Biography of Ihor Husiev (Odesa). The material was created with the support from “The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation”.
My name is Ihor Husiev. I am a Ukrainian artist.
The first thing that comes to mind about Odesa is a phrase from the song “But also Moldavanka and Peresyp” (urban districts of Odesa)… It was born on 13.11.1970 in Peresyp. Few people know that Peresyp is something like our own Venice in Odesa, which is located in the industrial area of the city. This is the lowest geographical point, and after every downpour all the water from the city flows here.
I spent all my childhood in the water. There were days when my neighbours used a rubber boat to get to the shop, because my street was totally flooded. At the same time, my father had to pick me up from the kindergarten, located near the 2nd Alley of Zatoka (now it is called Pavel Kravtsov Alley). From the Alley. He had to carry me in his arms, because the water level reached more than 1.5 meters. Of course, the children were happy because of such weather conditions. They brought a spirit of romance and adventure into our lives. Thanks to this district, sea voyages, pirates and frigates became a part of my life.
I lived in a dilapidated house on 17 Bogatova Street. Somehow it has remained till today. In the mid-seventies, a Soviet long-term construction appeared right behind its wall, and I was the first to find the way how to get into it. I climbed over the fence and threw a stone into the ditch, covered with a thin crust of ice. Since that time, there was the pioneer-hooligan path to this place. We lit fires, built huts, and dug dugouts among the reeds with frogs that soon appeared in the ditch. We built rafts and boats out of a wooden fence, and had tremendous water battles. Three minutes after leaving my home, I dived into the kingdom of adventure.
I didn’t spend too much time with the local corner boys. My father, Mikhaylo Stepanovich Husiev, was a photographer. He tried to teach me everything related to aesthetics. I was present when he printed photos, and learnt how to replace the film. It’s not easy. In those days, you had to do many complicated actions to get an image as a result. My father tried to teach me the basics. It took a lot of patience.
My father had good cameras at that time. I often asked to look into the lens, in which everything was blurred, while some particular area remained clear. My father patiently compared the numbers, found out the aperture data, shutter speed, and took a picture. It was a miracle. I felt like getting into a unique virtual world. When a computer appeared, I realized that it became a continuation of the path to this bizarre world. Now I use this world at work.
When I was a kid, there was a device called the “Magic Screen”. It consisted of a screen and two wheels under it. If you twisted them neatly and synchronously, they allowed you to draw something. The drawings were very imperfect, in the slang of the time we called them “crippled”. Besides, it was difficult to keep them. As soon as you turned this device over, the graphite powder fell on the picture and destroyed everything. So, I dreamed about inventing a device with the help of which you could draw something, and then somehow take it out. And my childhood dream came true, when Photoshop, a computer and a printer were invented.
As a child, after reading novels about knights, I got carried away by the book ideals. I was looking for true male friendship, selflessness and nobility. I thought that everyone was looking for it. My beautiful wife, artist Nata Trandafir, still says that I idealize people too much and my understanding of friendship is old-fashioned. However, there will always be people for whom Gusyev’s words about friendship sound ridiculous. I have my own thoughts, while other people’s ideas about me and friendship with me differ a lot.
In early childhood, I felt a visual hunger. There were only two TV programs: “Village Time” or “News from the Fields” and a broadcast of The Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And very rarely a black and white film about Chapaev was shown. At that time, the film was a great joy for us.
There were almost no good illustrated publications. We had only “Zdorovya” or “Pratsovnitsa” monthly magazines, that were kind of legendary for Soviet citizens.
It was impossible to subscribe to “Ogonyok” magazine. I found many “Perets” and “Crocodil” magazines in the attic in the village.
I liked to dive into the world of Soviet periodicals, but mostly I looked at the pictures.
