Voronezh resident Alexander Ivchenko is a chainsaw carver known in Russia and in the world who creates complex park sculptures and gives a second life to emergency trees. The sculptor wins at international festivals, but his art is not yet in demand in Voronezh.

How to make a tree “cry” and “smile”, who the carvers are and why Russian carvers have long surpassed their foreign colleagues – read in the article of RIA Voronezh.

My wife gave me a chainsaw

Alexander Ivchenko was born into a family of geologists, grew up in the village of Yerbogachen, the Irkutsk Region, and moved to Voronezh in 2004. The craftsman says about himself that he was doomed to work in wood.

– The local residents make everything from wood, from utensils to furniture. Whether you to or not, you will have to work with would. I was taught woodcarving by my father, – said Alexander.

At the age of four, Sasha took two sticks, put them together with a nail and presented to his mother saying that it was a bird. Slowly, he began to cut small figures from wood with a knife. He studied at an art school, which he graduated from with honors.

By education, Alexander Ivchenko is a teacher of the Russian language and literature. In Irkutsk he worked as a loader, a policeman, a school teacher, and in Voronezh - as a journalist in a newspaper and as a press secretary of the City Duma. In his free time, the young man continued to engage in woodcarving. Everything changed in 2013, when Sasha’s wife Nina gave him a chainsaw for his birthday.

For the first time, the craftsman tried out its abilities at the “Indians” summer camp, where his daughter recreated and his wife, who is a medic, worked. And the head of the family helped in the arrangement of the camp, sawed firewood and was the driver of an UAZ.

– I began to carve out what I liked with a chainsaw. I made the first ten simple figures. They turned out clumsy. But people liked it, – Alexander recalls.

Now his collection includes six chainsaws and a set of handmade incisors and chisels.

– I make the main accents in sculpture with a chainsaw, and when I need to work on details, facial expressions to make the tree “laugh” or “cry” I use chisels, – the craftsman says.

Alexander always works in the open air, mainly away from Voronezh - at festivals, in parks, museums, in-country villas - 12-14 hours a day. The Voronezh resident has a kind of open-air workshop in Maslovka. There are logs, sawdust and pieces of trees everywhere. Among them arose a fresh oak sculpture of an old poor woman. The smallest wrinkles are "drawn" on her face, and her eyes look directly at the viewer.

– I used to work in the industrial zone, on the territory of the former plant near the Minskaya bus station. But once it became filled with offices, we had to move – they complained about us because of the noise, – Alexander explained.

Ivchenko does not call himself a sculptor and artist - he is being modest, explaining that these words are too pompous for him. The more suitable word is “carver”, which is exactly what the chainsaw cutters are called in America and Europe.

– I have been called a master for a long time, but what kind of master am I? The word “sculptor” is still too pompous for me, and being a cutter is too little for me. I'm somewhere in between, – says Alexander./p>

The champion

Fame came to Alexander as the author of wooden sculptures in 2015, when he created a wooden monument dedicated to the Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov, who died in Syria on November 24, 2015. His plane was shot down by a Turkish fighter, the pilots ejected, but Peshkov was shot in the air.

According to the carver, this story got to him. At that time, Alexander was still working in the City Duma. The man took a vacation and worked on the sculpture for four days carving out three hands — a male hand, the hand of a soldier, a female hand hugging it and a child’s hand holding a toy airplane. He uploaded the process of the work to his video blog, and the next day he woke up famous. He remembers that there were 800 messages in his mail. The head of the Lipetsk air squad, in which the deceased pilot had served, called him and asked him to donate the sculpture to the museum of the unit.

Now carving is the main job of the former journalist. It brings him both pleasure and income.

In 2019, Alexander Ivchenko won three international competitions at once: the Sandringham Cup in England, the Legends of the North in Yamal and The Feast of the Ax in Tomsk. The latter involved 250 participants from 30 countries and 37 Russian cities. According to the carver, it is the largest event for carvers from all over the world. By the way, this festival coincided with the English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition. Despite the British visa and the invitation, the Voronezh resident chose Tomsk: the Russian festival, according to Ivchenko, is many times more interesting and cooler, and the Russian chainsaw carving masters have long surpassed the Americans and Europeans.

The Voronezh resident was late for The Feast of the Ax - his plane was delayed, and he had only three and a half days left to complete the work instead of five. And he not only managed to finish the work on time but also became the winner of the festival. Ivchenko was assisted by his partner Alexander Alferov.

A multi-figure art object depicts a rich man and a poor man. The first one has a displeased face, a deputy badge and a cane in his hand. The second one lacks a hand – he has a stump instead, but his face is happy, he is reaching for a ladybug. An angel is soaring above both characters, he looks at the beggar and turns away from the rich man. The angel is strung by ropes, so it sways when the wind blows.

