UKRAINE: Sergiy Lysiuk aka ARM – Mural Artist and Contemporary Painter

The artist Sergiy Lysiuk aka ARM from Chernivtsi in the Ukraine started dreaming about doing portraits since he can remember. Back in school time inspired by the Hip Hop culture he just simply started spraying toilets but it soon became a deeply passion and developed in a highly talented skill which he is now doing professionally. On canvas he creates very detailed and elaborated motifs of people, this is more the modern art type for galleries and to hang inside a room. But his first excitement is about bigger pieces on the street and the mighty murals. Like he said: On the street it is like an open gallery and free to watch for anyone.

The economical situation in the Ukraine is still bad, so there is not much money to make for artists. Still Sergiy found ways to combine his paintings and passion for art with commission works by doing publicities and exteriors for shops and companies. Paint costs money and somehow everybody has to pay rent and for living. But it is developing and the enthusiastic artist is also taking part in the sociocultural and urban conversation about art in his city. He even gave interviews on the public television station and keeps on putting more paint in the surrounding of his home place. Sergiy is driven by being creative from his inner feelings, but as well he came to the conclusion that he can do a change with his art and also that other people need some more color in their lives.

In a nice interview Sergiy Lysiuk told about his artworks on canvas, the wonderful murals, his development and the situation in the Ukraine for artists. You can listen to the podcast below or read the written down conversation covered with his amazing doings. The connection from Frankfurt to Ukraine wasn´t that stable and quite bad, so sorry for some audio disruptions. Thanks a lot as well to photographer Yuliia Brodetska for the great pics!

You are doing graffiti and murals, but as well contemporary art.

Yes, I am doing graffiti. On this moment it is modern world murals or streetart. I think graffiti is the most aggressive kind of art, as well something like illegal. I am doing my works legal, because I need a lot of time for doing the pieces which I am doing. I like to do realism and to paint different parts of the body like eyes, faces, hands or whole portraits. These are my motifs.

I looked on your Instagram and as well on your Facebook page. You have a lot of nice artworks there and I could see you have pieces you are doing on the street on big walls, but as well you have exhibitions. So you present your artworks on canvas also in galleries.

Yes. Usually I make art on the buildings and on the walls outside and exterior. But I do as well exhibitions. One year ago I had an exhibition in Italy near the city of Milan. For me it is more a pleasure to make something if many people can come and see what you do. On the street it is like an open gallery for many people. This is for everybody and it´s for free for anyone.

When I look on the paintings, I see a lot of faces. Like you paint people and portraits.

Yes, yes. I like to paint people because I just have something in this. I have a special feeling about this. I always remember when I was studying at school for example, I was dreaming of painting people. To paint portraits in colors and for getting the special paint for the human skin of the body. It was very interesting for me. At this moment I am feeling that people and the portraits it´s important because it´s most near to what we can feel, because we are human beings. We are all humans and it´s very sensitive for me. I like it very much to paint people.

You don´t only paint the people, you paint them as well in special moments.

It´s different. Sometimes I even see a photo in the internet, some portrait of somebody. And I can use it in my work. Because it has maybe made some inspiration on me. There is no formula. I am moving more on feelings which I have inside me. Something like that. I have the feeling that I just have to draw it and then I draw it. I had one picture there I made a mural which is named “9/11”. It´s about the tragedy in the United States at 11th of September in 2001. And I made the mural because this topic was really something for me. Inside this tragedy there were many feelings.

You thought about it, it was touching you and it was a big tragedy. And this was the way how you put your thoughts and your emotions into an artwork.

Yes, that´s it.

When you do graffiti you said you try to do it legal. Do you have a lot of commission work and enough jobs? It is possible for you to live on it? Can you live in Ukraine as an artist?

In Ukraine not. At the moment definitely no. Because we have problems with the economy. We have problems since 25 years. Since Ukraine is independent, since that time all those many years we also have problems with the economy. I understood there is a proportion about the economy situation in the country which connects to economy possibilities and art. Because people are thinking mostly about what to eat today and not what to buy today or even which art they want to buy for their room or which art they want to make. Art is not a main subject at the moment.

Sure, there is still the crisis.

Yes. But there is still something. There are some people who want it. For example for businesses I make some works, because it´s like a promotion of their company. Like publicity and advertisement.