Being inside of this visual hunger, I decided to create something by myself. At that time there was a shortage not only of periodicals, but also of drawing paper. I drew on the reverse side of my father’s photos, and sometimes tried to decorate the photograph itself. When I was 6, I got the chance to work with a large format. It was the technical drawing coursework of my sister Tanya. On the reverse side, I drew a Russian bohatyr on a horse with only one line. I was scolded, but luckily the teachers accepted my sister’s work.
At the age of two or three, I probably, for the first time, realized that I want to be a famous artist. I remember even now, that when my mother Valentyna Grygorivna Gusyeva got on public transport with me in her arms, all the passengers smiled sweetly, the women talked baby talk, looked into my eyes, and gave up their seats. My child consciousness was already concentrating on the emotions of pleasure, and I began to wonder why I was born into this world. At that time, I thought that people’s affection for me would remain forever.
One of the artist’s primary functions is to attract the attention of spectators, critics, and collectors… I realized this in kindergarten. In that one, that was in Peresyp. Onсу, after a nap time, my kindergarten teacher, Tamara Ivanivna, drew the 21st pink Volga and asked all the children to draw something related to traffic rules. I liked the idea, and I painted a clumsy car with headlights, asphalt and traffic lights. I did it boldly, expressively, and, as it seemed to me, very well, according to all the canons that prevailed in our country. But on that day not everyone followed the canons. My friend Ihor Nedoluzhenko, who was sitting closest to the kindergarten teacher’s picture, slowly copied it. Now I understand that this was the first postmodern experience in my life. There was the pink Volga on the original drawing. He drew the same, but blue. When the drawings were put on public display, Tamara Ivanivna said that Ihor Nedoluzhenko’s picture won. Nobody looked at my work at all.
That day I realized that the attention, that I already loved, can be obtained with the help of a beautiful picture. Especially since I didn’t really want to sing, dance and learn poems. That’s how a small baby turned into a boy. I started to draw more often. My father always supported me in my hobbies. He taught me to redraw using a slide projector. At that time, my favourite movie was about Perseus and Andromeda. I took a sketchbook that appeared in the “Toys” store when I grew up a bit, highlighted pictures, circled the silhouettes, and then painted them with watercolours. Of course, everyone admired these pictures. My works creation technique I kept in secret, and no one asked me about it. At that time, it was absolutely normal to rejoice in each other’s success. I returned to this child practice many years later when my friends advised me to use a video projector for my works.
In high school №113, I was already an acknowledged artist. In fourth grade, drawing and shop teacher Anatoly, I don’t remember his full name, said that I definitely have to continue my studies. At the age of twelve, my father took me to an art school, and I was accepted without the exams. That’s how my conscious movement towards the beautiful began. A passion, habit, hobby, a new way of thinking. I can’t say that I became a different person. But if your peers fry pigeons and blow up empty aerosol cans in fires, while you discuss Michelangelo’s genius or the characteristics of the Romantic era with teachers, you and your life gradually change.
My teachers from the art school insisted that my parents should buy a subscription to the magazine “Young Artist” for me. I never read it, but many times I looked at the pictures, every year more and more thoroughly. I still have several editions, and I still do not dare to read them. It’s enough just to hold them in your hands. When I come to visit my mother, I always want to look through them.
When I was studying at the art school, Soviet propaganda films about children moving to a new school, living in a new building, studying in a new class, with new people, and having new perspectives became very popular. At that time, I started to feel depressed because of the era of stagnation and the gloomy Peresyp.
And suddenly, when I was visiting my aunt Aida, who lived on Pomoshna Street, we’re notified by a telegram that our family received an apartment in a new, sixteen-storey building in the Tairov residential area! The life I’ve been dreaming of for the last few years had finally begun. I liked everything. I liked that you could be mysterious for a while, and then, quite unexpectedly for everyone, show your skills. I enjoyed the fact that no one knew anything about me and my talents. I liked to look at the faces of new neighbours. I liked absolutely everything!
