Olympic year of Valery Shkaruba
A Belarusian painter realizes creative projects one by one, also abroad
Painters’ exhibitions are their peculiar records. This year Valery Shkaruba had many of them. In particular, a prestigious project was realized with the Ministry of foreign affairs: in the institution, which continues a tradition of cooperation with famous Belarusian art masters, on the eve of the Olympic Games his creative exhibition was opened. At that time the painter was packed and ready to go, he was going to China. In the beginning of August the Days of Culture of Belarus took place there, and Valery Fedorovich was invited to the Heavenly Empire not as a participant of the official Belarusian delegation, but he also presented his pictures to Chinese viewers at the exhibition of Belarusian art, opened in Peking. After he returned from China, he was glad to help his son: a photo artist Alexander Shkaruba, who is 22 years old, made his first photo exhibition in one of the chamber halls of the National museum of history and culture of Belarus. Recently, when the country has celebrated the Day of Belarusian writing and printing, its organizers offered Valery Shkaruba to gladden his fellow countrymen from Borisov area with his works. The master’s exhibition decorated the ancient Borisov, which is a capital of a traditional 15th festival this year.
It is interesting how many Olympic medals would such a creative and exhibition activity of the master have attracted. Taking into account occupation of Valery Fedorovich, he found time to answer the questions of “Belarus” magazine. We wanted to learn the sources of his talent and, of course, to ask him about Chinese impressions.
— Valery Fedorovich, Borisov is not a place with rich artistic traditions. In your opinion, wherefrom did you get the talent of a painter?
— It is impossible to answer this question… To tell you the truth, over a period of many years I was going to immerse into my family tree in order to find answers. I know that Shkaruba’s clan descends from a peasant family. I was born in 1957, my mother comes from Smolensk area, which historians consider ethnically Belarusian. My father comes from Krupki area. Besides, he was a clockmaker of highest qualification. We lived modestly in a simple house on the edge of Borisov, but it was known far beyond: people brought difficult watch made by old masters to repair, big and small, from Moscow and Leningrad — from all over the Union. I inherited one of his unique watch of a famous “Bure” company. He also wore dandy clothes and was a two-fisted photo amateur, he used to get lost in the forest in the photo hunting field. I got used to see beauty on Berezina river. It wasn’t far away from us, probably, at the distance of one kilometer from my house. In the matter of fact, I spent my childhood on this wonderful river: with angling rods and sketch-books.
— Did you start to paint early?
— As far back as I can remember, I painted all the time. I started with a pencil and when I was seven years old, I came to a local figurative art studio. I learnt there, and when I was a teen-ager, I learnt at the studio of the Palace of Culture, where the approach was more professional. I worked all the time willingly. Perhaps, earlier I didn’t have much temptation, television and different computer games, as today’s children have. Besides, I made wooden toys for myself. Predominantly, military toys: cars, tanks, automatic weapon… The reason for this must have been the military community, situated nearby, and my childhood was accompanied by tanks’ clatter and explosions of a far training ground.
— Did you like military business?
— I have never had doubts what profession to choose, though our school had thorough military background, and we always were the best in military and sport games in Belarus. My elder brother is a retired officer, many of my schoolmates became military man: it was in fashion in our town. This is why I became a painter contrary to life circumstances. That’s the way the cookie crumbles: if you have a grey life, your soul strives to something better, more joyful, it passionately looks for beauty. Did you pay attention, that people in Belarusian villages like bright and motley colors? They appear in house decoration and in ladies’ wear.
— Probably, your today’s life is full of bright impressions. For example, your recent journey to China. What did stick in your memory? In what way did the Heavenly Empire and its citizens struck you?
— I have visited China for the second time (I paid my first visit there seven years ago), and I noticed that the air there is different. There is practically no bright sun there, perhaps, because of high humidity and smog, though Chinese people managed to decreased it on the eve of the Olympiad. The sun in Peking is seen as if through haze heat. The sun is very muddy above the Great Chinese Wall, where we had an excursion. When you see such sun for a day or two, you have an impression that China is in haze heat in spite of weather. Besides, this created the image of China. Its figurative art is characterized by abundance of space and air. Chinese lirycs, which I admire, leads to thoughts, it is filled with light undertones and multiplicity... It seems to me that there is tight coupling between nature and creative methods of Chinese masters. The situation is contrary in Greece: harsh lines, deep bright colors, plenty of blue and light-blue shades. In one word, there is another coloring. A soul of a painter, a musician or a poet is especially tuned in unison with nature. Having seen real landscapes with your own eyes, you feel the culture of the nation better, as well as its essence. To breathe the air of the country, which you want to understand — this is, in my opinion, an important moment in tuning to its adequate perception.
— Is this haze heat a key to understanding of a Chinese soul?
— Possibly. There is plenty of fogs and haze heat in Belarusian landscapes. This is especially seen near forests, lakes and swamps… This influences people’s characters and, finally, its mentality.
— It even influences the manner of relations between people by observation of ethnic psychologists. There is “karate style” — sudden, sharp, harsh, as if with permanent desire to be victorious over a rival. And there is a friendly “ushu style”, when a talk is fluent, reasonable, elastic, without artificially created sharp angles. Did you manage to talk to Chinese people?