I saw on some of your works, like you make the advertisement, the interior or the outside of places and shops. There are some possibilities to earn money as an artists, but of course if the situation is like this at the moment in Ukraine there is not a lot of budget to buy art.

Yes, that´s the actual situation.

How did it happen that you could do an exhibition in Italy?

I was in Italy in 2006 as a tourist for two month. Then I returned to Ukraine and the next time I was going again in 2017. But I went that time for searching for work. Because in Ukraine for me there isn´t something to work. I was working and doing stuff like painting houses and walls. Just some reconstruction of walls and construction work and I was the painter. So I painted rooms in a chosen color.

So you could paint, but just the simple work of painting and without the art aspect. It´s still painting, but not creative.

Yes, yes. Work with paint, but not something like art. So I was working there in Italy and I met some friend and he had another friend in a photo gallery. And this guy said, if you are a painter you can make some exhibition in this photo studio. We can make it. This was very nice. And I met very nice people. So I returned to Ukraine and prepared 30 canvases which are made by aquarelle, watercolor and spray can. It was with mixed techniques. I took these 30 canvases and made the exhibition with them. The event and the exhibition was for three weeks then and I could sell eight canvases.

Eight pieces! That´s very nice.

Yes, and I didn´t expect that. I wasn´t trying to sell my works, because it was my first exhibition. I was excited because people who came from the street bought my canvases. It wasn´t from people who were invited or from my friends or friends of my friends. Just people from the street passing by and they bought my works. They came, said I like it, I want to buy it. I was shocked! This was a really nice experience.

So you came from the Ukraine to Italy for the exhibition, but how did it work with the artworks? Did you sent it with the post office or did you bring them by train? Or how did this work?

In Ukraine we have a law which says that you can export if you are a painter. You can export from Ukraine to Europe for example. You can export your works if this is modern art and contemporary. But about corruption, if you don´t want to have a problem, it´s better to make documents on this works. Documents which say that this is modern art. This is not art of the year 1015 or something or this is not important art for Ukraine and you don´t want to steal it from the country. So if it´s modern they don´t have a problem.

Contemporary art is alright, but not like historic relics or historic art.

Yes. Because it can be difficult if I don´t make documents and I want to go with my canvas for example from Ukraine to Poland. Once I came there, and they said, I am not a specialist and we need to wait for a specialist. He would come here and check it. But he would come maybe tomorrow or another day. And he would say, yes, this is modern art. But this takes time and you can just live there on the border waiting for ages. So it´s better to make documents in your city. It also takes time, but it´s better so you don´t have problems on the border.

I think you have two parts of your work. The one is when you paint on canvas and the other one is when you paint on a buildings or on a wall. What do you use for your art?

On this moment I am using water color and spray. I make a mix. For Watercolor I use airgraff or airbrush.  You can make very detailed art. You can even paint hairs.

It´s just an idea, but did you do already some bodypainting? Because you could paint a body on another body.

No, I didn´t do that yet. No body painting yet, I didn´t even try it.

How did you start with your art? When did it begin and how did you come to do graffiti and murals?

The beginning was at school. Maybe around in 2001 or 2000. I was beginning at school and on that period I was listening to Hip Hop. Maybe around then I started and I saw in Hip Hop there was the graffiti and the spray cans. So I bought some spray and I sprayed. First just the school toilets.

Yes, that´s how it starts. Toilets and tables.

Yes, it´s like a culture. And then after some years there was a journal in my city. A magazine named “Extreme”. And there were articles about the graffiti of that period and about different graffiti crews. It was about classic graffiti, like Wildstyle and bubbles and different styles of graffiti. And there was a new type of graffiti called “Realism”. There was a famous German team named MACLAIM. Do you know them?

Yes, of course. Like the combination you said with graffiti and bubbles but as well characters, faces and portraits. Sometimes comic type and sometimes with a very realistic style.

Yes. And at this moment now there isn´t MACLAIM anymore, but there are individual artists like CASE, AKUT and TASSO. There isn´t a team but I was very inspirited by this type of graffiti and this realism. I always wanted to try something of realism on the walls and so I bought some spray. The problem was with spray you couldn´t make small details, but you can use some techniques in spray art to make these details. I understood if you want to make some details with spray you can use anything. You can use a piece of paper, you can use your hand or part of cans to make these details. With spray I like that you can cover big walls and big squares. You can color some parts of a wall and very soon you have an artwork, you can work with a wall very fast.

