In the 1970s, young painters of pictorial art were known for their keen vision and reflection of the ‘truth’. Their thinking was relaxed and philosophical, while aspiring to explore moral and aesthetic foundations. Their creativity synthesised new artistic concepts and national traditions in depicting the heroic and tragic history of their Fatherland. Their canvases were full of love for Belarus: its life and people
Artist Georgy Loiko belongs to this generation of painters. He drew from childhood, with a natural sense of colour and composition. He was keen to attend the pictorial art studios of famous artists Sergey Katkov and Viktor Versotksy and, aged 11, began attending Minsk’s first city art school.
He later studied at Minsk’s Art College, taught by Algerd Malishevsky and Leonid Shchemelev. It was Mr. Malishevsky who suggested young Georgy enter the Belarusian Theatre and Art Institute after his fourth year at the College. At that time, the Institute lacked a traditional art department so he applied for the Interior and Equipment Department. He successfully passed his first year examinations but soon realised that his heart wasn’t in this speciality.
He thought about moving to the Moscow Art Institute (named after Surikov) or studying in Vilnius or Riga. However, at the beginning of his second year, he became friends with artist teachers across various departments: Victor Gromyko, Mikhail Livshits, Ivan Akhremchik and Natan Voronov. The latter had the greatest influence over young Georgy. Mr. Akhremchik agreed to supervise Loiko’s diploma paper, entitled ‘The Protection of the Republic’ and Georgy found his niche — among canvases, brushes and oil paints. He still recollects ‘his’ teachers with great gratitude and warmth.
As a second year student at the Institute, the young painter took part in the 2nd Republican Self-portrait Exhibition, creating a figure which casts a guarded gaze over his surroundings, coupled with a stern posture of arms folded across his chest.
Six years later, Georgy Loiko made another portrait of himself, this time carrying a bowl of tea in his hands. His eyes narrow dreamily behind his glasses and he appears slightly tired, wearing a dressing gown. It resembles the first in many ways but carries more confidence and a sense of wisdom and understanding.
Mr. Loiko’s generation grew up believing that truth was the corner stone of art but, gradually, it became clear that truth is not enough. Many of his peers, as well as some older colleagues, began to search for alternatives, although not always consciously. Some acted institutively and many had their own path, creating diversity. Loiko yearned to improve his art by gaining a better understanding of himself and his country, travelling across the Vitebsk and Gomel regions, through the Republic’s rural areas and into industrial construction sites.
After much praise for his diploma picture at the 14th All-Union Exhibition of Students from USSR Art Institutes, he became the Institute’s teaching chair. However, Natan Voronov’s strong influence was holding back the young painter creatively. Voronov’s ‘Leningrad’ painting so dominated Georgy’s thinking that he found difficulty finding his own identity. A two month trip to Cuba allowed him to relax, creating two dozen works filled with warmth and colour: yellow, pink and red. They were quite the opposite of Voronov’s work. Georgy presented the cordial humanity of Cuban life, as well as exotic landscapes filled with sunlight.
Drafting was one of his first works on returning to his homeland, depicting a real group of young draftees during their medical examination and harking back to the theme of war. We see the heroic and tragic history of the Fatherland through the eyes of these young people joining the army. His other early works use simple composition and everyday themes rather than overt drama, conveying a message through mood.
Mr. Loiko explains, “It’s vital that images provoke audiences to contemplate a definite flow of ideas.” His Partisan Oath boasts no real action and scanty detail. We simply see a large group of partisans carrying their weapons, portrayed against the background of a forest. However, drama is created through the sharp contrast of the motionless purple-red forest and the red glare of the sky against the excited, yet harsh faces of those who have sworn their oath of loyalty to their Fatherland. The partisans are compositionally ‘pressed’ towards the lower edge of the canvas, as if contained by the forest. They seem to burst and pulse with thirst for revenge and victory.
In 1976, he visited Novopolotsk’s Chemical Factory several times, which inspired a series of works. “I failed to do anything well,” he recollects. “However, I was consumed with trying to catch the essence of the site: the poetic beauty of technology.” His Installation Fitters at Novopolotsk’s Chemical Factory, displayed at the Youth of the Country exhibition, is probably the most significant of the series. He captures the creativity and spirituality of engineering and industrial construction, which are an indispensable part of our modern world. He uses parallels and metaphors in his Architecture of Big Chemistry, Pipe Laying, The Working Day Begins and Rhythms of Novopolotsk, which are uniquely romantic in composition and scale. There are no cosy home interiors or tranquil corners of nature. Each silhouette of technical construction is dynamic. “My major task was to spiritualise the industrial environment and to show that the lifeblood of technology and engineering required a new method of embodiment,” he asserts.
His travels through the Republic, of course, created real impressions but the works which followed are more than a catalogue of scenes. He aspired to portray the way of life of his homeland and people as realistically as possible. Warders of Roads, Between Battles, Holiday in Kolkhoz and Before Sowing, alongside other canvases, have aroused special interest at exhibitions ever since and are held by museums countrywide.
In the late 1970s, he fell into a period of doubt, spending much time on Never Again: a composition dedicated to Belarusian revolutionary Ivan Pulikhov. He taught at the Institute and began developing new methods of drawing, while also gaining the opportunity, via the Union of USSR Artists, to go to Spain. This finally inspired a transformation in him, seeing originals by El Greco, Velбzquez, Murillo and Goya. He began to feel alienated by works he’d previously revered and truly made some discoveries regarding his identity. He realised that these great painters shifted religious plots onto contemporary soil, stressing the depth of human spirit. Georgy began pondering figurative language and, two years later, entered a new period, using his Spanish impressions alongside a close study of himself and his colleagues.
