Belarusian painter Leonid Dudarenko is known far and wide for being a master of conceptual drawing, painting landscapes and still-life works.He belongs to that generation of Belarusian painters whose achievements date from the early 1960s
Mr. Dudarenko trained at Minsk Art College and, later, at the Belarusian State Theatre and ArtInstitute. This enabled him to start his independent career as an original artist, boasting a unique view on life and his own understanding of art. The colourful and deeply national artist learnt the best practices from his teachers and colleagues, taking on the traditional approach of the national artistic school while experimenting with a colourful palette. He created many pieces on various themes but each is notable for its unique pictorial language, alongside its perfect technique and composition.
He focuses on spirituality and artistic truth, enabling him to preserve his artistic individuality and ignore the passing trends of modern art. Mr. Dudarenko works not just in his studio but in the open air, inspired by Belarusian landscapes and taking part in international open air sessions. He has long since gained recognitionin Belarus and abroad, with his numerous works kept by Belarusian museums, as well as by domestic and foreign private collectors and galleries. All his pictures reflect the unique world of a true master — with its own philosophy of the age.
How did you become inspired to be an artist?
I was born in Molodechno — then a small city near Minsk — and grew up during the war. In 1941, when the war broke out, I was just nine. My father was killed at the frontline and our house burnt down.I had the difficult task of helping my mother survive. Despite everything, after the war ended in 1945, my mother sent me to the Art College. Of course, it was difficult to study but I was lucky: an artistic studio had been set up in Molodechno after the war by a very talented painter. He taught me the basics of art, giving me the fundamentals for my further development. He was a true master — as a painter and teacher.
I only earned a ‘two’ in mathematics but gained my place at the College anyway, as I received the highest mark in pictorial painting.
Artists seek recognition, always wanting to produce something ‘new’. However, abstract art is not necessarily the answer to creating a new outlook.Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ is the ultimate expression in this field, yet artists continue to try and make history by painting squares and stripes. I view realism as a more natural genre, especially for Belarusian painters. I had a period of wanting to create abstract works but my mother asked me: ‘For whom are you painting?’ I answered that I was working for the public but she told me: ‘They don’t understand this. Why bother?’ I reconsidered and, eventually turned to realism again.
I understand that realistic paintings should touch people’s souls, as they do mine as an artist. We should not feel indifferent to our surroundings. I created my ‘Nuclear War’ series — devoted to Nikita Khrushchev’s readiness to start WWIII (which almost occurred). I have many pictures on this theme, as well as those devoted to our attitude to life and nature.
There is a saying: ‘pictures should speak for their painter’. If an artist speaks a great deal about a picture, then it’s not ready. It should speak for itself, allowing the artist to step aside. Actually, people ‘feel’ a good work of art and will pass by a more ‘ordinary’ painting; it fails to make them stop. The artworks which decorate homes have no relation to true art. They may be beautiful but art should inspire us to ponder the meaning of our lives: our purpose for being here. This is the major task of art. Without it, artists are working in vain.
You’ve travelled much and seen a great deal. Do you depict people or places from your trips? Or do you prefer to draw from your imagination?
I travelled widely through the former Soviet Union, where hundreds of nationalities lived. Interestingly, each nation had its own identity, language and appearance, and particular attitude to life and nature. It was very interesting. I painted a series ofportraits of various nationalities. I was intrigued to paint someone who had never watched television and then suddenly experienced communication. It was a fairy-tale when I travelled above the Arctic Circle, where nobody ever came. It was fascinating. When asked whether I wished to goto Paris or to the tundra, I’d always choose the tundra. Paris is a civilised place which has lost everything created by God and nature. I’ve been lucky to travel and see so much but I believe that my trips are worthless if I fail to draw from that experience.
When did your artistic peak occur and what form did it take?
An artist’s path depends on more than this; it relies upon life, circumstances and, even, the state. You need to be strong, physically as well as mentally. I sometimes find that my back is damp with exertion from painting — although it might seem that I’m simply working with a brush. My inner fire ignites and I find that I can’t work for more than four hours at a time, as I become exhausted. My best works occur when my physical and mental capabilities are balanced. Now that I’m over 80, I have a clear head but less physical strength. I may desire to work but feel too tired.
