Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Between the easel and the... drawing board

Borys Kuzma discusses his path to art and the Transcarpathian school
28 February, 2018 - 17:51

Talented Ukrainian artist, architect, graphic artist, and painter, corresponding member of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, People’s Artist of Ukraine, Associate Professor of the Transcarpathian Academy of Arts, head of the Transcarpathian branch of the National Union of Artists (NUA) of Ukraine, laureate of the Bokshai-Erdeli Regional Art Prize, participant of all-Ukrainian and international art exhibitions Borys KUZMA celebrated his 60th anniversary on February 22. I talked with this highly talented artist about architecture, painting, and life in an artistic family.


Mr. Kuzma, when did you realize that out of thousands of career paths, it was fine arts alone that was yours?

“I was born to a teachers’ family, as both my father and my mother worked for almost all of their lives at the eight-year school of the village of Verkhnii Koropets in the Mukacheve raion. My father was a teacher of the Ukrainian language, and my mother taught biology. When I was still at school, I did not envision becoming an artist yet, although I had an interest in painting.

“When attending grades 7-8, I really loved the works of Fenimore Cooper, his Indian characters, whom I enthusiastically copied with pencil. I did it preserving the scale and true ratios. My parents noticed that and brought me to the night art school in Mukacheve. I came to attend it twice a week. I also took music lessons at the time. I had a very good music teacher, but he fell victim of political repression at some point in 1967 or 1968...

“In high school, I was fascinated by architecture: I read the magazine Ogonyok, from which I drew information on contemporary architectural projects being built in Moscow, New York, and other major cities of the world. Under this influence, I began to draw houses and other structures myself. My parents asked: ‘Do you want to be an architect, maybe?’ In order to get acquainted with that profession, they brought me to Uzhhorod, to the DIPROMISTO design organization’s office. There I saw huge drawings, was very impressed by them, and was fired up with a desire to study and become an architect. The family began to discuss where I should go to study, because there were less than two months left until the admissions process was to start...

“Lviv Polytechnic Institute was the most promising destination, but one needed solid knowledge to get there, so they started looking for a tutor. Our relative, my mother’s cousin, artist Mykhailo Mytryk volunteered to act as one. He literally led me by hand to the Uzhhorod Palace of Pioneers, where we took two plaster heads... He showed me the basics of drawing, told about the light and shadow, the tones and halftones, the composition, the perspective and ordered me to work... My efforts were not in vain, as I entered Lviv Polytechnic on the first attempt, although the competition for places was quite high in 1975.

“I studied under renowned professors who had seen the world’s architectural masterpieces firsthand, such as Professor Roman Lypka who lectured on the history of architecture and Professor Viktor Kravtsov who taught architectural design. In practice, it was the latter teacher who made me into an architect.

“The Institute had an actively working student design bureau. There, students did drawings, revised some of them, tried their hands at the craft and... earned their first money. The friendly atmosphere that prevailed there, the spirit of creativity, communication with colleagues – all that became a great professional school. There I began to paint in parallel, because many architects were painting, as it was felt to be stylish.”

What impression was the architecture of Lviv, its artistic life making on you?

“Every first-year student was ‘allocated’ a building in Rynok Square and studied it: measured it, did research on its state of preservation, and drew ratio models. Then we had watercolor practice lessons. They took us to the suburbs of Briukhovychi and Vynnyky, we painted the historic quarters of Lviv, and did geodetic practice lessons in the Ternopil oblast. Studying was very interesting!

“It was in Lviv that I first visited artistic exhibitions. An exhibition of Akop Akopian made a great impression on me; he was a famous artist whose work I was fascinated with. It featured a graphic painting style, a restrained color scheme, and very elegant works. Many of my first paintings were made under his influence. Some influence also came from the work of senior year student, now renowned artist Ihor Panchyshyn from the Ivano-Frankivsk region. We came together and felt the spirit of freedom as we were discussing films of Andrei Tarkovsky, which it was semi-legal to watch at the time, and taking a lively part in creative discussions. All this left an indelible mark on our minds and souls. I came to Uzhhorod with this stock of knowledge.”

