French artists find inspiration in Ukraine

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This year’s French Spring Festival sees five art exhibitions opening in Kyiv, presenting various forms of contemporary visual art. Three of them have one thing in common — the exhibiting artists are connected to Ukraine in one way or another.

The Kyiv Post talked to Samuel Ackerman, Philippe Bertrand, Mykola Bilous, and Guillaume Herbaut, all of whom have found inspiration in Ukraine.

Inspired by poetry. Samuel Ackerman

Samuel Ackerman, 66, was born in Ukraine, and grew up in Mukachevo, a city in Zakarpatska Oblast. During World War II, many members of his family were taken to concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Although his parents were lucky enough to survive and to return back home, it was difficult for them to stay in the Soviet Union. So in 1973, when he was 22, Ackerman moved to Israel with his family. Eleven years later, in 1984, Ackerman and his wife Galyna moved to Paris.

However, he still feels connected to Ukraine.

From childhood, Ackerman was interested in painting and says he understood that he had an artistic calling. Traditional Ukrainian Hutsul ornaments, popular in the Carpathian Mountains region, prompted him to experiment with lines and geometrical forms.

Recently, Ackerman discovered a Ukrainian poet whose work inspired him so much that he designed a series of art pieces, which together make up his “The Pure White” exhibition — one of those featured at the French Spring Festival.

“The Pure White” is devoted to Ukrainian poet Oleh Lysheha who died in 2014. Ackerman did not know Lysheha in person.“

About a year ago, I accidentally met Lysheha’s widow, and after that I discovered his poetry,” he says, adding that he found Lysheha “one of the brightest poets” he has ever read.

Each “The Pure White” artwork corresponds to some of Lysheha’s poems. The exhibition consists of paintings, art installations, and a book, similar to a diary, to which Ackerman added small paintings, one by one, until he felt the artwork was completed.

Ackerman confessed that he sometimes writes poetry himself, but he doesn’t feel ready to present it to the public. However, in some of his paintings one can find a few lines written by the artist.

The artist also emphasizes the importance of the color white in the title of the exhibition. Belonging to three different cultures (Ukrainian, Israeli, and French), he sees white as a color of unity.

“White has great meaning. It is a symbol of reconciliation. I want to remind art viewers about the importance of peace.”

“The Pure White” by Samuel Ackerman. Art 14 Gallery (14 Mykhailivskyi Ln.). Until May 12. Tue- Sun 12–7 p. m. Free

The art of interpretation. Philippe Bertrand and Mykola Bilous

Philippe Bertrand, 54, is not a professional artist. He works as a diplomatic attaché with the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine.

However, photography has been his hobby since he was a teenager, and he is now presenting his work in a gallery for the fourth time. Bertrand says he decided to keep photography just as his hobby so as to be independent, and to prevent financial issues from potentially casting a gloom on a creative process.

However, the exhibition, called “Inversions,” which recently opened in Tsekh Gallery, consists not only of Bertrand’s works. One half of the exhibited works are those of 62-year-old Ukrainian artist Mykola Bilous, who reproduces Bertrand’s photographs in the form of paintings.

Bilous says he does not like to improvise and prefers working with a particular piece, interpreting it. This is exactly what he did with Bertrand’s photographs for “Inversions.”

Mykola Bilous at the opening of “Inversions” staying in front of his painting and Philippe Bertrand’s photograph on April 6 in Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv

For Bertrand and Bilous, it is the first experience of a dialogue which lets people see the same objects from different angles. Most of Bertrand’s photographs are black and white, and only one on display at the exhibition is in color. “I take photos in black and white because my eyes cannot see in such a way. It helps to stimulate the imagination,” Bertrand says.

With the black and white pictures as a basis, Bilous created colorful paintings, experimenting with forms and colors. Bertrand said that most of colors Bilous uses are opposite to the real ones, so the artist’s interpretation is especially interesting.

There is a difference in the size of their works, too. The photographs are in standard sizes, few of which are larger than A4 format. In contrast, Bilous uses large-scale canvases for his paintings.

“Inversions” by Philippe Bertrand and Mykolai Bilous. Tsekh Gallery (69 Kyrylivska St.) Until June 1. Tue-Sun 2–8 p. m. Free

Touched by Chornobyl. Guillaume Herbaut

Although Guillaume Herbaut introduces himself as a photojournalist, he also tries to “push the boundaries” of the reportage genre, he says. In his documentary photographs, he shows an individual artistic vision that is usually to be found in pure artwork.

Herbaut, 47, tackles historical themes, including Auschwitz, Nagasaki, Chornobyl, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. He worked as a photo reporter from the Donbas because he wants people “to remember that there is a war in Europe.”

However, Ukraine attracted him years before Russia launched its occupation of Crimea and war in the east.

One of the last residents of Poliske walks along this town in the Chornobyl exclusion zone on Sept. 4, 2010. This city of 20,000 citizens was evacuated 10 years after the nuclear catastrophe. Today, around 10 people live here.

In 1986, when the Chornobyl nuclear accident occurred, Herbaut was 15 years old and he “was shocked by the disaster,” he says. In 2001, he came to Ukraine for the first time to visit the Chornobyl exclusion zone. Since then, he has been to Chornobyl many times, either with guides or with so-called stalkers, people who explore the territory on their own, entering it illegally.

His upcoming exhibition of photographs, called “Zone,” covers the period from 2009 to 2011.

“I like, and I hate Chornobyl at the same time,” he said. “It is at the same time a place of pollution; of death, but also of freedom.”

“Zone” by Guillaume Herbaut. Taras Shevchenko National Museum (12 Shevchenko Blvd.). April 18 — May 6. Tue-Sun 10 a. m. — 5:30 p. m. Hr 15–35

Don’t miss these upcoming French Spring events:

International Culinary Festival. International Culinary School DGF (86 Kazymyra Malevycha St.) April 17–20. WebsiteFrench Spring Film Festival. Kyiv Cinema (19 Velyka Vasylkivska St.) April 19–25. WebsiteFrance in Ukraine employment fair. Congress Center Ukrainian House (2 Khreschatyk St.) April 26. Free, register hereDes Reglements art exhibition by Igor Ouvaroff. Kyiv National Picture Gallery (9 Tereshchenkivska St.) April 19 — May 5. +38 044 234 6218 • Rock show by La Mathilde band. Lviv — April 15 (Festrepublic club), Rivne — April 16 (Skybar Manhattan), Zaporizhzhia — April 20 (Titan Palace of Culture), Dnipro — April 21 (Module club), Odesa — April 23 (More Music Club). • Maxime Zecchini playing piano. Lviv — April 16 (Lviv Philharmonic), Rivne — April 18 (The House of Chamber and Organ Music), Ivano-Frankivsk — April 20 (Philharmonic), Berdychiv — April 22 (City Palace of Culture). • Remi Panossian Trio playing jazz. Kyiv — April 17 (Bel Etage, 16A Shota Rustaveli St. +38066 971 2666), Dnipro — April 19 (Philharmonic), Kharkiv — April 20 (Philharmonic), Zaporizhzhia — April 22 (Philharmonic), Rivne — April 25 (The House of Chamber and Organ Music), Odesa — April 28 (Odesa Academic Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater) • Symphonic concert of French music. National Philharmonic of Ukraine (20 Volodymyrskiy Uzviz). April 23. Website

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