Modern youngsters are lucky, as they start studying at an early age and can be mature artists by 25, able to really paint. I’d say the age of 25-35 is the best time — as it’s when we are strongest. Some artists have painted until they were very old. However, they tended to have pupils who helped them with the physical labour of the task. Old masters drew pictures in their autumn years, with a school of pupils to help them, as much physical effort is needed to paint a single picture.
I remember People’s Artist Vitaly Tsvirko thinning down paints so that his pupils could paint the sky or ground, preparing the basics of the canvas. It takes time: sometimes, a whole day. It is not just a case of placing simple strokes on a canvas. The strongest painters are those who do not waste time playing games. You soon realise that time wasted cannot be regained.
Is there a Belarusian school of pictorial art and what are its features?
The Belarusian school of painting was established in Soviet times. In 1918, Belarus became a Republic — though as part of the USSR.At that time, Vitebsk Art College existed, where Marc Chagall studied. We can even assert that the Belarusian school originated in Vitebsk. Many of our artists who graduated from the College later entered St. Petersburg Academy. In the late 19th-early 20th century, the Belarusian school of painting was forming, using a realistic approach.
We boasted the large Radziwill collection but, sadly, the National Art Museum’s collection was removed during WWII — when the Fascists occupied our territory. The location of those works remains a mystery. On opening a museum after the war, we had to import works.
Today, we have our own Academy and our school but the West also influences us, diverting us from realism. Of course, everything depends on the individual and their views. Few artists would choose to glorify their nation via abstract art.
Do you value your works? Do you leave them in your workshop or are you pleased to see them in others’ collections? How do you treat your pictures?
I treat my pictures very seriously and part with them as if they were children. I draw a great many pictures and would certainly choose to keep many if I could afford not to sell them. I try not to part with a painting I love but life tends to persuade me otherwise. Most of our national museums have my paintings as I need to sell them to earn money. I chose collectors carefully of course, and I do admit that art should be publicly admired. If nobody sees your works, you remain little known.
Do you paint primarily for yourself or for an audience?
I draw that which touches and concerns me, so my paintings don’t always chime with others. I rarely paint to order, as it’s so alien to me and proves truly difficult.
Does nature inspire you?
Belarus has wonderful countryside. When some Ukrainian artists visited me in autumn, I took them to Logoisk, near Minsk, and they cried: ‘It’s a true Switzerland!’ We have many beautiful places. I dislike flat landscapes. We have many hills but forests and lakes are our major beauty. I used to paint autumn, spring and winter — when the snow was sparkling. Belarusian landscapes are very beautiful. In summer, I usually moved to the north of the USSR, so I rarely drew the ‘summer’ landscapes of Belarus — preferring autumn or spring. However, I often paint in the open air in summer these days.
Many works by Belarusian artists — including yours — are kept by European collectors. Do you feel regret that they’re kept abroad?
I don’t know of any country where my works cannot be found; they’re even in Mongolia and China. I had an exhibition in Japan and in Moscow; the Japanese wanted to buy all my exhibited pictures… but I refused. It’s fine to see our works on display in the USA, UK or Italy as this promotes Belarusian art. Collectors indicate that a work is painted by a Belarusian artist, not simply putting the name; it’s important for people to know from where a painting originates. When such collectors come to Belarus, they don’t just blindly admire pictures; they know the direction we’re following and how we’re doing so, because they’ve seen our works before. The Culture Ministry often organises exhibitions abroad, including of my works. Collectors buy them but I cannot bring myself to trade. My wife sometimes admonishes me for not realising the value of art. In Germany, I once donated a picture and the man was so enthusiastic -as if I’d given him a million dollars. Those in the West value art very much, while we are slightly different. Here, we might place a photo on the wall and be pleased — not needing true art. High culture needs promotion.
