Top 100 Living Geniuses: Ukrainian Artist Ivan Marchuk
…Even at the age of 80 Ivan Marchuk still looks good. He wears the same hairstyle and exudes plenty of life energy. Ivan Marchuk is a talented artist from the Ternopil region, a creator of a unique art style “Pliontanism” (derived from the Galician dialectal word “pliontaty” – “to weave,” “to knit”) who gained his first recognition outside Ukraine. There, he received a great number of titles and awards. For instance, Ivan Marchuk was listed as one of “Top 100 Living Geniuses” by the British The Daily Telegraph. Even though his works are housed in numerous world museums, the artist confessed that fame didn’t spoil him. He remains the same. He is a hard worker and a dreamer.
Mr. Marchuk, do you ever suffer from depression?
Yes, I do. I’ve had no desire to touch a paintbrush for half a year because of the atmosphere in Ukraine. I am sensitive to such things. I know what the future holds for us, but I won’t tell. What do I do? I sit in my studio and speak to my paintings.
Which of the modern artists do you admire?
There are hundreds of them. My idol was and still is Liubomyr Medvid (Ivan Marchuk refuses to tell the names of other favorite artists). I am frequently asked if I come up with themes for my paintings myself or if I “visualize” them? I do neither. I just work. I improvise. All days in my calendar are workdays, without any holidays. My hands work like a machine.
Do you often present your paintings to people?
Not anymore. I used to give them as gifts more often when I was banned during the Soviet times. I used to distribute my paintings instead of business cards. Now there are some people who sell my paintings at auctions. I never speak about money. It’s a sin. (Ivan Marchuk flatly refuses to tell the price of his canvases.)
You are famous, self-sufficient and well-off. You can lie on the couch and let your hair down.
I am a totally different type of person. I am financially secure, but Ukraine didn’t create a better life for me. I live the same now as I used to. Fifty years ago I had a cramped studio on the fifth floor and the same small room I have now. I cannot work on large canvases. They are uncomfortable to carry around and difficult to get upstairs. Presidents, city mayors, and other prominent people came to my studio and all promised to help me with new accommodation but still haven’t done a thing. They don’t need me. Actually, all great people of Ukraine are not needed.
I want to ask you about your wife. I know that you were married for only three months.
I have already forgotten this… (Once Ivan Marchuk said that he immediately knew he wouldn’t spend his life with that woman. And that’s what happened. He has a lot of admirers, but he still hasn’t proposed to any of them.) I have a daughter. She is a musician. People call her “Paganini in a skirt.” Where did she get her talent? It was my gift to her (smiling). Once, after examining my paintings, an expert in Moscow said that I must have had a very serious music education. But I can only strum on a guitar (he smiles).
Do you have a dream?
Yes, I do. I dream about having a wife. Some say that one shouldn’t look for a wife. She will come herself. It seems that I have been living with her my whole life and she still hasn’t come. My friends wonder how it is possible.
In one of your interviews you said that you eat like a bird, very little. Why?
I eat enough. I eat not only tasty, but also healthy food. Potatoes with cucumbers or sauerkraut. Sometimes with herring and from time to time with salo (slabs of fatback). I eat buckwheat, rice, or oatmeal with raisins, dried apricots or nuts. I don’t like red caviar (he smiles). Once a month I cook borscht (beetroot soup). In the summer I cook tomato soup. Nobody can compete with me in that. If I have some homemade cream, not the kind from a store, I add it to the soup.
What do you remember of the time when you lived in Australia? Do you often recall that land? Do you regret returning home?
It was a paradise. In Ukraine it is hell. Even if one day our lives change for the better, I won’t see it. Probably, I should have been born at another time.
Do you have a lot of friends? Are there people who are jealous of you?
Yes, there are. It’s impossible to have a lot of friends. I had a friend who betrayed me after 30 years of our friendship. Now he makes false copies of my paintings. He signs them with my name and sells them on Andriyivskyi Uzviz. He learned everything from me and disappeared. I noticed paintings in a gallery and realized that those were my copies. My paintings are always neatly composed. Sometimes I give them as a present. This is abstract art. Those paintings, with the same signature as mine, were painted with dry paints applied in a thick layer forming a rough surface.
What do you feel when you give out autographs? Do people recognize you on the streets?
I feel that no one and nothing can change me. I didn’t change when I was “shelved” for 20 years. Even a thing that some call the “heyday of glory” didn’t change me. But still my life is tragic. I still suffer because I don’t live as I should. But it’s a long story. Once a journalist asked me “What was the happiest day in your life?” It was when I enrolled in college and knew that I would become an artist. My whole life is on canvas, but I still haven’t lived it…
Why did you stop painting portraits? Maybe people will inspire you?
I like beautiful images. However, I want to realize something I haven’t done yet. I have reached the summit and I must change something. There are so many Marchuks in me (he smiles). You know, everyone can make a portrait. Even children and students. Once I portrayed myself as a 150-year-old man. I’ve set a high goal for myself, so that means that I will have to suffer that long. One has to stay by my side to experience this. Otherwise, nobody will understand me.
Once you said that a woman should be interesting. What does this mean?
When I look at you, I think that you are interesting. You are beautiful more than interesting. An interesting woman is the one I want to paint immediately, whereas a beautiful one is the one I like watching. How do I know? It’s a gut feeling..
Who can inspire you to make art?
I am fed up with my freedom. A pretty or interesting woman…and a kitten can help me to relieve tension. I can’t have a cat because I am a vagrant. I won’t be able to take it with me. I hate dogs. They are annoying. I like proud creatures. That’s why I need a woman.
But people can also be annoying.
I have experienced a lot. I can handle some annoyance.
What annoys you the most?
Trash. Our heavenly Earth turned into a massive landfill. People may have three diplomas, but they still leave trash behind them after a picnic outdoors. They should be severely punished for that.