Host of sandy mountain

Art teacher from Gomel amazes Italians

Art teacher from Gomel amazes Italians

Last January was one of the brightest events in the cultural life of Italy, thanks to young Belarusian artist Yuri Ptashinsky. A teacher at secondary school #49, in Gomel, his virtuoso show of sand accompanied paintings in the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari. Even experienced critics were filled with delight.

Teacher Ptashinsky is hard to spot among the noisy crowds of senior pupils in a school corridor, although children running by are respectful, saying, “Hello, Yuri Sergeevich. May I carry your paints? What will we be doing in the following lesson?”

The art teacher’s path has been florid. At school, Yuri preferred drawing, telling us, “My father has a blue-collar job, but draws very well. I learnt from him, as well as studying for four years at the Yunost Regional Palace of Creativity for Children and Youth, under well-known Gomel artist and teacher Valentin Petrovich Pokatashkin. Now, I understand how lucky I was. My teacher was a person of surprising ability, who infected us with his own energy and interest in everything that surrounds us. Having met such a teacher, it was difficult not to become fond of painting.”

So Yuri immersed himself in art, choosing to enter the Architectural Department of the Belarusian State University of Transport. He graduated successfully but, after long reflection, decided to become a teacher of drawing at his current school. In his free time, he paints.

Did your study of architecture influence your choice of sculpting with sand?

Not at all. It was pure chance. An agency offered me the position of artist of sand art, with all resources provided. I brought my imagination and hands, and undertook training.

Is it simply a matter of technique?

At first, I thought it might be but, having been practising for four years, I realise how much artistic input is involved. After all, it’s just sand. If you adjust the height from which you allow it to fall, or the speed, or volume, it makes working with the sand very difficult. You aren’t just drawing; you are creating pictures which flow one into the other. I remember my first performances; my hand grew numb from its labours! A friend once asked me to draw a sand portrait of his girlfriend; it took me 90 minutes, as I carefully placed each grain of sand.

Once, right before a performance, the organisers realised that they’d forgotten to bring any of the special sand, so I used breadcrumbs (which I’d used at home for training).

Can you work with any dry substance?

Sand is really the ideal material, being most adaptable.

Mr. Ptashinsky is no pioneer of sand art, as it’s popular across the entertainment industry, but he does have his own, distinctive style. His portrait of a young lady, presented on his handmade glass-table (he personally assembled the equipment) appears to be alive. Looking at my newspaper, he offers to copy it. With a scattering of sand on glass, and a showy wave of his hand, he has soon produced the evening light, a window, a cat, and a newspaper. Then, he wipes it all away. It happened so quickly that I had no time even to focus my camera.

Wait, why did you do that?!

Don’t panic!

His best-known ‘trick’ is to create a rain soaked windowpane; it’s incredibly realistic, making me understand the shock felt by the Italian public at his exhibition in Cagliari.

Why exactly did you choose Italy?


My first exhibition was held a couple of years ago in Gomel. As a child, I spent time in Italy, to improve my health, and made many good friends. I’m still in touch with them even today and they suggested that I hold a sand exhibition. Last year, I did so in the small town of Dolianova. This January, my project received support from the Honourable Consulate of Belarus to Cagliari. Surprisingly, sand art is almost unknown in Italy, so my show caused quite a stir, for which I’m certainly grateful. Now, all my thoughts are for the new exhibition in Gomel. At the end of summer, my new works will return to Sardinia.

By Violetta Dronova
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