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Serhiy Savchenko. Interview in Gdansk

G.ART presents artists from 24 countries in the East of the Western Europe. Contemporary cultural processes in each of these countries are to some extent similar, but there are also significant differences. G.ART wants to hear from the artists themselves: what’s important to them today, why they create certain works, what they expect from the future, and how the art market in their country functions. The first guest of this international project G.ART is a Ukrainian artist, art manager and founder of animation studio Serhiy Savchenko, who lives and works in two countries – in the Ukrainian city of Lviv and in Polish Gdansk, where he and his family founded Savchenko Foundation.

To Poland for a new cultural environment

A studio outside Lviv is nothing new for Serhiy Savchenko. For many years, he has been travelling, attending artistic symposia in various countries, so changing places of work is commonplace for him. In general, a person develops more actively when he gets up from his chair and goes outdoors, the artist says. Poland has attracted Serhiy not so much to the art market but rather to a new cultural environment; the influence of a certain aesthetic environment is important to him. Although his “base” remains Lviv, Serhiy comes to Poland more and more often because new projects appear in Gdańsk, interesting meetings take place and the city fascinates with its rhythm. Serhiy always brings works from Gdansk to Lviv and vice versa – they look different in the new space.

Savchenko points out that the main trends in contemporary art in Poland and Ukraine, especially in Western Ukraine and Lviv, are similar, but in Poland, everything related to technology is more developed, such as digital printing, printing techniques in general, the school of posters.

The creative process is soothing

Serhiy agrees with the phrase he once heard: “An artist goes through the entire history of art individually during his lifetime. He is flexible in his creativity, can return from time to time to the styles and techniques in which he has worked before. Which of his own works does he like best? Paintings are like children, Savchenko says, it is impossible to pick your favourite ones. A work of art is a concentration of an artist’s visual experience. Referring to a quotation from the Old Testament, Serhiy compares creative experimentation: trying new techniques he compares to scattering stones, and concentrating on one thing to gather stones. Time selects the best of what an artist creates. Maybe, says Serhiy, the painting he has been doing all his life will be forgotten, but his cartoons and animation will be remembered. Art and work is a natural process. Inspiration comes after the artist enters the studio and touches the material. In Gdansk, Serhiy realised that in addition to a gallery and a flat, it is absolutely essential to rent a studio, because it is impossible not to work – you lose the feeling of belonging to the artistic world and depression starts. The creative process calms you down and gives you the understanding that you are where you belong.

Artist and/or manager?

Serhiy Savchenko is both a successful artist and an active art manager, and is not prepared to separate these roles.He considers the notion that an artist can only create to be a cliché. All human activity is a definite development story and there is no need to distinguish between a family father, an artist and a manager… Art, Serhiy is convinced, is one of the highest activities that requires a high level of knowledge and it is harder to make art than to be a manager. So it was not difficult for him to take up management in the art field. Besides, art management is still in its infancy in Ukraine because there are many talented artists, but fewer people who regulate the field of art. So why don’t artists take matters into their own hands and reach the audience on their own?

In line for the success tram

Serhiy doesn’t consider himself a salesman because, despite his experience, these mechanisms remain a mystery to him. Selling a painting is hard, persuading a buyer is a delicate process. Why should a person part with his money for a painted canvas?It cannot be done without a high level of credibility of the buyer with the artist. To be ambitious, to strive for popularity and financial success is normal. Everyone is in line for the tram of success, says Serhiy, but it’s not a rubber one, and there are doors of a certain size in it. The artist himself no longer fights for a place on this imaginary tram, because he’s learned to wait quietly for the next one. He has never wanted to be successful at any price and today he simply lives for the quality of his work. Serhiy has only one piece of advice for artists – work, create. To use modern methods of communication with the audience and potential customers.

Introduce Ukrainians and Poles

Savchenko Foundation is a family organisation founded by the artist together with his wife and son. Its objectives are to carry out various cultural activities: visual art, music, theatre and poetry. Serhiy contributes the proceeds from the sale of his works to a fund whose mission is much broader than the commercial activities of the gallery. The owners have many plans and the environment in Poland is good; Savchenko Foundation projects are regularly financed by the City of Gdańsk. In the next two years, the Foundation will continue to grow, Serhiy is certain. He plans to present his own works and those of other artists. Serhiy feels comfortable working in such an artistic and commercial format that allows him to come up with and implement interesting ideas. He compares his work to putting together a complex multi-figured composition on canvas – it is at the same time an art business, cultural activity, animation in culture, and, moreover, always a work with people: artists, musicians, spectators… Poles know little about Ukraine and Serhiy is pleased that he can invite his Ukrainian friends to the gallery, show their art and introduce Ukrainians and Poles.

Ukrainian art: not only ethnics

Nowadays the difference between Ukrainian art and, for example, Polish or German art is getting smaller and smaller. Older Ukrainian artists lived in a closed society, while younger ones are open to the world. But the question of Ukrainian artists’ promotion abroad is very relevant. They have the school, the talent, the necessary materials, but they lack scale, no access to the world’s galleries and auctions. There are superpowerful masters working in the country, but the world market is unaware of them because of communication problems and the fact that Ukraine has not yet joined Europe. Today, interest in the art of the third world is trending – perhaps this is an opportunity for Ukrainian artists, Serhiy believes. True, the problem is that Western consumers expect local exotics from artists from the Third World. However, it is wrong to present contemporary Ukrainian art only through ethnicity. Ukraine has a vibrant, well-developed contemporary art, and contemporary art continues to develop. Ethnics in art can be kitsch, but it can also be a deeper phenomenon. “I love Ukraine as my country, I live there through my mind and body, I am ready to defend it in different ways. I am from Ukraine. When Poles, colleagues, friends or clients come to me, I realize that I am a Ukrainian,” says Serhiy. The decision to write his name on the sign in Gdańsk was rather difficult for him. But he has decided to take responsibility for what he shows in the gallery. It’s also a microcosm of Ukraine.

Selected quotes:

“The problem is that the Western consumer expects exoticism from Third World artists. I understand him, he wants to see something interesting: what do they have there? Oh, how badly they live! How hungry they are, what communal flats they have! How funny the natives are! Or we need to show real problems through art, war, the maimed, the sick, or unique ethnic things. Reflecting on this, I introduced ‘aboriginal’ motifs in my work. But my story was about Ukraine being more than that.”

“I don’t really like the division into conceptual and non-conceptual art. Art in principle carries a certain concept. It can be a concept of colour, a concept of composition, a concept of vision, because a concept is an idea. A work without an idea does not exist. For example, Dadaism is also an idea, the concept of ‘a work that represents nothing’. Another thing is that there is institutional art, which “serves” certain social forces and phenomena, and it is expressive conceptually. Sometimes I like to get attached to these currents. But for me there is no acute problem of conceptualisation, I will not rape my work if it has no strongly expressed verbal concept, but only visual information. That said, there are some things that simply require a signed text. It’s very important for an artist to feel this, because often there are empty, made-up texts, artificially glued to the work. But works that require a story, with a conceptual text, look more coherent, more deeply understood.


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