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39,2 Degree and Above

Graduating the Institute used to be a terrible headache for many Soviet students, as then selfdom for three followed it, that was a job placement to far towns. But this cup passed from me. A year before graduating the Institute I beat the path to Kiev-Pechersk Conservation Area, its restoration department. I remember my first visit to my future boss. Winter. As Ilia Selvinskiy wrote: "frost bites like a wounded bear", snow and beauty of Lavra. I was lucky and didn't get the gate, so inspired I went on the high porch of the restoration building No 13. Before I could breathe in freely I slipped and fell my head down into the deep snowdrift. I was so ashamed, if someone saw falling of the future restaurateur. Only later I thought, Lavra, a holy place, not for nothing met me this way, addressing to me: "Leave behind arrogance anyone who comes inhere".

After graduating the Institute and getting diploma (it was the year 1986, the year of Chernobyl) I went to Nizhniy Tagil for three months and had time to work on "Uralvagonzavod" in the esthetic department, decorating huge plant's canteens. On October the 1st I was already in Kiev-Pechersk Conservation Area, I was met with a threat to be fired for being late to work for almost a month. But knowing my rights from the legal columns in Soviet newspapers I, young specialist, won my place in the sun that means near Lavra campanile.

This is how my career of an artist and a restaurateur started. Fortunately the Director of the Conservation Area Yuriy Demianovich Kibalnik proved to be a leader who made of me a real specialist (and not only me). He also became my real bureaucratic father who brought up a manager in me (as we can say today). And a year later I became a head of restoration department and later a director of foreign exhibition in Lavra, as a second job. I worked a lot, I restored half of icons by myself which we exhibited for three years abroad in the frame of exposition "Treasures of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra".

It stood to reason that my career as an artist was really established here. With all the attributes: success, fans, exhibitions, including foreign ones.

But there was another recognition that was the most important for me. I and my wife, my standby and faithful assistant, lived in a small flat. I could write the paintings only at night in the kitchen, as the evenings were full of scuffle and play with little sons who as it seemed to me, didn't understand that their dad was not just dad, but also an artist. But once at night when I worked over another graphic work, my elder son woke up, he was five years old then. Rustling of bare feet calmed down behind my back. I understood that he was examining the painting. Then I heard his words: "Great!" It was a superior praise, much more important of the colleagues' appraisals and plenty of art critics' compliments.

And today my grown-up children are my superior court, my assistants and inspirers. By the way, they roused to creating this album you are looking through. As well we are colleagues, as my elder son, Yevgeniy, graduated from my alma mater, Kiev Art Institute (to be more precise academy already), he is established as successful art manager. A younger son, Vlad, graduated from law department of Kiev Institute of Law, has been called to the bar and became an Executive Director of Antiquarian's Guild of Ukraine.

Though it is time to dive into my memory again. The end of the 80-ies was time of swirling different art groups. I created my own too and called it "39,2", indicating the temperature of creative burning. We (four artists) traveled about with our exhibitions, we had twenty six for two years. But everything started with immense (at that time) exhibition "White Crow" in the cinema "Zorianiy". We, underground artists, managed to enlist support of Komsomol regional committee. That was a time of flirtation of our ideologists to an underground art. Almost for half a year, instead of declared month, we invaded the cinema. Another twenty six artists joint us, we were arranging different actions, besides the artists some underground poets and musicians performed, incredibly breathtaking things happened.

We managed to show "39,2" even abroad, in Poland, in Krakow art festival. That was the first time I saw non-Soviet Union country. By the way, we could move our works across the border rather easily. At first rubbing the hands custom officers asked: "What kind of pieces of art are you carrying?" Soon they lost any interest to them. Both the masterpiece "Crimea" (a chair glued over with flip-flops found on the sea-side) and composition "Two bricks are flying: one is green, another is also to Africa" (with a real brick) didn't stir them.

