Old Man Bukashkin, Yekaterinburg’s Folk Punk Legend

Screen shot of The Legend of Old Man Bukashkin | © The Cultural Centre Russian Week/YouTube
Screen shot of The Legend of Old Man Bukashkin | © The Cultural Centre Russian Week/YouTube
Photo of Zita Whalley
28 November 2017

A creative legend of World Cup 2018 host city Yekaterinburg and champion of the Soviet bohemian, Evgeny Mikhaolovich Malakhin abandoned a conventional lifestyle and a career as an engineer to dedicate his life to street art, poetry and music. Better known as Old Man Bukashkin, he roamed around town robed, with a balalaika, a big tambourine on his neck, bells on his hat, a beard and a t-shirt that read: I am the great Russian poet. He was a much loved cult personality and folk artist in the Ural’s number one city and beyond.

In the 1970s, while working as a power station supervisor, Bukashkin tried his hand at art. He started off experimenting with form, taking candid photographs of street life (shot from the hip) and nudes and of acts of individualism as he came across them. He also played around with method, boiling camera film or pouring acid over it.

Gradually he expanded his creative practice and his hobby became his passion. By the 1980s he had self-published over 20 collections of poetry that were slightly dadaist in style (an art movement to come out of Germany in the early 20th century that was absurdist and nonsensical in its social commentary). By the 1990s, Bukashkin had formed an art collective called Kartinnik, or Picture. With no fixed members, this collective would get together and paint interpretations of Bukashkin’s poetry and interpret them through song and dance.

Taking his art to the street, he brightened dead spaces by painting fences, garbage bins, and other public infrastructure, bringing modern culture into the public realm. He painted slogans about living harmoniously together, to not dabble in vices such as booze and cigarettes, and to look after the city. Bukashkin preferred public space to museum and galleries, as he liked the freshness of the streets, thinking museums and galleries and the art inside them a little staid and stale.

Bukashkin was one of the first artists in the area who used his art as a tool to generate conversation with the public. Key to his art was the city itself. The use of public space as a canvas to create murals gave him a platform to communicate ideas to the city’s people.

He kind of followed on from the tradition of Skomorokhs: A type of medieval, Slavic harlequin that would perform satirical, improvised songs, dance and sketches. A renegade artist, Bukashkin committed to an alternative lifestyle that was based in artistic expression and creative ideology.

Old Man Bukashkin went on to become the figurehead of the Yekaterinburg underground art movement. While most of his art has now gone, he inspired a practice that still continues to today, where public walls and fences are available for street artists to use as a canvas.

The Beatles Fan Club of the Urals made use of one such wall, by erecting a monument to the much-loved band against it – the site is also used for the occasional gig. Artist Anatoly Vyatkin also made use of Yekaterinburg’s penchant for public art by creating the keyboard monument along the banks of the Iset River. And if you are in town for the World Cup 2018, take a stroll past the spherical sculpture on the Iset river embankment. In the past it has been transformed into an Angry Bird and a Pokemon Go by an unknown person. Seeing as a big competition will soon be sweeping into town it might get turned into something again, who knows?

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