You speak easily of past times but what is the situation in modern art? Are you pleased with the approach of young painters? Do you have any advice for them?
It’s useless to give advice to young people as they consider themselves cleverer than their elders; this has always been the tragedy of youth, as I can say from experience. You feel that you know everything. The task of our teachers is not to teach young people how to paint but how to love life. This is vital. Russian writer Maxim Gorky said that he could call himself a painter from time to time. An artist is a creator, so needs a purpose. Today’s young people want to be a ‘sell out’ success. However, art works must be created before they can be sold. Accordingly, young artists are becoming more commercial, only painting what they can sell. They can show their talent in their works of course. I’ve visited several successful workshops where there were few works remaining, as they’d all been sold. It’s rather a shame. When Western artists have visited me in the past, they’ve asked about my life and I’ve told them that art is my life. They’ve noted that, in capitalistic states, it’s impossible to make a living from art unless you’re working on a commercial scale with a great deal of funding behind you. With this in mind, our youngsters want to make money… which is quite a tragedy.
Is it important for an artist to be talented? Or can they realise their goals through hard work and experience?
We have many talented young artists, so what is really needed? Famous artist Ilya Repin only married late in life, as he devoted himself to art, never thinking of commercial success. If an artist is independent of daily routine, devoting themselves to pure art, I believe their talent will help them succeed… with money later following. You need to lay a lot of groundwork before you become famous and earn a decent living. Early in his career, Picasso was starving. Meanwhile, our modern painters sometimes want to receive everything at once. It’s impossible, as you do need to work for a while to gain a reputation. Even a talented painter may work hard without recognition, as they need promotion.
Of course, the state is interested in talented people but it’s difficult to know how early promise may develop. Talent may only be obvious after an artist has completed several works. Very few painters make a name for themselves in the first years of working. Many become famous only at the age of 30 or 40.
Have you ever regretted becoming a painter, wanting to try an alternate path?
No, I don’t believe I’ve lived my life in vain. However, I must admit that I could have achieved more. At the age of 33, I began drawing but there were many distractions: public work, chairing artistic councils and exhibition committees. People’s Artist of Belarus Mikhail Savitsky would arrive at his workshop at 7a.m., leaving at 6p.m. This is what’s necessary to truly succeed.I’ve done much but could have done even more.
Have you ever experienced artistic failure?
I do wonder why the creation process is sometimes easy and sometimes not. I once shared my workshop with a talented artist called Nikolay Seleshchuk, who I saw throw away a canvas stretcher. He had no real reason for doing so but had become frustrated, having failed to stretch his canvases twice. He decided that the canvas stretcher was bad. Sometimes, things simply go against you and it affects your mood. Even witnessing an unpleasant scene can ruin the day.
To create a positive mood, I turn on music and thumb through books, channelling my thoughts into something useful. Balzac even asked to be tied to his chair to ensure he worked. It can be difficult to push yourself but you must approach each day fresh and remember only the pictures you’ve drawn...Of course, I had a time in my life when I had nothing to eat but,on painting a good picture, I’d feel relaxed.
Is inspiration vital for your profession?
It’s impossible to work without inspiration. Pictures cannot be painted automatically. Emotions are essential.
Can you define an artist?
We are losing the notion of a true ‘artist’. There are many creative people in the world. They may be working in graphic design or advertising — but they are not artists in the true sense. You may have an artistic personality and be a writer, a composer or a musician — but an artist is something different. In fact, many people can draw. It used to be fashionable for children to learn a musical instrument, to draw and to study literature. Many easily created works of art or literature or composed something but they are not automatically artists.
By Victor Mikhailov
Chronicle writer of the age
[b]Belarusian painter Leonid Dudarenko is known far and wide for being a master of conceptual drawing, painting landscapes and still-life works.He belongs to that generation of Belarusian painters whose achievements date from the early 1960s[/b]Mr. Dudarenko trained at Minsk Art College and, later, at the Belarusian State Theatre and ArtInstitute. This enabled him to start his independent career as an original artist, boasting a unique view on life and his own understanding of art.