Serhiy Aleyev enjoys a good laugh. Which is not something that makes him an oddity, though it should be admitted that laughter is not heard too often in this country these days. What is more unusual is that he makes other people laugh and not by eccentric antics but by cartoons and well-meant caricature sculptures.
Mr Aleyev is convinced that good-natured laughter is not only healthy but enriches our life. Laughter, says Mr Aleyev, prolongs life, gives us good appetite, has an excellent effect upon our hair. Five minutes of mirth equals in relaxation and energy supply a sumptuous meal and entertainment at a night club.
He discovered his special talent in his early years and he went to study at Kyiv Arts Institute to develop his artistic skills. After graduation he changed many jobs and worked as an architect, designer, portrait-painter and even ethnographer. In the mid eighties he struck upon something which might be called harmless, well-meant caricature sculpture. The figurines he creates bear a definite likeness to people they portray and are easily recognizable. Mr Aleyev chooses to portray well-known personalities from the world of politics, arts, cinema and theatre and does it without malice, in a very good-natured way (probably excepting some political figures of the
past). One can also say that the artist also manages to reveal the most important character traits of those he portrays. Looking at these small well-meant caricature pieces of sculpture one can’t help at least smiling. His wife Larysa is more than just a spouse. She thinks she must inspire her husband to create good art in addition to providing everything that a good wife is supposed to.
Yevhen Bud’ko from Welcome to Ukraine (WU) magazine has talked to Mr Serhiy Aleyev and his wife.
WU. Serhiy, could you give us your definition of cartoon and caricature?
Aleyev. Well, if we turn to music for comparison, we could say that cartoons and caricature are a sort of pop music of the graphic arts. Drawing this analogy further you could call my caricature sculpture a sort of pop music of the art of sculpture.
WU. How do people react to your art?
Aleyev. People laugh, and that’s the most important thing for me. Though I must admit some people find some of my sculpture portraits «offensive» and some others, who think they know what «the true art» is, call my work «kitsch», that is something that tries to appeal to popular or lowbrow tastes. I try to avoid sarcasm and temporizing. It’s a friendly, good-natured laughter that I am after.
WU. Are you sorry to part with your creations?
Aleyev. Not really, because I’m sure that my works are bought by people with a good sense of humour and that is why I regard my customers as «my kind» of people, people with who I share a lot. Since many of my works have been purchased by people from many parts of the world I can say that I’ve got «my kind» of people all around the globe.
WU. Have there been many changes in your art and in your life in, say, the last ten years?
Aleyev. Oh, so much so that you could call it a total change. Ten years ago it would be unthinkable, for example, to have my caricature on Stalin exhibited. That’s one thing. And it’s exactly ten years since I’ve married my beloved wife Larysa, who is my Muse, my faithful life companion, my partner and collaborator.
WU. Do you sometimes give your caricature sculptures to those whom these caricatures portray?
Aleyev. It does not happen too often but when it does happen people to who I give my sculptures caricaturing them in a friendly way seem to be happy to have a good hearty laugh at themselves.
WU. But could you name at least a couple of people who did get your caricature sculpture portraits of themselves?
Aleyev. I’ll tell you first of the one who did not, unfortunately. It was Helmut Kohl, German Chancellor. It was like this. Once we, my wife, my son and me, went to the Central Food Market in Kyiv, called Bessarabsky. Right at the time when we were there the place was visited by Mr Kohl and his entourage. Probably, according to some diplomatic scenario of the visit he was supposed to talk to a kid and this kid by a mere chance happened to be our son. Our boy was asked whether he knew who he was talking to, and he said, yes, he did. And it was true not only because he had seen Kohl on television but also because I had just finished a portrait of Kohl, my style, of course. I did not have it with me then, at the Market, and could not give it to the Chancellor as a present. I hope he would have liked it. We don’t travel abroad too much and I’ve never had a chance of giving Mr Kohl his sculpture portrait. But I was more lucky when the French actor Pierre Richard visited Kyiv in 1995. I’d known he would come to Kyiv beforehand and had created a portrait of him so as to give it to him when he’d arrive. I did find a chance to give it to him personally and he seemed to be delighted. He praised hospitality of the Ukrainian people highly and probably my portrait of him was something that contributed to this praise
WU. Is there anyone else you’d wish to give your caricature portraits to?
Aleyev. Yes. In fact I wish I could give my creations to all those I portray but it’s impossible, of course. But I’d be happy, really, if the ex-Beatles could have my portraits of them, or Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, or actor Steve Martin. I would not risk though handing my work personally to some politicians, like Zhirinovsky, for example.
WU. You said you did not travel too much. But would you like to do it? To go to distant lands, seek inspiration in the exotic places?
Aleyev. For inspiration I don’t have to go anywhere. But, of course, I’d like to see the world, as much of it as possible, barring those places where tourists are cooked for breakfast. It’s a joke, of course, but frankly, to travel you have to have a lot of money. I don’t have that. And there’s so much that we need to buy with the money I earn so there’s not left enough for travels.
WU. (turning to Larysa, Mr Aleyev’s wife): Larysa, as a wife of a professional humorist, tell me this, please. There are two conflicting opinions about what a humorist is like in everyday life: he is very easy to get along with, he laughs all the time, he is really a facetious person. That’s one. And the other: he never laughs, he’s bad-tempered, does not talk much, concentrated only on his art.
Larysa. In our family both types of humorists are represented.
WU. How do you view yourself as a wife of an artist?
Larysa. I have a very noble role of a pile of manure on which a rose bush grows.
WU. Serhiy, do you think the art of cartoons and caricutare has a future in Ukraine?
Aleyev. I hope it does. At present we still feel the lingering after-effects of the Soviet times when you could make fun only of «Western imperialists,» «fat capitalists» and drunks. I think it’s a sign of political health when it’s not the state that tells you who you could and should portray humoristically but you yourself make a choice. Now in Ukraine you don’t go to prison for making a caricature portrait of a top politician but the general attitude towards the art of cartoon and caricature is still restrained. But I’m sure it’ll pass soon and artists like me will have a lot of work.

WU. Have you been commissioned to do caricature portraits?
Aleyev. No, not yet but I am always ready to take any commissions of this sort. For those who’d like to commission their portraits or buy any of my works from me, you are welcome to call me at: 276-1798 in Kyiv (Kyiv code is 044). The first to call gets a 25% discount.