Master’s expressive peculiarity
[b]Artist Vladimir Maslennikov considers the native nature to be a source of never-ending artistic inspiration [/b]The Maslennikovs are a well-known family among art lovers and other painters. Pavel Maslennikov, a People’s Artist of Belarus, provided the impetus for his son, Vladimir Maslennikov, who is now a dynamic follower of his father’s traditions. Of course, Vladimir has his own artistic identity, his works being recogni-sable and interesting in their own right. However, it’s not possible to shake off the notion of ‘a dynasty’. The Maslennikovs are always gaining new followers, whom we’ll discuss later in this article. We met Vladimir Maslennikov at his workshop but already, by the eve of our meeting and discussion about art and dynasty, I had formed my view of him as an artist. Mr. Maslennikov belongs to the generation of Belarusian artists whose artistry has absorbed the best traditions of the national artistic school. Each of his paintings is full of harmonious colour. His palette is restrained and reflects the calm colours of Belarusian nature. The world of beauty is reflected in every aspect of Vladimir’s art — including portraits and epic landscapes of our native land.
The Maslennikovs are a well-known family among art lovers and other painters. Pavel Maslennikov, a People’s Artist of Belarus, provided the impetus for his son, Vladimir Maslennikov, who is now a dynamic follower of his father’s traditions. Of course, Vladimir has his own artistic identity, his works being recogni-sable and interesting in their own right. However, it’s not possible to shake off the notion of ‘a dynasty’. The Maslennikovs are always gaining new followers, whom we’ll discuss later in this article.
We met Vladimir Maslennikov at his workshop but already, by the eve of our meeting and discussion about art and dynasty, I had formed my view of him as an artist. Mr. Maslennikov belongs to the generation of Belarusian artists whose artistry has absorbed the best traditions of the national artistic school. Each of his paintings is full of harmonious colour. His palette is restrained and reflects the calm colours of Belarusian nature. The world of beauty is reflected in every aspect of Vladimir’s art — including portraits and epic landscapes of our native land.
For over 25 years, Mr. Maslennikov has been exploring the well-known and undiscovered corners of Belarus, depicting them in his pictures. He is constantly searching for new motifs, which he eventually finds. Long ago he realised that his native land can amaze the artist with its unusual natural landscapes. Mr. Maslennikov has his own style of landscape drawing, focusing on the depiction of boundless natural space. The talented Belarusian artist has made many discoveries, allowing him to employ new artistic flourishes. The idea of boundless space, implicit in his landscapes, is reflected in his depiction of a soaring sky, which enthrals with its blue cosmic beauty. The artist also uses his own unique symbolic compositions; the sky is interspersed with mountains of dark clouds cut by the sun’s rays. Such drawings add significance and expressiveness to the portrayal of his native land, matching its beauty, clean lines and originality.
What led you to become an artist? When did that happen?
My father was an artist and this played a key role. As for when it happened, I recall myself at the age of four. I used to say then that I would become an artist and a driver. And so it happened. I’m a passionate driver now, having learnt how to drive at the age of 13.
I suppose that it is not simple to live in the shadow of such a star as your father — People’s Artist of Belarus, Pavel Maslennikov. You are an independent painter — Vladimir Maslennikov. How do you manage to have your own style of drawing? What helps you to remain an original artist?
It’s not easy, I must admit — especially when I was young, and just graduating from University. I have spent almost half of my life proving that I’m not just a son of Pavel Maslennikov, but also an independent artist. With this in mind, I didn’t exhibit my landscape paintings for several years after graduating from University. I exhibited my portraits with the express wish not to be compared with my father. Later, I shifted to landscapes as they are close to my soul. Nevertheless, I also draw portraits.
What impressed you about your father’s artistry?
I was impressed by his industry. He worked hard all his life and he always took me to his open-air drawing sessions when I was a child. I could not help but start to love landscapes. We toured all of Belarus and, when travelling to the Crimea, we always took canvases, cardboard and sketchbook easels. In Gurzuf, everyone went to the beach but we went to the mountains to draw. In those days, we painted up to four pictures each day. This has become my habit and now I never travel without my sketchbook easels. In our younger days, I travelled to the Crimea with my wife; even then I took a sketchbook easel, although nobody encouraged me to take my easel.
You draw Belarusian nature and landscapes even now. Do you feel close to your land? Do you wish to express these feelings via your work? Or do you paint whatever you like?
Actually, I almost never leave Belarus these days, spending time with my family, at the summer cottage or in the village. However, Belarus has so many wonderful places; there are meadows, lakes, hills. Each state of Belarusian nature is wonderful in its own way, including the snow, rain and sunshine. I love my homeland very much.
