Promenade through Paris in company of painter Irina Kotova

National Art Museum hosts exhibition of personal impressions of Belarusian artist who’s been living in French capital for a long time

By Victor Mikhailov

It’s said that everyone should visit Paris at least once in their lifetime. Really, it’s true; the city is wonderful, bursting with artistic freedom. Paris is home to artists from all over the world, including those from Belarus. Famous Boris Zaborov works there, though he still sees himself as a Belarusian painter. Irina Kotova is another Belarusian in the French capital, living there for almost a decade. After graduating from the Belarusian Academy of Arts, she moved to Paris to continue her education. Who knows whether it was fate or an accident … but the city inspired her to draw and exhibit her pictures.

The National Art Museum of Belarus is hosting Irina’s Imaginary Paris, which she sees as a great honour. It’s no mean feat to exhibit at the country’s main museum and is a huge responsibility for those who place their works alongside pieces by famous painters from their motherland.

Irina has lived in France for quite a while but, like Boris Zaborov, still considers herself to be a Belarusian painter. France is her second homeland but Ms. Kotova is convinced that she upholds Belarusian artistic traditions. However, as she currently lives in Paris, it necessarily inspires her work. It might seem paradoxical, but Irina knows the French capital even better than her native Minsk. It isn’t because Paris is a cultural capital of the globe, filled with a rich cultural heritage of monuments, museums, architecture and galleries. Rather, Irina endeavours to understand it as an ordinary city — by turns happy and sad, routine and festive, lyrical and faceless. Paris shapes her mood. She even dreams of the city. It seems that she knows Paris as she does a friend; it’s impossible to live closely with someone, seeing them from different angles, without gaining a particular intimacy.

Not long ago, Irina saw Paris from above — from a bird’s eye view. Interestingly, on staying in Minsk for her show’s opening, she suddenly realised that she greatly missed the Parisian rooftops. A feeling of kinship with a city takes a long time to come, only truly happening when your soul joins with that of your dwelling place. Irina’s time in Paris has surely brought her heart closer to its aura, with the city penetrating her soul.

Many people have helped Irina to implement her Imaginary Paris project. However, the French Ambassador to Minsk, H.E. Mr. Michel Raineri, has rendered special assistance. He is much interested in her work, being an artistic man himself, writing books and plays. He invited Irina to show Paris from various angles and, with his help, she received permission from the authorities to draw the Parisian capital from local roofs.

Love for the arts seems to overcome all obstacles. In fact, Irina is afraid of heights but, while on the roof, she felt no fear. Comfortable conditions were created for her work, with a ‘workshop’ created on one of the roofs, comprising two chairs — one for drawing and the other for resting.

Irina Kotova draws in pastels, which is similar to using paint but with the advantage of allowing quick sketches. This helps her to capture moments which might otherwise quickly disappear. Sometimes, she begins drawing but, thirty minutes later, must change the composition of the sky. The weather, for example, can change so suddenly. However, she has enough time to catch a unique moment in the general landscape. Her desire to bring each moment to the fore is perhaps at the core of Irina’s artistry. It makes her stand out from others — as noted at the National Art Museum. On viewing her drawings, you realise that they reflect a Belarusian artist’s view of France. “Mist and twilight are more characteristic of the Slavonic, Belarusian soul but Irina is more like the Impressionists, who tended to depict a certain moment or state,” notes Irina Skvortsova, a candidate of art history.

Irina’s works are kept all over the world, in private collections and galleries. When she parts with her pictures, she always hopes that they’ll end up in ‘kind hands’. In this respect, she’s a true artist, desiring that her works bring joy to others, while being unique to herself and depicting something native and dear.
Irina Kotova’s pictures allow us to travel to remote Paris in our mind’s eye, viewing the city from above or perhaps walking along its wonderful streets…

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