Our class teacher, a 28 years old math teacher Raisa Ivanivna, used to gather the whole class for parties at her home. The girls baked cakes, and the boys brought a tape recorder with speakers. In those days it was quite progressive. We turned off the lights and danced to the Scorpions. Once, I saw the book “Modernism, or anti-art” in a dark corridor. I opened it, looked through and found there Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte, Juan Miró and realized I want to get this book at any price!
The teacher did not mind, but asked to leave as collateral two JVC tapes, which I brought to the party. And although these were my friend’s tapes, I agreed without any hesitation. Gave someone else’s tapes. My friend did not feel offended. He also went to the art school with me. Besides, he was a part of the KGB group, named after the first letters of the artists’ surnames: Kanchura, Husiev and Barabonin. The recording narrow-profile improvisations on magnetic media was the major activity of the group.
At the age of 14, I became interested in modernism. The book really impressed me. Both illustrations and texts. And even criticism of the decisions of the recent Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I read it several times, although I immediately understood that all the important information was between the lines.
In school, we liked to annoy teachers with awkward questions. For example, why don’t we have chewing gum and jeans, if we live so well?
They replied that we had defeated fascism, we were flying into space, and these were enough, everything else was feigned. Then we asked: why don’t Americans move to the USSR, if everything is so good? We were told that there is such a story in the last year’s newspaper “Komsomolska Pravda” — look for it!
In those days, schoolchildren were obliged to wear school uniform. It was a strict rule. One day I found myself thinking that I had been sitting in the class for a couple of months in corduroy pants and a knitted sweater of deep ultramarine colour.
But nobody bothered me. So to say, he’s an artist, let him dress like that. Then I finally realized that I was in a privileged position.
I was allowed to skip lessons, because I had to urgently draw a wall newspaper or posters for “Veseli Starty” (sports competitions). I walked around the empty school, and sometimes I met the headteacher. She took me to the pioneer room to draw something.
At those days, I already started to use all modern methods of visual expression.
I created a wall newspaper, similar to “Blyskavka”, in which I implemented the concept of the dialogue with school teachers. I photographed them, cut out their faces, glued them, and painted some other things. I placed the geography teacher in an open globe from which steam was coming out. I depicted the history teacher, an eighty-year-old communist, as Themis.
It was always crowded near my wall newspaper.
— “Who made it?”
— “Obviously, it’s Gusyev’s work!”
My first attempts to communicate with the society were very successful.
Around the same time, everyone got carried away by heavy metal. I became popular among my peers as a person who can easily draw the inscription “Metallica” or “Accept” on the back of a denim vest with a ballpoint pen.
For a while, I became indifferent to modernism. I just liked to use terms like futurism, cubism, surrealism…
But I painted mostly witches, vampires and dragons. I collected badges and posters, developed fonts for fictional groups. I felt the love for the Camp style for many years, but then it disappeared at one moment.
In the last classes, we began to think about where to continue the studies. My mother, soberly assessing the future, insisted that I should become a dental technician. Although it guaranteed a stable income, I decided to go to an art college. At that time, it was very difficult to enter. It was a prestigious profession, because there was a system of state orders, which were distributed among artists by the respective Union. If you had a good order to design a village club or library, you could earn almost a few thousand rubles in a month.
I didn’t care about the admission issue, I just wanted to be an artist. Many people tried to convince my parents not to breed beggars. Probably, they thought that I would be a loser.
I began to actively prepare for the admission, taking Russian language lessons to be prepared on every front. During the exam, I was given a “2” grade for the dictation, although usually I did it perfectly. My tutor, who helped me with the preparation for the admission, told about the possibility of filing an appeal, but at that moment, she left Odesa, and we did not do that.
During the summer, I was under tremendous stress because of this injustice. But in the autumn, I returned to the school №29. I studied there for one year, and then applied again to the art college, but that was already after the ninth grade. Then my father asked for help from his friends-artists, and explained the situation. They told him that they could not help, but they would put a good word in for me if possible. I got exactly the same grades as last year. However, I was given a well-deserved “5” for the dictation and literature.
