Generation of
Kyiv Railway Station

03 March 2018
The Baltics. 1980s
Photo by Serhiy Yakutovych

This generation of Ukrainian painters may be easily called the left-outs of the history. Or supertemporal. Or the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station as Serhiy Yakutovych and Tiberiy Szilvashi named it. Anyhow, there is very little information about and references to these people.

The history of the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station started in the Taras Shevchenko State Art School or simply the art school in the 1960s. A group of friends was formed there who would later become the “founders” of the Kyiv hyperrealism: Serhiy Bazyliev (Bazil), Serhiy Heta (Heton), Serhiy Sherstiuk and Serhiy Yakutovych – standing a little aside. A few years later, in the 70s, the fate of each young author led them one way or another to Moscow where the artists blended in with other directions of the Soviet hyperrealism, but they preserved their own vision of its principles and foundations.

Olha Yakutovych. 1980s
Photo by Serhiy Yakutovych
Serhiy Yakutovych. Look №1.
From Esse Homo series
1984, etching

Hyperrealism for this generation is not just a style of painting. It is far from the American object-specific and advertisement-oriented “father,” and from the futuristic or fantastic plots of the “hyper” of other regions of the Soviet Union. The creative activity for the Kyiv painters became another dimension of their life, stiff performances of bohemian and rackety life. They painted themselves, their friends and girlfriends, their parties and summer trips to Crimea. They dreamt about the parallel world free from circumstances of those decades and consolidated it with their talent. And their most desired audience was themselves.

Serhiy Yakutovych. Illustration to
Oles Honchar’s Novel Perekop
1987, etching, water-colour

Bazil, Heton and Sherstiuk are painters. Yakutovych is a graphic artist. For the latter, hyperrealism was more about the idea itself rather than the form. For instance, if Serhiy illustrated a book about Peter the First, he asked his friends to paint the scenes from Aleksey Tolstoy’s novel; if he depicted The Three Musketeers, the friends of his son Anton dressed up as the novel’s heroes and held swords. They made photo slides which later would serve as a basis for engravings.

Serhiy Yakutovych in His Studio. 1990s
From the Yakutovych’s archive

The slides and the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station – are inseparable. It was photos that helped the painters of that period capture reality and create their own variant of it. It also allowed them to engage in a “slow” creative process, extending the emotions from certain events. For example, Bazil said that trips to Crimea with his friends every summer gave them all long-term impressions and inspiration to create art. And he did not mean only their state of mind – but also the huge boxes of slides that would be used for new paintings during a year.

Serhiy Yakutovych. Between Crosses
1990, etching

This moderate, low-key and rather idealistic pace of creative work was accompanied by recognition and interest in their art. They became famous in cultural circles very quickly, they felt needed and relevant. In such a situation, the collapse of the system in the 90s, a complete change of the conditions and visual language, the loss of the audience and, frankly, total poverty that befell the painters were the very stroke of fate that turned their artwork outdated. Within a short period, topical art became a thing of the past. They had to change to fit the new rhythm – which was much faster than an everyday life performance is captured by a photo slide later to become a complete painting.

However, it was this collapse that gave an impulse for self-reflections – which were lacking before, during success and recognition. In the letters to his friends, at the beginning of the 90s, Yakutovych realized the changes, analyzed his life and art. Many years after, he still remembered what it all had started from – the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station.

The Baltics. 1980s
Photo by Serhiy Yakutovych
Olha Yakutovych. 1980s
Photo by Serhiy Yakutovych
Serhiy Yakutovych. Look №1
From Esse Homo series
1984, etching
Serhiy Yakutovych. Illustration to
Oles Honchar’s Novel Perekop
1987, etching, water-colour
Serhiy Yakutovych in His Studio. 1990s
From the Yakutovych’s archive
Serhiy Yakutovych. Between Crosses
1990, etching

From the Serhiy Yakutovych's manuscript

To the book The Absolute Hearing of Time, Kyiv, Hramota Publishing House, 2008

The things or people I want to tell you about have been there all my life. The conscious or, more precisely, the realized. That is my friends are me. They are our time. As Confucius once said: “Time flies? You fly! Time stands still…”

Because the story of our generation is not time. It is searching for the feeling of self in space. Time is the condition of our soul.

“We are intertemporal,” Yakutovych wrote in his letter to Bazil at the beginning of the 1990s. It meant a lot to him. First of all, Serhiy always tried to “detach” himself from the time of his farther – indisputable authority – and by doing so discover himself. Secondly, Yakutovych was not a part of any art group of that time (even the group of hyperrealists). And in his works, he mostly turned to the past (in book design) which he tried to combine with the topical issues in the easel graphic art. All this made Serhiy feel anti-historical.

“As the future ripens in the past
So the past rots in the future…”

Poem without a Hero by Anna Akhmatova

Tiberiy Szilvashi and I once gave a name to our generation – the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station. I know this feeling very well – departure from Kyiv. The anticipation of renovation, a break from everyday life, pain, anxiety, disappointment and… hope for a miracle.

