Volodymyr Tsisaryk: Crafted by Hand

Bask in the monumental sculptures of Ukrainian artist, Volodymyr Tsisaryk and learn about the age old process of casting larger than life bronze statues.


Portrait of Volodymyr by Photographer Yulia Borshchevska

Volodymyr Tsisaryk sculpts, mainly. His work has a sort of purity to it; images of faces and animals and people, all made with his hands. The lifelike quality of the work Volodymyr does, his monuments being a testament to this, is that they show you something that you can identify immediately. In looking at his sculpture of a chimney sweep, which can be found high on top of a building in Lviv one of the largest cities in his home country of Ukraine, one can see a happiness and a sadness, a duality that seems to be present in several of his works, and in his persona as well. He is private in his work, but his work is meant to be seen by many.

Image "Monument to the Chimney Sweeper." The Highest monument built in Lviv, Ukraine. Courtesy of Photographer Taras Gipp

When did you begin sculpting?

VOLODYMYR TSISARYK: When I was 3 years old, my parents bought me a pack of plasticine. Since that time, I've been sculpting all the time. At first it was a childish fun, which then gradually turned into a craft. I sculpted constantly, I loved it very much, I sculpted everything I saw. So, in the end, my parents took me to an art school and later there was a professional art education.


What impact has your heritage had on your work?

I am an ethnic Ukrainian, I was born and grew up in Ukraine, until 1991 it was a part of the USSR. I always clearly understood myself as a Ukrainian, not a "Soviet man." The art of our region is very diverse and multifaceted, it's my genetic code. But when I was little, I was surrounded by books about European art in my home. In the bookcase, in the central place, stood the book "The Art of Ancient Greece" with a beautiful, smiling, archaic face of a kore. I often leafed through the pages of this book, I did not understand what the book was about, and I did not read the texts, but the drawings strongly appealed to me. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when people were at last allowed to travel abroad, the first thing my mother did - took me to the United States. New York, Philadelphia, Washington, we had been attending only museums for two months. I was 13 years old. I think that the global world culture has had the greatest impact on me.


What aspect of the subject do you try and grapple with when you sculpt monuments?

When the project is a monument to a particular person, I always try to understand this person, to get into character. I am interested in the inner world of a human being. Key concepts are the individual and humanity, and later come his or her achievements and accomplishments. I like to work with specific individuals. When it comes to location in space, predominantly I work with an architect. We are confronted with the task of how we want to see it, should it be a dominant in the environment or, to the contrast, it should support the environment. Based on how we perceive the environment and how we want to organize it, we create a compositional solution that meets the ultimate goal. If we have fixed the idea, it remains only to implement it. Then I proceed to the production of a full-scale clay model. All the rest is just a matter of technology.

Image Monument to the Iviv Brewers. Opened in 2011. In 1715 the Count St. Potockiy gave the privilege to Jesuit Monks to manufacture beer and the first brewing manufacturer was started in Lviv, Ukraine. Courtesy of Photographer Taras Gipp.

Is there a specific reason you choose to mix the conventional and the fantastical? For example, your centauress sculpture shows a different body type than what would usually be seen in popular fiction, what inspired that decision?

There is no special reason or some idee fixe, I just create and fantasize. I like to see ordinary things at an unusual angle, I try to look beyond the commonplace formulas. I'm not really interested in fantasy separated from reality, I am interested in the world around us, reality, but from a slightly different perspective. Or in alternate reality. In my imagination I am modeling different versions of reality, including alternatives. On the example of the sculpture "Centauress", I thought to myself that if there is a hybrid of a man with a horse, then, probably, might be a hybrid with a cow. And it might be not a man but a woman. Thus, as a result of such speculations this work has arisen. So, at first there was just an idea that was gradually developing in my head, and then it was only necessary to fixate this idea in in three dimensions.


How do you begin work on a sculpture?

Mostly there are always some ideas in my head, and when I feel that an idea is interesting, I capture it on paper. Sometimes I elaborate it on paper, sometimes I start to sculpt at once in full size. If I see that a silhouette or a piece is interesting then I sculpt it immediately, if not, continue to draw sketches. Very seldom I use a computer, Photoshop or 3D modeling, and only at the basic level, if I need to play with spots or colors quickly. Sometimes it happens that while sculpting I don't like something, then I photograph my work and using computer try to add or erase something graphically, sometimes it helps. Concerning organization of work, I just come to the workshop in the morning and simply start working. This is the most effective method.


What is your next piece?

I constantly work on many works. At the moment I am performing an order for two bust monuments, one is ready, soon there will be its opening, another is almost ready. I am also developing a project of monumental sculpture for a museum, this work is at the stage of sketching, and there are several works that I'm planning to exhibit, some are at the stage of the clay sculpting, some are already being prepared for casting. Which of them will be ready sooner I do not know, it depends on many factors. The creative process is not always predictable. I do not really like to announce a particular thing, I almost never tell what exactly I'm working on. I like to have a job done, and only then show it.


