He is a sculptor that does not really need any introductions. The whole city of Minsk knows him and loves his works. In fact, the whole country knows him pretty well. Vladimir Zhbanov became Belarus’ favorite overnight. After “Lady of Bench”, “Asking for a Light”, “Girl with Umbrella” he woke up famous. During the interview I feel that Zhbanov, this jolly fellow and joker, is way too far from the melancholy of his works. You never know what he is going to answer, even if the question seems easy and the answer obvious. He utters something, then bursts out laughing and then talks for a while about serious art. As for the atelier, it looks just like I imagined — with a small attic, walls covered in family portraits and posters with rock stars; sketches near the easily recognizable mini-sculptures. The city of the future is made here.
— Do you think your zodiac symbol influenced your character?
— Oh, most definitely! I have a personal astrologist that told me back in 1999 what would happen within ten years.
— Was he ever close to what really happened to you?
— See for yourself: by that time I had made only “Lady on Bench” and “Asking for a Light”. After “Girl with umbrella” there was a lengthy pause that made me feel unwanted. But my oracle told me not to worry and wait for good things to happen. I was ironic about this, but in a couple of months I got a bunch of orders from the architects that designed the new surroundings of the Komarovsky market. I believe in stars, I really do. You should not overdo, though. The forecast is just one of the things that could happen to you, it is not the guide for action.
— How do you feel when younger people surround you?
— Youth around me is like a magic elixir. More than a half of all my friends are young people. I guess they are not quite experienced and imperfect, but I feel their power and vigor. It is never boring with young people.
— What is the ideal woman for you?
— Someone noted once that I like tall ladies with a thin a bit protruding nose. Many actresses belong here, and my wife is one of them. An ideal woman should have a beautiful face.
— So, your “Lady on Bench” is the one and the only?
— No, never! There is no ideal in sculptures. This “inconnue” is a made-up character, my challenge to the female nature. She is a proud girl, and I made her sit on this bench forever. I always create people, or sculptures, with some definite mood and temper.
— All your characters come from the past. Do you follow some fashion or simply like history?
— These are my whims. I create whatever I like. I don’t have any preferences or priorities. There is a cow over there (he shows me a draft of a pensive cow). Does she belong to any century? I am still playing. I was playing with toy soldiers when I was a boy, and I keep playing. Look, there is a boy that wants to become a general, a “Painter” of some indefinite period. There is a girl that has just walked out of the forest. These things impress me, so I make them.
— What would you tell the vandals that crash you sculptures?
— I would invite them to my studio and then ask why they do it.
— You decided to stage a play in your atelier once. Are you an adventurist?
— My life is a gamble, but I guess I’m lucky. Dare-devilry appeals to me a lot, as life is always full of surprises.
— Aren’t you afraid you will be accused of advocating pop-culture?
— I am ready for accusations and I would say “yes”. I live in times of pop-culture. Vladimir Zhbanov did not make up the style of park sculptures, he just followed and developed it. Whether you want this or no, they say I was the author of “Granny Selling Sunflower Seeds”, although it was Oleg Kupriyanov’s work.
— You said once you would like to get back to the primitive communal era with its natural exchange. What attitude to a sculptor do you expect from modern society?
— I would like to have more orders and to work more. People don’t buy sculptures too often, unfortunately. At the same time, tourists would travel around the globe to climb the Eiffel Tower and see the Mona Lisa. The everyday things we buy are all transient. They get worn out sooner or later and they appear in the wastebasket.
— How does inspiration come to you? And how do you normally find images for your works?
— I am the very engineer that invents something all the time. You suddenly have a strong wish to fulfill. You take it from anywhere: newspaper article, city views, and a strange passer-by. Anything you wish. The idea gets into a reserve and stays there until it is ripe. Minsk has restored its city hall recently and the authorities were going to place a monument nearby. I heard it on the radio and immediately got an idea to place a wagon and a couple of horses near the city hall. Just imagine: the governor has arrived, gone into the building, and the wagon is standing by. I called the architect Yury Gradov, and he supported me. He suggested we should have an open carriage for people to be able to get inside and take pictures.
— What attitude do you expect from the viewers?
— I would like my works to attract attention. These sculptures are impossible without people. You can put your hand on the shoulder of “Lady on Bench”, children like climbing my “Horse”. Passers-by often sit on “Postman”’s bike, have their pictures taken with “Photographer” and shake hands with “Bath Attendant”.
— Your Minsk sculptures are just the tip of the iceberg.
— I guess my best work is “Stargazer”, which is in Mogilev. Russians have copies of “Photographer” and “Lady with Dog”. In one of the central streets of Dьsseldorf they have an exact copy of my “Lady on Bench”. And here is a little temptress that has just gone out of the forest — she is dressed in furs and has a lantern in her hand. I call her “Zavirushka”. The sculpture of Munchausen (one of the best roles of Oleg Yankovsky) must be placed in front of the Cinema House. I suggested placing a huge composition of a samovar and dishware of different nations, including a horn, glass, cup, teabowl in the large “hangar” of the Komarovsky market. The design included a small fountain in the middle, but the project was not backed. There are a huge number of ideas, but I cannot make all of them come true.
— Could you imagine that sculpture will stop being such a strong appeal?
— Impossible. I won’t even discuss it. I will even ask my wife to put a piece of clay in my coffin when I die to have something to do if I wake up (laughs).
— Popularity came to you when you only in the late 90s, although you dedicated all your life to sculpture. Was this path to success hard?
— I made up my mind when I was a student. I was all in sculpting and I was ready for success. There is an architectural ensemble near Gomel dedicated to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War that I designed and sculpted with Alexander Lyschik. My monuments to the Belarusians that died in Afghanistan were erected in Svetlogorsk, Vitebsk and Glubokoe. I also made the emblem for the National Bank. The cartouches at the “Dinamo” stadium are also mine. But my first success was “Lady on Bench”, something truly fresh and fitting the context.
by Valentina Mihailova