How is it in Ukraine? There are ugly graffiti but as well there are very nice murals, so how do the people in your city and in Ukraine think about this? Do they like it, is there an acceptance? Or is it totally underground?

The situation is different in different cities. Because Ukraine is different. The part near to Europe is different compared to the part close to Russia. Where I live it is mostly near to Europe and in my city there was not long time ago a city conversation about murals and graffiti. Because there was some accident about murals. We had one organization which sponsored our government in the city and the city council. And this organization has chosen non-professional writers for a project. They have chosen some painters who didn´t have any experience to make some walls which they thought those walls are not beautiful because there were some tags on the walls or there were some Telegram channel for drugs for example. And they wanted to make some murals on those walls. But most of those murals were non-professional and not esthetic. Our people in the city thought about it like 50 / 50. Some people liked it and some became aggressive, because they didn´t like those murals. The situation about graffiti in general is, if this is something illegal and original graffiti and subculture, our people don´t like it. They think it would be something from the Soviet Union and like something not good. This is about the graffiti. But the murals at most parts they like them.

Why did you start making murals?

I started making murals, because it also inspired me and I want to change as well the mind of people and show them that streetart and graffiti can also be beautiful and it can be public for other people. And this is also part of the city like all other parts. It´s also a culture and part of the culture. It´s not something illegal and not something bad.

Yes, and a city and the urban spaces are there for everybody and for all habitants. Sometimes the people don´t even know how a surrounding can look like, they don´t even think about it and take what´s there. Sometimes you have a really ugly building or a very ugly street and the people only see the difference after you changed it.

Yes. Definitely.

How can people find you in the Internet? If people want to see more of your artworks they can just click and check the photos. As well you put on a lot of videos about making of a mural or painting.

Sure. At Intagram on my account Sergiyli and as well on Facebook with the name Sergii Li .

On some photos I have seen you had as well an interview with a camera team once.

Yes, it was an interview for our regional television station. It was for a program about art. Because I have also a Youtube Channel, or wait, there is no translation, it is only in Ukrainian language. But you can watch it and see the visuals.

So it was an interview with the city and the media about art. You started not only to do your art, but as well speaking about and explaining it in public. Because it´s not only about the art, it is as well important for the society in a city.

Yes, and in my city Chernivtsi, we have 3000, no wait, we have 300.000 people living. I forgot a lot about the English language. I was studying Italian and English, but I don´t have a practice in using English, so I am beginning to forget words. But in the city where I am living, I am the one who is doing these kind of murals how I am doing it. This organization which began to make it, they started with small murals. And this murals they are like so – so, some good, some not that good. But what I see here in the Ukraine, there is something starting, there is something beginning. I see a lot of big murals in Kiev and they started events. Not like festivals, but some smaller regional events. And there they have some walls and they need to make a picture over it. For these collaboration works they invite as well other artists from other countries. I think Ukraine is behind Europe maybe years. Ten years or even more, maybe 15 years.

It doesn´t matter, because this is only the political structure and maybe it´s behind in developing, but it works differently with human beings and the structure of art, this is global.  

Yes it is. Last time when I was making an artwork on a bus station the people over there were waiting for the autobus. I was hearing really many good and nice words about what I am doing. Many people said thank you to me. It was interesting. Because I made as well ten years ago a mural around there and the reaction of the people were half – half. Some people liked it, some not and asked me then, why I am doing this and I don´t need to do that. And I think that I am not doing something bad or scaring or something negative. But on the moment now most people liked it. I think that most people need some more color in their life.

Yes, and you help them by changing the surrounding in a more friendly, positive and colorful way.

Sure, but I think at first I am helping myself by doing art.

Is there a crew or a group of other artists you are working together with?

No, at the moment I am working alone. But I would like to have some collaboration. So for now, there is no team.

If other´s are interested, they can contact you. You are open for doing artworks together. And maybe one day you will as well have some exhibition or a mural in Frankfurt.

Sure, sure! I am open for any collaboration and any experience. I would be glad! And to have an event in Frankfurt or an art session, that would be fantastic!







Art Station:

Photographer:  YULIIA BRODETSKA Yuliia Brodetska