The first thing I remember about college is that I started to wear a jacket, a tie, and use a suitcase for some reason. I wanted to look like an adult. But in a couple of months, I switched to stretchy sweaters and ripped jeans. At that time, the ripped jeans were not yet in vogue. I still don’t understand: why did I wear a tie?
The first few classes I spent in a kind of numbness. I could not concentrate. I wanted to draw something that would impress everyone. My teacher, Volodymyr Volodymyrovych Krishtopenko, came to me and said that I was sitting in vain and it might be better to leave the college, because I probably was in the wrong place. After that remark, I drew everything in 10 minutes.
It was interesting at the college. A fashionable place where everything is fun and progressive. After I entered it, many of my schoolmates reconsidered my status and became friends with me.
I experienced the next stage of broadening of my horizons when I came for the first time to the “Zosya” cafe, located in Mayakovsky Alley near the art college. There were very interesting people — punks, artists, poets and musicians. They smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, and in simple words, hung out. I soon got to know almost everyone and then for quite a long time I dived into the world where everyone played new wave, post-punk, experimental music and painted rather strange pictures.
My new friends didn’t have an art education, so they painted the best they could, but each of them wanted to do it like me. And when I painted intentionally badly, they wondered why I was doing it, and asked me to draw “well”. But there was an era of new wave, and I wanted to draw brightly and expressively as a child, especially keeping in mind that I had to practice academic art during the whole day at the college.
In addition to “Zosya”, we had other party places. During cold winter evenings, we gathered in the giant bomb shelter of Yurii Palts. He was a producer, and he created a rehearsal base for rock bands there. Usually, there were several canvases of the size of a man in empty compartments. Those were mostly communist slogans, portraits of Lenin, stolen somewhere on a nearby street or in a park. Punks drawed on them, while waiting for their group’s rehearsal. One day, the artist Oleksandr Roitburd visited that place.
He really liked the bomb shelter and everything that happened there. He immediately invited all the artists to participate in an exhibition. Everyone except me. And delicately explained that my works are unfashionable. Since then, my new friends started to look at me strangely.
The era of global visual image shortages ended in the late 80s — early 90s. The capitalism started to gradually spring up in the USSR through “The Terminator” and hot chewing gum. This is more or less common today, and at that time holding “Flash Art” magazine was like flying into space. All art was created by inspiration. We had no idea about fashion trends. We evolved, inspired only by our fantasies and directions in art, which we invented several dozens per day.
Of course, I also met my classmates. Mostly they were not from Odesa. I remember turning on the music of the rock band “Kino” for the girls from my group, who regularly listened to “Laskovy May”. They begged me to turn it off! But when we were in senior year, each of them had 5 or 6 albums of “Kino” and Tsoi poster near the bed.
I graduated from college in 1991. At that time, the USSR collapsed. When I was working on my diploma work, my father died. I found myself in a financial vacuum. When Sasha Roitburd invited me to work for him, I immediately agreed. Especially since the work was familiar to me — to draw pictures. This is a common practice. Sasha was preparing a large exhibition at the “Marat Guelman Gallery” in Moscow. It was necessary to draw Poussin, David and other classics. And then double and replicate the images. That’s what I did. It was a fun time, but also a rather hungry one… I remember Roitburd sold a small painting for 500 rubles. He stopped the work, and we urgently went to buy a microwave oven, because at that moment the price was 300 rubles. When we arrived at the shop, the price was already 600 rubles. That’s how the inflation looked like. But he bought a microwave oven.
At that time, it was ridiculous even to think about the author’s independence. After the design institute was closed, where my mother worked, she got a job as a ticket agent at the opera and offered me a decorator position at the opera’s factory. I agreed. I liked that work. I liked a giant workshop on the fourth floor, industrial design, iron stairs and floodlights, and talks about “La Traviata” and “Swan Lake”. The salary was about $15, but I become obsessed with opera and ballet. It was a completely different artistic life. I worked there for several years, at the same time trying to draw something, but did not have enough money for paints.
