Ivan Marchuk is a world-known painter, a genius of a modern age, a legend of Ukrainian painting, a person who had been persecuted for a long time but didn’t lose his talent. Our guest is an artist who forms a positive image of Ukraine. He is 80 this year. We have talked about his boyish childhood, life in emigration, inscrutable plontanizm, and women, the most non-cultural capital and principles, which he overcame.
You are in the list of Top 100 Living Geniuses of the world created by Great Britain experts. You are called a genius who influenced the transformation of public consciousness. Tell us, please, what do you feel as a genius? What is the difference between your life and lives of ordinary people?
I’ve always known that I am different. I didn’t live in a manner as usual people did. All my life I’ve been living alone. To tell the truth, I was married (laugh), but it didn’t last for a long time. Painting is above all for me. Women and painting! The mode of life, the day regime are very important for me. I work without weekends and holidays. I am very self-disciplined person. I am obsessed and insatiable. By the way, I am very stingy to leave my paintings anyone.
Don’t you give or sell your works?
There was time when I gifted and sold my works, but those people are putting my pictures on auctions now.
Let’s talk about women and painting. Are these two things your weaknesses?
Yes, that’s right. I came from America because there were no women, and there are lots of women in Ukraine.
Why don’t you have your own museum in Kyiv?
Because Kyiv is the most non-cultural capital. Our country is also like that. It concerns all spheres – everyday and mental existence. The art ethics don’t develop, it is in its stagnation. We have many talents in Ukraine and they are all self-made people. I have the same story.
You are so-called perpetual fighter; you are looking for justice despite all obstacles…
I’ve always been a rebel! I’ve always faced some obstacles, nobody helped me, even our country! Ukraine didn’t give me any financial support. Several presidents visited my workshop but they didn’t give any lodgment for me to be able to work in good conditions (artist’s workshop is on the fifth floor). Even National Union of Artists didn’t help me. I’m not welcomed at National Academy of Arts of Ukraine and I didn’t even try to come into it because I knew I wouldn’t be accepted. Artists are going there only for making money. My country is a kind of ghetto for me.
Do you have your own watchword?
‘Suffer, fret but don’t confess’ this is my credo. When I was abroad, I had to want to work, because it is impossible not to work there. When I came back to Ukraine, I began to think that I didn’t want to continue my work. I haven’t been working since summer.
Is it true that life is work for you?
When I don’t work it means I don’t live. There was time when I reported myself about work I had done during a day, and when I went to bed, I planned my next working day.
I know you lived abroad for a long time. It was Australia, Canada, and America. If you had such an opportunity, would you go abroad again?
Yes, but I wouldn’t take all my paintings.
Is it difficult to transport paintings from Ukraine to other country?
Yes. Our customhouse has very complicated rules. Now, it is more complicated to transport paintings for some exhibitions than it was during the Soviet times.
What kind of life did you have abroad? What kind of neighborhood did you have? As far as I am concerned, you didn’t know the language.
I was the first who went abroad by myself. If we are talking about neighborhood, it wasn’t there. Everybody is on his own way in New York. Nobody came to me without an invitation, it is the way the things are going there. I had the whole day only for me, I was at home and painted. There was some kind of hobby for me – exhibitions. I used to visit 5-6 galleries a day. It was my distraction. It is possible to go on the bottle as there is a lot of alcohol on exhibitions (laugh). It was really hard to talk to somebody. I tried to learn English but, unfortunately, it became boring for me. Even now, you know, English may come in handy as I often go to other counties.
Why don’t you take English lessons?
I could but I appreciate my time.
Didn’t you afraid of a big city?
Not at all. When I came to New York, I went to the top floor of a skyscraper and viewed the city. Although I am afraid of height, I was on the balcony made of glass.
Ivan Stepanovych, you said that liked to live in Australia very much, but you lived there only one year in comparison with America. What was the difference between Australian and American life?
In Australia, I lived in a suburb, the so-called one-storeyed Australia. It was lovely and peaceful. When I was there, I thought that would never returned to that damn country where I was born. People don’t like each other here, they don’t like their parents, kill each other. When I am asked why did I come back to this country, I say that I didn’t come back to a country, I came back to my motherland, and because it was wistful to live in a country like America.
How do our people feel themselves living abroad, especially in America?
It is like to take a frog from a bog and put it in an aquarium. Would it live there? No, because the environs are different. But people get used to everything better than frogs.
Let’s talk about art that you create. Plontanizm is your unique and specific drawing technique. Is it your way not to be like everybody else?
Definitely. It was the main point for me. I was thinking about who I am. I know that I am not like everybody. But who am I? Plontanizm appeared when I saw naked trees. For a long time I worked only in winter, autumn and spring. Summer landscapes didn’t suit my technique, albeit I tried to work in summer.
What period of a day do you appreciate the most to work?
First, I worked at night and then I started to work in a daytime.
Ivan Stepanovych, what are you thinking about while creating your paintings?
I always think about women regardless of what I paint. I always want that some woman calls me, comes and takes away my attention from work. Be honest, everything is based on women. People thought that the Earth was based on whales and I think that it is based on women. A woman is an Atlantean who takes everything in her arms.
Are you one of those artists who is looking for inspiration, the Muse?
I am insatiable and obsessed. I said: “Give me thousand years and I will paint the sky”, or “Built a wall from Kyiv to Lviv and will paint it till it wouldn’t be all painted”. Inspiration is a fib, and talent is fate. We don’t choose fate, it chooses us.
Whole your life you live in cities. It was Lviv, Kyiv, Sidney and New York, albeit there aren’t any urban landscapes in your works. Why?
I painted everything that saw when I was a student in Lviv, and urban landscapes too. I created plontanizm being in Kyiv. Then I found myself. If you are an artist and live on this painterly land, you just can not to paint landscapes, no matter you are a modernist or an urbanist.
Who is the first to see your paintings?
If I had a wife, she would be the first to see them. A painter always wants to show his work to a woman, but I am not married. My American colleague sees them first. I once asked him to loot at my new work. He looked at it and didn’t say anything. I understood everything. In a week I asked him to come again. His reaction was completely different. This man has a feel.
Ivan Stepanovych, I know you have a house in Uman …
Yes, near The Dnieper River and Chernecha Hill (Taras Hill). Then I bought an apartment overlooking the Dnieper River, but I must say I was doubting to do it or not.
How often do you go there?
Mostly in summer, when I create my winter landscapes. I don’t need to switch on an air conditioner, my paintings cool the air (laugh).
Is it true that you have a microscope?
Yes. I was presented it and from that time I like to look at different things using it. I like to look at dust. It transforms in different sculptures which look at you. It is a miracle.
As I understand, you are a very proud and principal man. Have you ever crossed your own rules or principles?
I have done it recently. 20 years ago, I swore that I would never exhibit my works in Lviv, even than I would be dead. I was overpersuaded to do it and I agreed.
Ivan Stepanovych, it was difficult for you to realize your potential when you were young. In your opinion, is it difficult for young painters to realize their potential nowadays?
Now everything is easier than it was. Unlike American painters, our painters don’t have another work, they just painters.
By the way, have you ever thought to set up your own business?
No, I think this is women’s work. To tell the truth, I want to have my own gallery.
And the last question – are you still looking for your woman?
You shouldn’t look for a woman, she should come to you, as Jesus Christ. Did he come or appear? Appear, of course. The woman hasn’t appeared yet, maybe I shouldn’t have it.
By Ilona Sofiyk