Heart-to-Heart Conversation

Interviewed by
Journalist, art expert

IT is weird how the lockdown has changed our lives! We wear medical masks and can’t see each other’s faces. We are afraid to hug friends. I angrily yell at my son from the doorway, ’Did you wash your hands?’ – instead of a kiss. Communication, work, friendship, and even love go online. Going to a coffee shop now is quite an event. The interview, of course, could have been done remotely as well. What do I know about a new interviewee? A lot and a little at the same time. He is a talented painter from Paris, philosopher in mind, and romantic in the soul. They told me, ‘A handsome guy who looks like a model will come.’ A painter and a model? It’s something new. Going for a coffee must be a good idea.

Hello, Yevgen KOSTENKO.
Are you a Parisian?
Yes, I have been living in Paris for five years. I paint in my favorite garden, and I can’t imagine my fate without this beautiful city. Here I am truly free and happy. However, in my childhood, seeing Paris seemed like a flight of fancy.

Where is it most comfortable for you to paint: in France, Ukraine, or…? Where do you receive the most inspiration?
I can get inspired unexpectedly, and the borders are no obstacle. I travel a lot. France is my new love, Ukraine is my homeland, and Morocco inspires me. It happens that you think about the topic for new works and nothing interesting comes up! And suddenly, after the first night in Morocco, you make 15 sketches in a single burst. That is how the latest series of paintings, ’Tribalism. Harmony from Chaos,’ appeared.

Even Picasso, for example, was fascinated by authentic African art early in his career. What was your path as a painter?
Compared to the genius Picasso, I was
not sure of my choice. The well-meaning parents advised receiving a practical specialization. The galleries didn’t pay attention to me. Working as an architect, I continued to improve as an artist. The love of painting remained a strong one. And the time came. I often sent my pictures abroad and dreamed of flying away with them. So, when I was offered a project in France, I accepted without hesitation. It was the final point about who I am. A painter!

Is it true that you started painting at the age of three?
Yes, it is true. I saw and picked up the brushes for the first time in my grandpa’s workshop.

How did the parents react to the child prodigy? Did they support you?
I drew something like a tulip for my
mother on March 8 back in 1993. Mom was proud of my naive ’masterpieces’ and often showed them to coworkers. However, such pleasant memories are mainly about childhood. There was not much support. On the contrary, they wanted to bring me to reason.

Men rarely draw flowers, but it is a favorite subject for you. Is it your delicate psyche or customer orientation – do the ‘bouquets’ sell well?
I was born in a small town, and my childhood was urban. When my parents bought the house, I enthusiastically started gardening. Then flowers appeared in my life. There is nothing more perfect than nature. Plants and the human body will always be present on my canvases – in harmony or opposition to each other. The latest series of works combines fragments of the body and orchids. Pristine beauty, generosity, and purity of nature serve as a silent rebuke to greed, selfishness, thoughtless consumption, and other vices of humanity. I don’t run after a fashion in art, but the works sell well.

I have asked a provocative question about flowers in the expectation that you will gratefully remember Ukrainian artist Kateryna Bilokur whose art inspired you –
It is true. My early work was shaped by the influence of talented Ukrainian art painters – Kateryna Bilokur and Maria Prymachenko. I owe them not so much my choice of technique or style as my perception of harmony and beauty. One can endlessly admire Bilokur’s ’flower kingdom’ and Prymachenko’s ’fantasies.’ Their creativity is a unique phenomenon in art.

Interesting topic: an artist and Paris. Kateryna Bilokur became famous at the International Exhibition in Paris (1954); you also seek and find recognition in this extraordinarily artistic city. What do you think about coincidences in the destiny of students and idols?
I believe in coincidence and fate.
My career, inextricably linked to my biography, is strikingly similar to the story of painter Lev Tchistovsky, who moved to Paris at about my age. He had a wonderful garden and a greenhouse, where he grew his favorite orchids and painted them.

What is the record price paid for your work? And for example, how active is the French art market today?
What an embarrassing question! The artist’s success depends to a large extent on the marketer, the art dealer, and the gallery owners. I can boast that I never make copies or use cheap materials. Paintings to the painter are like children – I want them to live a long time, be beautiful and healthy, and go to a good home where they will be loved and cared for. The notion of a ’starving artist’ is long gone. My paintings are not cheap. Regarding the art market: the global art market is in a deep crisis because of the pandemic. I had to cancel exhibitions, the preparation of which took almost a year.

Creativity is joy and hard work. You travel a lot, enjoying life in the ‘here and now’ and rightly so. There was Michelangelo, who slept in shoes. And there was Raphael, who created effortlessly and beautifully. How did it go with your work: tension or pleasure?
Traveling allows me to broaden my horizons, learn about the world’s artistic heritage, break away from the hustle and bustle, and restore my inner balance. I have felt the breath of death and learned to rejoice in every day that life has given me without looking back, doing what I love. Life is too short to be miserable or unfulfilled.

What are you dreaming about? What are you striving for? Remember
Gauguin’s famous painting ‘Where Do We Come from? Who Are We? Where Are We Going?’ What is your credo as a painter and as a person?
At present, I have a joint project with a famous French Fashion House. My paintings will be on the prints of its new collection. I am sure that the future of art should not be limited to the closed spaces of art centers. Plans include nonstandard urban exhibitions with the projection of paintings on the facades of houses and with musical accompaniment. My dream is to create my own art space in Paris, to introduce young talents who, like me, have no access to galleries. My credo is laconic, Amor Vincit Omnia! (from Latin, Love conquers everything!)

We wish you great luck, inspiration, and love!

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