Photo – from Alexander Ivchenko’s VKontakte webpage

– If I portrayed the beggar with fingers, he would be reaching for alms, and everyone could say: “What are you begging for? Get a job". But I needed to draw attention to a very small detail - the ladybug, to which he points with his stump. This way everyone sees the stump and then examines the ladybug. But the real ladybug is the poor man, – the carver says.

Wood is the co-author

Ivchenko is confident that the process of creating a sculpture is always mystical:

– It is enough for me to look at the butt end to understand where the future sculpture will have its face. On the other hand, there is magic: you approach a huge workpiece and involuntarily start improvising from some point. Later you understand that you’ve instinctively chosen the only right spot – knots start only a few centimeters from the sculpture’s “face”, – the carver explains.

Most often, Alexander creates sculptures without preliminary sketches. They are basically required to participate in Russian festivals, where the jury first evaluates the sketch itself and then the sculpture. A sketch also has to be drawn when the carver takes on a private order.

– However, if the work is of my own, then a sketch is by and large not needed because it is two-dimensional, and sculpture is three-dimensional. In addition, each sculpture has two authors – me and the wood, – Alexander believes.

A woodcarver, unlike a clay sculptor, has no right to make a mistake. He cannot correct the flaws of the sculpture.

– If you work with clay, you have two ways: subtract and add. I have only one way - to subtract, so I'm like a bomb disposal engineer – with no right to make a mistake. If you ruined the face of your sculpture, it will be very difficult to fix, – the carver explains.

The second life of emergency trees

Strange as it may seem, there are not so many Ivchenko’s wooden sculptures in Voronezh. One of them is “Thank You, Mother!” at the entrance to the Maternity Hospital № 4 (“Electronika”), which he dedicated to his mother and wife Nina, who gave birth to his son. In 2016, Alexander made 15 fabulous figures and benches for free, which he installed in a park near the Palace of Culture n. a. Karl Marx. None of them are still there now. And recently, a “flying” mammoth created by the craftsman appeared at the Dzerzhinsky Sanatorium.

Photo – from Alexander Ivchenko’s VKontakte webpage

– My Voronezh experience of free construction has failed. Where those works have gone is unclear. I am not offended: each sculpture is like a song sung to the end. You rejoice when you manage to sing well, – Alexander Ivchenko says.

The material from which the craftsman makes his sculptures is sawn down emergency trees.

– Once I went to shoot a report about School № 54, where a emergency poplar had to be removed. Instead of filming, I paid the garbage man, and he took the tree to Maslovka. I tried to make a monument to Yesenin from this poplar. But when I cleaned the tree of trash and disease, I realized that it would turn out not Yesenin but a naked woman without a head. I still don’t know where to put it, – Alexander laughs.

The statue, along with its creator, made an appearance on the Russia 1 TV channel in the “League of Amazing People” program in June 2018, where Alexander cut out a dove in five minutes on the air, fixed it instead of the head of the wooden beauty and eye-catchingly set fire to it. That time the Voronezh resident got 50% of the audience’s votes, becoming the winner of the show.

The craftsman giving a second life to emergency trees has been invited by the authorities of Pskov, Yamal, the Komi Republic, and Karelia for several years. For example, not long ago, a town created by the Voronezh citizen in accordance with Pushkin's tales left for the Komi Republic. But in Voronezh itself, his art was not in demand for a long time. Ivchenko repeatedly spoke with the Voronezh authorities offering to decorate the streets with park sculptures from sawn trees.

– In 2018, 1,400 emergency trees on Voronezh streets were cut and thrown away. Each tree could become a sculpture, – Alexander stresses.

Recently, a carver was called from the city's cultural department: the authorities seemed interested in the proposal. So, there is hope that on the streets of Voronezh there will be wooden art objects.Недавно карверу позвонили из городского управления культуры: власти предложением, кажется, заинтересовались. А значит, есть надежда, что на улицах Воронежа появятся деревянные арт-объекты.

So far, most of the orders addressed to Ivchenko have been addressed not to a sculptor, but to a craftsman: they ask either to cut out a trough for pickling cabbage, or Baba Yaga, or the wolf from the animated film “Once Upon a Dog”.

– Unfortunately, wolves are the only thing Voronezh can yet offer me. You do it once, twice, three times, and then you just can’t, not for all the money in the world, – Alexander admits.

The craftsman has a dream – to build a large wooden Disneyland on the M4 highway near Voronezh. He even came up with a name for him – “Ladushki”. The only thing left is to find an interested investor. The sculptor has even more ambitious plans – to create a television project on the federal channel under the code name “Battle of Chainsaws” involving celebrities.

– From a commercial point of view, this is an interesting project, and the audience will also be interested. Saw and art are an oxymoron and a self-contained spectacle. But for now, I need a vital click from which everything will start spinning, – says Alexander.

At the request of RIA Voronezh correspondents, the artist carved a wooden sculpture. The whole process – how in less than half an hour a bird was born from a log – we shot on video. Alexander gave the figure to our editorial board.