Artist of His Own Myth

Today in school textbooks his name stands next to Mark Shagal
Alexander Isachev is one of Belarusian artists, whose name is among the megastars of the world scale. He became a high flyer very early at the age nearing 33 covered with a scandalous glory of informal "bulldozer exhibitions." It happened so that the masterpieces of Isachev, which are selling well at auctions today, were more frequently found in private collections of foreign connoisseurs of art rather than in Belarusian museums. But that was a while ago. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famous painter and a memorial is to be erected in his native town of Rechitsa near Gomel. Could Natalya, the widow of the deceased Isachev, imagine that at the end of the 80s of the last century, when she struggled to save a good name of her husband and contribute to his recognition on the pages of domestic and foreign titles?! She has not been fond of giving interviews lately, but eventually made an exception for Belarus readers:

- Actually, I am very grateful to the journalists who were courageous enough to publicly support Isachev in 1987. That was the time when the decision to open his first exhibition in Rechitsa was taken. Some queued for two days to see his works. On December 2, the closing day of the exhibition hosted by Alexander packed in crowds. On December 5 1987 the artist died.

- Usually, in the course of time, something important pops up that calls for correction or retelling. Do you have anything like that?

- I have stopped refuting a long time ago, because when one starts refuting some things, it seems that there is something to refute. To keep silent is the best way. I am talking about mental cliches. The image of a tortured artist that clung to Sasha is a classical cliche of the early perestroika period. The names of those, who became famous at the time, were somehow associated with social problems.

- Are you saying that there were no social problems back then?

- Of course, there were social problems back then. But it is not them that defined the destinies. Besides, when they are used to tinge the frills of an individual´s life, the tinge becomes the only colour. And what do we get then? A complete opposite. Not allowed, not given a chance - martyred. The conclusion is that he has not fulfilled himself.

- But he did realise as an artist and a man despite everything, didn´t he?

- This is where you go wrong. He achieved self-fulfilment thanks to everything that happened to him, including various social and personal collisions. Isayev has a destiny that can be envied by many. He lived 33 years doing what he wanted to do. Can you boast of that? I cannot. And I cannot think of any of my friends or acquaintances, who could devote their whole life to doing what they love and like to do. He is not a victim, he is a winner. And that´s what really important. Sasha was fireworks of high spirit, a celebration in himself.

- Did he have that aura of a winner, when you first met him?

- We were kids then. No one was assessing or evaluating. There was this life, where young people occupied their niche. There was a bit of imitation of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and hippies, of course. I was a 7-grade pupil and he studied at night school when we first met. He was interesting and different from everybody else, his nickname was Artist. Then he left for Leningrad. He stayed there for a while to touch and taste an informal environment, a half-underground Bohemia, literature clubs and real theatres. He was living in basements and sleeping on park benches. Back then it all appeared romantic. When he returned to Rechitsa with a bright and fashionable label of "a schizophrenic", I was in the 10th grade. We got married a month after I graduated from the secondary school. I was 17 and Sasha was 20.

- Was it a secret vow?

- No, why it should be? Though, I must admit, it was shocking news for our relatives, friends and teachers. Everybody perceived me as a very nice girl with all "As". And suddenly this happened! Luckily, my parents are wise people. They accepted our decision and actions and understood that to hamper was useless. I was in love and that was the most important thing.

Sasha was climbing the ladder of success quite fast. His works were exhibited in Leningrad in 1974 and 1975. He met Georgiy Mikhailov, a personal Leningrad collector and an ardent worshipper. The paintings began to sell. You know, Sasha did not expect that. When he decided on such a mode of life, he did not even think about fame and money. Isachev very well realised that his was a revolutionary and non-traditional way.

- And those legends that surround Sasha´s personality, have they ever bothered or irritated you?
- Yes, there were some legends prancing around. So what? There is a place for hearsay. He portrayed a lot of naked women in his paintings, so everyone thought: "There must be crowds of them snaking around him in reality." On the whole, that was big time of our lives. He was sketching and painting for 11 hours, while I was sitting next to him and reading aloud for 11 hours. His perception was a multi-dimension one; he could easily grasp ideas aurally. And I could read, fast and emphatically, for long hours. Once I read Master and Margarita in a day. And one day he said I should quit all my jobs, because he needed me to be close to him. You know, Sasha was creating his own mythological space around him and demanded everybody else to contribute. He was thinking: why did Greeks stake off a desert for Apollo to live in? They did it to make him covert for the beautiful and create it. "I am the Apollo of my own world!" Sasha said. That was the axis, around which our existence was spinning. The spirit of creativity is rarely shared by two. Of course, it wasn´t all hearts and flowers. Sasha was destined to creative self-expression. He was an artist, but not because he knew how to paint. He was a creator of his own myth in a good sense. He was able to turn negative moments of our life into something bright and positive.

- Have you ever tried to imagine Isachev at his 50?

I have been thinking a lot about it. Painting made up his life. In his works he reanimated the traditional language of the Christian culture and mythology before the society woke up to the necessity of reviving them. At 18 Isachev began studying Bible. His heart, mind and brush were permeated with thought. In his paintings, Sasha frequently returned to the themes of Annunciation Day, Crucifix and the chosen destiny of the Cross. It led to the understanding and accepting of his own art: I value my art and I do not want any other. If there had not been any difficulties, he would have created them himself. That was his need for a drama element, a need to correspond to a self-created myth. The legends about 33-37 were floating in the air. He wanted to meet the deadline so much that the Providence has surrendered. He died at 32, 37 days before the first deadline. You can believe the myth, if you want.

- What do you want to believe in?

- As for Isachev, I would be glad to hear an independent point of view. When papers joined issues over his life and work, it was unbearable: I wanted to shout in anger. What do I want to ponder on? Definitely, on a different thing from a different angle. Maybe, I would like to remind that in school textbooks his name stands next to Mark Shagal. It is mentioned in connection with unconventional art. Students write papers and teachers give lessons on his art. Humanitarian scientists understand his contribution is significant and made his name go down in Belarus´ history.

Inna Kondratieva
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