Since we last spoke to Ukrainian artist Sergey Piskunov in our exclusive interview in June 2021, much has changed. Besieged by the unimaginable, a global shock is felt as we continue to learn about the conflict in Ukraine and its humanitarian crisis. Sergey knows of these hardships firsthand. Fallen soldiers, families divided – the heartfelt cries of loved ones resonate as media captures scenes of loss and despair that are difficult to unsee. As we struggle to understand the magnitude of this situation, many are struggling to maintain a level of hope for a place they call home. With shades of blue and yellow bicolour, the world stands in solidarity – honouring The Flag of Ukraine…and those whose lives it defines.
I confess that these are the hardest days I’ve ever had in my life, but I want to tell you about something good – a couple of days ago, I managed to get a small canvas with a couple of brushes and paints in the kit, which noticeably brightened up the time spent in the basement during air alarms.
Like many, Sergey presses on – finding ways to stay inspired amidst the hardship while keeping his creative voice at the helm of faith. It is a time self-expression and resilience through art despite the war in his country. But this isn’t a documentation of current events. It is the personal anecdote of an artist during a time of war and his buoyancy to look beyond tribulations.
With seamless energy, he lures us into his exquisite hyper-realistic visions. Through innate skill and remarkable brushwork, we discover the intimate connection to his muse. I was fortunate to speak to Sergey a second time and learn more about his life in the Ukraine and the impact of personal growth and art during adversity.
Exclusive Interview with Sergey Piskunov
Treading a careful line because of the sensitivity of this topic, we’re so happy to talk to you. Thank you for sharing with us the importance of your story so that our audience can better gauge your perspective. How are you and your family doing, are you okay, and how are you coping with the circumstances in Ukraine?
My family is now in the Netherlands. I am currently in my studio in Kyiv. To be honest, too much happened during the war; I can say that. Fortunately, my family and friends are alive. Nevertheless, there are no people left in Ukraine who have not been affected in one way or another by this war.
…the most difficult thing is to find some inner strength in yourself to paint, while around you there is a tragedy of such magnitude.
I saw on your Instagram – a photo of you working in your car. Has it been difficult to find a place and time to paint? The headspace, alone, must be challenging. Is it?
The most difficult thing is not to find a place and time; the most difficult thing is to find some inner strength in yourself to paint, while around you there is a tragedy of such magnitude. Yes, the conditions in which the paintings were created, at the beginning of the war, were rather unusual. There were three brushes and a small set of acrylic paints but I was more than happy with them.
You generally create larger scale paintings. How has the transition been to creating smaller works due to space constraints?
When I returned to my studio in Kyiv, I was surprised how big the paintings were, in contrast to those that were created at the beginning of the war outside the studio. In general, the size did not matter at all in this situation. I was just glad that there was some kind of opportunity to draw; it helped to get away from reality a little, at least for a while.
At the moment, fighting is taking place near my hometown, where I was born and raised, and it is simply being erased from the face of the earth…as this has happened to many Ukrainian cities before it.
It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to embrace the strength of your creative spirit through this adversity. Will you walk us through the new norm (for a lack of better term) of your days?
I can’t call what is happening now the norm. Every day is quite difficult, every morning you learn the news with anxiety. Now I, like every Ukrainian, have only one dream – so that the war ends as soon as possible and people stop dying. Cities are destroyed. At the moment, fighting is taking place near my hometown, where I was born and raised, and it is simply being erased from the face of the earth…as this has happened to many Ukrainian cities before it.
That’s devastating for you and so many. Will you ever be able to return?
No, I’m in Kyiv now. My hometown is Lysychansk, where I was born, and it’s one of main battlefields now.
You mentioned a new series of paintings…let’s talk more about your creative concepts and what you anticipate viewers will gain and understand through your creative ideations?
It is difficult to answer this question. I honestly do not think when I create a picture about this aspect. The new series (more precisely, the series that was made at the beginning of the war) is just what allowed me to escape from reality a bit and create something bright and light.
Are you working on sculptures? What can you share with us about this new path?
I have wanted to create sculptures for a long time, but I kept postponing my plans…and given the current circumstances, everything was delayed even more. Now, there are a few finished sculptures. I think I can show the finished new series in the coming months if everything goes according to plan, because I am now trying to continue working on a series of masks that I started before the war, they have remained unfinished since then.
…it is important to do your usual things and continue to work, despite all the difficulties of the current situation.
In the second week of the war, I managed to get a small canvas and a set of brushes with paints. I’ve never been so happy with art material before.
Art during a time of war must not be something you ever contemplated before this. I can’t imagine the deep-rooted feeling of impossibility. As the invasion stretches on, the sheer thought of creating art during war feels overwhelming – what keeps you motivated to continue pursuing your passion?
You know, it’s pretty hard to make art during the war, at least for me. But it is important to do your usual things and continue to work, despite all the difficulties of the current situation.
In your self-reflection, does it give you a sense of hope knowing your message and artistic expressions will be seen and heard?
Unfortunately, I am a person who almost speaks out with his art, and does not express his emotions. I am quite closed and therefore all experiences usually take place inside me and are not reflected on the canvas. I would just like for my work to bring someone joyful, positive emotions.
Trailing back for a moment, what inspired the birth of this new series? And how is it different from your other projects?
It was actually inspired by the current situation, because I didn’t have my materials, I didn’t have my studio, I didn’t have any familiar conditions. Because I could create everything with three brushes (which were at the beginning) and acrylic, which I had never used before, in general, I tried. For those one and a half months (even two), this series was a completely different experience in my work, to which I will hardly ever return.
To date, what has been one of the most gratifying aspects of your art career?
In the second week of the war, I managed to get a small canvas and a set of brushes with paints. I’ve never been so happy with art materials before.
I imagine that was extremely gratifying. If you could time-travel, what is something you would do differently in the past that would most effectively benefit you now in the present?
I am not a fan of time travel; you never know how even one insignificant event actually affected your life in the future.
What is your expectation for the days to come and what can we look forward to seeing from you?
I think my answer will be more than obvious. I really look forward to when the war ends. I want to see my family again; I want not a single person to suffer anymore, and as far as possible to return to my usual creativity.