I think this feeling stayed in us forever. It did in me at least… “Eternal movement” of my friends and the generation on the whole, born and inherited from the previous generations who went through their own hard times, horrible times, but which preserved and passed the spiritual responsibility to us.

Migration is probably the most characteristic word for the Kyiv painters of the 1970s-1990s. At first, they went to other cities of the USSR – looking for large exhibitions, productive publishers and, of course, like-minded people. Later, more and more artists were allowed to go abroad. Many of them did not return and settled in Germany, France or the USA. An especially big wave of immigration of painters was observed in the late 80s and early 90s. It was rather painful for Serhiy Yakutovych: Serhiy Chepyk settled down in Paris, Sherstiuk visited New York all the time, and Bazil and Heton stayed in Moscow.

For what? Before whom?
For ourselves. Before the world.

I sound pretentious and in a baroque manner as I always do when I say this. Can I talk about our generation, about my friends so bombastically? I can. The time has come. It happens that now I have to reconsider all my life, and to see the details, the most faithful, sincere and tender details, in the silt of long-past years, I need to, first of all, define the milestones – what do I want to say? What did it start from?

And it all started from the movement of self-knowledge and self-determination. And going from one thing to another, from one group to another… Because to search for yourself in the world is to search for the friends. Because life is like an ancient engraving where a monk pierced through the “casing” and peeps in the “other world.” Our “dissidence” stemmed from playing in all seriousness, from the spirit of freethinking, from the desire to create a “parallel world.”

Our generation is the children of intellectuals stomped by the system; it is freer but lives in a vacuum…

Everybody searched for themselves not only in space but in their art as well. It always led to arguments among the friends. For instance, Yakutovych and Sherstiuk more leaned towards the content (the former as a book designer and the latter as a theorist), while Bazil and Heton considered the form to be primary in art. Yakutovych also thought that art must be topical and socially-oriented – he even often used the notion “political graphic art.” Others did not agree with him and considered this idea almost “Komsomol.”

These seemingly cynical and playboy-like men were driven by selflessness and boundlessness of their talent. More specifically – the God-given abilities that some of them formed their talent with through the years. Endless games with oneself resulted (probably because of being tired with these games) in the fear of loneliness. So appeared the “friendship” fetish. Friendship had everything in it: mutual attraction, loyalty to ideals, professional competitiveness; dogmas, truths, playing in “something” and games “about something” born in countless dinners, get-togethers and trips. This musketeer brotherhood expanded onto art, life and daily life. How nice it was to live in this parallel world that we created as opposed to the real one. How great it was to work in this world!

We cultivated in ourselves and in one another the idealism and life with an “open visor.” This is what youth, infantilism and purity is about. All the things that now bring a light nostalgia…

At the same time, and this is very important, everybody had some “born” professionalism in them. Almost all representatives of the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station showed their professional qualities very early, they matured and developed at all times and in all things.

Nevertheless, arguments about the goals of art could not interfere with the friendship – the painters were the best viewers for each other and the most captious critics. Losing fellow-thinkers was scary because art could lose its audience, its main subject and object. Perhaps, for this very reason, the 90s were critical for the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station – they had already been separated in space without a chance for a new reunion. The fact that they had no physical space for creative work made it impossible for them to make it into the history – unlike the more powerful New Ukrainian Wave that obtained countless spaces – squats.

We seemed to live by Bertolt Brecht’s words “Stick to the form, and the content will come on its own.” In both art and life, we did everything well and professionally, expressively. There were different things but the professionalism (and I think that this is the artist’s state of mind, their responsibility for the things they say and the way they say them, ergo the way they live) is the main feature of the seemingly unbuttoned, thoughtless and bon-vivant-like Generation of Kyiv Railway Station. And another thing – the tragic nature of each representative of it, which is, however, not new…

Kyiv is a village. It had always been. And this is what was magical about it. Right now Kyiv is a capital… And young blood in art always comes from a village. Their restless energy is always cramped in their native town – they want to go to the capital, to the other “bigger” world. When they move here – they hang about a lot, but they catch up pretty quickly. Their desire to “outshine” metropolitans and “teach them a lesson” makes them innovative. It encourages creativity and living in it. This is a bright feature of the Kyiv Railway Station.

Provincialism did not have any negative connotation for Yakutovych. It was a synonym of an incessant search where you never stay in one and the same condition. It was a desire to change and become better. While being a metropolitan is the final destination from which it is hard to look for alternative ways and new sensations. Moreover, when Kyiv became the single capital, it was sort of a metaphor that the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station has reached its terminal point.

What have they found?

I don’t know, we are not the ones to judge. I would like to hope they have found “themselves.”

What have we lost?

We have lost our talents, our whole and brightest goal in art and… the worst thing is that we have lost our friends. And what they have lost – I don’t know.

However, we have lost the momentary presence of bright, beautiful and talented people in our personal and professional life.

