Nabolelo: Subject Matter and Contemporary Art

NABOLELO! This is the word Russians often use to explain or excuse themselves for saying something out of turn or reacting to something with a tidal wave of swearing. Frequently, both.

“Nabolelo!” means there’s an issue that caused your mind to bloat with emotional suffering and pain to the point of bursting and spattering everything around you (with profanities capable of making characters from the Deadwood series blush, prostrate in awe and give up all the gold they’d panned out). You must say what you feel about the issue which caused the mental bloating to prevent the bursting disaster. You must let it out immediately, intubating yourself, like they were doing it on the ER to other people.

“Nabolelo” is a bit ashamed of the neighbourhood it has to live in, but in all other respects it is an exemplary citizen of the Russian vocabulary.

“Nabolelo” comes royalty free. If you wish to use it, remember to put emphasis on the third syllable out of respect for Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

This lengthy introduction is my excuse for writing a post about contemporary art that I didn’t want to write right now. What I am about to say is far from the main theme of the blog, is 49% serious and 1% related to meteorology. It would be a waste of a perfect “Nabolelo” if you decide to stop now.


What is it with contemporary art? Why is each contemporary artist trying to dwell on the serious matters of Life and Death, the Meaning of the former and Inevitability of the latter? Did not Douglas Adams say it all? Come on, you have to earn the right to whisper about it before you start talking. If you talk about Life and Death, you have to die before people start taking you seiously. Most of the time, it is pompous, ridiculous and not a bit funny the other way around.

Damien Hirst talking to me about the impossibility of death in the mind of someone living using shark exhibit No.1? Is this a game therapy course for mentally challenged? I’ve been through A LOT OF LITERATURE on these subjects, thank you very much, not to mention the Renaissance and Socialist Realism. You can’t beat Da Vinci or Dostoevsky with a glass room built  around a mass grave of rotting food leftovers with a hundred flies buzzing over it.

Marc Quinn talks about globalisation, overlaying the eye’s retina over a globe, because they are both round. Yes they are, and eyes are the mirror of the soul as well. I love some of his other work, by the way. But globalisation he is referring to is not just 24-hour news that connect me to people in Australia even though they are to enjoy their summer while I roll out my winter tires. It is more painful, serious, and… please stop using the phrase “the transcendence of human life”. You are so much NOT the first artist to recognise people die and the Earth continues on its way through the Cosmos. Emperor Palpatine made it his policy in a galaxy far far away about 30 years ago. And you have to be more convincing that showing me tondos with maps of the Earth in different colours. The emperor was offering me a much more persuasive Death Star!

Oh, they were not talking to me. They were talking to abramoviches and perelmans who apparently have not been through any books heavier than 100 grams (tax returns and offshore contracts excluded). The whole art world with its curators, directors and stuff&staff seems to be servicing not the general public but semi-literate billionaires and their 3/4-illiterate girlfriends. The “official” art-world does not care about the subject matter that we, ordinary folk, may want, need or enjoy in a good way. Pity.

Well, here I come! Advice, direction, a pat on the shoulder, even a hug.

Dear contemporary artists, love (from eternal to overnight), life, death, globalisation, Earth’s imminent demise in about 5 billion years, loss of innocence, gain of confidence and all other BIG ISSUES can wait. The likes of Damien Hirst and Charles Saatchi are to collect money mushrooming on that sunny clearing of the global art forest. We’ll take a different path, as Lenin, the father of all revolutionaries, once said.

Look inside, look inside your giant mind and look a bit harder (thank you Lilly Allen, and sorry for putting you next to Lenin). I will give you a prompt, an example, which I believe you’d find easy to follow in your native language inside your own country and culture.

Let’s take the Great Britain.

What is the major concern of British men? Aha! I’ve just stumbled over a blog of a “Tightly knit community of enthusiastic Amateur Meteorologists”. Their main concern, as the name of the blog subtly implies, is weather. Weather is the favourite subject of British conversations as all the non-British citizens of the planet know from their first English-language textbook. But the revelation descends upon you as you immerse into their discussion on, well, weather. All dialogues about weather eventually come down to football (soccer). Check it out for yourself!

And here you are. It is your subject matter to explore. Weather (especially bad weather) and Football. No one did it before. They were all busy with the big issues.

Idea No.1. Modern Battle. Football match. 5 minutes to play. It’s a draw. The storm is rolling over the field. The red (blue, striped, what’s your favourite?) players are pressing on, just as the clouds mount over the guest team. The storm heralds a goal, as unstoppable as the lightning that starts building up in the blackest cloud. Paint the winning team in blue and go to Chelsea. Repaint it red and drive to Manchester or Liverpool. You make innumerable people happy. Canvas at £10K, prints at £150.

Idea No.2. Modern Portrait. A football player in the rain. Determined. Face streaked by dirt. The nose of Lampard, the eyes of Bekham, the chin of Rooney. Water cascading down his face, the eternal cliff of Niagara in the sea of football passions. Simple, powerful. Immensely sellable.

Idea No 3. Modern Landscape. Wet dirty-green field. The match is over. A spent firecracker puffs out the last vestiges of smoke. The boots are left soaking in the rain. The coin that started the match dimly glitters by the whistle the referee dropped on the lawn. And the ball: the scratched, wounded, slightly deflated. The metaphor for a player or team that had had to go through it all, and survived.

Is this not enough to keep you busy with the subject matters that really matter for the better part of 2013? 

PS. Don’t take it all at face value. As I said it’s serious only for 49%. But if you can think of a subject matter that would be of interest to people from your community, neighbourhood, or country by looking at what they are concerned about in their daily life, what they discuss over their lunches or dinners or in their blogs – it means even this Nabolelo post had some value.


  1. Isn’t it ominous that I discovered this post today, of all days! For two reasons – one, obviously is the World Cup raging all around. The other – a very simple painting of mine showing a beach hut will be included in a show in NY and I have to write a pompous, high brow artist statement about it. This got me thinking exactly the same thoughts about subject matter and importance and how pathetic contemporary artists must seem to philosophers. So glad to hear it from you!

    1. First of all, of course, congratulation on being a part of a NY show!

      And a football joke from me: Team England visited an orphanage in Rio. “I got completely heartbroken, looking into those cute, sad faces without a spark of hope (Jose, 6 yo)”.

      And, please, send me the pic – with your ideas, of course, perhaps, I could think of something to say that you could use.

      1. LOL! Joke will be served for lunch to English husband (who is more into cricket, but still). Thanks for offering to write my statement – but l already put my foot down and they will have to live with the statement I gave them – which is sincere and poetic and works with the piece. It’s a little show in a little gallery, but I am the first from the neighborhood to exhibit in NY, so I am full of myself at the moment. Here is a link –
        But if you feel you have something to say about my piece, say it for my own eyes, this is more important.

        1. Thanks for the link – I liked the painting. I am not a big fan of spontaneous automated writing, favoured by dadaists (about whom I was writing in my last post), so I’ll need some time to think it over ))

          I’ve almost completed a post on hypocricy in art appreciation which you may also find quite handy. Hope to have it out in a day or two.

        2. Well, I’ve just published a post, password protected, about your painting.
          The password is “boryana”, let me know if you (i) like it, (ii) agree with it (iii) would like it to be unprotected with links and credits, and all.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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