Besides sculpting, I see you also draw. What attracts you to that medium?

We used to draw a lot at college, a lot of attention was paid to the drawing, and I loved the drawing. But for me, as a sculptor, the drawing has more of an auxiliary function, it is an instrument to quickly capture ideas, impressions. I, as a sculptor, can realize my potential to the fullest when I work with volume, space and material. I love drawing very much, but eventually it turned into an auxiliary tool for me and ceased to be an opportunity to realize my creative ideas.


Is there a specific reason that you prefer sculpture to other forms of art?

Yes, because I perceive the world in volume, form, and space. I love the world to the touch, I must feel everything with my hands, must touch. Classic sculpture is more realistic physically than other types of art. For example, I can’t buy anything on the Internet, I must feel every item physically, even when I buy a book I must touch its cover and pages. I was really "born with Plasticine in my hands" and it would be unfair if I had become someone else.

Monument to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Lviv 2008. Image courtesy of photographer Olga Shved. 

What piece are you most proud of?

It's hard for me to talk about a particular thing; for me, they are all equally valuable, for I invest a lot of energy into everything. Though it's a commonplace, but perhaps I am most proud of the works, which were crucial for my career or which were key ones at some stages of my work. Since the first years at college, I had been dreaming of creating monumental sculptures, working directly with space and environment. But I could not afford to make large work. After ten years of hard work, I managed to create the monument for Masoch, and it was in the center of Lviv, a fantastic Renaissance city! Following this, mass-media began to write about me, and so on, and I began to be considered a serious sculptor. This work was a turning point in my career.


You use a lot of animal imagery, what do you focus on when you recreate the animals in your medium?

Actually, I have never focused on it deliberately, but somehow it turns out that the animal world allows me to open new horizons. There are many similarities between the animal world and the world of people, sometimes some ideas are allegorical and a certain animal fits best in this analogy. Sometimes I find something interesting in animal plasticity. By the way, my wife noticed that since recently I have started to use animals in my work to a greater extent, but I somehow have never thought about it. Creative search is mostly irrational, so you never know where it can lead you. For me, human life and its interaction with the surrounding world, including the animal world, comprise valuable philosophical aspects. There are sculptors-animalists, they work specifically with animals and they do wonderful things, I admire many of them, nevertheless for me personally, in the creative and philosophical terms, the world of man and his being are most important.


What is the inspiration behind the fusion of animal and human imagery in your sculptures?

Our world is very multifaceted, and creative search is also multifaceted and unpredictable. I have no special aim to make some bizarre combinations or something extravagant, I just speculate and imagine. As a result of creative quest come different ideas, some of them, I immediately understand, will be realized, some will be discarded at once, some will have to stand the test of time. When I am thinking about an idea for a work, it seems as if I have in my head many puzzles, they are all different and at times seem incompatible, but in the process of sorting out of the elements in order to combine them there appear various patterns and designs which remain to be captured in the material. Our reality is surrounded by a dense wall of stereotypes and commonplaces, it's a challenge to find a crack in this wall and see what lies behind it.


How does the beginning idea for a sculpture measure up to your final product?

The basic creative search is going on in my head, when I start working in the material. For the most part I already know what I want to do and what result I want to achieve. But the greatest appeal of creative work consists in the fact that in the process all sorts of interrelated thoughts arise, and sometimes they follow unexpected paths. Sometimes it happens that the work is already complete in my vision and it only remains to express it in the material, the other time there is a main idea but no final vision of a plastic solution, or there is only a crude concept without any idea how to bring it into reality.

Clay process model of Monument to Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Kirovograd, 2010 Architect Vitaliy Krivenko. Image courtesy of Taras Gipp.

How often is there a radical difference between your initial vision and your finished sculpture?

Sometimes when the idea is raw but there is excitement to realize it, then the search begins directly in the material. But normally I try to do the basic creative search in my mind. It may have come out from my experience. In my imagination I'm not limited at all.


There is an inherent tactile nature of sculpture, what do you think that adds to your work?

Yes, all my work come out from under my fingers and can be felt with fingers, I think they appeal for the touch. I like different textures and surfaces, they add both realism and surrealistic quality to my works, besides creating peculiar aesthetic tension.


What do you think the future of sculpture as a medium is? How will 3D printing affect this? Will there be any effect?

Contemporary art blurs the boundaries between different arts and Art in general, it is a very exciting process, nobody knows how things will develop further. A lot of new materials have appeared, technically 3D printers and computer simulations simplify many processes, but the idea is still primary. So, until creative ideas are generated by people, not computers, art will go on. Previously, people made sculptures of wood, metal, and stone, now it is possible to make them from synthetic materials, such as plastic, or to print them out on a 3D printer. All this amplifies and helps in the creative process but does not replace it.


