Mykhailo Deiak «Most artists don’t usually think about their audience. We are selfish, and we get carried away when we work”

5 october, 2016
Ukrainian artist Mykhailo Deiak . Photo: Olexandr Piliuhin

Ukrainian artist Mykhailo Deiak . Photo: Olexandr Piliuhin for ArtsLooker

Mykhailo Deiak is a Ukrainian master of expressive realism and one of the most prominent representatives of the Zakarpattya School of painting. His name is well-known not only in Ukraine, but throughout the whole world. Exhibitions of the painter’s works take place in Hungary, China, and Canada. His paintings are appreciated and find their way to markets such as Phillips, the British auction house, and SCOPE Basel, Art Basel satellite fair, where Mykhailo participated for the first time in June 2016.

Specially for ArtsLooker, our reporter Roksana Rublevska met with the artist to discuss the magic power of his colors, the manufacturing of his own paints, experiments with dimensions, and for patrons of arts as the life boat for Ukrainian art.

You started your career as a painter when you fell over the Zakarpattya School of painting. Can we take it that you still follow its main principles?

Yes, more than likely, the main artist’s medium of the Zakarpattya School is color. Artists from Zakarpattya won their international acclaim due to their classic European education. They exhibit their works on the best picture shows next to Claude Monet and Anri Matiss. I think that on a subconscious level, I’m still under the influence of this art movement.

Have you ever copied the style of Zakarpattya School artists?

All painters who learn to paint fall back upon copying, but neither of them make such confessions. This is the only way for painters to improve their technique and discover their own style.

How do you manage to combine colors so skillfully and trigger perfectly clear associations in the minds of your audience?

It is hard for me to explain, I just feel the color. When it comes to combination, there is the elementary chromatics, analysis of color perception and distinguishing. For example, our brain tends to have better perception ability if red is next to green. This research is based on the analysis of human physiology and psychology.


Do the colors in your paintings make up the established symbol?

I never use the traditional symbols generally known by most people. Red doesn’t necessarily mean blood, and black doesn’t necessarily mean death. Such traditional boundaries are too primitive. Green may embody the tragic element, if you manage to combine it properly with other colors. Since conscious human beings invented science, architecture and classical music, I do hope that they are able to embrace the world in all its colors and tones. I can paint the sky pink or brown, and this is to satisfy my personal aesthetic need. I work for a well-prepared audience, for people who are able to take art in the right spirit.

How many colors do you usually use for one theme?

When it comes to colors, I always keep my options open, since the human brain is able to distinguish millions of colors. Unlike Richter, I treat my audience with enough grace (laughs). As for the process, I always have five or six designs in my mind, and it takes time for me to find meaning in them. When I paint them, I truly enjoy myself, for painting is not just mechanical movements. The final composition and colors may in the end turn out to be not the way I initially planned.

How did the idea to manufacture paints occur to you?

There was a time when paints were too expensive, and someone left a bag with some coloring agent in my studio. I had studied paint mixing technology at the academy, so I decided to try. I wondered why nobody did it in Ukraine. Later, my naive attempt generated into manufacturing. Now nearly 36 tones are on sale in all big Ukrainian cities. As I worked, I certainly understood how difficult it was to produce quality paints. However, it was too late to drop this idea, so I had to bring it to life.

Some of your paintings are very meditative. Do you explore religious issues in your paintings?

No, I am not interested in religion. I believe in science. If God knew that people would kill each other, then why did he create us at all?


To give us the freedom of choice…

But he could figure out that people were unable to resist the temptation. You know, my parents are very religious and I grew up in an environment where this idea was forced on people. When I made it into the academy, I started to look  for the truth. Then I came to the understanding that religion existed, so that people could shuffle off their responsibility on some fictional character endowed with extraordinary powers.

And do you turn to political issues in your paintings?

I took active part in Euromaidan. Though, I don’t dare yet to create paintings about it. War, struggle for freedom and awakening of dignity – these things are too serious to just speculate on them. I believe that the theme of a national revolution is extremely broad and philosophic. It requires deep comprehension, plenty of money and ambitious ideas.

