I was always taught that our history builds our future. Is this true? In my case it is. You can change geography, you can get a new profession, you may get new people around yourself, you may travel to different countries, but those who contribute to your vision are still with you. This is what I was taught.
I often accept friends on Facebook, and I’m usually reminded that Mark Zuckerberg’s definition of the word doesn’t match Webster’s. I was thrilled recently when I recognized the name of a true friend on an invitation. Roman Manevich and I share a common motherland and a long friendship between families. When we left the Soviet Union, we headed different directions. I got an occasional letter, or less frequently a phone call, but the opportunities to connect were rare. Suddenly there he was, surrounded by sculptures of his own devising, just as I had imagined.
I brought with me to the United States some memorabilia from childhood and surely, from a couple generations earlier, and I am happy to have around the things that are dear to me. One of them is the book of Titus Maccius Plautus’s Selected Comedies. This book has Roman’s signature. Sure, it’s in Russian, and it says: Look at the world with happy eyes! I have thought about these words many-many times! This message was a great support on numerous occasions….
Look at the world with happy eyes!
One of the great challenges to the immigrant is rebuilding your life in the new homeland. Culture and language are predictable obstacles, but many are forced to find a new livelihood as well. Roman was able to keep his career as a sculptor, but he had to develop a new way to run the business behind his art. He shares his lifetime of carving, cutting and molding by starting where stories always do – at the beginning.
Hi Roman! It was a little bit challenging to have you talk about yourself, but I am glad you are here, and you are about to share some of your story. I asked you numerous times the same question as if I were hoping to get a different answer from you. Roman, I am asking it again, and it will be the last time. I promise! Did anyone else in your family have a talent for art? Your Mom? Your Dad?
No. My Mom used to say: “I do not know whom he took after. I cannot even draw a cat…”
So, how did you come to sculpture?
I came to sculpture by chance. I was attending a drawing class for children at a community child development center called the Palace of Pioneers. A local sculptor who was teaching the class got interested in the structure of my face and he started to mold my portrait. He was the one who convinced me to apply to the department of sculpture at the local art school, and after the seventh grade I applied… This man became my favorite Teacher!
What were your studies like? What did you learn?
We studied at the school for five years — every day molding clay and drawing from nature. Once I asked the Teacher why he doesn’t teach us to work in wood or stone. The answer was simple: “Everything you can mold, you can cut and carve.” And all my life I am becoming more convinced of the correctness of these words: in my wood and in all grades of stone, my sculptures are not worse than in bronze – and bronze is just a copy of what I mold. This school was followed by six-year education at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow.
I Devoted 11 years to my artistic trade. The trade for me means not something low. It means something that is a necessity for any artist, musician, or a poet. And the highest level of trade is art!
The highest level of trade is art!
I still have some pictures from your downtown Kishinev outdoor exhibition. Do you want to share with our readers what it was like to work as a sculptor in the USSR?
I have been a sculptor all my life – for 60 years now. In the USSR it was necessary to be a member of the Union of Artists in order to receive orders from the state. The state was the only customer. I was often asked to do a sculpture of Lenin. Because it went well, I got more orders — for statues of Lenin! A private order was for the cemetery only.
Our families went different directions. Mine went to the US, yours to Germany. We left just before the Soviet Union was about to fall apart. And you? How did that change things for you?
We left for Germany after the collapse of the USSR. In Moldova, where I lived at that time, the war began, and I am a man of peace. A lot of surprises were waiting for me in the new country, but the main surprise was that there were no state orders.
Private orders significantly expanded the themes of sculpture – from animals to portraits. As the themes got more diverse, I could tell stories with my work.
Are you primarily staying in Hanover or do you travel?
While in the USSR, I attended three symposiums in Latvia. Two months of communication with colleagues on a full pension, without the need to think about making money – good! But living in Germany, I discovered a whole world: symposiums in China and Brazil, in France and in Denmark, in Turkey and Austria. Different materials: the oak, the linden, the sandstone, the granite, the marble… It’s always interesting, exciting. You get acquainted with sculptors from all continents, compete with them, and rejoice if your work succeeds!
Rom, are you in touch with friends and colleagues?
