It was in 2001 that Michal Bycko sat down to interview one of the most famous Rusyn artists, Michal Čabala, and later created a beautiful and a touching documentary about his life and work that you can listen to below – in Rusyn. A fair warning, though, you might well up.
Michal Čabala (pronounce Chabala) was from Čabiny near Medzilaborce (1941-2002). He was raised by his grandparents because his parents died when he was very young and he couldn’t quite remember the way they looked, which bothered him. His grandpa once told him not to worry anymore and to try drawing them. When he was done, grandpa praised the likeness achieved, but in retrospect the artist couldn’t tell if it was true or just to encourage him. From that moment, though, he got to be very interested in drawing and especially, in drawing that fog that he saw enveloping the hills around his village every day before the sunrise and that he thought was hiding something magical.
It was actually our one and only Štefan Hapák who told him to go study art in Brno. And so he did, at 17. After the initial culture shock, he was able to find his place there. Later, in Bratislava, he studied under Dezider Milly, who encouraged him to keep painting the region he came from, as this was where his true soul as an artist lied. And so after graduating in 1969, he settled in Prešov, where he played an indispensable part in the cultural and artistic life as a Rusyn “freelance” artist. At an annual art event called Prešovsky Montmartre, during which artworks are created in the streets in front of passers-by, he was the one who attracted the most people wanting their portrait done. He participated in over 60 art shows; the last and the biggest solo exhibition was held at his 60th birthday in 2001 in the Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce.
His portraits, still lifes, theatrical scenes and landscapes are characterized by misty, muted, earthy tones, and certain unfinishedness, smudginess even, which he defended as intentional, probably brought on by his fascination with that elusive fog of his native hills.