One day, about twenty five years ago, Maksym Dobrovolskyi came to me – as always untimely, after classes. I lived at that time with my son, a first grader, and he was already asleep. My wife was abroad. Maksym was anxious and confused with something, very deeply and seriously, you could tell. He asked me:

A sudden distinction in Serhiy’s text between “we” and “they” is extremely revealing. New space opened up in the 90s does not only change the conditions for creative work but also promotes the new differentiation among the Generation. Because, paradoxical as it may appear, only a small part of the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station is associated with Kyiv.

When the hell are you going to become
geniuses, when will you start doing
something bigger and better than you are
right now?”

I answered:

“Never.”

That is what I said… I had the right to say it. Because I was one of them… Self-irony is the intelligent person’s privilege.

If I don’t know what I do – I don’t know how to do it.

There is no doubt that the ease in life and art is the heightened artistry.

There is no doubt that all bright representatives of the Kyiv Railway Station had and still have it.

Is the early maturity multiplied by reflections plus provincialism, plus a sincere desire “to be” is talent? Is the personal admiration with a plus or minus sign is talent? What talent really is, it is a tragedy in the modern (any) world…

Later, those – Serhiy Yakutovych in particular – who switched from the status of the Generation of Kyiv Railway Station to the status of the Kyiv Generation had only one thing to do – search for new goals in art, new audience and new forms. Having left practically all previous achievements behind, on one of the past stations.

Serhiy Yakutovych
in His Kyiv Apartment. 1980s
From the Yakutovych’s archive
Serhiy Yakutovych. UFO
1990, author’s technique
Serhiy Yakutovych
against Carnival. 1990s
From the Yakutovych’s archive
Serhiy Yakutovych. Apologia of Thought
1990s, canvas, oil
Serhiy Yakutovych. Song.
From Mazepiana series
2003, paper, ink, water-colour
Serhiy Yakutovych
in His Kyiv Apartment. 1980s
From the Yakutovych’s archive

Serhiy Yakutovych’s search for himself and his place in art took a whole decade – all 90s. In addition to the creative-work-related issues, there had always been more pressing and routine problems: no job, no money, a family to feed. At the same time, the “Iron Curtain” fell, and painters went to Europe and the USA on a massive scale. Residences made it possible to work and live in more or less decent conditions.

In the early 90s, Germany found an interest in painters from Eastern Europe. In 1991, Serhiy Yakutovych, Tiberiy Szilvashi and Yevhen Prokopov arranged a group exhibition Trynity in Leipzig following which Serhiy stayed in the residence of local art dealers for a couple of months. However, this experience brought neither fame nor the means of existence. Yakutovych once admitted in one of his interviews: “They showed me a dump of Ukrainian art in Munich in 1993. It was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen in my life. There were works by Volobuyev, Yablonska, Hlushchenko, Szilvashi lying on the road… They were thrown away like garbage. Ukraine was visited at that time by “business tourists” who purchased paintings for 30 marks. And then they just threw them away.”*.

Serhiy Yakutovych. UFO
1990, author’s technique

It was during the 90s that Yakutovych turned to pictorial art which by style was closer to that of his friends-hyperrealists than to his own graphics. The plots on paintings demonstratively parody the reality which surrounded the artist: bright carnival scenes, excessive corporality of models and hollow and featureless space around them. These figurative works are absolutely abstract content-wise. The defence reaction to the whirlwind of new obscure and dangerous symbols.

Serhiy Yakutovych
against Carnival. 1990s
From the Yakutovych’s archive

Yakutovych especially fulfilled his potential in painting in Spain. Jose Moreno – a rather mysterious figure interested in Ukrainian realism – came to Kyiv in the mid-90s. Serhiy was introduced to Jose, and a few months later he offered Yakutovych to move to Spain together with his family to work there. It seemed to be the opportunity the painter had been looking forward to – plunge into creative activity without the endless day-to-dayness. This pretty happy and productive period for Serhiy lasted three years – until 1999 when Jose Moreno tragically and just as mysteriously died in a car accident. And all his property – including the pictures painted by Yakutovych – was confiscated for numerous debts. It was one of the last blows of the game-changing decade. Serhiy with his wife and son returned to Kyiv and all his works of the last few years were lost in unknown collections. The artist almost never went back to painting from then on.

Serhiy Yakutovych. Apologia of Thought
1990s, canvas, oil

Once in Kyiv, Serhiy realized that his father, Heorhiy Yakutovych, had not had a personal exhibition in his entire life. So it was arranged and opened. About at the same time, operator Yuriy Illienko that Heorhiy worked with at the shooting of the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors offered Serhiy to be an art director of his movie Prayer for Hetman Mazepa. Cossacks and knightly images, complex historical characters, heroic style and strong eroticism of the epoch – the painter had finally found his theme. During the shooting, in 2000, Heorhiy Yakutovych passed away.

The nineties ended and the aughties started tragically and, at the same time, symbolically for Serhiy: his father died, his inalterable authority and role model, and he found the art line he would follow to the very end. The topic of national myth completely had completely middle Yakutovych since the 2000s.

Serhiy Yakutovych. Song.
From Mazepiana series
2003, paper, ink, water-colour