Alexey Koktev belongs to those Belarusian artists whose professional biography was formed in the 1970s
He was born two months before the end of WWII — in March 1945. Unsurprisingly, his childhood was hard but, living in a village in the south of Belarus, he managed to appreciate the beauty of the landscape which surrounded him. It inspired him to choose an artistic profession.
Mr. Koktev’s works convincingly confirm that true art originates from live national roots. He has left a wonderful legacy in Belarusian pictorial art — through his characters, their attitude to life and their passion for their native land. His works narrate history and our modern times.
Mr. Koktev is a realist but does not simplify reality in his pictures. He loves to ponder in front of an easel and these reflections find their place in his pictures. He strives to give a philosophical interpretation, as appreciated by the National Art Museum, the Belarusian Union of Artists (where he has a collection), the Culture Ministry of Russia and many private collectors at home and abroad.
He spends most of his days drawing, working from home. It is there that we meet to discuss art and life.
How did you path to art begin?
I was keen on drawing from the age of twelve. There was a man who worked at our Terekhovka editorial office — sadly, I do not remember his name. He loved to draw landscapes in his free time and I loved to chat to him. I was interested in his technique, as his style attracted me. Later, I began painting myself, also reading much about art. It was a fascinating hobby.
I moved to Gomel and began attending a club of fine arts, at the local House of Pioneers. I learnt the fundamentals necessary to become a novice artist and, later, attended Minsk Art College. After graduation, I entered Minsk Theatre and Art Institute’s Easel Painting Department, taught by famous Piotr Krokholev and Natan Voronov.
Does an artist need to formally study?
Studies are necessary and important. The Easel Painting Department was a leading chair at the Institute, allowing young artists to learn from experienced masters, practicing under their guidance. Of course, we worked independently but teachers’ advice was always valuable.
Were you taught the technicalities of how to draw and choose colours or did you rather learn more about the principles and philosophies of art?
Everyone has their own perception of colour — not just artists. We each have our own view of objects, people and our environment: our own understanding. Of course, we were given professional advice at the Institute. Our teachers instructed us, observing our progress. Teachers do play a huge role in the formation of future artists.
What most attracts you: landscapes or still-life? Or do you prefer to depict human characters?
Generally, I’ve always had a passion for nature and tended towards landscapes. Of course, after graduation, I also painted thematic works, portraits and still-life works. However, my true passion is our Belarusian nature; our land inspires me so much. However, I must repeat that I’ve worked in various genres.
In painting a thematic picture, do you focus on action or character portrayal?
Composition is key. My thematic pictures were devoted to the hard years of the Great Patriotic War, as we were an after-war generation. Many artists — older and younger — tackled this theme. It affected every painter. My `Voice of the Motherland` is devoted to the Belarusian partisan movement, while `Hard Years` is dedicated to war doctors. `Letter from 1942` shows village women meeting by a well to talk. One has received a letter from her son or husband and is sharing her news with neighbours and friends…
It must be vital to depict moods sincerely…
Yes, the women in my picture are lost in reflection. Of course, any letter from the frontline was a source of joy but they are discussing the fighting with sadness, musing on the hardships.
Did your themes and genres change over time?
Every painter goes through different stages, while easily returning to past themes. If something sticks in their soul, they’ll always desire to paint it on canvas. This is natural for me as well. Time passes but I return to my earlier ideas. At present, I’m mostly working on landscapes and portraits.
You spend so much time at your workshop. Artists’ lives aren’t simple, as they spend so much time alone, trying to portray their ideas and impressions.
For an artist, their workshop is their home. They spend more time there than at their family home. Their work is everything; they talk to themselves and to their artworks. They can shut everything else out. When you are so absorbed, you forget all else, giving your full concentration to your work. It occupies your whole soul and mind.
Which of the traditions of the Belarusian pictorial school do you find most significant?
Belarusian art — and Belarusian pictorial art in particular — occupies a significant place globally: Kandinsky and Malevich were Belarusian painters, though working in France for a long time. They are representatives of Belarusian art. Here, they’ve done much but are known as prominent figures in global art. Belarusian artists have always enjoyed success: at all-Union exhibitions and abroad. We still have prominent masters, such as People’s Artists of Belarus Leonid Shchemelev and Gavriil Vashchenko. No doubt, Belarusian art occupies a global place. Famous Belarusian artist Vitaly Tsvirko painted wonderful landscapes of our country, which are worthy of the world treasury.
Were you influenced by Belarusian pictorial school traditions?
Of course, but I have my own style.
Each artist is interesting in having their own view of the world…
Of course… a true artist must have their own style and angle.
What defines the personality of an artist?
Their personality is defined by their works, which can tell you a great deal. Themes should match their time and artists should always remain at the cutting edge. By being interested in the world, you’ll be inspired in your work.
Some of your pictures are devoted to history — such as the ancient Belarusian city of Zaslavl. What attracts you to this as an artist?
I lived in Zaslavl after graduating from the Institute. This ancient land is rich in historical places, so many of my landscapes and sketches are devoted to the city. I also have thematic pictures — such as ‘Old Timers of Zaslavl Land’, which hangs in Belarus’ Culture Ministry.
Does pictorial art lose its power over the course of time?
Pictorial art never loses its significance — especially realistic art; the latter will always have a place, regardless of other trends.
Are you pleased with your choices?
Yes, very much. I’ve loved this job since childhood. Today, I feel great love for my occupation and cannot imagine my life without it.
Is beauty vital for modern pictorial art?
Beauty is an abstract notion, with various definitions across the ages. Looking at beauty from a contemporary point of view, we can assert that artists need to be heard and to receive attention. If a picture fails to attract an audience, it has no market. In turn, if it proves popular, audiences start searching for its hidden sense, eager to penetrate its depths.
Is pictorial art topical in our modern times?
No doubt, our electronic world has changed the face of art. In the past, museums attracted only the most educated people; now, anyone can view works virtually, from home. Of course, this is no substitute for seeing them with your own eyes, since this is the only way to feel the true energy of the artist.
What defines the personality of a painter and influences their style?
Time always influences. Some may write that an artist is ahead of their time but, in reality, they represent the time they live in.
What attracts foreign audiences to Belarusian pictorial art?
Our painters’ works always boast huge professionalism.
Does our modern time allow artists to realise themselves?
It seems to me that national ideas must always inspire art. Significant works are born if this is present.
Which is closest to your soul: art reflecting daily life or that based on associations?
I must admit that artists always paint for their audience. If I draw anything, I want to share my thoughts with someone. I paint and exhibit because I want to communicate with my audience. However, to succeed, I need to use language which my audience can understand. Really, the ability to communicate is vital.
What are your preoccupations?
I talk about the history of my nation and my homeland.
What is the key for modern artists?
I’m a 20th century artist. I want to see how young painters represent the 21st century.
By Vнktor Kharitonov
Images in real environment
[b]Alexey Koktev belongs to those Belarusian artists whose professional biography was formed in the 1970s[/b]He was born two months before the end of WWII — in March 1945. Unsurprisingly, his childhood was hard but, living in a village in the south of Belarus, he managed to appreciate the beauty of the landscape which surrounded him. It inspired him to choose an artistic profession. Mr. Koktev’s works convincingly confirm that true art originates from live national roots. He has left a wonderful legacy in Belarusian pictorial art — through his characters, their attitude to life and their passion for their native land. His works narrate history and our modern times. Mr. Koktev is a realist but does not simplify reality in his pictures. He loves to ponder in front of an easel and these reflections find their place in his pictures.