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"We had a wonderful epoch"

Peter met me coldly. I had to combine studying at preliminary courses with work as a street cleaner. In the Grebenschekov's song it sounds nice and in a romantic manner: "generation of street cleaners and guards", artistic underground. In reality it was hard, cold and dusty. It didn't work out with entering the college. Experienced people explained: no chance, college entrants who don't have patronage don't come through. In state close to despair I decided to go to Kharkov. But as it often happened to me, my destiny helped me. There was no ticket to Kharkov, there were tickets to Kiev so I went there to enter the Art Institute. Just like into the train I jumped in the last moment, they still took up the documents to restoration department.

Kiev Art Institute was a very prestigious institute at that time. Frankly speaking I didn't expect that I would become a student with first attempt, as usually entering institute for sons of non-affluent parents turned into purgatory (that means entering exams) for many years. However, to say more precisely while entering gadget to a clan (origin from artist environment), not belonging to a rich or power elite (though this was too) played the biggest role. I didn't have any signs of belonging to a gadget of deities, except military service and service records. For those who remember the reposed in peace USSR, the army and service records meant pretty a lot. That's why some smart guys even made a simple trick, handed in their photo from the army service for the examine letter. Unfortunately, I didn't have any.

Entering the Art Institute was a tense process. Drawing in the morning, painting in the evening, first composition, the second composition, it took long hours. As well restaurateurs had an exam on descriptive geometry. Of course, I was an ace in that, teacher of drawing "made in Baku". But I also made work for other three entrants (it seemed, I was too kind) as a result I got mark four. And I like a real truth-seeker went to selection committee to insist on my rights.

The more I was involved into the exams, the more I was nervously joyful and dare-devil. It seemed to my colleagues in the entering "happiness" that pulling strings made me so sure, but I was like filament in the close to burn out bulb, a little bit more and electrical life is over.

When all the six creative exams were over, it appeared that my results were rather good. But I didn't notice any reason for joy. With trembling of my soul I waited for exams on general subjects. Experienced entrants explained that ruthless elimination of unnecessary and gifting with marks of necessary entrants start here.

The first was composition. While preparing I made a kind of a record of pre-Internet epoch: I wrote ninety six cribs with a very-very small hand. It seemed everything was against me during that day. One of the examiners, classical example of teacher of the Russian language and literature, and her name must have been as a standard Russian philologist Liudmila Ivanovna or Vera Illinichna, she chose me as an object under observation. "Don't use any cribs", her hawky glance said. The topic of the composition was after Gorkiy's novel "Mother". It was a pity, I had a crib, but I couldn't use it. Fortunately I remembered a film after the novel. To tell the truth I forgot all the names of heroes. I wanted to name mother Arina Rodionovna. Thanks to my neighbor, she whispered: "Pelageya Nilovna". As a result I got mark four in literature and three in language that was because of my passion to put comas everywhere.

Further there was another difficult test. The last exam was the Russian language and literature verbally. Until now when I hear such terms like "compound and complex sentences" I am trembling, as in the childhood because of unclear words "Konduit and Shvambrania" in the name of Lev Kassil's book.

And I went for broke. I bought a gorgeous bouquet, though at that time it wasn't usual practice for exams. But even severe Liudmila Ivanovna or Vera Illinichna melted: "What wonderful flowers!" Then I understood that I wouldn't get less than mark three.

I finished with a question in language when I remembered what adverbial participle was. But literature with the question about Lenin's image in the works of the 70-ies was a hard nut to crack. I have never been fond of Illich's hagiography. But I was lucky to answer a young examiner who cautiously looked at her strict colleague and whispered: "Answer about Lenin's image in Mayakovskiy's creative work". And I sang like a nightingale, as I was fed up with this information at school. And the result was joyful – mark four. And entering the Institute.

I was overwhelmed with joy and lucid moment similar to feelings of Bunin's heroes who fell in love the first time. And now as for a free man the time of discovering Kiev started. The first time I visited Kiev when I was sixteen, and then I had a feeling: this is the only place where I would like to live. So after entering exams I read the City as opening book which now I can retell with all its streets, alleys, parks, monuments and women. I discovered Bulgakov here, his "Master and Margaret" that I cite today by heart echoing the author himself, as it appears to me. I was also impressed with the Museum of Russian Art. I spent long hours in the halls with paintings of Nesterov and Vrubel, which seemed to me only a brief encounter with unattainable called Beauty.

Studying started with pride and lack of money. When I visited my aunt who lived in Kiev she introduced me to her friend this way: "This is my nephew Yuriy, he entered the Art Institute with the first attempt." It sounded proudly. And when I settled in the hostel and lessons started, it appeared that for everything (that means for all life) I had only forty Rubles. That puzzled. As I didn't get any grant because I had mark three during entering exams. I didn't want to ask any money from my parents as I considered being already an adult.