Artist Vladimir Maslennikov views Belarusian nature as an infinite source of artistic inspiration. With him, the aspiration for a lofty and harmonious perception of reality dominates. The artist wishes to feel a living connection between nature, as it is today, and pre-historic eras when the mythological connection between of all the phenomena of life was created. This artistic philosophy comes through in Maslennikov’s constant renewal of his artistic methods and approaches. For example, Vladimir always stresses the colourful concord of every motif of his native land through their spring or summer flowering — when bright colours look revived in the sunshine and the green meadows, against a blue sky. Mr. Maslennikov is among the few modern Belarusian artists to have perfectly mastered the grace of warm and cold colours. He manages wonderfully to depict space and the sun’s rays on green leaves, fields full of shoots and the living mirror of the surface of the water. His landscapes proclaim life, in their colours and images. They are always close to our souls, arousing tenderness and generating a feeling of beauty in our minds.
Apart from endless panoramas, the artist often depicts the serenity of quiet places, forest paths and birch forests. These scenes are full of delicate inner calm and could be called ‘islands’ of natural impressions as often formed in early childhood. These picturesque motifs are in demand among our contemporaries, many of whom have left their natural environment (where they were born and spent their childhood) to live in cities. The artist clearly realises this problem and is doing his best to expand the margins of their ‘concrete reality’ and, thanks to his artistic skills, bring back feelings and emotions that remind them of nature’s green kingdom.
Do you prefer to paint large canvases or does the size of a picture matter little to you?
I paint different size canvasses, but love large pictures. These enable me to stretch artistically. Most of my themes are epic; they are panoramic landscapes, which require a large format.
Did your father see your works? Did you share artistic opinions with each other? If so, how was that? Did your father point out any faults you might have had?
On the one hand, my father seldom praised me. He believed that it’s not enough for a person to graduate from University to become a professional artist. Experience is essential. When I had my first success, my father did not interfere with my work, although we shared a workshop. He commented only after I asked him to. Although he had a strong personality, he was gentle. His praise took an allegoric form. For example, he might come home from an exhibition of my work and tell me, “You know, my guys (this is how his generation of artists referred to each other) have told me: “Pavel, your son stands out from his generation.” This was the highest praise.
Was it pleasant for you to hear such praise?
Of course. Moreover, I realised that it was praise indeed, as I knew my father’s character. This was a kind of recognition. I respected my father so much, that the highest praise for me was the praise that he gave. If he acknowledged my work, then it meant it was not bad. The same could be said about my son (Pavel Maslennikov is a grandson of Pavel Maslennikov — author’s remark). When he studied at the Academy I went to see his pictures and said, “You’ve grown up.” He did not receive excellent marks then but, after the exam, Pavel approached me and said, “It doesn’t matter to me how they assessed my work. For the first time I heard you say that you think that I have done some good paintings. At art school, I often received high marks, but you always scolded me then.”
As you’ve said, your son is also following the same path. The Maslennikov dynasty goes on. Why has your son decided to become an artist, in your opinion?
I can say more: my younger son — Alexey — is studying design now, and my daughter-in-law is also an artist. As regards Pavel, he loved to be in my workshop even at the age of five. His profession was probably predetermined. I can advise him in this field and, of course, he is successful. When I was a child, I also dreamt of becoming an artist, although I hardly understood what that meant. At that time, my father worked as an artistic director in the theatre. You could say that I grew up in the Opera Theatre. Really, a living example is a very great influence.
Your father was painting in different times. How do you characterise the evolution of art since then? Has the process changed?
Probably. In the last 30 years, more trends have appeared. I’m a realist but think it’s good when many trends co-exist in art. It’s good that we are different.
Is the present time favourable for art?
We had state-commissioned art in Soviet times. Some people loved it. Now, all art is individual. Some artists are in demand, while others are not. My art is doing well at present. The state supports me and my works sell well. It is good when there is a need for art.
Do you take market conditions into account? Do you wish for a painting to be loved by others? Or do you paint only what you love?
Happily, the pictures that I wish to paint are generally loved by others. This is happiness.
What is your artistic credo?
To depict the truth of life.
Do you mostly adhere to realism in your paintings?
I paint from nature. I’ve painted hundreds of sketches, depicting different corners of Belarus. Like small springs form a huge river, these pictures drawn from nature are the basis for a large landscape which reflects the beauty of our native land. The key is to make those who see the work want to visit the place depicted in it. Once, I invented an environment, painting not from nature. The picture was entitled ‘Lepel Lakes’ (a district in Vitebsk Region — author’s remark). A driver — who was taking pictures to an exhibition —asked me, “What are these?” I replied, “These are Lepel’s lakes.” The man then said, “You are right. I went fishing there.” But it was in reality an invented place...
