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Great Master in the bosom of family and close friends

Exhibition of paintings by People’s Artist of Belarus Leonid Shchemelev hosted by Minsk’s City Art Gallery

By Victor Mikhailov

The newly renovated gallery in Minsk has relaunched with an exhibition of works by Leonid Shchemelev. His amazing creativity inspired the city’s authorities to find a place in the capital for his permanent exhibition. The decision was based on his huge popularity and public interest. However, some have criticised the gallery’s location, so far from the city centre, in a residential district little known for cultural facilities. Naturally, most theatres and concert halls are found in central locations, although trends do change.

We could equally argue that the placement of Shchemelev’s My Family exhibition at the modest gallery has raised the cultural profile and attractiveness of the Serebryanka District. The gallery’s recently installed neon lighting now rivals that of the nearest supermarket, luring visitors with its beautiful facade. Inside, the building has been revamped to meet European standards. Naturally, clean walls are needed to really set off artworks. The Master’s pictures certainly look impressive in the updated hall.

The launch saw a crowd of eager faces awaiting a glimpse of the famous artist. In fact, the atmosphere was quite cosy, with people chatting informally with each other and Mr. Shchemelev, exchanging opinions. The former Head of the Presidential Administration, Ural Latypov, who currently resides in Moscow, was among the guests, being a fan of Mr. Shchemelev. He looked at each picture, had his photo taken with the painter and then departed. Two smartly dressed young people presented the artist with a large bouquet of yellow tulips after briefly touring the exhibition, apologising for needing to leave early. In fact, so many flowers were placed on the piano that they looked just as dazzling as the pictures on the walls. Of course, floral still life works are a favourite theme of Mr. Shchemelev. He stood by patiently, listening to the warm and sincere words of admiration from his fans.

His latest exhibition offers a small departure, comprising portraits of his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and his wife, Svetlana. Most are captured individually, underlining their particular personality. Meanwhile, we see the passing of time, as some were created recently and others half a century ago.

Clearly, Mr. Shchemelev has remained true to himself, showing the same dedication as a mature master as he did as a young painter. He shows us that which he considers essential and interesting and, in past times, received criticism for his unwavering stance. However, he had faith in his path and has now received his deserved recognition, while becoming famous and popular.

As ever, during his speech, he gave his own personal views on life and society and asserted that painters need more state support. Not everyone may agree (various cultural officials attended the opening of his exhibition) but Mr. Shchemelev wasn’t being pompous. He was simply giving his assessment of the difficult conditions under which most artists work. He has no worries for himself, as he has everything he needs. Rather, he wishes to help his colleagues.

Shchemelev’s art brings warmth to people’s lives, as proven by one story told by a visitor to the exhibition: a middle-aged man. Shchemelev’s pictures boast the power to influence. His son, like most teenagers, was heavily swayed by computer culture, leading his family to worry about his passion for computer games. However, the boy was enchanted by one of Shchemelev’s pictures which hung on their wall at home. It depicted a white horse — an image of luck, hope and determination often used by the artist — and touched the young man’s heart. He began drawing and his parents have been happy to fund his new hobby, seeing a welcome change in their son’s attitude. He has even insisted that the painting hangs in his own room.

Mr. Shchemelev received much praise at the exhibition launch and, having known him for some time, I felt inclined to add my own admiration. He works tirelessly, even at the weekend, despite his venerable age (in February, he celebrated his 89th birthday). He goes to his studio daily: a spacious room completely covered with pictures, with more stacked carefully in his store-room. Before approaching his easel, he often likes to re-arrange his works, which are as dear to him as his children. They are also part of his family!

The current exhibition opens a series of creative events to mark the 90th birthday of the Master — a People’s Artist of Belarus. He has been given numerous prestigious awards and is a laureate of the Union State Award for Literature and Art.

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