What is your idea of the modern Ukrainian art?

I think it is important that we could demonstrate this art in the world cultural centers: Paris, London, New York, without fear of being accused of copying, speculations on painful topics that require comprehension, rather than simple broadcasting. Art should be complex and multidimensional. Unfortunately, our country is still closed for the world. There has long been a global art market, while a lot of Ukrainian artists exhibit and sell their works only in Ukraine. We need art patrons to integrate into the global cultural context, we need sponsors.

How do you think, why well-off people have no interest in the Ukrainian art?

We cannot blame rich people for their disinterest in the modern art. Education was poor in the Soviet Union. Even nowadays, in our academy, the culture of the 20th century is totally ignored. Art history is not included in the basic programs of all institutions of higher education. How can they understand something they have never seen? Though, in these latter days, the situation has been changing: more people are becoming interested, many of them hire professional private teachers to study art.

Is the school of academic painting important for modern artists?

I suppose it is. I have never practiced traditional painting. But I studied classical painting at the academy, which gave me a huge advantage over amateur artists. I can paint things inaccessible to the human eye with no academic background. These skills are highly valued by professionals.

How did you manage to get to SCOPE Basel?

The competition was intense. Still, I managed get shortlisted as a participant. Together with the Voloshyn Gallery, we prepared ourselves profoundly, and that’s why everything was well-organized from the perspective of design. There was a box with attached metallic items in the center, and there were art works on the glass beside the box. By the way, we managed to sell one of the works, although most of new-comers who exhibit for the first time go home empty-handed.

What inspired you to tinker with dimensions? Does it mean that your audience cannot get enough of the usual, yet conceptual art?

No, I guess I couldn’t get enough of painting. Most artists don’t usually think about their audience. We are selfish, and we get carried away when we work.

Why do Ukrainian and foreign audiences embrace the art in different ways?

Unfortunately, Ukrainians missed 70 years during which the arts were developing. When the iron curtain had been dropped, people finally saw that plastic art is not necessarily a miner holding his spear. Instead, it may be something that doesn’t look like a sculpture at all.

What should we do to change the situation?

First of all, we need to reform the academy, which currently has no vital signs at all. Secondly, the Ministry of Culture needs a good manager to eradicate post-soviet officialdom, dismiss all those weird ladies with old-fashioned hairstyles, and finally find money and people interested in the development of Ukrainian art.


You travel a lot. How is Ukraine represented on the global art stage?

At the moment we cannot say that it is somehow represented. It’s all about big money and speed. Ukraine annually arrives once a year with something very small, so nobody can notice it. And that makes sense. There’s no point in counting auction sales money, because auctions do not gather as many people as general exhibitions or fairs.

What is the main concept of your Genesis project?

Generally, genesis means creation of something. Metal items you see now may be your portrait or an interpretation of this moment transmitted through my artistic perception. Remember Hawking: light, time, space come out from black holes deformed, or just different. The Genesis project is about that. I embrace the world, and it acquires strange and bizarre forms which I demonstrate. By the way, I am currently working on a project called “Flowers”. These are dimensional metal designs, in which I see flowers, and the audience will see anything they can only imagine. The essence of true art is to embrace it with your soul and not be bound by the tablet containing the text of critical edition.

How do you think, are the works of art expressive because they demonstrate the author’s idea and emotional attitude towards the theme of such works?

That’s exactly what my Genesis project is about. You can never create anything you have initially planned, since imagination has no limits. That’s what expression means here.

Do you agree with Hegel that art is only about senses, and it has no connections with science?

I agree with the first part of the statement: art is sensual. However, nowadays it has become science, too. Think, for instance, of Swiss watches. This technical device is a work of art, isn’t it? Today, art and science are interrelated: kinetic sculptures, video-art, and laser designs. Artists nowadays can use any media and materials to achieve their purpose, and this is truly amazing!

Text: Roksana Rublevska. Photo: Olexandr Piliuhin