Ivan Marchuk: Give Me 1000 Years - I will Paint the Sky and will not Repeat!

Give Me 1000 Years - I will Paint the Sky and will not Repeat!

Ivan Marchuk

When the artist came, the fears dissolved. Smiling elderly man with a cunning look was standing in front of me. I love this look, it always promises an interesting communication. We sat at a table next to each other, like old friends for a secret conversation. The waiter came up and set 2 glasses of champagne, which was a surprise for me. It turned out that Ivan Stepanovich had already ordered champagne on his way to me. I did not expect that the 82-year-old genius would coddle me with sparkling wine and joke as if we had known each other for a hundred years. Although at first it was not funny at all. The artist’s answer for my first question ruined the alleged interview.
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I was seized by a slight panic. It is difficult to rearrange the further course of the conversation, when the tone is set in a wrong way than the one you expected. The first thing I asked the artist was about his opinion on today's Ukraine. And in return I heard the despair. No, nothing will be good here, never. So, I was thinking how to return positive tone to this conversation. Champagne helped. I believed that if I dig deeper, then somewhere in the soul of this person I can find love and hope for the best. It turned out that the country as a scene of political events and Ukraine as a picturesque homeland, where beloved people live, are different concepts for the artist. It is up to the reader to judge what has come out of this conversation.
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Editor: Once you said that you regret that you were born in Ukraine but not in Australia. Can it happen that in this century people will want to be born in Ukraine? And what should happen to make it real?
Ivan Marchuk: I see only the minuses, only negative things in our country now. So far I have no hope. All my life I follow what is going on in Ukraine and what they are doing with it. That's why I do not see any progress. Maybe in 10-20 years there will be no Ukrainians here, because they will leave. There is only one value now in this country - money and how to steal and export it. I do not even want to sell my paintings here.
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Despite of my monstrous work capacity I could not take the brush recently thinking about the situation in our country. I live worse than all other artists; I mean living conditions that the country provides to artists, it is not about my earnings. All that I have in terms of conditions for life and work, I have thanks to a certain patron who helped me. He helped me to move from Borshchagivka (the suburb of Kyiv where there is no metro), gave me a workshop at Pushkinska street (once it was just a paradise in the center of Kyiv, but now there is no enough space for me anymore). Therefore, the conditions for work are useless, and the country does not care. I think that I lived a bad life, stupid one, because I lived in a wrong place and in wrong time. Australia would be perfect, this is my paradise. Thailand is also a paradise, but there is something alien in their culture. When I lived in New York, I still dreamt about Australia.
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Editor: Is the younger generation able to change anything for the better here?
Ivan Marchuk: The young generation will simply leave Ukraine. Smart people will leave, they have no other choice, and all the rest will stay. When God gives a talent to a person, he demands to use this talent and give it to humanity. If this talent falls on a bad ground, for example in Ukraine, and if it does not grow like a flower, it wilts. There are practically no opportunities for talented people here now. I am suffering here.
Editor: But you left the United States and returned to Ukraine. Why?
Ivan Marchuk: Because I did not have a wife, and without a wife I was bored there alone. That's the only reason (laughing). And here in Ukraine there are very beautiful women. I certainly missed Ukrainians living in the States. I was asked why I was coming back to Ukraine. And I answered that I want to see real art, and when I arrive I would kiss all women on Khreshchatyk.
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Editor: It would be great if we could adopt the successful experience of such countries as Australia and the USA and apply it here in Ukraine.
Ivan Marchuk: It's impossible. This is genetics. There is no envy in Australia. And Ukrainians are jealous of one another.
Editor: But you miss Ukraine when you are far away.
Ivan Marchuk: If someone takes me to another normal country, I would agree. I’m sure they would even open my museum somewhere. Here I cannot and do not want to do anything. The atmosphere is oppressing. I breathe the same negative that all the people of Ukraine do. Above us there is a terrible ozone hole full of evil, hatred and cruelty.
