Kyiv Post car­toon­ist still skew­ers politi­cians at age 76, all with­out ben­e­fit of the In­ter­net

Kyiv Post - - News - BY ALYONA ZHUK [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

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.”

Ukra­nian artist Ana­toly Va­sylenko draws ed­i­to­rial car­toons for the Kyiv Post and many other news pub­li­ca­tions. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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