Happy Immensity

The whole family lives together, paints together, and the birds fly high

 LOCATION Bushwick
RENT $1,400 [commercial]
SQUARE FEET 750 [loft in 1920s former factory with 80-some units]
OCCUPANTS Ihor, Marta, and Severyn Barabakh [artists]

Everybody's Ukrainian! [Ihor] I came in 1990. I was invited for exhibits, the Art Students League. I got some fellowships. I lived on 79th and Fifth, the Ukrainian cultural center, for 10 years. Everybody thinks it's an address for millionaires. Now I am fine with my Bushwick address.

This is like a glamorous Soho loft. The others I've seen in this building are not like this. This was the worst. [Severyn] When we first came, we were not sure if we wanted to take it because it looked scary. [Ihor] Everything we saw was like so scary. Like Red Hook—really nice buildings but you have to walk across the BQE. [Severyn] There were like needles on the floor. [Ihor] On the street.

Severyn, Marta, and Ihor Barabakh in Bushwick
photo: Brian Kennedy
Severyn, Marta, and Ihor Barabakh in Bushwick

Your wavy stairs look like they're from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I like things more aesthetic than practical. [Severyn] For my parents, the loft is more like creating artwork. The others, they come here. They don't care. Then they just move somewhere else. When we saw this I said, I don't know if I like this. My father said we can make something nice. [Marta] We moved in November 15, 2001. [Severyn] We did everything ourselves. Because my father, he knows a lot about construction. Me too. [Marta] It took about two months to do walls, ceiling, floor, and windows. We spent about $15,000 total. [Ihor] It cost $1,000 to have the pipe moved higher. I'm not 25. I have to make the place look good and feel good because I'm working here. [Marta] Especially, we like the view from the window here. The people who live over there train the pigeons. After five, six o'clock . . . [Severyn] Hundreds of pigeons fly in certain shapes, down and up. We play the music. I make fluorescent art, black-light sensitive. I've been decorating big clubs.

How is it to be here at home every day, all three of you? [Ihor] It's very, we always have an uplifting mood. [Severyn] I stay with my girlfriend sometimes. I also do some modeling. She's a filmmaker. She lives on Bedford. [Marta, serving green-apple slices and cheesecake] I bake myself. [Ihor goes to the second level.] [Marta] Ty postavyla znovy tam? [Ihor] Ctoit zastinoyu na hori.

You speak in Ukrainian at home. How did you meet? [Marta] From first grade. [Ihor] We started dating from the eighth. [Marta] Severyn also has a girlfriend from school. He went to LaGuardia Art. [Severyn] Eight years we are together. I have many other girls who give me looks. She's everything perfect for me. I don't need to look for other experience. [Marta] She sleeps with him here. [Severyn] Her father is a manager of French restaurants. He's an important person in that business. [Ihor] They stayed with me when Marta went to Ukraine. It'd be boring for me to be here alone.

There's an inherent loneliness out here in empty Bushwick, especially in a gray endless rain like today. But the space! [Severyn] We wake up at 12. We're all-night people since we don't have jobs from nine to five. My grandmother comes with food sometimes. She feels good about it and it's nice for us. [Marta] We go a few times a week to Manhattan.

This building is very communal, parties on the roof. [Ihor] They're younger people. [Marta] We don't hang out. [Severyn] Two years ago, much nicer people moved in. From before, they were grungier. [Ihor] They'd walk by, don't say anything.

Is it easier in Ukraine to be an artist, find housing? Artists live the same as here. They do the same struggling—the same, the same, everywhere. Our friends like to come here. [Marta] They like the space. [Ihor] They like to walk like this. [He struts around.] I have a friend, a composer. Sometimes he stays like for a few days just to work. He feels very robust. Leonid Herbosky. [Marta] He's a very well-known Ukrainian composer from the '60s. [Severyn] He's very well respected. He gets invited to a lot of music conferences.

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