Knowing cosmos well by sight

People’s Artist of Belarus, sculptor Ivan Misko, celebrates his 80th birthday

By Irina Gureeva

Mr. Misko boasts so many awards. However, more importantly, his famous sculptures grace and beautify our nation. One of his works which is situated in Zhodino honours Anastasia Kupriyanova, whose five sons never returned from the war. Most ‘war memorials’ depict valiant soldiers, recalling their bravery and sacrifice, while Mr. Misko’s humble female figure is shown in her quiet deed of tolerance and forgiveness. It is no less powerful and earned him the State Award of the USSR.
In fact, his true passion has always been the cosmos. He may be the world’s only sculptor to know the night sky by sight. Over the years, he has created around 50 sculptures of cosmonauts — as well as compositions and bas-reliefs. This ‘space sculptor’ is an honorary guest at Star City. Moreover, the Russian Federation of Cosmonautics awarded him the Yuri Gagarin Order. On the eve of his 80th birthday, he chatted on the phone to the Federation’s President, Vladimir Kovalenok — a twice Hero of the Soviet Union.

His sculptures are to be seen in museums in Krakow, as well as in private collections throughout the USA, Japan, France, the UK, Italy, Austria, Cuba, Hungary, Romania and Vietnam. However, Mr. Misko dreams of opening an exhibition at Star City, which could then tour all the home cities of those cosmonauts whose portraits he has embodied in bronze.
Does our country have a national school of sculpture?

Yes, but it’s very easy to lose it, as I’ve observed. During Soviet times, the High Artistic School operated in Moscow, attended by those from all socialistic countries. They would return home on graduating. Some 10-15 years later, we can see that their albums are all similar — be they Mongolian or Moldovan. However, the Georgians do seem to produce different works to the Estonians. Why is this? Sculptors need to be constantly working with clay, as pianists must have their piano keys, listening only to themselves while creating their artworks. I remember my teacher, Alexey Glebov, telling his students jokingly to go to genius Azgur’s studio in his absence and play with his moist sculptures to understand his technique.

Once, years later, the maestro agreed to create my bust; it was unforgettable. He worked so quickly, spreading his fingers and sinking his thumbs deep into the clay where the eyes should be while defining a chin and cheek-bones with his little finger. He then tore the clay like a vulture tears a hen. It was magnificent. He strained every sinew within a few minutes, using exact and aggressive strokes. I then saw the familiar process. Azgur was improving and polishing his work — as all artists must do. They need to be ever working, mastering their talent and feeling inspiration.

You’ve spent hours working and communicating with cosmonauts. You’ve also listened and thought a great deal. What does the universe mean to you?

It holds a great attraction. When I was a boy, I could spend hours looking into the sky, while sitting on a haystack. As the years passed, I understood that we gain a feeling of thirst for something elevated, some understanding of what is beyond ourselves. We are aware of the ambiguity of human nature: we’re gods and animals simultaneously. The sky is above us, as if constantly calling us towards the divine.

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