“Hospitality from hell”, he affixed to one of his works, molotov cocktails and a jerrycan of gasoline drawn on a wall in the city center, hard hit by the Russian offensive and many buildings of which have destroyed or damaged by artillery shelling.
35 years old, impeccable bald head, clear eyes, four silver rings on his left hand, Gamlet was in Kharkiv at the start of the Russian attack, spent a night sheltered in the metro and then ten days in the house of her parents, safer, before taking refuge with part of her family in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine little affected by the war.
– “The city is my gallery” –
He stayed there for two months, organizing crowdfunding to support the army and humanitarian aid. He says he notably sold a painting for two night vision devices.
It was then that he received a phone call from the commander of the Khartia battalion, a friend who told him: “You have been in Ivano-Frankivsk for too long. We need you here. You have to paint”, assures Gamlet .
He says he accepted “the order with joy” and “now signs all his paintings with his name and that of the battalion. I have complete freedom to paint what I want where I want”.
Recognized abroad where he has exhibited and painted from Lima to London, Gamlet believes: “Today it is more important to work in the street than to paint for galleries. People see a building they loved destroyed or damaged and they smile when they see a drawing”.
“I can sell paintings and have money, but street art is for those who never go to museums or galleries,” he says. “Here is my home. The whole city is my home, the city is my gallery! I could build my career abroad but now I feel like I am building my country”.
– “Not a weapon” –
He hopes that after the war, some of his works painted on wood covering damaged windows or facades will be donated to the “war museum” or sold for a good cause, he says, recalling that only one of the 8 frescoes he had signed in Mariupol have survived the battle of the last few weeks.
A patriot, Gamlet does not see his brush “as a weapon against Russia”.
“What I do helps real fighters defend the country that has artists, musicians and a culture that inspire soldiers.”
This is the second time he has stayed in Kharkiv for political reasons, he said. In 2013, he was ready to emigrate to Paris but the Maidan (pro-Western revolution of 2014, which ended with the departure of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych) gave me a new artistic impetus. I understood that I was Ukrainian”.
He was much less well known then than he is today. Gamlet started painting on the walls of his city when he was 17 years old. “I was then spending as much money on painting as on bribing the police who kept arresting me. You again! , they said”, admits Gamlet.
He says he later challenged the police: “Russia has annexed Crimea and you have nothing to do but arrest a terrorist like me!”
He swears that thereafter, he was no longer bothered and even refused offers from the authorities to become an official painter. “I want to stay independent.”
Particularity of Gamlet, who studied art for 8 years at university and at the Beaux-Arts: he gave up color 12 years ago. “One day I had bought different colors and was wondering how many I would need. Then I thought to myself I don’t need them. I rendered everything against black and white. I prefer to be minimalist “, he assures.
“In the world, everything is blurred and it is difficult to understand if it is good or bad. In my painting, I can do everything in black and white” he asserts. “I don’t want to paint magnificent pictures but great ideas”.