Sergei Savchenko, artist: "The 'romantic painter' is a good pop image".
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Sergei Savchenko, artist: “The ‘romantic painter’ is a good pop image”.

“I have not encountered ‘bad painting’ myself,” says Mr Savchenko. – But in music I am familiar with a similar phenomenon. For example, there is a British band in which every musician plays as he or she wants. If taken individually, you get a cacophony, but when played together, it is interesting. All art is the result of harmony, which, in turn. – a collection of rhythms that don’t conflict with each other. Even if the sounds are produced by completely untuned instruments, their combination can create an interesting harmony. It’s the same in painting. For example, from kitsch an interesting trend of expensive contemporary art was formed.

Does having a passion for music help you?

I didn’t set out to be an artist. Even as a child, I wanted to play every musical instrument I could get my hands on. I dreamed of learning classical guitar, but I was told that my hearing was not good. But I did – hard practice can develop your ears, and soon I was really good at it. I admit that as an artist there is not so much talent in me as there is hard work.

I studied four and a half years at a college (then the Trusch College) as a metalworker. I only joined this department (don’t laugh) because I loved heavy metal music and sharpening rivets. The first two or three years teachers generally considered me as an artist unpromising. Then we had a watercolor course and I suddenly understood that its essence is lightness, so I drew several works at once and got them into the college fund. Something inside me apparently “burst out” and I began taking private lessons and enrolled at the Academy. One day my teacher came to my studio, looked at my work and said: “No offence, but you have no sense of colour at all”. I started to understand what colour was, doing special exercises and studying the works of masters. That’s how I gradually came to Impressionism, which is based on transitions in colour. Contemporary art has an extraordinarily wide range of talents. The main thing is to channel them properly. Perhaps I am not able to work with colour in the same way as Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947, French post-impressionist painter, famous for his sun-drenched, harmonious landscapes. – Editor’s note). And yet many critics consider colour to be central to my work.

The sense of colour comes under time, it depends on the era?

Of course, every era has its own colour. Anything can be coloured. For instance, one of my friends thinks that I can convey the taste of wine with colour. The “taste of the time” can also be conveyed in colour. But the sense of colour itself is akin to a musical ear; you can be born with it. It’s a perception of harmony, where the period has almost no influence.

Do you consider yourself a fashionable artist?

Probably not. I am known in certain circles… Generally speaking, fashion is not something worth aspiring to, in my opinion. “Fashionable” is not a compliment for an artist. For him it’s important to be relevant, and also to himself, which isn’t easy. I’ve been active for 15 years now, I’ve written more than 2,000 works. Each new one is more and more difficult to do. I try that the next one will be in some way superior to the previous one, trying not to repeat myself. Most artists would like that, but not everyone succeeds. I would like to be among those who succeed.

And who do you define as a topical artist?

Topicality and eternity are on different poles. But great artists remain topical for a long time, Rembrant for instance. I think his works are still topical today. Although it seems to be the Middle Ages, realism, but when I look at the originals of his works I find something new for me every time. No artist knows the formula of topicality, whatever they say about it. My understanding is that to be topical you have to feel the spirit of the times. For that, you have to be interested in the life around you, communicate with different people, notice new hobbies, understand the reason for interest in them, be very flexible and changeable inside yourself. An example – Roman Romanishin (famous Ukrainian artist, born in 1957 – editor’s note). His creative career is long, but his works remain interesting and topical, even among students of the Academy of Arts who are not “led” by the regalia of the master.

You once said that it is important to be an artist in more than just your paintings.

Because you cannot be an artist in one thing and an artisan in another. This discrepancy will inevitably manifest itself in your work. The notion of organics is obligatory for an artist, in my opinion. My eldest son wants to go to art college. For him, painting is a concept completely unrelated to his profession. He lives, breathes and paints – it’s all in one. And I support this attitude in every way possible. But many people think painting is something separate and sublime. I’m not going to judge who is right.

How do you work: on a schedule – “not a day without a line”, or on inspiration?

For order, I force myself to “not a day without a line”. But lately it often doesn’t work out. And thank goodness for that! (smiles). I try to listen to myself and the situation around me more often. I only take up a brush when something has come up. Of course, for me it’s a goal I still have a long way to go, but if it’s formulated, then I’ve already gone part of the way. Are you ready to paint a picture knowing in advance that it will be very hard to sell it? When you live with it all the time, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. I guess I’ve just been lucky; I’ve never had a prospect that didn’t open up. Each work always has a destiny or a story, almost like people. So to create with the primitive aim of exchanging a painting for money marks is, at the very least, not worth it.