Editor: How can it be changed? There must be a way.
Ivan Marchuk: We need to understand who came and did this to us, and who should come and fix it. Someone is very interested in bringing everything to its decline here. As soon as Ukraine became independent, it was said that it would remain the preserve of communism. And it happened. People are still Soviet with their mentality. The new generation is completely different, yes, but it will not build anything here. They will see how people live in other countries and they will leave. This is a very smart and practical generation, and too lazy to make efforts and change something here, it's easier to come to everything ready in another place.
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Editor: Well, this is not very joyful perspective. But for sure there is also something positive that you would like to share with foreigners. What would you say about our country to those who are going to come here for the first time?
Ivan Marchuk: It's all cheap here, affordable alcohol, and the most beautiful women. The land and people are beautiful and there are still kind ones, mostly those that are poor. I am amazed by such stories when foreigners come here and live, and even in the village, they create their own farm, make cheese and sell it. So they like to stay here. I was also struck by Michel Tereschenko from Glukhiv. Officials hate such people like him, and simple people like them. The Pole, the one who led the Ukrzaliznytsia, did a lot for us (note: Wojciech Balchun, ex CEO of Ukrzaliznytsia). Such chic trains are launched thanks to him. I took a train from Kyiv to Ternopil and was amazed. It turn out that they are produced in Ukraine; much better than Hyundai!
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Editor: Live another 100 years, and you will be amazed how Ukraine will be transformed.
Ivan Marchuk: God grant! You know, miracles happen!
Editor: Let's talk about art. Pliontanism is a very painstaking technique. Why not to paint in a simpler way?
Ivan Marchuk: Because it will not be more beautiful, but only easier. When I was a student I said that I want to be an abnormal artist.
Editor: And why did you say that? Have you already felt at that time that you are not like everyone else?
Ivan Marchuk: Yes, I understood: I'm not that kind and do not want to be like everyone else. It's since childhood that I've always been a leader and a very naughty boy. Living in the village I had a lot of energy. In the city children are limited in freedom. They sit on concrete and smoke. And in the village the child receives a diploma of 10 universities. And while being a student I was changed by art tremendously.
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Editor: And what do you say about new technologies, the Internet? How does Marchuk the artist get along with technological progress?
Ivan Marchuk: When I lived in New York, I was rotating in the Diaspora. Once I made the exhibition and some Professor Rudnitsky criticized my Chernobyl Madonna so much that I answered him: "Dear Sir, you look at the painting from the perspective of a man of the 19th century, and I create and live in the 21st century." I love modern art. Depending on the age and time, everything changes and our perception of certain things as well. I’ve been already in the 21st century, if we talk about thinking, philosophy and creativity. However, in terms of technologic progress I'm still in the 19th century. I confess, with my cellular phone I can only call and answer the call.
Editor: But thanks to the Internet the whole world knows you!
Ivan Marchuk: Oh yeah, for 2 years I made 17 exhibitions outside of Ukraine. Asia, Africa, Europe. I never thought that my paintings would be exhibited in Thailand. And I thought: “Not a single newspaper in Kyiv wrote about it. I do it for Ukraine and on its behalf. I work as a kind of ambassador”. But people answered me: "So now there is the Internet, and there is information about exhibitions!" And that's the truth! (laughing)
Editor: There is an opinion that a real artist should live in poverty and should starve. Only then he/she can create something worthwhile. Do you agree with this?
Ivan Marchuk: No, Van Gogh's time has passed.
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Editor: But you went through rather complicated times.
Ivan Marchuk: Yes, and this has been going on since my childhood. My family was very poor. When I became a student, I lived for 40 kopiykas per day, it was enough to have lunch. In the school my sister helped me, and when I was at the institute, I went to work. When I entered the institute, I came home, bought a bicycle, came to my mother and said: "Mom, I entered the institute!" Mom: "For how long?" Me: "For 6 years ". Mom: "My God, son, you've been studying for 5 years already, you would have done something, earned money." There was poverty. My mother was illiterate, she put crosses instead of signatures. And we had to survive somehow.