Referencing the last question, what is missing in 3D printing that one cannot learn from a classical education in sculpting?

People tend to exaggerate the capabilities of computers. If you are a writer, then you will write your piece on parchment with the help of quill by the candle, on a typewriter or a laptop while sitting in a plane. No matter what you write on, it's important what you write! Similarly, in sculpture there are things that help in the work process, but they cannot replace the creative process. In the classical understanding of sculpture, if you can sculpt something with your hands, you can model it in a program. I use computer modelling in my work a lot, but all these are only tools. The program for computer modelling is the same tool as a hammer, the only difference is that you can learn to use the hammer in a week, and the program in half a year. Previously, to melt bronze we had to burn wood, now we do it in computer-assisted induction furnaces. Previously, a sculptor had to model everything with his own hands, now - in a 3D program. Methods have changed, but the final result is still unchanged. The question of whether or not to apply a particular technology lies in the plane of individual preferences. As for artistic education, tactile sensations of the material and work with real rather than virtual volumes are the basic things, which cannot yet be provided by any computer at this stage in the development of technology. When I was studying at college, we copied many ancient specimens in junior courses, and I was fascinated by Greek sculpture. I read a lot about it, studied illustrations. When I first arrived in the national museum in Athens, I saw all these sculptures in person. What impressed me most of all was the size of the work and their interaction with the space. These are things I could not imagine through a monitor. For a sculptor, who specializes in monumental sculpture, space is important, the extent of space, the amount of sky, the atmosphere, the aura of space. In the process of teaching it is important to teach sculptors to grasp all these things; when a student have understood everything well, he will be able to simulate his projects in any 3D program. Nonetheless, now technologies are developing very quickly and it is unpredictable what will happen in 10 or 20 years.

"Creator." Image courtesy of Tara Gipp. 

Do you think there’s a political aspect to your work?

While executing governmental orders, I have to communicate with politicians and officials a lot, and of course they want to "cram into" a monument more of a political component. But I realize every project in the artistic way and remain politically neutral, this somewhat resembles a surgeon who operates on politicians, he just does his job. I love art, I love sculpture, I love space; the first priority for me is to create an interesting piece of art. Politicians come and go but art remains.


Who are some of your influences?

At college I was fond of Rodin, he had been a guide for me for many years. Later, the more I discovered for myself, the more I liked the diversity of world art. I have always tried to collect information from a variety of sources, I have learned my lessons from both Rodin and Michelangelo but also from an unknown folk master.


What is your educational background in sculpting?

I graduated from art college and academy in Lviv. I also had a very useful training courses in St. Petersburg and Florence.


On average, how long does it take to complete one of your monumental pieces? Smaller pieces?

I need from one day to several months to capture an idea. It takes about 3 months to complete a sculpture (approximately 2 meters high) in bronze. A small work I can sculpt in a day, or it may take some years, that depends. Normally I'm working on several works simultaneously. Whichever has the most appeal to me that one I'll make faster. While executing big orders, I have to deal with contracts and deadlines, and thus I have to work intensively.


Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and many other artists across the globe have mentioned the beauty and complexity of the human body. What is it about working with the human form that is so evocative?

The human body is our constant shell, it is the most common plastic form in the world. Since the ancient times and the philosophy of anthropocentrism, the main object in art has been the human body. For centuries and millennia, this object has been perfected in art. I like the philosophy of Gormley, who says that the body is the primary space in which we live, so we tend to experiment with it most. But art, especially contemporary art, operates with many other forms (or without them), and it is no less fascinating. But we will always return to the human body as an object of art, presumably because we are people and we are close and familiar with it.


How does it feel to see others around cities in Russia enjoying the sculptures you have created to immortalize their important figures and events?

I work mainly in Ukraine, I haven't made monuments in Russia. In general, it's nice to see people stopping at my work in the streets, photographing and discussing something. Most of my works are located in the old center, where there are a lot of tourists, therefore, I'm used to seeing many people around my works. It pleases me. Sometimes I can stop to watch this people, sometimes I just pass by, it depends on my mood. Every artist seeks a realization and a feedback. It would be unfair to say that I don't care and I'm not interested in it. Yes, I lose interest in a work when I have completed it, but it's only because I focus on my future works, but I am always eager to know how people react to them.


What is the largest sculpture you have ever created?

The figure was 4 meters high, together with the pedestal, the sculpture was 7 meters.


Do you have an unannounced sculpture in the process that you would like to share with us?

I’ll think about it.

"Big Brother." Image courtesy of Tara Gipp. 

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