Penetrating glance at children’s fairy-tales

Bright and colourful world of childhood presented at exhibition by artist Oksana Arakcheeva, hosted by Minsk’s University of Culture Gallery

By Yekaterina Medvedskaya

Illustrations from children’s books and magazines are on show, alongside theatrical playbills and cartoons — all lively, sincere and spiritual. They remind us of the fables of Ivan Krylov, the fairy-tales of Iza Zaslonova and Samuil Marshak’s verse. “First acquaintance with a book begins with its illustrations,” noted Natalia Barsukova, the Director of the University of Culture Gallery, during the opening ceremony. “It’s vital that drawings are emotional, kind, funny and educational.”

Educational drawings neighbour fairy-tale illustrations at the show. “The younger generation should be raised looking at such pictures,” believes Oksana Arakcheeva. “I still remember the books I enjoyed in my childhood. At art school, I didn’t just draw; I invented stories, inspired by fairy-tale images from the past. My characters are, of course, different today.”

She believes that children are more discerning than adults when it comes to illustrations; this may be why her illustrations are so warm, lively and multi-faceted, sometimes expressing more than words. For example, the drawings in I Grow and What Gifts There May Be, can inspire children to invent their own stories. Children tend to look at their favourite illustrations over and again, each time finding something interesting and new.

Oksana Arakcheeva’s talent is obvious, as seen in her meticulous attention to detail; her falling leaves and wet traces on asphalt are truly convincing.

She has illustrated works by Ivan Bursov, Samuil Marshak and Ivan Krylov. Her illustrations for Belarusian Zmitrok Byadulya’s Silver Tobacco Box fairy-tale earned her diploma. She still illustrates folk and fairy-tales with pleasure, liaising with various children’s publishing houses. She even illustrates textbooks for schoolchildren these days.

The artist has co-operated with famous fairy-tale writer Iza Zaslonova for over two decades now. The writer’s works are known for their interesting plots and humour while also containing informative facts relating to history, geography, biology and mythology. Ms. Arakcheeva supplements these with wonderful artistic images.

“When I’m working on a new book, I always worry about bringing characters alive,” admits Ms. Arakcheeva. “Moreover, on finishing, I feel sad.”

She devotes all her time to her favourite occupation, putting her heart and soul into each work. Being an illustrator of children’s books is Oksana’s life-long dream.

“In childhood, I decided that I’d illustrate fairy-tales when I grew up,” she recollects. “I created posters for some time while learning monumental art techniques. It was my teacher, Vladimir Savich, who encouraged me to return to illustrating children’s books, which I’ve done with great pleasure.”

The Country of Wonders exhibition launch was also attended by Ms. Arakcheeva’s pupils (she teaches pictorial art at a Minsk school). They examined their teacher’s works with interest and some were surprised to recognise illustrations from books read to them by their mothers. Their eyes shone with delight. Her friends and colleagues also attended, alongside representatives from the Culture Ministry and Minsk publishing houses. Undoubtedly, Ms. Arakcheeva’s relatives were the most important guests. Famous painter and Honoured Figure of Arts of Belarus, Boris Arakcheev, is proud of his daughter’s success, while she is very grateful to her father. “I’ve been learning from my father my whole life. I remember how late he used to come home, spending all his time at his studio. I spent most of my childhood there, creating my first works.”

Her father encouraged her painting of course. Today, she creates works for children and adults, including portraits and still-life paintings. Her Minsk Windows series has been ongoing for over twenty years, depicting various aspects of the Belarusian capital from a height of seven floors up. She also travels a great deal and is especially allured by Europe. Recently, Minsk’s House of Friendship hosted an exhibition of her works, created during a summer open-air workshop in Slovakia. According to Ms. Arakcheeva, fairy-tales remain her major source of inspiration.

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