Combining national and Soviet symbols, myths and utopias in his work Tistol discovered a phenomenon of a simulacrum – “a copy that has no original,” that paradoxical self-sufficiency of the Soviet “billboards” as the replacement of non-existent objects, which links it to the pop-art in an absolutely unexpected way.
Oleh Tistol, one of the leaders of the “New Ukrainian Wave,” told The Day why he never goes to vernissages and doesn’t want to sell his art work for a million, he also gave a piece of advice to fans of modern art on when they should better not buy paintings.
“YOU SHOULD NOT MAKE BAD PAINTINGS FOR ANY REASON”
Mr. Tistol, please tell us what is happening with the Ukrainian art-process today and what is your place in it?
“Now I try to stay away from the ‘cultural processes,’ I don’t attend vernissages, can’t make myself go to the exhibitions of my colleagues, and keep in touch only with the circle of the close friends.”
You really haven’t been noticed among the audience at recent vernissages. Why?
“Perhaps, age affects the perception of the situation, but in general, I am concerned with the circle of artists, who reflect the state of society: often people there don’t talk of anything but money and do not care about anything but their personal gain. The overall atmosphere is unhealthy and is not interesting for me.”
Do you participate in large collective exhibitions?
“For example, Mykola Matsenko, Marina Skugareva (famous Ukrainian artists), and I refused to participate in last year’s Art-Kyiv, although, I am sure that in terms of money it would be good for us. It’s just that this event is so glamorous… And the reason is not even the work of the organizers, but the incredible amount of pop made as if to be sold to some mythical buyers from Koncha-Zaspa. All of this has nothing to do with the art process.”
But the artists, who engage in commercial art, do it not because of a good life.
“Do not believe an artist, who gets engaged in commercial art and explains it by the need to feed himself and his family. He deceives himself and others. If you want to earn money – start a business. You should not make bad paintings for any reason. It’s the same as if I would start selling drugs to teenagers, justifying myself by saying that otherwise my children would die of hunger. If a painting is real it would find a person, who’d appreciate it fully sooner or later. The main thing is to work honestly and sincerely: not for the sake of money, but for a place in the history of art.”
“I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN VERY CAREFUL WITH NUMBERS AND DON’T SEE MUCH SENSE IN HIKING PRICES”
Today there are very few art experts in Ukraine. Who then has the mission of separating the so-called “flies from cutlets”?
“The Western experts. Over a dozen Ukrainian artists have been highly estimated by them and their paintings are now being sold at international auctions.
“In Ukraine, unfortunately, there are almost no experts and very few good galleries. When in 2009 the experts of the Sotheby’s came to Ukraine and selected paintings of several artists, they then had to deal with our gallery owners and it turned out that there was no one to actually work with. Our ‘leading experts’ began searching for ways around the required procedures, tried to take the paintings abroad semi-legally in order to save 200 US dollars, and so on. Back then it was very significant: it proved overall Ukrainian incompetence, which penetrated almost all spheres in the country: politics, medicine, education, and culture. I really hope it was a temporary thing.”
Your paintings are sold well at international auctions and rise fast in price. Does this mean that you do not depend on the situation on the Ukrainian market?
“Yes, it’s true, the prices are going up. However, if we had any support from local cultural institutions, it would happen much faster. Artists would never receive greater support than what they can get at home country: this is not even an issue of patriotism, but rather an issue of understanding. No one is able to understand and appreciate the paintings by Maria Pryimachenko the way Ukrainians do. There is no other country in the world where people can be so in love with the art work of Ivan Aivazovsky as the citizens of the former Soviet Union (thanks to them the prices for his paintings increase in the world).”
Your paintings cost from 10,000 to 50,000 US dollars at international auctions. When will the time come when they will be sold for millions of dollars?
“I have always been very careful with numbers and do not see much sense in hiking prices. The final price for a painting at an auction can greatly vary from its initial price. Here a lot depends on the course of bidding and lucky chance. And if one of my paintings will be sold for a million, it would be embarrassing to sell the rest for less (smiles), however, it’s not a fact that they will be bought for more. After all, those millions often do not reach the author. Usually it’s the collectors and auctions, who exchange millions, artists are only a part of this process.”
In your opinion, should an artist be above financial gain from his work?
“No. In my opinion, an artist should not be poor – this is one of the most tragic phenomena in culture. Society should not allow this to happen because it is humiliating, especially for a society itself. Shame on France of the late 19th century, where such great artists as Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin could remain poor. An artist should be a well-off and respected man – and this is normal.”
Should a society support its artists and, if so, then how should it do this?
“Society of non-skinflints always supports its artists. However, I am against the way it is done, let’s say, in China: some artists make copies of Western art masterpieces, and others pay billions for them. This is some form of cheating, and this is not the way it needs to be done. Instead, people should maintain the cultural process, decent prices for decent art works. In general, as Pablo Picasso once said: ‘I want to live like a poor man with lots of money.’”
What topics are you currently interested in?
“I am concerned about the state of the Ukrainian society and its future. This interesting to the entire world as well. Ukraine appears more often on Euronews than Syria with a real war going on in the country and thousands of people being killed. Here things are even cooler in some sense because we need to make a serious mental choice: either we want to become a civilized country, or we finally give up and slide ever lower. The level of immorality the country reached is just terrible, everything is turned upside down. My art dealer Ihor Abramovych gets annoyed when the so-called ‘new Ukrainians’ ask him: ‘If I buy this paintings now, could I sell it ten times more expensive in a year?’ The correct answer is: if you buy paintings to sell them tomorrow, you should better buy something else… After all, you buy a super cool car not to sell it for more tomorrow, but because in your understanding it is beautiful.”
For over 30 years you have been working within the framework of “Natsprom” program. Could you tell us about it please?
“The idea of the project emerged in the late 1980s. Kostiantyn (Vinni) Reunov (famous artist) came up with a name for it – ‘Limit of National Post-Eclecticism Effort.’ Later Reunov emigrated and I started working with Mykola Matsenko: during the 1990s we worked on implementing our own artistic program that was eventually called ‘Natsprom.’ Decryption is not so important: this is a personal matter of everyone. In the course of the project aimed at studying the national stereotypes, it was joined by such artists as Marina Skugareva, Yana Bystrova, Oleksandr Kharchenko, and Anatolii Stepanenko.
“Now, Matsenko and I have started a new project of ‘Natsprom’ – it will be presented next spring in Kharkiv ‘YermilovCenter.’ As in the early 1990s, we suddenly got a desire to conduct a kind of cultural studies.”
But you still work on your paintings, right?
“Of course. I can’t live without painting, whether it is in fashion or not, whether there is a demand on it or lack of it, whether it’s good or not so good – I still make them because if I don’t paint for a week I get depressed and it takes two weeks for me to recover from it. This has nothing to do with the market situation, career, or income. This is the meaning of life for me.”
The Day’s FACT FILE
Oleh Tistol was born in 1960 in the village of Vradiivka, Mykolaiv oblast. He graduated from the Taras Shevchenko Republican School of Art, Lviv Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts (Department of Interior and Equipment). Tistol participated in the 22nd International Biennial in Sao Paulo (Brazil, 1994), International Photobiennale in Moscow (Russia, 1996), 49th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Venice (Italy, 2001).
Today Oleh Tistol is one of the best selling Ukrainian artists (collectors purchased 22 of his paintings at auctions in London and New York). In April his painting Coloring was sold for 54,300 US dollars at Phillips Auction in London: this is the first top-lot, presented at an international auction, in the history of Ukrainian modern art.