How about your job?

“I transferred to the Koopproect firm of the Transcarpathian Oblast Consumer Union in 1982. We designed restaurants, cafes, shops. Then Vasyl Hisem, who led the PMK-96 firm, poached me to his advertising center. Vasyl Svaliavchyk, Vasyl Hanhur, Taras Danylych, and other current celebrities were already working there when I came. I and Sasha Pazukhanych started making designs for each individual object, there were interesting ideas, original ads. I then made my first ad on the glass. Subsequently, I joined Danylych and Yurii Dykun in the Donetsk oblast where we decorated a large object in Transcarpathian style in the village of Kabania near the oblast center: we made signage, hammering work, and monumental paintings there. All this has left vivid memories.”


When did your final drift from the drawing board to the easel start?

“In the mid-1980s, I realized that it was time to publicly display my artworks. I got a lot of them at that time. I had my first exhibition in the Forum club cafe of creative youth in Uzhhorod in 1984. Its organizer was Vadym Kovach, who took care of talented youth for the Young Communist League. Then the authorities feared freethinkers in all spheres, and even more so in the arts, therefore, Kovach’s help was very timely. It made many different impressions. I recall the words of Ernest Kontratovych who visited the exhibition. He liked two of my watercolors, one of which I keep to this day. He said that they were very interesting works. My first plein airs started then as well. I traveled to Synevyr with Kontratovych, Ivan Ilko, and Semen Malchytskyi. At the same time, a few young artists began to form into a group: Taras Usyk, Volodymyr Bazan, Volodymyr Pavlyshyn. We began to gather more frequently in the open air, discussed creative ideas, and shaped our visions.

“In 1989, the chief architect of Uzhhorod Mykhailo Tomchanii invited me to serve as his deputy, I agreed and somewhat disengaged from painting. There were many orders for private structures. I was fascinated by this work, participated in the development of detailed planning for the historic central quarter of Uzhhorod.

“I joined the Transcarpathian branch of the NUA of Ukraine, which was then headed by Volodymyr Mykyta, and was elected chairman of the regional branch of that union in 1999. The first three years were difficult: constant inspections, salary arrears, and a lack of orders... The most important objective was to preserve the team and traditions, because we, in fact, are rich because we perceive each artist as a creative individual...

“Our team is strong and powerful. We have already made significant progress, there have been achievements. Constant participation in exhibitions, trips abroad, extensive experience of our masters which we have inherited... But there are many mercantile things related to everyday life. This generates a lot of problems, and I see that people have started to communicate less over the last two or three years, there is no openness. It is good that the youth association of artists works at the union. Creative communication with young people supplies us with energy, ideas, and designs. Today, the world is completely different, and art must reflect the realities of the present.”

What are the prospects of the Transcarpathian school of painting when taking into account modern trends?

“I believe that any school cannot but notice what is happening next to it. We live in the real world and must respond to challenges. Moreover, the changes take place very quickly. We change our way of life, its conditions, and sometimes its meaning. For me, the Transcarpathian school of painting is the source that should be constantly full. Each pebble is a fragment of the general picture. The school is formed through contests, exhibitions, plein airs, and communication.”


Your wife Viktoria is also an artist. How are creative personalities getting along under a shared roof? Is your son Borys fond of drawing?

“It is not that easy to share a home environment with a talented person who seeks to improve themselves and move towards a specific purpose. A permanent search for the ideal makes for discussions and disputes. Each of us has their own vision of the role of art in human life. Sometimes this leads to misunderstandings, but in the end, common sense always prevails. In spite of everything, I value my wife’s independence and her right to hold opinions of her own, because the art is only interesting when it is unique and personal. Her presence by my side in the studio always inspires me to look for new discoveries and finds. Our son Borys is always present in this creative space, and, undoubtedly, he is becoming filled with art. He is also an active, inquisitive child who often imitates his parents. We hold a great hope that he will grow into a good person, a true man who will never be indifferent to art.”

By Vasyl ILNYTSKYI, Uzhhorod