A work should be recognisable. Only then might a person wish to walk in the surroundings that are depicted. I try to pass on my feelings and emotional perception of the nature to the audience, via my works.
Does success come easily to you?
It varies. One work might be easy to paint, while another requires much more time and effort in the composition. I can work hard but fail in the long run. This seldom happens though.
Is the realistic style current? In Europe, pictorial art primarily focuses on abstract forms. Do you think we should be proud to have the realistic school of painting and artists who represent this genre so well?
I think we must be proud. However, realistic painting is losing its position. Fewer young people master this art now. Those who paint realistically often demonstrate a low level of professionalism. However, I don’t advocate the division between realistic and non-realistic art. Professionalism is the key. As long as art is done professionally, it doesn’t matter which genre the artist chooses. Some Italians visited me once. They once had a wonderful school of pictorial art, but it has disappeared. We in turn have such a school, with good training offered at the Arts Academy.
You can easily compare as you have worked as a teacher for many years. You have observed the next generation. What is the future of our pictorial art, in your opinion?
I think people must be trained. It’s their business how they work in the future, after they have completed their education; however, professional training is vital. An artist must be able to draw everything. They should shift to new trends not because they can draw, but because it is their personal choice. They should actively wish to work in a certain way!.
What is your opinion of exhibitions?
I graduated from the Art Institute and have participated in almost all the Republican exhibitions. These include group shows and my personal exhibitions (I have had at least five of them). I exhibit my works all the time and believe that this is the right thing to do — it allows me to see myself amongst other artists. A work might look fine in isolation but may appear less interesting at an exhibition, or vice versa. Exhibitions are necessary for us to see ourselves, they help artists to assess themselves objectively.
What do you think about the future of our modern fine arts?
I think everything will be fine. The older generation loves to say that today’s youngsters differ from them. However, I think young people resemble us as we were in the past. I’m an optimist.
Are you self-critical?
I’m extremely self-critical. It even hampers me.
What is the key to your art?
To improve in the direction which I am now following. There is no limit for the sky. I want to draw landscapes, portraits and, probably, still lifes. I’m experimenting with different genres. I love to draw portraits very much, depicting different images and characters.
Can you draw anyone’s portrait?
Yes - but I only paint those who are interesting to me. Most often I draw my family: my parents, children and sister. It’s always interesting to paint when a person looks interesting both spiritually and in appearance.
Vladimir is considered to be a perfect observer and fine psychologist in the genre of portrait painting. He depicts people whom he knows well and loves: primarily, these are very warm and attractive portraits of his father, mother and sister. The artist always depicts the best personal qualities in his models and his portrait gallery is ever expanding, with new images of his contemporaries who wish to have their portraits taken by this talented master.
Are you aware of artistic failures or of artistic paralysis?
Of course, failures happen. However, they are relative. I can consider a work unsuccessful but the audience might not notice it, and vice versa. As regards artistic paralysis, I can say that work is essential. Some people say that it’s necessary to wait for a muse, but it might not come. I think inspiration comes as soon as an artist takes a brush in his or her hand.
There is a museum dedicated to your father in Mogilev. How many works does it hold? Is the museum popular? Do his pictures enable audiences to learn more about the artist Pavel Maslennikov?
The Regional Art Musuem named after Maslennikov has many works by my father. A whole wing of the building is dedicated to the People’s Artist of Belarus’ personal gallery, consisting of three halls and a memorial room. The museum has many pictures, as my father personally sent many of his works there. After his death I also donated over forty works, in addition to sketches of decorations and costumes. The collection is rich and I think it includes my father’s best works. He sent almost all the pictures from his 1980s show, which were important works. Earlier, my father organised exhibitions in Minsk but later moved to Mogilev and donated all his pictures to the city. A gallery was opened and, after my father’s death, it was named after him. I visit it every year. The gallery hosts international art fairs, which artists from CIS and far beyond attend. Painters from Bulgaria, Poland, Austria, Serbia and France have visited, and schoolchildren also come quite often and they all admire the work. Travelling exhibitions, accompanied by lectures, are even organised. The work is in full swing there. The museum is situated in a very interesting building. It was constructed in the 20th century, but has recently been wonderfully restored and repaired. I also have over 40 of my own works there.
Vladimir’s artistic endeavours allow him to find possible answers to topical philosophical questions relating to art. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mr. Maslennikov is one of the most outstanding Belarusian masters of modern landscapes. The creator of such significant works as Belarusian Vastness, Polotsk Distances, Lake Land is purposefully developing an epic cycle dedicated to Belarusian nature. He is at the peak of his artistic force and each of his new works adds new material to his artistic legacy.
Can an artist make money by painting pictures today? You’ve mentioned state commissions, which are no longer placed. Is this better or worse for an artist?
