Courtesy of John Polak
The Isupovs are a family of artists who are spread across Ukraine and the United States.
Each one’s art varies, and the war in Ukraine has also influenced them differently in the way they bring creativity to their work.
Courtesy of John Polak
Sergei, who’s been in the US for more than 30 years, said that his life here has brought him incredible artistic freedom and an established, reliable world of galleries, dealers and museums for his work.
He explained that, “for creativity, conflict definitely helps. We even have this idiom, ‘If you're not sick, [there's] nothing to write about.’” That’s something that the war back home — where the rest of his family still lives — has now taken care of."
Sergei’s parents, Nelli and Vladimir, met in art school in the port city of Odesa in the late 1950s, during the Soviet period. They later settled in Kyiv to raise their two sons, Sergei and Ilya. And they basically insisted that their sons become artists, too.
Sergei’s father, Vladimir, was a well-known painter in Ukraine. In recent years, he lived on the 20th floor of a high-rise in Bucha, outside of Kyiv.
Shortly after the war started, the elevator in his building stopped working, so he didn't leave his home for three months.
After the Russian bombing and massacre in Bucha last year, he stopped making art, stopped taking calls from his family and withdrew. He died last month. And Sergei never had a chance to properly say goodbye.
Sergei’s mother, Nelli, and brother, Ilya, still live in Kyiv. And Sergei talks to them all the time.
“Sometimes [when] I talk to my mom, I hear sirens in the back,” Sergei said.
He said he’s been grappling with the thought of what he would do if something happened to his family and how he would react. His mother has refused his repeated suggestion to move to the US.
Like Sergei, Nelli Isupova is a ceramic artist, but her work is less surreal than his, and also more of a celebration of life. She makes a lot of ceramic sculptures of animals, birds, nature and even teapots with creatures on the handle.
“It's really important to be creative,” Nelli said through her son on a phone call. She explained that she's more active as an artist now than she was before the war. And she feels like it's her obligation to bring art to the public, that it's a form of peace.
“If everybody experienced life with art and colors, nobody would start a war.”
“If everybody experienced life with art and colors, nobody would start a war,” she said.
Sergei’s brother, Ilya, 52, is a painter like their late-father. His work is not quite as optimistic as their mother’s. He seems more exhausted and discouraged. He has four children and they've all been dispersed, like many other Ukrainian families. He said he feels like he’s living in a bad movie and he can't imagine painting flowers at this time.
One of his paintings shows a small blue car moving through a war zone. Someone is driving, while two terrified teenagers look out the window as warplanes fly overhead. That someone is actually Ilya, himself, with his daughters, and that dangerous ride actually really happened.
Courtesy of Ilya Isupov
Shortly after the drive, Ilya moved his family out of Ukraine. He’s had to stay back, though, because Ukrainian men under the age of 65 are required to stay in the country.
Meanwhile, Sergei, who left Ukraine decades ago and didn't really look back since, now says he thinks about it all the time. And he said he now has that little bit of sickness that an artist needs to go deeper with this work.
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