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Inspired by Memories
Mykola Krzhyzanovsky, a screenwriter, interviewed Valery Franchuk, a remarkable artist, a warm-hearted humanitarian, an ardent patriot and a wise romantic, shortly before the artist’s 60th birthday.
Valery O. Franchuk was born in the village of Zelena, Khmelnytska Oblast, on September 10 1950.
In 1986, he graduated from the Graphics Department of the Art Institute in Kyiv (now — The National Academy of the Arts and Architecture).
The artist has had 120 one-man exhibitions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
He has created over 3,000 paintings and over 700 graphic works.
Valery Franchuk, a member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, is a recipient of the honorary title of “The Merited Artist of Ukraine” and he is a laureate of the Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine; he has been awarded the Vasyl Stus Prize.
The moment you enter the studio of Valery Franchuk, you feel that it is permeated with the energy of benevolence, friendliness and humanness. Invisible rays radiate from hundreds of paintings and create a fantastic rainbow which can be seen only by the pure heart that has been cleansed of all vanity and arrogance. Franchuk’s every painting is a window into the worlds of reality and imagination, and at the same time his every painting is a mirror of his soul.
Do you remember your first drawing?
I’m not sure whether I remember clearly my first steps in the art of drawing but as far as I can recall my pets were my first models. The doggy was so nice — and there were several cats too. When my elder brother began bringing home illustrated books that he borrowed from his school’s library, I began drawing some of the pictures I saw in them.
Our life can be compared to a road. You’ve traveled a rather long way along this road and have become what you are now. …What are the truths which you embrace and which have been tested by time?
(The interviewee takes time to think before answering). Fate has tested me in various life situations…. I have good things to recollect — and not so good as well… But my life experiences give me energy to go on moving and searching, the energy to enter the future well provided for. The main Truth of my life is my native land, my Ukraine. I was blessed to have been born in Ukraine and it was the event over which I had no control but which determined the course of my life, the essence of my art. My memories guide my art.
I invent nothing in my art, and in my paintings I recreate life in all of its manifestations. My mother, Mariya, my beloved mommy, lived through three famines, through a great war… She worked on a collective farm, my father worked as a tractor driver at the same farm. She has raised five sons…
It was my mother who fostered a very special sense of the world in me — the beautiful, living, enigmatic world. She’s ninety two years old now, and she’s been living in the village of Zelena in the Land of Khmelnychchyna all her life. I often recollect my childhood, I remember that I often went hungry, barefoot, the scenes from my childhood come to me in my dreams too. The landscapes of the village and its environs keep inspiring me. The source of my creativity is there, in my native village, in that ancient well that had been sunk by one of my ancestors, Bronislav Kovylyansky, my great grandfather, who owned eight hectares of fields, a fruit garden too. He had very clever hands, he could turn them to anything. He worked hard on the land, he did a lot of carpentering… Incidentally, it must be from him that I’ve inherited my fondness for carpentering too.
Can we say that your family is your fortress?
Absolutely! Without my family, without the support that I get from my wife and my relatives, I do not know how I’d manage… My young daughter Mariya wants to become an artist, she’s ambitious and has already had her works shown at an exhibition. My family is my base from which I venture out to face challenges and where to I return for human comfort. The challenges are of course those that I face in my studio. It’s useless to face the canvas when you are full of everyday worries – when you create you have to give yourself fully to the creating process. The unique moment that you have to capture on the canvas — that is what matters most for me. At the same time there are no rigid dogmas for me — every day I discover something new, and mind you, I’ve painted hundreds upon hundreds of pictures! I never stop being in awe of life. It is always with excitement and yet with some trepidation that I approach an empty canvass – and every time I paint, it is a discovery of something new for me in this world.
What is the position, in your view, that Ukrainian art occupies among the art of other nations?
Ukraine surely occupies its own and dignified place among the world cultures — Ukraine and its culture have been around for many centuries and in the historical and cultural context it is quite an original and noticeable phenomenon. Ukraine is a bridge between East and West, and being such a bridge opens exciting prospects for self-realization — on the one hand we have Europe with its great art treasures, and on the other hand we have access to the spiritually developed East. I believe that in the future Ukraine will play a considerable role in forming cultural paradigms of the third millennium.
Is there anything that you would like to do — and have not done yet, that would express in a concentrated form your aspirations, thoughts and feelings?
Well, there is — I would greatly enjoy decorating a museum or a newly-built church with murals but unfortunately it seems to be just a dream, and in this world our dreams and wishes do not necessarily come true…
There was a church which was built in my native village in the nineteenth century by my great grandfather together with some of the villagers. It was such a wonderful three-domed church… I was baptized in it – but alas, in 1965 the church was torn down… I remember that church very vividly…
I’ve put so much of myself into the cycle of paintings, Rozgoydani dzvony pamyati (Bells of Memory Set into Motion). It includes more than 120 paintings and if they could be exhibited all in one place, they would show a desperate attempt of an artist to show the tragedy of his people. I am not ashamed for that work either before the people or before God. My life experiences which tested me in many ways have made me understand that there is God and His blessed works on this earth.
Are there any places in Ukraine that you are particularly fond of? Places that are dear to you as a person and are attractive to you as an artist?
You can travel the length and breadth of Ukraine all your life – or ten lives if you had them, and yet as an artist it will not be enough for you. Ukraine is a rich land, full of color and beauty. I love the Carpathians, I love the Crimea. I find so much to inspire me everywhere I go in Ukraine – and each place I visit I see in my own way. I do not feel like traveling abroad. If I happen to leave Ukraine for several weeks, I miss my Ukraine so much.
But I assume you’ve traveled abroad, haven’t you? Which European city do you like best?
Haven’t you guessed which (laughs)? Of course it is Kyiv! Kyiv is one of the major cultural centers of Europe. When I do travel, I always keep Kyiv on my mind and in my heart! Nothing compares to Kyiv! It’s a place blessed by God… I find that there is something in Ukrainians that they share with Italians – we are benevolent, generous, a bit naive, gregarious, very hospitable, always ready to help, we can give the shirt off our back to those who we’ve come to like…
My works were shown in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Russia, and yet Ukraine is my land and my works belong here in Ukraine. We have no right to become a people without roots, everyone must do one’s best to make Ukraine flourish! Beautiful Ukrainian women must continue to give beautiful children to the world! I do believe in a great future for Ukraine!
Archangel Michael the Defender. Oil on canvas, 150 x 96 cm. 2010.
A Red Shadow in the Window.
The Riga Castle.
The Flying Dutchman.
The Angelic Core of the Soul.
The Wave of the Wing.