Nemiga Minsk Artists’ Creative Association defines future path of national fine arts
Seeing works by Nemiga artists, their strength and maturity is evident. Each is individual in their creativity, while sharing a common spirit, although their ages range widely; some are aged over 60. All are universally content, being free to create as they please, with no one commanding them to fulfil state orders. However, their path to such freedom has been long and difficult.
Nemiga artists are the generation called ‘semidesyatniki’ (the Seventies) by critics and psychological discrepancy between them and the acknowledged leaders of the 1960s is apparent. Moreover, circumstances have made this gap even greater. ‘Younger painters’ disliked the publicistic character of the creative activity of ‘shestidesyatniki’ (the Sixties), as well as primarily literature character of their figurativeness and the absence of sincere interest towards language renovation which may lead to the loss of quality of plastic expression. Avoiding creative dialogue, ‘older’ painters preferred the tactics of long-term and consistent shakeout of the ‘young’ from the public life of the art. Young artists began to assert themselves more prominently, wanting to make their own mark, and this led to the birth of the Nemiga Creative Association. It inspired a more original approach to the professional school of fine art, and new paths explored through the age-old theme of Belarusian folklore, folk art and crafts. Young painters repudiated their position as outcasts, cleverly embracing folk art, while using it as a vehicle to experiment.
The rise of the national school in the 1960s had its peculiarities. Unlike the Ukraine, Moldova, new trends in the art of the Republic were nurtured mostly by the tragic memory of the military past rather than centuries-long folklore heritage. Even in the 1980s, folk motifs were present: woven designs, embroidery, traditional pottery, wooden sculpture and the gleaming gold of Belarusian straw crafts. In short, expressive symbols of folklore thinking in its full richness. Moscow artists of the 1970s speak about the exploration of the ‘world museum’ and about carnival tonality of life perception while their Minsk colleagues sought national identity. Meanwhile, alongside Belarusians, the group of painters in Belarus included those coming from other corners of the Soviet Union, as far as Siberia and the Far East.
Nemiga is the river under one of the central quarters of modern Minsk, where new artists’ studios have been built. Since the time of The Song of Igor`s Campaign, the river has been perceived by artists as an historical, geographical and cultural symbol, with which participants of the same name exhibition associated their creative thoughts.
As if listening to the eternal flow of time, they conjured picturesque dreams of village childhood, folk tales, depicted in songs-pictures and pictures-parables. They omitted sentimental village lovers and other such Moscow motifs, aiming to gain deeper human understanding. The aim of painters was understanding of themselves, self-determination with respect to colour, rhythm and movement of space, breath of the picturesque mass. In Minsk, the style of picturesque poetry could be born, that would be painted in colours of its time and place. But it was probably possible, but too idyllic option, reality decided otherwise. It happened so that on the rise of the Belarusian artistic life of the Soviet time, canvases by Zoya Litvinova and Leonid Khobotov, Galina Gorovaya and Tamara Sokolova, Nikolay Bushchik, Anatoly Kuznetsov and Sergey Kiryushchenko were often misunderstood by their colleagues and cultural leaders and their talent went largely unrecognised. Their potential Eden was filled only with weeds. Run-of-the-mill pictorial souvenirs and luxurious chic of fashionable salons suddenly became exhibits at exhibitions and determined with their intrusive motley the style of their acquiring independence.
The Nemiga Association chose a difficult path. Members whose careers already spanned a couple of decades took flight from what was expected of them. Whether you lived in Moscow, Minsk, Vilnius or St. Petersburg, the choices faced were similar, with artists keen to set their own stamp on their works. Literally everything cracked that was better or worse built to the middle of the life, everything that gave at least relative creative stability. The ‘failure’ of the Soviet system left before the 1970s painters a rather small space for choice proceeding from priorities which existed within foreign and domestic situation, or simply speaking , purchasing power for their creative efforts.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that that they estranged from the humanity, lost sensitivity to people`s lives, the ability to hear and excite many of us, find support and cause a response in the body of the living culture. However, they tackled the process of creativity as painters-discoverers. They endeavoured to bring something substantial, foreseen by them, but still not understood by us, unexpected and not seen. They want to bring themselves into our world thus making it richer. We should manage to see this gift. However, everybody can do this with a certain emotional openness, generosity of heart.
To explain their motivations completely is almost impossible but a look at the works of Nikolay Bushchik is a good place to start. His early success with landscapes mutated into a celebration of the symbolic mysteries of nature and cosmic harmony, as embodied by Dedication to Čiurlionis (1997). Sculptor Galina Gorovaya has a talent in showing us the hidden soul in wood, stone or metal. She brings the same intimacy to representations of animals and birds as is usually found in the depiction of humans. She admires beauty in all its forms, with pride, joy and tenderness, sharpening it in her dazzling sculptural compositions with colour accents which come from wonderful folk perception of brightness and freshness — unusual for tired eyes. As in mythological tales, she blurs the line between the human and animal world, showing us new aspects to our identity.