I lived for this money (it is difficult to believe now) from the beginning of September to December, 7th. On the one hand, trade union's coupons for food helped, on the other hand, as if thanks to being advanced I started cleansing fats according to Breg and other diets. I went on until I felt severe stomachache on my birthday November, 19. "Gastric ulcer", I made a diagnosis by myself. But when on my birthday instead of porridge hiding from guests I ate alone half of the cake with lemon cream and cured at once, then I said phrase that became very popular thanks to perestroika's leaders: "We can't live this way any more". That meant it wasn't worth starving.

I found the way out when I got a job in aviation plant. I became a metalworker in galvanizing room, but indeed I drew needed for Communist party visual agitation for eighty Rubles per month. Besides I solved the problem with food and thanks to the instinct of a student: to visit some people rather often and there eat a lot. But you should never forget about succession of visits not to become a sponge in the eyes of hospitable host.

I worked in many places while I was a student. And not only in the area of visual agitation. For example, I have been a pupil of a private jeweler who made order almost to the Council of Ministers. I was a pupil in full meaning of this word: I studied elements of the jeweler's affair, but I also cleaned floors and went to the shop for doctor's sausage (delicacy of the Soviet times) for the master. I lived in the studio saying good-bye to the hostel. My master and teacher was a romantic impulsive person: he fell in love passionately and unrequestedly. He was going to shoot himself because of his chosen one. Once in the morning he gloomily informed me: "I will die before the evening yet", and prepared antique, luxuriously decorated gun. But in the evening I saw him drinking tea and talking about vicissitude of love as if nothing had happened.

But all my works were paid addition to studying and creativity. Our group of restaurateurs according to the teachers was the most lively and ready to any kinds of ideas: both creative and playing pranks. However, the word group sounds impressively, there were only five of us. Correspondingly studying was almost individual, a handicraft. Ruslan Tarabukin, Ira Alekseeva, Tania Kozak, Igor Soloviev and me, the oldest and as it seemed to me the most experienced in the life – that was all our "small orchestra of hope led by love", using Okudzhava's words.

We "adapted" to each other not in the auditoriums, but mostly in the places which were like bohemian Mecca for Kiev students. We visited "Kreschatiy Yar" on Sverdlov Street, famous "Kulinaria" (Delicatessen shop) on October Revolution Square where were plenty of writers, artists, theatergoers and other creative people. And we had a nice place in the cafe in the grocer's on L'vovska Square for a quick drink of soft drinks and spirits. And of course we had endless talks about creativity and different things that were not allowed to Soviet people. Our perception of the world can be described with Viktor Shklovskiy's words: "The art has always been free from life, and its colour has never reflected the colour of the flag over the fortress". I had a feeling of absolute freedom inside despite of tough control outside: curators from KGB in the Institute, ideological tong-lashes.

I had enough time for different "pranks". I remember we arranged a chorus and orchestra named after the first course: played on combs, untuned mandolin and so on and so forth. And we sang, for example, such "chastushkas" (humorous rhymes) for stiff students-art historians:

Yesterday I belonged to you,
And today to Mishka.
He's got like a pine
On the picture Shishkin's.

Soon I had got a reputation of a first-rate lady-killer. My friends were always surprised if they didn't see a group fluttering girls around me and asked if I wasn't ill. Did harem revolt? It went on the same way until I met Valentina, my future wife, she won my heart at once. I sank in her brown eyes that reminded me, a jeweler's student, the jewel "tiger's-eye". My destiny was decided as people said in the XIX century.

Among the students sometimes I felt almost like a barin that owned illimitable wealth. As I was a head of the group, I was given canvas, paints, brushes, map paper and other things in unknown abundance for all daring creative team: create by yourself and do a favour to forward to others.

Studying went its course, and today I can say that teachers taught us really well both in painting and in restoration craft. This way I joint in my heart the things seemed inconsistent: craving for artist's self-expression and refusing from "ego" and immersion into the inner world of another author that are so important to a restaurateur.

As normal students of the Art Institute we had some kind of megalomania. One of the results of this megalomania the underground exhibition "406" was arranged in the fifth course according to the number of our auditorium-workshop. It was a devil-may-care venture, that was a Soviet time, and it was easy get the gate of the Institute without any diploma for such amateur performance.

However, I exhibited my works to public at large as well. At that time first artists were allowed to exhibit in Andreevskiy Spusk for self-expression and self-selling. I was among them, and I used to earn around two hundred and fifty Rubles per day. Crazy money at that time. Holding it in my hands I wanted to become reach and famous as soonest. But as they say: "Don't hurry up life, it will pass quickly". It is exactly about my student years. Senior thesis defense crept unapparently and quickly. I had to restore two museum works: an icon and a painting canvas. I worked over the icon from Ivano-Frankovsk Museum and the Portrait of Peter III from Kiev-Pechersk Conservation Area. By the way, recently I looked at the results of my student restoration work and remembered Pushkin's words: "What a Pushkin, what a son of a bitch!".

My History  |  Touch of Brush  |  PriBAMbasy (Fancy gadgets)  |  "We had a wonderful epoch"  |  39,2 Degree and Above  |  Man Shall Not Live By Chair Alone...