Oleksandr Balbyshev was born in 1985 in Ukraine into a working-class family six years before the USSR collapsed. After graduating from The Prydniprovska State Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture in 2012, he worked in architecture and design. But two years later, in connection with the first russain invasion of Ukraine, a serious financial crisis began. In 2016, Oleksandr lost his job. He decided to change activities and become an artist.
Oleksandr's first achievements in art appeared during COVID time. Then the full-scale russian invasion began in Ukraine. So Oleksandr had no opportunity for an exhibition experience. However, his work was well received by collectors worldwide via social media and online art platforms. Hundreds of his paintings are in private collections all around the world.
Oleksandr is openly gay, and his sexual orientation influenced his art. Ukraine LGBTQIA people live in fear and don't have as many rights as other Ukrainians. LGBTQIA people in Ukraine need to lie about their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid being a target of discrimination or violent harassment.
This had a strong influence on Oleksandr's personality and his art. "Accepting myself for who I am was complicated under conditions of hostile morality. As a result, I struggled with myself and the toxic masculinity dominating around me, which left indelible marks on my soul. I still feel a deep-seated guilty feeling that I am not like most. Perhaps this shame can be seen in my paintings. This shame is holding me back and depressing me. However, there is also something good in this situation. This constant opposition pushes me forward to improve myself. The hostile atmosphere strengthened me, and I learned how to succeed in a toxic environment."
Discrimination against one's sexual orientation is a common occurrence in Ukraine. Oleksandr can't marry his boyfriend he has lived with since 2010 and start a family like heterosexual people. Public displays of homosexual feelings, with a high probability, will lead to homophobic violence. But one can hear offensive words from a passerby just because of having too bright clothes on or my hair dyed.
So Oleksandr's art became very bright, like a protest poster, and it didn't hide its homoerotic because it challenged the prevailing outdated morals of Ukraine.
Moreover, Olecsandr's art is driven by his interest in the nature of male identity and the stigma of the male nude in Ukraine and the Western world. As an experiment, Oleksander determined the ratio of male and female nudes in artworks presented in online galleries from different countries where he sells his art. He found that male nudes are only about 20%.
While the female nude is generally regarded as a staple on the finest of museum walls, the male nude has maintained an illicitness up until the present day, continuing to trouble people in different ways.
Oleksandr believes that the root cause of this phenomenon is that the history of art has long been a "white straight men only" club. Its creators have used mechanisms of suppression of rights and marginalization of minorities. And the culture of the dominant patriarchal and heterosexual discourses is still influential.
Oleksandr would like to see culture represent naked men as frequently as it does naked women to remove the shock value of the nude male. Oleksandr uses the male nude to express erotic feelings like the female nudity has been used. He is trying to explore the slippage of masculinity and redefine what it means to be male.
In one of the artist's last projects, he integrates the male body's sensual beauty with paintings of world-famous artists like Claude Monet, Van Gogh, David Hockney, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Cézanne, Andy Warhol, etc. This is a kind of reflection on how the art of the last centuries could have been if the male body had not been discriminated against.
Ukraine has a very dramatic history. For many hundreds of years, Ukrainians fought for their independence against large empires around their borders. And this fight is going on right now.
Oleksandr was born when Ukraine was under Soviet occupation and grew up on the ruins of that empire, surrounded by numerous old Soviet propaganda images of Lenin and other communist symbols.
For many Ukrainians, Lenin is a dictator and murderer who initiated the occupation of their country in 1917-1921 and killed millions during the genocide of Ukrainians in 1921–1923. But until 2014, it never occurred to most people that the propaganda images of the USSR should be banned and removed from public spaces and toponyms. Many Ukrainians have been suffering from a kind of Stockholm Syndrome regarding collapsed USSR for a long time.
To overcome the traumatic historical experience of his country, the artist finds original portraits and sculptures of Lenin made in the Soviet era at flea markets and on announcements on the Internet. Oleksandr paints on top of old portraits of Lenin fragments from famous paintings or drips paint on them, cuts old soviet portraits of USSR leaders into pieces and randomly glues them together, and gives them to children to draw over these old portraits. Oleksandr paints the sculptures in funny colors and glues them with various objects. As a result of this artistic gesture, the artist erases the propaganda and ideological meanings of the image while endowing it with decorative qualities. However, with all the fun of this manipulation, the artwork acquires new meanings, an antinomical combination of play and seriousness. By transforming the sinister shards of the USSR into something funny and not scary, Oleksandr tries to show that we can defeat even the strongest evil that every empire falls on one day, and their leader's images become just funny tchotchkes.