It takes a special kind of eye to see the funny side of Ukrainian politics, and a skilled hand to turn those observations into great cartoons.
Ukrainian artist Anatoliy Vasylenko, who at 76 years of age has been drawing for more than a half-century, has both.
For the last seven years, he’s been creating cartoons for the Kyiv Post’s opinion pages every week, satirizing Ukrainian political events from the momentous to the mundane. He also works for several other publications.
An exhibit of 30 of Vasylenko's best cartoons will be shown at the Kyiv Post 20th Anniversary gala banquet on Sept. 19 in the Kyiv Hilton. The cartoons will be collected into a book as one of the prizes during the event, which will raise money for the newspaper's non-profit affiliate, the Media Development Foundation, to support journalism projects.
To stay on top of fast-moving events, Vasylenko follows the news intently. But the artist does so without the benefit of a computer or the Internet.
So he reads several newspapers and watches the evening news on television every day.
“Every politician has distinctive facial features, they talk in a specific way, and I need to watch them, so I’m very politicized at the moment, but I’d prefer not to watch it all. I’d rather draw landscapes, and other artistic works…”
Vasylenko smiles and points at a pile of finished cartoons and sketches featuring the faces of politicians: “Here they are — these mugs, political mugs.”
Vasylenko started working as a cartoonist in the 1960s. The satirical magazine “Perets” (Pepper) invited him to leave his studies in Myrhorod and come to Kyiv. At that time he was drawing non-political cartoons that depicted everyday life.
Vasylenko has also worked in other magazines and newspapers, published comic strips, and illustrated books, mostly for children.
“I started drawing political cartoons by force of circumstances – “Perets” shut down, and I needed to earn some money,” Vasylenko sighs.
His art studio is quite small, and paintings cover the walls. More pictures are propped up on chairs, and others are lying on the floor.
Asked why he doesn’t work at home, but instead travels to his studio early every morning, he looks at his desk and shrugs: “You can’t take such a mess into your home.”
But it’s not really messy – watercolor paints, ink, paper and glasses holding pencils and brushes are arranged neatly on the desk. As Vasylenko doesn’t have a computer, he can’t just search for pictures of the politicians he needs to draw on the Web. So he goes through his own archives, or asks someone to print photos for him.
“I didn’t buy a computer at the time I could have, though everyone was telling me I should have bought one, but I’m settled in this way of life. I fell behind, far behind, and of course it troubles me a little sometimes,” the artist says.
Vasylenko says he gets many orders for political cartoons, but he doesn’t take all of them.
“Once I got an order to draw (Yulia) Tymoshenko in a cage, looking like a dog or something like that, but I refused to do it,” Vasylenko recalls, adding that he would never seek to humiliate anyone with his work. “My style is not overly caricaturistic — many cartoonists now draw monstrous faces with popping eyes, scary teeth. There is no portrait likeness in that. I won’t cross that line, and I won’t draw horrors instead of people.”
After the new parliament and government came to power in Ukraine, Vasylenko found his job was more difficult. He says he had become practiced in drawing the politicians of the previous regime, but now there are lots of new faces he has to learn how to draw.
“And the situations we face now… It’s impossible to handle it all. I don’t like what’s happening in our country,” he says. But there’s nothing to be done but keep working, he adds.
“The idea of a retired artist is nonsense. I need to work, work, and work. Artists have to work and live until they draw their own finishing line.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org