When I had state commissions, fewer of my other paintings were sold. At present, I have no commissions but sell more paintings to organisations or ordinary people. If an artist fails to sell his works, then he is unable to support his family, buy the materials necessary for painting or even pay for his workshop.
Do you pay attention to art coming out of other countries?
I can judge only on the basis of art exhibitions organised in our country, which exhibit primarily realistic art. Artists from all over the world use different trends, but Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have the strongest traditions of the realistic school. Belarusian artists worthily represent our realistic school and demonstrate a high professional level.
Mr. Maslennikov’s landscapes deserve special attention. The works he painted in the past and those he draws now are true poetic novels, created with huge mastery and excellent artistic taste. The most wonderful of them are those in which the native land is praised and nature is admired.
Vladimir loves landscapes that help him to fully express his artistic personality, inner yearnings and achievements. His works are poetic and connoisseurs and ordinary fans are very fond of this aspect. Mr. Maslennikov’s landscapes are truthful, full of lyrical approaches and images. The author can be recognised immediately, even without looking at his signature; this is due to his style of drawing, which harmoniously unites the preciseness of life depiction with a deep lyrical attitude. More importantly, Mr. Maslennikov’s artistry stands out for its national colour.
The artist has perfectly studied his native land. He sees so much that is wonderful in the surrounding environment that he does not need to travel far. He finds themes for his pictures near Minsk, in the Mogilev Region. Each time, his works arouse new feelings in the audience; even those who are not artistically inclined start to look more attentively at the world and to love it more passionately.
Do you impose your style on anyone?
Never. I would not want anyone to draw in the same way as I do. In recent decades, I’ve seen many copies of my works, in different places. Why should we impose our style on anyone else? On the contrary, an artist should try to find his own niche. I call upon everyone to do his or her own work, trying to improve and to be successful. The more difference there is between the work of artists, the better.
It often happens that an artist’s first works look more interesting than his or her later works. What is your story? Did you have a different perception of the world in your youth?
Much is perceived differently in our student years. I once loved Renato Guttuso very much and made compositions similar to his style. I then worked less consciously and hesitated a lot. I also loved Čiurlionis and copied his style as well. This was my search. However, I eventually arrived at my own style. I’m improving over the course of my life. The works I painted 25 years ago are much weaker in comparison to my present paintings. I think I am following the correct path. I’m advancing gradually, without any long leaps.
Pictures differ. Some of them might bring nothing to an audience’s hearts and minds because they focus on an accidental choice of motif and an intentional carelessness of form. Mr. Maslennikov’s drawings are different. They reveal the master’s culture and faultless sharpness of vision. He carefully selects everything that is typical of our nature, which generates anxiety in our souls, while attracting us with the blue horizon and broad rivers...
Aren’t you tired of painting?
It’s a pleasure for me. I think I’m a happy man — like many other artists who do their favourite job. They love this business which sometimes even brings in money. This is happiness. When I’m tired, I go to my summer cottage. I have a workshop there as well. I might take a weeklong break, spending it without paints and brushes. I’m not a hunter or fisherman. My passion is automobiles. If I fail to drive for a week, then I feel my hands begin to itch.
Do your works have a collective image?
Yes, of course. I think that such large formats as I use cannot depict real objects drawn from nature. These are compositions. Look at this for example. It’s called ‘My Belarus’. This is a collective image, depicting our fields and lakes. As you can see, I often paint water. Lakes, forests and meadows form our Belarus. This picture is finished and has already been showcased at the ‘Traditions and Modern Days’ exhibition.
Vladimir depicts space in his pictures in an interesting way. The foreground dominates, with forests and meadows depicted in the background. The pictures all depict the grandeur of our native land. They are full of broad open spaces, the artist being able to hear the voices of nature, and to find the unique features and national character in nature. The objective beauty of the world — seen and reflected in a picture — overcomes us and arouses feelings and deep emotions in people. Vladimir’s landscapes encompass all of these features.
Do you plan to organise a personal show in the near future?
I had personal exhibitions in the past — hosted by the Palace of the Republic, the Arts Palace, the Mogilev Regional Art Museum, Minsk’s Mastatstva Gallery and the Belarusian University of Physical Culture.
Is a personal exhibition a large responsibility?
There is no hurry in preparing a personal show. I usually think the concept over for a year in advance. I need to know the building in which it will take place. It’s also important for me to know a lot about the planned exhibition in order to select the works that I will exhibit. Usually I need a particular selection of pictures so that they look harmonious. In brief, a personal exhibition is a very complicated process that requires an artistic approach.
When speaking about Vladimir Maslennikov’s pictures, we can’t but think of the national colour peculiar to his art. He is a Belarusian artist, who feels huge sympathy for the country’s history, culture and nature.
By Victor Mikhailov