KYIV POST , November 15th, 2001

Starving artist is slowly gaining weight

Being an artist is one of the toughest jobs in new Ukraine.
A century ago, artists enjoyed patronage from the aristocracy and the appreciation of a society that wasn't distracted by MTV. That continued during the Soviet era. Those who played by the rules enjoyed a life of relative luxury under the protection of the Kremlin as well as the admiration of a compliant yet cultured public.
Things are different now. Gone is the support of the government and many art aficionados simply can't afford to support artists. And those who do have money - the new rich - tend to prefer the tacky to the tasteful.
Enter the starving artist.
Serhy Kolyada is a young man living in Kyiv and bent on breaking into the Ukrainian art market. Born in Odessa in 1972, Kolyada spent his childhood on the Sea of Azov where he attended both the Children's Art School and the State Art Studio in Berdyansk.
As an artist-in-training he staged two exhibitions while still at school. He later earned a teaching degree in Berdyansk.
Armed with degrees in art and education, Kolyada left southen Ukraine in 1997 and headed for Kyiv at the age of 25.
"Like many people I wanted to experience life in the capital and knew that it was the best place for me to try to break into the world of art", he said during a recent interview in the Kyiv appartment/studio he shares with his wife.
Kolyada soon discovered that making it in the capital was not easy. He tried to sell his art at local galleries, but he found the process demoralizing.
"Some galleries said I'd have to pay $70 day for space and for one exhibition", Kolyada said. "Others simply refused to take my work - without bothering to explain why".
One reason might be Kolyada's bleak vision of life in modern Ukraine. No cheery landscapes of Old Kyiv here. Instead, a self-described member of the new generation of "new reality" artists, Kolyada potrays what he sees as happening in the country by combining images from mass culture with those of classical art. That vision can be grim. One work potrays the state of religion by depicting a fast-food cup next to a cathedral which is turned upside down and relegated to the background.
Kolyada incorporates brand names, such as Coca-Cola or West cigarette labels.
"I try to show the truth - to depict social and political problems - and that is not acceptable either for commercial galleries or for state institutions" he said. "some people call my art underground - but it's real life."
Kolyada captures that view of life mainly through ink drawings. By turning to black ink and shading, the result is a drawing that resembles grainy black-and-white photographs.
Like many aspiring artists, Kolyada has managed to support himself by other means. Using his fluency in English and his education degree he works as a Russian-language teacher. Ironically, that has boosted his career as an artist. Teaching put him in touch with members of the foreign community who've become fans of his work.
Marielle Kampes, a staffer at the Dutch Embassy, is one of his biggest supporters.
"After meeting Serhy and seeing his pictures, I had a great desire to help him", Kampes said. "I visited a lot of galleries on Andriyivsky uzviz on his behalf, but it was just a waste of time. Fortunately, however, when I introduced him to my foreign friends, some of them were really interested."
Kolyada is getting increased exposure. Last spring he held exhibitions at the South African ambassador's residence and at Kyiv International School.
He also earned another fan in Maida MacLaren, president of the Kyiv chapter of the International Women's Club. She invited him to come along and present his works to club members.
"We decided to invite Serhy because his talant is impressive", she said. "I would say he is a unique person who bravely shows today's reality through his art."
Kolyada said he'll plug away, teaching to support his art and networking to promote it. He'll continue to present his work at Women's Club meetings.
"I don't know what will happen in my life, even in the nearest future", he said. "It all depends who becomes interested in me as an artist."

Iryna Petriv


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© Сергій Коляда Serhiy Kolyada