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27 May, 2014  ▪  

Ukrainian Banksy

Street artist #Sociopath talks about social art

Be careful with your dreams – they tend to come true. I remember spotting a placard saying “BANKSY, WE NEED YOU” in downtown Kyiv in mid-December 2013. Actually, the Maidan articulated the demand for social art for the first time in Ukraine.

Street art tests the limits of law. The Maidan itself was street art testing the limits of law and art, and it indeed badly needed Banksy, this scandalously famous, laconic and precise English painter. The Maidan needed its own street art master who would condense the experiences of all protesters, help formulate things they were not yet aware of and openly say things they were afraid to admit even to themselves. Street art is a kind of neocortex of society – its black-and-white or colourful dreams that appear on walls when the social mind has processed information and produces a solution in the form of a picture which then becomes an object of study for psychoanalysts and art critics and a tool of national therapy.

The graffiti made by #Sociopath exploded on Hrushevsky Street together with the first hand grenades when the violent clashes began in January and the first protesters were shot dead. Its pieces directly hit the heart: the trilogy Icons of the Revolution, Taras Shevchenko wearing a bandana, Lesia Ukrainka in a gas mask, Ivan Franko in a construction helmet, etc.

I knew that that my encounter with #Sociopath would not be the last one. It had to be continued…

The next time I came across his graffiti was in my native Lviv, and I realized that the resonance emanating from the heart had huge power. Its strong wave reached the place where I live, and the graffiti by #Sociopath appeared on an old wall of a medieval building on the corner of Virmenska and Drukarska streets. The trilogy War signed Specially for Lviv from #Sociopath. Ukraine seems to have gotten its own Banksy.

U.W.: In my perception, your graffiti does not bear the marks of pathology. On the contrary, it helps society cure its chronic maladies. Why “sociopath” then?

#Sociopath reflect my sense of being out of the system as such. Starting from socially imposed vectors and ending with internal motivations to create artworks, the system forces you into its limits. It mandates and imposes, while art, especially social art, is free. My art is aimed at “curing chronic maladies” of social society, and if you so believe, then I am certain there was a good reason for choosing my pseudo.

READ ALSO: Yulia Lytvynets: “Museums must be open. And to be open, they need to feel safe”

U.W.: Why do you paint on walls rather than on more traditional surfaces?

I paint on record plates, fabric and canvas, but to a street artist, walls are the first and most accessible way to convey his social messages to the largest possible audience. Painting on walls (which takes place largely at night, because street art as a kind of art is unlawful in our country) injects a dose of adrenalin into your blood and gives you a sense of space. It’s exhilarating. When in the daytime I look from a distance at a mural I created at night in solitude, watch how passers-by stare at it and observe their emotional reaction, I can see that my idea resonates with what they feel and it gives me pure joy.

U.W.: What triggered your artistic activity?

I have always dreamt of painting, but I still cannot do it by hand. When technology such as computers and Photoshop arrived, I quickly mastered them. It gave me an opportunity to visualize pictures and ideas that came to my head. However, as it happens with many creative folks, “one decisive step” or “trigger” was lacking. I was fortunate to find it in Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. I watched it and went to bed with a crystal-clear feeling that I knew how to paint. I remember I found old gouache paint the next morning, cut out my first stencil and the process got off to a start. The first thing was painted on a record plate. And then things were up and rolling.

U.W.: What is the background to your graffiti Icons of the Revolution which became one of the symbols of the Maidan?

Icons of the Revolution is a tribute to heroes, both living and deceased. But these are not the first works I created in the Maidan. The first ones, painted on wooden constructions, burned down in a battle during an attack on the Maidan in February. The Icons were behind the lines of the Berkut riot police for a while after they advanced on Hrushevsky Street. I was worried about them but knew that even if they were destroyed, I would certainly paint them again.

I don’t remember how I came up with the idea. It was inspired by the environment on Hrushevsky Street: people of indomitable Ukrainian spirit who held their ground in the fight for the truth even at 20 degrees below zero. I made the graffiti on February 10. It was cold outside and the paint took a long time to dry. There was virtually no light, because it would have exposed anyone to the police on the other side of the barricades and rubber bullets would have started flying immediately. But we had plenty of camaraderie: girls brought us tea; fighters helped hold the stencils; some shared their thoughts before TV cameras; others shared cigarettes. Four hours later, the graffiti was ready. The 12th Sotnia (company – Ed.) promised to put a glass casing on top to keep it as a reminder about the Revolution of Dignity.

                                        Taras Shevchenko: The fire won’t burn the seasoned        Lesia Ukrainka: Whoever frees himself will be free       Ivan Franko: Our whole life is a war

U.W.: Where is the line between vandalism and art?

To me, this line is unambiguous and very obvious. If an artwork has a social and moral essence, it’s art. If not, it’s a sport and it comes close to vandalism. A commonplace example of vandalism is youths who write their nicknames with markers everywhere they go. Looking at vandalism or art from the viewpoint of defacing architecture, I believe that contemporary art on old walls emphasizes their uniqueness. The modern and the old are in no conflict whatsoever here. I choose walls for my graffiti depending on the location and the potential number of passers-by who will be able to see it. In this case, the unwillingness of bureaucrats to restore architectural monuments is worse vandalism than my graffiti on their walls. In Lviv, I painted the trilogy War on an ancient wall with hardly any paint left which was part of a UNESCO heritage site, and later a friend of mine twitted that my graffiti was now also well-protected. So it turns out that painting it over would now be vandalism.

U.W.: Do you paint on commission?

I am convinced that art for the sake of money is cheap fraud. It is impossible to create art on commission. If you do something from the depth of your heart, your work will find its admirers. If you do it for money, you will have to involve advertisement and PR people and a bunch of other drones only to flog your work to someone, because you made it not out of a desire to create something but in order to sell it.

U.W.: If you were allowed to paint something on the parliament building in Kyiv, what would it be?

I would rather not paint on it. I would burn it down. A blind man can see, especially in the light of the recent revolutionary events and the electioneering campaign, that the Verkhovna Rada is a hotbed of scoundrels and the moral dregs of society. I believe that the Maidan has given all of us an understanding of what the rule of people is, while a bunch of 450 bodies in parliament is a travesty of representative democracy. Thus, they have to be disbanded and the building burned down. In its place, a national art centre for young people should be built, so that everyone could come and find a creative pursuit to his own liking there.


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