Another Nemiga sculptor, Tamara Sokolova, takes a different approach, working with abstract, geometric forms, in clay and chamotte. We see the wonderful charm of the handmade, expressed through warm textures and natural colours. The same is with small architectural forms which create comfort for people while simultaneously stirring up their fantasy. Sometimes, Tamara comes away from decorative solutions and makes functional objects, doing so with a genuine sense of style and noble, restrained taste. All these three masters can be united by soft lyrical tonality which may be inspired by the poetic nature of the Nemiga Association and this has become the message of their creative activity.
Sergey Kiryushchenko, Tamara’s husband, is opposite to her. He is a master of brutal giant forms. His works are based on rethought of neo-constructivism. He paints with not picturesque, but bright, saturated colour active that is used for exotic modern mechanism or theatrical scenery in techno style. Mr. Kiryushchenko is an incredible fanatic of idea. Sitting in his attic, he creates a composition of two, three or four metres height. He is a real master: he organise filigree his rhythmic lattices, and paints the spots of the local colours with a variety of different techniques with remarkable ingenuity. This is also deep personal love to the job -- reckless sincerity of return, fullness of human expression that captivates the authors of Nemiga.
Anatoly Kuznetsov and Leonid Khobotov have chosen the method of abstraction, and again they are quite original in their search. The meaning of abstract symbolic images can be felt to some extent, but it’s quite hopeless to describe it, because everything is built on very shaky and subjective associations here that, moreover, vibrate, depending on our mood. It seems that Mr. Kuznetsov is attracted by large spaces where various nature powers hover, among which a human tries to distinguish music of own heart, his lyrical state, flickering of morning scenery and exhilarating rush of will to create forms. And all this is in the wind, fire of colourful lightings, bursts, rays and sometimes in a methodical and painstaking work to curb these verses with discipline of picturesque surface of the canvas. Abstraction of Mr. Kuznetsov seems to be a metaphor of the artist’s life, his fantasy in fight of a brush with infinity outside his studio. Leonid Khobotov is a kind of architect of natural being. If Sergey Kiryushchenko creates enthusiastically city of ordered connections and relations from the inanimate matter, then Mr. Khobotov takes colour arrays similar to cyclopean stone blocks, archaic, roughly carved pillars, able to carry the pediment of an ancient temple, or as an artist ‘moves’ hills from one place to another, so he creates giant sculpture of the lying woman.
Gathering together these observations, I would like to talk about a philosophy of understanding the world of masters of Nemiga. they have lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course, this was less catastrophic that the days of revolution or the two world wars. The support, which they have found for themselves in the hope of the future, is the reliance on the creative elements of nature, healthy foundation of everlasting way of human life. They do not tell naive fables, they charge and inspire their audience with extra-terrestrial primal force. And in this work, I think, the highest power and wisdom has Zoya Litvinova’s creativity, most mature master of Nemiga community. Artist of rare temperament, initially inclined to large-scale ideas, Zoya Litvinova has fully passed the way of spontaneous enthusiasm of pagan life force. Her canvases that often praised scenes of folk festivals, became well-known in the Soviet years. She also worked as a monumentalist. Tapestry based on peasant’s motifs of the 1980s-90s became for her a start of a new understanding of the human of the earth. However, she has opened gradually supreme religious meaning in the game of the nature living powers. She started to understand endlessly complexity, contradictory variety of the world order, as well as mental and moral human being. Today, Zoya also often follows her favourite motifs of ritual dance, come to the new era of European art from Matisse, Picasso, Goncharova. Then, she reached the mysticism of Christianity, to mystery of faith, love and sacrificial death, symbolic of reunion of all things on earth. So, we come to one of the intimate details of the artistic language of Zoya. She sheds soft golden light on figures in the scenes of holidays, passions, telling often about the most difficult moral and philosophical conflicts of human history. Perhaps, this is the shine of her faith and love to a human being, and that the highest, clearest lyricism, with which symbolic Nemiga, on which banks the history of generations of ancestors has been developing, warms her and her fellows.
In fact, the creativity of these artists exists in space of modernist tradition in art. The horizons of their way can be determined by the words: form, expression, spirituality. Nemiga -17 Association was founded in 1986 by the group of like-minded artists who were keen to find a new path in domestic painting. Sculptors, who joined Nemiga, have expanded with their activities creative horizons of the group, added multiple dimensions and scale to the tasks they faced.
