’s workshop and a spacious courtyard with a garden in which cherry trees and rose bushes grew. I remember that we had a domestic cockerel, a turtle, and a cat called Filipchik. A tall linden tree grew near the house and there was a high stack of wooden boards, on which I could climb, pick up linden flowers and bring to my mother to make tea with. Friends constantly came to visit us, among them were artists, photographers, and other creative people. Later, before I entered school, we moved closer to the center, to a house with a colorful Odessan courtyard which housed a large chestnut tree, many well-fed cats and balconies with linen always drying outside.  

An Odessan courtyard (dvorik) is a unique place, a microcosm with its own history, local characters, and customs. My friends and I came up with intricate games, studied abandoned sheds and attics, used antique furniture to equip and improve our “yard housing”, realised all our fantasies in that space. In winter, we organized inter-yard battles with snowballs, launched fireworks and sledded down the slopes, and in summer we threw water on each other and went to the beach. I could talk at length about this period and its people. Grandmother Nina, who washed clothes in the backyard wearing a gas mask and blocked our way to the attic, Uncle Valera, who taught me to play badminton, the family of tourists Masha and Artur, with whom we went on unforgettable trips to the Crimea. Grandparents lived in the opposite backyard. My grandfather Sergey was an excellent graphic artist, most of his works glorify the beauty of nature and Odessa. When I post my grandfather’s works on social networks, they always arise admiration among our contemporaries. 

For my brother, sister and myself, childhood was a wonderful time of discovery, with every new moment perceived as magic. Now I catch myself thinking that thanks to the love and wisdom of our parents, this childhood continues to some extent: we all still live together as a big family, honor traditions, help each other and try to creatively realize ourselves.  

“The City of the Sun” by Stepan Ryabchenko

Your project “Strange Time” (www.strangetime.art) hit the jackpot with its name. Assuming we fully accept that the old-world order no longer works, and we as humans need to rethink why and how we do things… Where do we even begin? 

I believe that the main success of the Strange Time project lies in the fact that it was created, as they say, “at the call of the heart”, with a sincere desire to rally creative people to be able to show their work at that time and think together about what was happening. This principle became the basis of the project, which, from talented individuals, their thoughts and works, transformed into a large-scale creative organism, that began to create certain connections, positions and relationships, simultaneously replenishing with new artists and works, thereby expanding its boundaries. In answer to your question, I think it is good to be the creators of your own life, albeit strange, but harmonious and desirable. Creativity is the backbone of humanity. 

When we spoke on the phone earlier, you said that no country is free, not even a democratic one. What is freedom for you then? 

Freedom is the ability to creatively shape your life. 

“Heroes” by Stepan Ryabchenko

Kazimir Malevich once said that “the picture of the artist should always be different and should never decorate or repeat nature, because in him, the artist, there is a great responsibility for the picture of the world”. What do you think? 

I think that the universe already contains the full potential of the past, present and future in all its manifestations. Any forms, color solutions, sounds and smells can be suddenly found in a variety of places, from the visible world familiar to us to entire separate universes under a microscope. We learn from Nature, creating our own version of the universe, which will constantly develop with the advent of new impressions and knowledge about the material and spiritual world. By this I want to say that we can only become like the Creator, and the better we know Him and His creativity, the more perfect we and our creativity will be. I agree with Malevich, we do have a great responsibility for the picture of the world, which should not be decorated or repeated by a picture created by man. In my opinion, they should coexist harmoniously in a single space, complementing each other and forming a single organism of God and a person.