— I don’t know the language, but there was an interesting moment, when we rode by cycle rickshaws. Though it was a part of our cultural program, I felt not at home as a passenger. I thought: I am not ill, I have my own legs. Besides, I sat there alone, and another members of the Belarusian delegation sat in two. I asked myself a question about this honor. Chinese people smiled and explained that I was too big and it was hard to ride. I rode a little bit and felt like a fish out of water. Belarusian people don’t have such a tradition. When you take a taxi, you are driven by a motor, and in this situation you are driven by a man. To cut a long story short, I asked a cycle rickshaw to stop and using gests I explained that I want to change places with him. I carried him and twisted pedals, but not for long. I didn’t know how to back-pedal… It was also interesting to go boating on the lake: Chinese people made them stable, in the form of catamarans.
— A good idea! Belarusians also offer to foreign guests to go boating on rivers and lakes… They must have also showed you the Great Chinese Wall. Were you impressed by it?
— To tell you the truth, not that much. Its part of 3–4 kilometers from the former 6 thousand kilometers was restored and now is shown to the tourists. Within the distance of 80 kilometers from Peking. Everything is beautiful, with illumination, but this new construction didn’t emotionalize me as well as during the first time. The history spirit is absent there. A real wall is destroyed and it is dangerous to walk on it. I like the landscape near the wall more: mountains, steeps… I watched this. This landscape is very changeable as at the seaside. Per half an hour it changed several times. A wall is a wall: it is lifeless.
— Did you have the possibility to watch modern works of Chinese painters?
— Yes, I managed to visit a big exhibition, dedicated to the Olympiad. I will note, that some works were dedicated to a sport topic. On the whole, Chinese people showed the best of what was created during the last five years. Now not only painters ask me: what is Chinese painting? There is no short answer to this question. Recollect an old Soviet anecdote: Greece has everything. The same is in China, if to talk about painting. Such a diversity! Perhaps, this is how it has to be in such a great country. Art directions of all streams were represented, of all kinds and genres. From the most abstract to realistic and naturalistic. There is pop-art, impressionism, there are works in the style of traditional old-Chinese painting. Some Chinese painters work in American and modern styles.
— Did you see works in traditions of Russian painting?
— Of course! In the Soviet times many Chinese painters studied in Russia. I seemed to feel the hand of masters of the Soviet painting in some works, as, for example, Mylnikov or Moiseenko. Russian painters taught in China, this is why there is a “Russian accent” in some Chinese pieces of art. I think, this unites us, Belarusian people, with China. Our Academy of Art was established 60 years ago, comparatively not long ago. The first teachers came from Russia, mainly from Moscow and Leningrad. For example, I learnt from the teachers of a Moscow school. The so-called oil-painting has been developing in China recently, for several decades. Great success was achieved during this time, because painters, as it is said, hungrily adopt experience of their Russian predecessors.
— Does it turn out that oil-painting is a new kind of art for China?
— Yes, earlier they had go-hua painting. Cloth and paper painting was developing. This is not oil but ink, mainly black and red. Besides, today realistic direction develops powerfully in Chinese oil-painting. In other countries academic painting goes away, and it is not taught. And in China, as nowhere else, there is blossom of academic and realistic painting. It comes with a wet sail. To tell you the truth, I was carried away by skills, which Chinese painters tried to achieve. Perhaps, there are such painters in Russia.
— Perhaps, you found your own handwriting, paying attention to details, to formation of objects at the exhibition.
— There was everything. There is great force in this diversity and self-sufficiency of China. Everything in world art is reflected in the works of Chinese people as if in a mirror. What is important, everything was represented at this exhibition. Mainly Chinese art, and several painters from other countries. Besides, when we talked to the minister of culture of China Tsai U, he asked me about the tendencies in Belarusian painting. I answered this question and wondered about his personal artistic fancies. Tsai U answered: he likes realistic art, but as the minister of culture of China he has to accept, perceive and support all art directions. In my opinion, this is a clever position.
— In which way did you see Chinese people?
— They are kind, polite, they smile a lot. However, I didn’t understand what they think. I liked their appearance. They wear modest clothes without extremity. There are no fat people with pot-bellies, they are all prim. You can tell that this is a healthy nation, because when you walk in the park in the evening, you can see people practicing ushu in parks under the trees and on lawns. On the whole, they practice it in groups, standing in a circle. Young people are athletic. There are not many bicycles in a modern Peking, people mainly drive cars there. I was impressed by a beautiful backgammon game, which men play — this is seldom met on our streets, I even took photos of those gamers. I was also amazed by poets, who write their poems in hieroglyphs in the parks on asphalt. With what? With water! A poet writes a poem with a long brush, and water evaporates soon. Nothing remains…
— Perhaps, this is one of Buddhist excercises? In order to realize better: everything we do reminds this action, because everything will disappear in the course of time…
— Perhaps. Art is beautiful! This is painting and poetry — this is a complete unit, and we really get a feeling of inimitable and impetuous beauty of existence. Besides, I had such a feeling that a poet doesn’t care about the fact, whether people read his poems or not: he was infatuated with the process. I haven’t met such art anywhere.
— Did you visit Chinese houses?
— We visited them. In my opinion, Chinese people live very modestly, in a minimalistic style. Their way of life is even austere, not overloaded with things. They don’t have extra crockery and furniture. They also don’t have extra clothes: men have got two or three suits — that’s all. However, there is a computer in each house. I thought that there should be rich culture to learn to do with things. To have everything necessary and nothing extra at the same time. Perhaps, such a way of life, close to art. This is why it is interesting.