Do you think the price of your paintings would change if the signature “Savchenko” were removed?

Let’s be honest, the art market is built on names. So my works without the signature, of course, would fall in price. But I want to believe that people would still buy them. For the first five years or so the price of my works did not include a premium “for the name”, people paid for what they saw.

“Is Malevich’s Black Square a work of art or a social phenomenon, a kind of challenge to society?

Both. Both in equal measure. At that time, the situation on the art market was turbulent, almost chaotic. And Malevich simply made a bold square with his work. It’s genius. He revolutionized art by turning a work into a philosophical manifesto. How do you distinguish a work of art from a design? Design is a kind of art, only there they are working with a different material, but the search for harmony is also present.

What about the fact that art is always a search for something new and, unlike design, there are no rules?

The other day, a friend showed me his motorbike. I don’t know anything about them, but as soon as I saw it I realised it was a unique thing. And when he started it up… Such harmony! It is impossible for an artist not to create such a thing. In today’s world, there are more and more kinds of artists. I don’t know how to evaluate everything in terms of eternity, but it’s very interesting.

Andy Warhol – who is he to you?

I recently saw a work (portrait) in a gallery in Hamburg, from which I understood that Warhol could draw and paint very well. It added to my respect for him as a conceptualist, someone who combined art and commerce.

Over the years you’ve drifted further and further away from figurative art and towards abstract art. Why is that?

It’s really a phase where I am clearly moving towards abstract things, although I don’t fully understand them myself (laughs). I think the abstract perception of the world is an indication of some kind of maturity. Although I wouldn’t say that I will, because then I might become interested in realistic images as well. But so far I have conceived a few new rather abstract projects. I am trying not to freeze inside the colour perception. I find these projects interesting and I see no reason why I should deny myself the pleasure of realising them. One of them will be a megaproject in Lviv in early January next year. The city has recently built an Expocentre on an old industrial site. And we, a group of artists, found it interesting to organise a Retroprom project, which will be part of the Rizdvyani Christmas Festival. Eighteen artists will organise installation compositions in a hall with high ceilings. It will be a challenge for them to create something on a given theme on their own 60 square metres. The challenge will be interesting even for artists who would never be drawn to any exhibition. The event will last five days and nights. Then we plan to repeat it in Kiev, London and Odessa.

You have to agree, isn’t it sometimes the case that abstract images are just encryption of emptiness?

Thank you for your question. The problem here is that people often don’t fully understand such things. At first glance it seems like something can be encrypted. But when you look at the coloured rectangles by Mark Rothko (1903-1970, American artist, leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism and creator of the colour field. – Editor’s note), there is no doubt that this is great art. An abstract work requires a certain amount of preparation on the part of the viewer. It’s like in a stereo cinema – as long as you do not wear special glasses, you only see blurred images on the screen.

Of course, the seeming simplicity of performing such works attracts many charlatans. It makes sense to talk about the encryption of emptiness. But it is not difficult for an expert to figure out what is what.

It is believed that only an artist who is contemporary can become big. But then why does recognition often come after death?

My English gallery owner says “a good artist is a dead artist”, but then apologises (smiles). We have already talked about the fact that the value of an artist’s work is largely determined by PR. Moreover, if the artist is dead, he or she cannot paint anything. Limited edition is the law of marketing. A writer and his literary hero are often quite different personalities. And in painting, to what extent is what the artist paints related to his life? Artists fall into two groups. One portrays only one’s own emotions, the other can portray the emotions of others. In my work I mostly speak for myself. They’re different, but they’re all about the same thing – me. That’s not good. So for the last six months I’ve been forcing myself to step back, to portray the world around me more broadly. I guess this is another step I have to climb.

Are an artist and a romantic synonymous?

“Romantic artist” is a good pop image (smiles). It’s not really necessary at all.

How are you with time, wouldn’t you like to have 25 hours in a day?

In Holland I had a dialogue with a priest about it. He complained that he didn’t have enough time. To which I replied that time is like chewing gum that can be stretched in any direction. “Well, what if the stickiness of the piece is still not enough?” the priest asked. The answer was, “Then you need money to buy more. The truth is that we have plenty of time, we just need to be able to be in tune with it.

Brodsky wrote: “All creativity is essentially prayer.”

This is true. Art demands great spiritual concentration, as well as a prayer.


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