Editor: Well, I doubt that Ivan Marchuk would become the famous artist, if he had everything since childhood.
Ivan Marchuk: I can say that if I was born in the city, I would definitely be different. Nature is the paradise. It is the most important source of inspiration. I grabbed small geese, then sheep and cows. How I loved to peer into the eyes of the cow. I was hunting for crows, I could die 100 times, falling from a tree. My mother punished me for this. But everything was great, and it was my childhood that gave me the start that led me to this moment.
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Editor: And what do you do to be in such a great shape?
Ivan Marchuk: I eat right, and I think about girls often. At the opening of the exhibition I embraced the waist of about one and a half hundred beautiful girls. This is inspiration. So I can live for a long time! I need to open the exhibitions more often! (laughs) I also like walking in Kyiv in Shevchenko park and in the botanic garden. In the park I have a familiar pair of crows, whom I feed with boiled sausage. They notice me from afar and arrive. This is a good rest for me.
Editor: Are there artists who you respect and follow?
Ivan Marchuk: I do not know young artists, and if we talk about my agemates - Oleg Denisenko from Lviv, he is a fantastic graphic artist. And those artists who are no longer alive are Victor Gontarev from Kharkiv, who founded his school of painting; Oleg Minko from Lviv, Dmytro Stetsko, Boris Plaksiy from Kyiv. They were the great artists.
I watch the works of young artists only at exhibitions. And I like what I see there. There are talents of modern art. But I just do not remember their names. Ukraine is a very talented nation, very much.
Editor: And how do you determine that this is a worthwhile painting, but that one is so-so?
Ivan Marchuk: I do not know how to evaluate paintings in terms of money, I just understand internally if it is art or not. It's nowhere written, it's intuition, inner voice, I just know. But it is my personal vision. For example, some envious people say that I do not know how to paint at all (laughs).
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Editor: What would you say to the young generation of artists in terms of how to break through in their life?
Ivan Marchuk: When I presented my album at the jubilee of the Lviv Academy of Arts, I shared my recipe of success. I have one piece of advice: "Take a calendar and paint over the red days in black, let the holidays become weekdays. You can achieve something only if you work very hard." I am the creator, I search for new ways in creativity, I suffer, I work.
I got Irving Stone's book "The Agony and the Ecstasy" about Michelangelo. I was starving for 7 days. I concluded that the more a person works, the less he sleeps and eats, the healthier he will be and will live longer.
Editor: Will you agree with Andrei Tarkovsky (an outstanding Soviet film director) who said: "If the world is in order, in harmony, it does not need art. We can say that art exists only because the world is not perfect. "
Ivan Marchuk: Any time in different civilizations the beautiful things had existed for centuries, despite the fact that people did not live any better than we do now. For example ancient India, Egypt, Greece. People in any situation will create beauty, but when they are fed up, there will be no place for creativity. I once dreamed about my own castle. I was asked - why? I answered: there can be many walls. What for? -To hang paintings all over them. I would work to make it real. If someone built a stela from Kyiv to Lviv, I would paint it until I finish. And my last sentence on this topic sounds like this: "Give me 1000 years, I will paint the sky and I will not repeat it!"
Editor: I would admire such a sky painted by Ukrainian artist Ivan Stepanchovich Marchuk, a genius who created about 5000 works, opened more than 150 monographic and 50 collective exhibitions, invented his own unique style, a man born in the 20th century, whose works will be admired for centuries in future. Ivan Marchuk is a man with a piercing gaze and an excellent sense of humor, who passes all the pain of this long-suffering land through himself, expressing on the canvas complex intertwining of feelings and experiences.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos by Yury Zaluzhniy


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