Unfortunately, I could not learn German as a native. The language barrier interferes with close communication with German sculptors. My Russian colleagues are scattered around Germany. We meet only at symposiums and large exhibitions. In Hanover, where I have been living for 22 years, I am the only Russian sculptor. I am an optimist, and modern means of communication save me from loneliness.
You wrote me years ago about your Max and Moritz wax sculpture. I understand this presented an unusual challenge.
About Max and Moritz: writer and cartoonist Wilhelm Busch wrote in 1865 a wicked tale about the mischievous boys Max and Moritz, and he himself made illustrations of them. This detail is very important in my story since the public knows these characters only from Busch’s drawings. I received an order from a private wax museum in Austria.
The principle of all wax museums is absolute naturalism, deceitful figures, like living people. Clothing is made from real fabric that would fit the body. The hair, eyes, and teeth are like natural.
And the problem with Max and Moritz?
Max and Moritz are Busch’s caricatures… not mine! It was necessary to make natural boys, recognizable as caricatures without having a life model. I had to draw a sketch.
I worked on them for half a year. It was 2001. For the first time in my life, I dealt with wax. And the client and the public loved the result!
Later, for the same museum, I made the nude figure of Christ on the cross and the Virgin Mary with Mary Magdalene at his feet.
And all these characters are life size?
Of course! God made man in His own image, but I made this Christ in my own image. This is why his height is 170 cm. The only thing is that he is dark haired and I am not.
Where are they today?
Kerzenwelt (World of Candles), the German wax and candle maker, has a private wax museum in Ramsau.
Has living in Germany inspired any other work?
Perhaps the most German work of all was Lorelei.
The first time I saw a picture of Lorelei you sent to me, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was mesmerizing. How did it come to be?
At one of the symposiums, a theme was set: “Legends and Myths”. I recalled about one old German legend…
Once upon a time, in fishing village on the Rhine, there lived a beauty. A rich knight noticed her and took her to his castle. He took a little amusement, and then returned her to the fisherman father. However, the girl fell in love in earnest; all the grooms were driven away by her dreams of the knight. The local bishop ordered her to be taken to the monastery.
On the way, Lorelei asked the guards to let her take a look from the high cliff above the Rhine at the castle where she was happy. And under the cliff a whirlpool was churning. A canoe sailed on the river, and in it Lorelei saw the beloved knight.
She called to him, and the young man raised his eyes and let go of the paddle. And the stream whirled the boat and sank it. Then the girl rushed from the cliff into the river and also died in the waves. And since that time, at sunset, local people began to notice on the rock the ghost of the beauty. She strokes her long golden hair with a comb and sings. Look at her, fisherman or a traveler on a boat, and die in a whirlpool …
Poets have written about the beautiful Lorelei, including the great Heine.
I carved out of Carrera marble not a fisher-girl, but that ghost. This is why, she is sexy and naked, with a comb in her hand.
Oh! Roman! What a moving story! I wish they’d still be alive! Years ago, you sent me a picture and told me a little about a project you call “To Hear Each Other,” How did they show up?
I first made the initial composition while in the Soviet Union, at the House of Art in Latvia. I molded them 50 cm tall from chamotte (ceramic), and then I glazed them in a kiln. So, I brought them with me to Germany. Once, they were seen at a local exhibition in Hanover and were adopted by a local church. Being a Godless commie, I was so surprised, and I felt very happy that my screamers found a great home for themselves.
In 1998, I finished carving my screamers in granite while in Austria. These are 1.5 meters each. They found a spot for themselves near the gate of a quiet country cemetery in Schwarzenberg, Austria. You can see a great contrast: they are screaming at the gate of the absolutely quiet cemetery, and they can’t hear each other.
What was your motivation to do them?
It was absolutely philosophical. I am convinced that all wars we have are because people don’t listen to each other. So, they scream and scream something of their own, but they cannot hear the other. And not being able to listen to each other is the main reason for wars – starting with the family and ending with the world.
Not being able to listen to each other is the main reason for wars …
I won’t ask you to shout and I’ll trust the readers to listen. Would you like to share anything else with them?
At the end, I want to say that my life is very fortunate. I know many people who had to bend, change their lives and their profession due to various circumstances.
I have belonged to sculpture all my life, and am happy with this!
Check out a map of some of Roman’s works.
Link to Roman Manevich’s Facebook page.