‘I Have No Right to Give Up’: 5 Ukrainian Artists on How the War Has Changed the Way They Approach Their Art
Several of the artists we spoke with are sheltering with family as the conflict rages on.
As the world continues to watch the unfolding war in Ukraine, Artnet News contacted five artists from the country, most of them still there, to learn about how the conflict has impacted their lives.
Here is what they told us.
The 36-year-old artist Natalya Korf-Ivaniuk was with her son and husband, fellow artist Olexiy Ivaniuk, in Kyiv on what appeared to be just another ordinary day on February 24. They were buying some materials en route to their studio. Then news came of Russia’s military invasion.
“No one could’ve thought that such a terribly distant word—war—would be so real and possible,” she said.
Korf-Ivaniuk and her family initially had no plans to leave Kyiv, but after Russian troops started getting closer to the capital city, they fled. She left behind some 200 paintings made over the past 15 years, taking with her only paper, brushes, and ink to a makeshift bomb shelter in a basement.
“At night, it was unrealistic to sleep from anxiety,” Korf-Ivaniuk said. She used the time to create a new series of drawings on paper titled “Black Angels” depicting reddish, naked bodies surrounded by winged figures.
“I drew until the morning. It calmed me, saved me, filled me with strength, and thoughts about the future. It was my therapy, my Xanax.”
One of the 33-year-old artist Olexiy Ivaniuk’s colorful, abstract landscape paintings was buried in debris soon after shelling began in Kyiv. It was housed in a collector’s home, a residential high-rise apartment that was bombed.
On the morning just before the attack began, Ivaniuk took a photo of one of the works from his recent “Time” series, which reflects on Mark Rothko’s work, on the balcony of his studio in Kyiv, which he left behind after fleeing with this wife, artist Natalya Korf-Ivaniuk, and young son.
Unlike his wife, who still paints through the night, Ivaniuk has joined an armed street patrol.
“During the 10 days of the war, when my family and I were in Kyiv, my main task was to ensure their safety, protection, and care,” Ivaniuk said. “It’s hard for me to take up the brush. My landscapes are more about calmness, silence, tranquility, solitude. When such a terrible thing happens in my country, and everyday people leave irrevocably, I can’t create as before.”
The 34-year-old artist Yulia Polyakova was relatively fortunate, having narrowly escaped the war just after she was married and out of the country. But she left a lot behind.
“My father, friends, and all my life are left in Kyiv,” she said from Chicago, where she lives, adding that the trauma has been excruciating. She stays up around the clock to monitor the situation from afar, trying to communicate with her loved ones at home.
“I have no right to give up,” she said. “What I personally can do now is show the world what is happening.” To that end, Polyakova has been creating mixed-media works with photographs on her phone.
“I wanted to show the true face of the war, but I left the inclusion of erotica in my work because it draws attention to deeper topics.
“Creative people just need to live for the future of Ukrainian culture,” she added. “I am not afraid.”
“The war destroyed our whole life,” the 38-year-old artist Andriy Palval told Artnet News from Kharkiv, which has been subject to merciless shelling by Russian troops.
Palval is safe with his family for now. But for the past several weeks, they have been trying to stay alive while waiting for the next round of bombing.
“We have a shelter in the basement,” Palval said. “There are no vacancies in the subway at the moment.” (Subways have become temporary bomb shelters throughout the country.”
He cannot go to his studio anymore because it is far away and has been under fire. But he still has his tablet, and can create digital graphics, plus a few sketches on paper here and there.
Palval said his three children keep him motivated. So what can the art world do? “Donate to the victims,” he said. “You can still express concern and support.”
Olexandr Grekhov’s illustrations have always been a graphic diary of world events, and his latest works are no exception.
“The main motivation is to be at least somehow useful to Ukraine in this difficult period,” the 38-year-old artist told Artnet News from the town of Chernivtsi, which he says is “relatively quiet, but there are also sirens.”
Grekhov said he now draws on his phone. “I’m capturing the days of this nightmare,” he said. His greatest concern now is for his loved ones.
“There’s a constant fear that my family and friends may die.”
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