Soon foreign countries became like homeland. Judith, my good friend from Hungary, restaurateur from Szeged's Museum, allowed me to work in her studio. I spent ten days in Hungary, and the other twenty in Kiev. My paintings were being sold in three Hungarian art galleries, besides I dealt with expertise, it brought a good income too.

I had some thoughts to start freewheeling, but that must have been my nature: my creative work must be diluted with other kinds of activity. Some people prefer secluded life, I love painting in the pause between two phone calls during my working day. Or after restoring an icon. Inspiration for me is the process of thinking, but not a state of waiting for a creative impulse, like hanging in the wind. Mayakovskiy "stepped" his poems, and I "work" my paintings. I sit and paint.

Italy was the next "window to Europe". Once, a head of the Brescia province administration came to Kiev-Pechersk Conservation Area. When he saw my works and naturally received one as a present, he suggested making the exhibition in Italy. Then after the negotiations between Italians and administration of Lavra, it appeared that exhibition "Treasures of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra" were going there. My paintings were a peculiar appendage. I and my director Yuriy Demianovich Kibalnic went to Italy to conclude agreements. Capitalistic paradise impressed with abundance. Venice, Milan, Genoa, expensive hotels, any food and drinks… We had the hard nineties, they had well-fed rest.

The flight to Italy with the exhibits was a real adventure in the sense of the nineties. A part of the seats were taken away in the plane An-26 we could load the exhibits. By the way we packed all million-cost possession with our own hands. I was too lazy to pack my 45 works and hope for eternal "maybe" almost turned that paintings could remain in Kiev. But God helped I managed to load the masterpieces, the customs allowed.

It was December in Ukraine, cold weather, but it was twenty degrees in Milan, so we dressed lightly. But it appeared that we can't take off for the moment, as intermediate flight stop Lvov can't receive us. The crew left the plane and we with our cargo stayed on the board, otherwise we had to come through the customs again. Temperature in the passenger compartment lowed to zero, we had a good chance to repeat general Karbyshev's deed. Fortunately our director took along with him a liter bottle of samogon (spirits) and dripping, they saved us. To the addition foam rubber (the exhibits were covered with it) helped, then we covered ourselves with it. Fortunately it was warm after that during the flight.

We had to worry in Milan again. The cargo was arrested, my paintings were improperly arranged. But we were lucky, next day articles about customs bureaucracy standing on the way of free art appeared in Italian newspapers. They returned us our precious cargo.

In Brescia it appeared that I had hard time with my paintings not for nothing. The city was full of posters announcing my exhibition in the center of modern art. As well Italians published a presentable catalogue.

Vakulenko's adventures in Italy didn't finish with it. My colleagues went home, but I remained for the opening my exhibition that happened after Christmas. The Italians saw me into the evening train on December 28th, apologizing that was no free seat in the sleeping car. Their surplus politeness was explained easily later. Twelve hours of the trip to Austria turned to me staying on a foot in the carriage full with students who drank and smoked a lot during the way. I could breathe in freely on the Austrian border as I didn't have visa. But at that time shillings could solve many problems, so in an hour I went farther in the train from Rome in absolute comfort (sitting on strapontin). An hour before the beginning of the New Year I was in Kiev.

In 1995 I became a Director of Restoring and Expertise Center of Kiev-Pechersk Conservation Area, our joint brainchild with Kibalnik. This work leaned me so much with the scope that I had less and less time for painting. In 1999 I painted a cycle of works "Fiery Demons" and for almost ten years I put off my brushes. To tell the truth I never denied myself anniversary exhibitions. Even at the end of the 90-ies at the times of economical plague, I threw a feast – exposition "The Ode of Forty-Year-Old Man". At first a poem with the same name appeared, from it I remember the lines:

The first was raise, and then I fell.
And raised again...
Revival spring has come from bitter sorrow...

And then the chaos itself was arranged, that means exhibition and feast with boggling the mind eatable abundance, exotic spirits, flattery to the face and envy behind the back – you see what he has devised.

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...