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Romantic realist

Sculptor Vitalii Rozhyk: i seek an image that’s already in the stone...

The Day’s photo exhibit, launched at Ivan Franko Zhytomyr State University in December, found itself in the symbolic company of the statues of Pope John Paul II, Taras Shevchenko, composer Pavlo Chubynsky, boxer Vitali Klitschko, and a pensive lion. These plaster of Paris statues were a present from Vitalii Rozhyk, a sculptor from Korostyshiv. The interior turned out to be remarkably harmonious and I thought that I had to meet the sculptor.

In the yard of a small stone-cutting business owned by Vitalii and his wife in Korostyshiv, I saw rows of stone and plaster of Paris statues, among them the stone Pensive Lion. (The sculptor doesn’t want to sell it and keeps it for exhibits). The walls of the workshop are lined with plaster of Paris faces of characters from various epochs. There were more than 100 statues, among them nude figures (kept within the boundaries of decency), the stone images of the Klitschko brothers, and statues meant as tombstones.

Rozhyk took up sculpting when he was 15 years old, after enrolling in a vocational training school in Holovyn to master the stoneworker’s craft. Later he took sculpting lessons from Vasyl Feshchenko, a folk artist in Zhytomyr. Rozhyk isn’t sure how many statues he has made over the past several decades – perhaps more than 500. Several days prior to our meeting he was conferred the prestigious title of Merited Artist of Ukraine by President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine in recognition of “meritorious personal contribution to the preservation of the historical legacy of the Ukrainian people and active participation in the creation of the monument ‘Ukraine is Praying for the Souls of the Dead’ in the city of Suomussalmi of the Republic of Finland.”

The diversity of your sculptural images is very impressive. What are your favorite subjects and characters?

“I’m mostly into sculptural portraits, but I love making statues for gardens and parks. I had an exhibit in Korostyshiv, and I’m preparing another one for the second or third Sunday of September. My favorite characters are beasts and human beings. A number of works are born when I’m just standing in front of a block of stone, for there is an image planted in it by the Lord, and all I have to do is cut off parts of the stone to reveal it. I would single out the Klitschko brothers from my recent works. I’m fond of them as outstanding athletes, Ukrainians, and personalities.”

Your Pensive Lion reminds one of Rodin’s famous Thinker.

“This occurred to me after I’d finished the sculpture. Of course, I knew about Rodin’s work, but I wanted to show that man isn’t the only one to ponder his life, that the king of beasts can also be aggrieved by the manner in which nature and wildlife are being destroyed and ponder our prospects. This is a kind of animal’s irony. This lion isn’t like one that must snarl at you. This lion is thinking about how long life will continue on the planet Earth.”

You’ve made a present of your works to an institution of higher learning. Do you think they will help the educational process?

“Remember the statues? Pope John Paul II was one of the world’s luminaries who urged people to unite and love one’s neighbor. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are celebrated Ukrainians, our country’s calling card. Taras Shevchenko also made Ukraine known across the world. Considering that Ukraine is still being often regarded as [part of] Russia, such outstanding personalities help one realize that there is a country called Ukraine and that it has such people. Pavlo Chubynsky composed our national anthem with these lines: ‘ Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom…’”

You designed the monument to the men of the 44th Infantry Division who fought in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939–40. Most of them were reservists from Zhytomyr oblast and almost all of them died in Finland.

“My businessman friend from Korostyshiv, Leonid Kostiuk, whose grandfather died in that war, set up a nonprofit organization called Pamiat (Memory) and started collecting funds for the erection of a worthy memorial. I made a statue of the Mother of God the Protectress and suggested it for the monument. Thanks to Yurii Zabela, head of the Zhytomyr Oblast State Administration, the statue was delivered to the site in Finland on a trailer flatbed. This statue is a symbol of the Protectress of the Ukrainian officers and men. Carved in granite are these words: ‘Ukraine is praying for the souls of the dead.’ Finland arranged for a memorial site for the aggressor (the invading Soviet troops couldn’t have been regarded otherwise at the time). It’s a field where 18,000 stones were brought, each symbolizing a Ukrainian who fell on the battlefield.”

Have you ever tried to categorize your creative trend?

“I’d probably describe it as intuitive romantic realism. I don’t know where my images come from and how they come to my mind. For me it’s on a purely intuitive level. Of course, when I have a commission I know what has to be done – but even then I do it as though being influenced from somewhere out of the reaches of this world.”

Your works are known in Ukraine and abroad. Where are they exhibited, apart from Italy and Finland?

“Germany, Poland, Latvia, Austria, Kazakhstan, Moldova (Transnistria), and other countries. Sorry, I can’t remember exactly. I’m working on a big statue of Grand Prince Volodymyr of Kyiv. It will be erected in Bilohorodka in Kyiv oblast. It was commissioned by the local village council and has to be ready by May.”

Valerii Kostiukevych
The Day, February 9, 2010

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