I met Kyiv artists Arsen (Arsen Savadov), Slon (Oleg Holosiy) and Gnyl (Oleksandr Gnylytskiy) in 1992 at the exhibition called “Calm”. It was one of the last projects of the picturesque intervention, inspired by transavantgarde.
Roitburd was a curator of Odesa artists at the “Calm” exhibition, and he determined the format of the work. The picture had to be at least 3*2 meters. I did not have money for such a huge canvas and stretcher, so I invited my friend Semen Stomatov, who studied in the parallel group (now he lives in Ankara), to be a co-author. We got carried away, and made a series of 3 three-meter works. However, this time mostly Semen was working. We performed very well in Kyiv. We tied almost totally black-and-white paintings with wide pink ribbons and nailed signs with my poems.
Laugh, my love!
Why are you sad
And think only about us?
Of your kisses
I will take it at the appointed time.
The art critics Konstantin Akinsha and Oleksandr Solovyov both separately called them candy boxes. It was a success! The success of the group “Bastards”. That’s how they called us. But a long time before this name appeared, I had been shocking the audience. At the meetings, I kissed the hands of both women and men. I was biting and making fun.
The “Calm” was a prophetic name. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, artistic life almost disappeared. And I wanted to believe that everything was just about to begin… For the next few years, I lived, trying to get used to poverty, bandits and inflation. Buying even 1 orange was a real feast for me. But this era also finished…
Philanthropist George Soros became interested in Ukraine. He started to provide grants for artists, so that they can create installations, performances, and video art. But not paintings, that nobody needed. That’s how unexpectedly we found ourselves in the middle of contemporary art.
Oleksandr Roitburd was the art director of the Soros’s Odesa Centre for Contemporary Art, and he also was a curator of the majority of the exhibitions. Like any other artist, he had his advantages. He liked metaphysics, eros, thanatos and dismemberment. All in one bottle. In his projects, all human fluids went over the edge. A little bit later, Kulchynskiy and Chekorskiy, who worked on video art, appeared as well as Vadim Besprozvaniy, who liked the idea of the relational aesthetics of Nicolas Bourriaud. Because of their appearance, the exhibitions became more strict and deliberately boring. Olena Mykhailovska and Mykhailo Rashkovetskiy analyzed the situation and also did some supervisory work.
In the 2000s, Soros left Ukraine. There were no more grants. I started to work as a designer. But a designer in Odessa earned $300 in the best case. If they would pay you. I usually got a job in a magazine or a newspaper, and worked until I got stiffed on money and finally fired. But one day I thought: why should I work as a designer if I can paint one picture and sell it for decent money? That’s how I returned to painting.
By that time, capitalism in Ukraine was relatively formed. There was a group of well-off people. They had money they wanted to spend on art. It started to be fashionable. Working with the gallery of Lyudmila Bereznytska (it was called “L-art”), I began to sell my works for decent money.
Ukraine in the mid-2000s was governed by Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. Everyone was buying apartments and cars on credit. Galleries were opening. The crazy prices for the pictures of Glushchenko and Shishko only increased the paintings’ sales and created a new interest in art. But it does not last long. Almost in one moment, the prices collapsed, killing many Ukrainian artists’ dreams about earning money on the domestic market. There was no systematic support from the state or business elites interested in promoting Ukrainian art in the world. The only thing that really pleased me at that time was the Ukrainian Sotheby’s auction, where my painting was sold. But when you tasted something unlimited, you always expect the continuation.
Odesa. Hot summer of 2007. “Museums are dead, institutions are discredited, galleries became bourgeois. A flea market was the last island of life. At the Starokin Market, in the heart of Moldavanka, the good old actionism re-emerged”.
