Interpreting the imaginative world of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Blog by artist Ed Saye (@ed_saye)

Ed Saye , Mellow Yellow Golden Age , 2016, oil on canvas, 120x170cm

Ed Saye, Mellow Yellow Golden Age, 2016, oil on canvas, 120x170cm

The painting 'Mellow Yellow Golden Age' was inspired by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's short story 'Yellow Coal' (1939).  In Krzhizhanovsky's story the earth is experiencing an energy crisis; oil wells are running dry and energy returns of black, white and brown coal are diminishing yearly: 'The earth had a fever.  Flogged mercilessly by the sun's yellow whips, it whirled round like a dervish dancing his last furious dance.'  In an attempt to solve the crisis a competition is launched to reward the discovery of a new energy source.  The eventual winner successfully harvests human spite and transforms it into a form of energy that becomes known as yellow coal.  Soon every bus seat, office turnstile and matrimonial bed is adapted to absorb the bile from people's pores and strategies are devised to keep the general population in a permanent state of bilious acrimony.

'...the world had entered a kind of Golden Age. And no need to hack through the earth's crust for the gold, no need to rinse it in streams - it seeped out of the liver on its own in yellow granules...'

Ultimately, though, and despite the state's best efforts, the population's supply of bile is exhausted; they become 'vacant, rosy-cheeked and mentally dead' and their livers fall asleep.  The unintended consequence of this vast experiment turns out to be a doomed populace starved of ideas and without the ability to think its way to a new solution for the new energy crisis. 

'Mellow Yellow Golden Age' takes the idea of a population in thrall to a revolutionary source of energy. The round dance is a motif I sometimes use to symbolise a joyous, carefree existence. In this instance the figures resemble hippies and it is unclear exactly what they are dancing around - it could be a pile of earth, gold or yellow coal. The 'Golden Age' of the title refers both to the 'Golden Age' described in Krzhizhanovsky's story and to the eponymous painting by Lucas Cranach that features a group of naked dancers in an eden-like setting dancing around a fruit tree.  

In all my work, through the imagery, colours and painting processes, I try to create a certain atmosphere or mood of simultaneous hope and anxiety.  Broadly speaking the work is about the idea of a faded idyll - it could be described as nostalgia for some time or place in the past full of hope for the future, seen from a current position where our lived reality reflects a compromised idealism.  The imagery is abstracted and intentionally left open to multiple, possibly contrasting, narrative interpretations.