In the wake of the first years of perestroika, artists of all republics of the former Soviet Union felt more than ever the relevance of the problems of their national and cultural identity. The period of Nemiga development as a single (with the whole diversity of individuals being a part of it) creative team took place in these rugged promising years, as well as the formation of the concept and aesthetic platforms. The artists intended to emphasise the connection to the deep layers of the national history and culture even by the association’s name. Nemiga is not just the street, where the idea of the union appeared in the studio, but this is also the name of the river that doesn’t exist now. Its banks witnessed ancient battles between the armies of Polotsk and Kiev princes in 1067, as described in The Song of Igor’s Campaign. The river is first mentioned in chronicles associated with this event.
But probably, this is the only case in the association’s work case of direct appeal to the historical event (it should be also mentioned that the works of artists of Nemiga have always been far from any social or political directions). The defining creative sets of the group were different initially. Developing the national problematics, the artists have never started from historical or ethnographic themes, plots. They looked for the solution of this urgent task in the sphere of plastic pursuit, and the plot didn’t play a great role. Awareness of their national identity was expressed in their striving to gain artistic language, which was genetically connected with cultural traditions of the Belarusians, though it was modern. Already at that early stage, the members of Nemiga were characterised by dynamic, creative-oriented attitude to the national tradition, to the world culture in general. Striving to revive and continue the interesting coloristic and plastic search of the Belarusian painters and sculptors of the 1920s, referring to the folk art, they have always remained open for the influence of other artistic experiences. Significant role in their creative development was played by the study of the legacy of Russian and French painting of the frontier of the 19th-20th centuries, and later acquaintance with the achievements of world art of the middle and second half of the 20th century. Nemiga brought interest and taste to expressive, rich plastic picturesque form, to associative, metaphorical language to the Belarusian painting. Colour has always been the main form-building component for the artists of this creative association.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were the periods of active and fruitful search of own way practically for the Nemiga artists. United by common ideological and aesthetic positions, they solved this task in different ways. Today, one can see a particular cross-cutting topic or issue in the work of each of them that is the support for the artist, as well as inspiration source, which determines much his creative personality.
The search for spirituality, in life and work, has been central to Zoya Litvinova, driving forward her creativity. Her heart is open, listening and ready to hear the ‘world’. She is unusual among the Nemiga artists in not following the abstract genre. Practically all other members of the association work in the sphere of abstract art today, at the same time, saving quite strong connection to reality -- the main source of their impressions and creative impulses. Rejection of figurativism was largely natural, determined by the logic of the evolution of their thinking, the desire to get away from literariness, as alien to the nature of fine art factor. They strive to embody their idea about the picture of the world, first of all, using inner image-plastic resources of painting and sculpture. They seek to reveal what lies within us: the ultimate expression of reality. Naturally, each artist has their own motives and path.
In his early figurative works, Nikolay Bushchik focused more than any of his colleagues on the question of national and cultural identity, on the visual specificity of a residential plot or landscape motifs. In the artist’s works of recent years, the desire is obvious to expand his horizon of vision and access to the topics of a supranational character, that are of great importance for him today, access to understanding of himself and his creativity in the context of universal values, and therefore to search of another imagery and other language. Abstract form has helped him to loosen up, given not only freedom of self-expression, but also led to a level of new concreteness of artistic expression.
Anatoly Kuznetsov’s painting is even more impulsive and improvisational. He was one of the first (in the mid-1990s) to use abstraction and determined his methods of work with the sensory-plastic material. He emphasises his works’ sensuality, asserting that abstract art must focus on a vivid concept. His colour palette, coupled with texture and rhythm, inspires an almost meditative state.
The Nemiga Association has had a greater influence on Belarusian painting than sculpture, having few sculptor members, but among them are Galina Gorovaya and Tamara Sokolova. They have taken the three-dimensional form to new heights over recent decades, freeing themselves from the banal even more than those working on canvas, embracing the philosophical and inspiring their painter-colleagues anew.
Through the centuries, art has been turned to political cause, used as propaganda, recording historical events and portraits. Political technologies penetrate more actively to its territory, blurring the boundaries of art and turning it into documentation of various phenomena and events of life. Artists may be judged as journalists, politicians or sociologists, who are less and less interested in questions of aesthetics. Problems of form and beauty are removed to the background, giving place pseudo social pathos of discussing processes of the current moment.
The Nemiga artists have sought the eternal, rather than short-term popularity, in art and in life. They have swum against the current saving the balance of mental and physical strength. They are strong personalities, who understand the act of art as individual activity in the world order, as individual responsibility. It is a trend ever growing in our 21st century world, with new directions blooming.
By Victor Mikhailov
In search of eternal truth
[b]Nemiga Minsk Artists’ Creative Association defines future path of national fine arts[/b]Seeing works by Nemiga artists, their strength and maturity is evident. Each is individual in their creativity, while sharing a common spirit, although their ages range widely; some are aged over 60. All are universally content, being free to create as they please, with no one commanding them to fulfil state orders. However, their path to such freedom has been long and difficult.