That’s how the “Art traders” movement began, which was initiated by me. I invited my fellow artists to the Starokin Market, offered them to spend 100 hryvnas on any junk, turn it into an installation, and exhibit it immediately. We literally spread black cellophane on the market, arranged the objects we made, signed them and handed out leaflets with the works’ names.
It was a success. After the first event, supervised by me, the “Art traders” movement lasted for another three years. There were several curators: Serhiyko Anufriev (“Flight Analysis”), Lyonchyk Voycechov (“Rip ass off its ass”), Ihor Chatskin (“Singing Birds and Stucco Work”) and others. In total, we had 70 artists from different European countries and the post-Soviet states. As a result of the project, I published a huge catalogue. So to say, immortalized this movement.
The “Art traders” long life can be explained by the fact that each subsequent exhibition was prepared by a new curator. Today you participate as an artist, and next weekend you work as a curator. So you become interested in participation. We announced the topic a week before the project, and the artists brought their works. The conceptuality of the work was the only selection criterion. Some of them I threw away immediately. From time to time, artists looking for radical solutions brought different trash, like syringes and condoms. What to do with them? Throw away.
We faced another difficulty: we announced all the participants in advance in the leaflets, but not all of them came to the event. At the second or third exhibition, the viewers asked me: “Where is the artist Stas Podlipskiy, who participates in all exhibitions, but not in this one?” And then we came up with an idea of work, in which we wrote down the names of the artists who did not come. The work was called “Dynamo Artists”. It was a board of shame.
But that was in summer, while in winter no one wanted to freeze at the Starokin Market. In front of my workshop on Kovalska street, there was an empty premise of one of my relatives. We made a deal that he would give it to us for the exhibitions, while we will put his company’s logo wherever possible. The company was called “Stroynormaplus”. I could not think of anything better than to name the gallery “Norma”. It was a deep basement in the centre of Odesa with white, or rather, greyish-white damp walls. It was relatively clean and gloomy. But when the works were hanging on the walls, we felt the spirit of the underground. We had fifteen or even more exhibitions there. The visitors often asked whether the name of the gallery was somehow associated with Sorokin. The answer was no…
The gallery was a non-profit one. I did not take artists’ works for the participation in the exhibition. On the opening day, the visitors brought alcohol or mineral water. And no accountants and secretary girls. The gallery was open only during the opening day of the exhibition. There was an incredible atmosphere in “Norma”, because everything was allowed.
At the same time, “Yatlo” gallery was opened in Odesa. It was created by the artist Volodya Kozhukhar and named after his wife Olena surname. But there was a radically different situation: they tried to make a highly aesthetic gallery, treated visitors to expensive drinks, attracted the respected audience. I remember that he even invited art critic Katya Dyogot from Moscow, and paid for her stay at “Zirka” hotel. He wanted to order her an article about the gallery. There was a completely different scale, but “Yatlo” closed even earlier than “Norma”. That’s because we used the “no budget” principle.
After I opened my gallery, something started to change in Odessa. Anatoliy Dymchuk “NT-Art” gallery was opened, then “Khudpromo” gallery appeared and many others. And the cultural life began to sparkle! Today everything has stopped again. People are no longer interested in art, artists are no longer painting. Everything returned to the same state as it was 12 years ago.
I’m fine now. Once a year I have a personal exhibition in Vienna or Milan, Languedoc or Kotor. The Internet helps a lot, people looking for the website. The social networks also help. Galleries are also important, but today local ones either don’t understand their meaning or haven’t found the new sense. Now we face bad years again. But it doesn’t bother me anymore, because I’m moving alone for a long time. And I don’t care about the distance to the capital. For some time, there was a perception that if you are not at the headquarters, then you are nowhere. But I don’t want to go to the headquarters in Kyiv, and it’s too late to go to the headquarters in New York. I’m too lazy. Something is happening — and that’s good. So you will be fine too.
The first photo of the page: Ihor Husiev is near the sea, photo by Vasyl Ryabchenko (Odesa), 1994.