The first work in his new series was Quintet, devoted to young musicians in a student ensemble. Light and lyrical, it showed some poetic maturity. His Yanka Kupala in Levki — 1941 is dedicated to the poet’s last stay at his summer cottage in June 1941 (departing burning Minsk). War, gloom and uncertainty lay ahead but Yanka Kupala is seen looking to the future optimistically. “When I stand near the easel, I trust the movements of my soul,” admits Mr. Loiko.
Clearly, his manner is to ponder each work long and hard, being passionate about conveying emotional themes. He often unites disparate objects and characters to give figurative, psychological meaning rather than illustrative. Never Again unites the reality of action with the spirit of ideals. A similar method is applied in Drafting and Memory; we can almost hear the ‘roll-call’ of those who sacrifice some or all of their life to military action, protecting their homeland.
Undoubtedly, landscapes occupy a special place in his creativity, offering confessional truth and lyrical beauty. “In painting landscapes, I often alter details,” he admits. “I’m not correcting nature’s mistakes; I simply need to reinforce certain aspects to suit my creative perception.” He treats nature as a sculptor treats an unpolished block of marble, ready to be shaped to his end. Each element is based on something real and, together, they form a believable entity, with stylish unity.
His landscapes are diverse. Burned Land of the Logoisk District — the most generalised — offers contrasting combinations of colour: yellow, lilac, brown, green and burgundy. Sunlight casts its own shadows, accentuating the silhouettes of trees, fields and hills. The horizon is blue, with soft clouds of smoke. The portrayal of long-suffering could appear desolate but, instead, inspires hope of change. Delight at winter beauty is evident in the softly diffused light of Winter Road, where the whiteness of the snow is set against an orange shed roof and dark red forest. The freshness is tangible. Meanwhile, Cherry Bursting into Blossom depicts exuberant spring and beehives: typical for Belarus. Inspired by the Lake Naroch area, he later worked on the canvas in his studio, reviving his buoyant mood effectively.
Most of Loiko’s landscapes offer a gentle palette to explore the morning mist in the forest, mirror-like lakes, the pale ‘yolk’ of the sun over a river, young grass beside the Berezina River, golden splashes of May sunset, blue horses swimming on a warm evening, the leaden heaviness of a cloud and branches moved by the wind. His restraint creates a world of calm tranquillity and silent beauty, resonating with mystery and eternal truths.
Occasionally, he paints vividly-real still life works, such as Autumn Still-Life, In the Studio, Field Flowers and At the Balcony; Gladiolas, Morning, Mountain Ash, and Bouquet — Flowers of My Land are gentler, recalling first childhood impressions.
His still-life work dedicated to prominent Belarusian poet Maxim Bogdanovich is particularly memorable, arousing a feeling of evening peace. Against the blue-eyed night, we see a candlestick with a burning candle on the table, beside an edition of Venok (Wreath) poems, and a jug of stridently blue cornflowers; the silver disc of the moon twinkles mysteriously behind the clouds.
In the 1970s, Loiko significantly expanded his palette and began addressing plots of more global scale, including those involving dramatic conflict. However, he was not restrained by any particular reference to time, making his plots generalised.
His ability to portray nuances of human feeling is evident in his early Portrait of a Wife and Portrait of a Young Girl in Red, as well as in portrait sketches for larger pictures created in various years. He aimed to show the essence of a person — their soul; we each have our own biography yet remain part of eternity, individual yet part of something larger.
Loiko interprets modernity in his own manner, asserting not only the beauty and harmony of people and nature, but the disturbing bitterness connecting them. Penance is devoted to Chernobyl. A cross bearing the body of Christ is at the centre, with a Chernobyl sign above. Instead of Biblical characters at the foot of the cross, we see ordinary residents from the abandoned villages of the Chernobyl-affected zone. They have left their homes forever but leave simple gifts near the cross, asking God’s forgiveness for their sins. The eternal plot unites the End and the Beginning, Christ’s pain and the pain of humanity, our inescapable guilt and its inescapable expiation…
Loiko is more comfortable in soul-searching than in choosing easy themes, exploring painful moments from the past. He tells us, “I don’t do anything in a revolutionary manner. My shift towards non-figurative art has been an inward process of suffering. I have the chance to touch people, awakening their imagination through painting instead of words.”
Of course, before launching his new experiment, he studied works by Kandinsky and Malevich: their abstract combinations and theory. He is also inspired by Christian iconography, which represents an age-old spirituality; it urges him to penetrate the energy of feelings and thoughts. His series of five canvases — Resurrection — marked the beginning of this theme, combining traditional still-life objects (field flowers in vases, brushes, an artist’s palette and a candlestick) with religious buildings and artefacts (churches and icons). This deliberately restricted repertoire allowed him to concentrate his attention on adjusting the structure of the compositions almost to the centimetre.
It would be absurd and senseless to describe the plots of Loiko’s latest works, since no plot exists; they represent a world of dreams and fantasies, which seem strange at first sight: Improvisations, Baltic Associations and Metamorphoses. They explore emotions experienced by the artist and link them to the deepest mysteries of the world, which have no end and no answer. Until we pass into the ‘hereafter’ none can know the answers to the meaning of life or the reason for our existence. These are absolute truths towards which many spend their life moving — Loiko among them. Of course, the notion of exploring our reason for being is as old as the hills. Like other masters before him, including the avant-garde painters of the 20th century, such as Cйzanne, he has set high ideals and has suffered his whole life because of the impossibility of achieving them.
Loiko tries to extract pure ideas from traditions and throw away the remainder, as we see in Improvisations on an Orthodox Topic. With surprising courage, he tackles the most complex questions of human existence connected with the oldest branch of Christianity: the Orthodox Faith. However, he has no expectation of achieving answers, no matter how his soul yearns for them. In looking beyond external appearances, he embraces the true nature and essence of our world. He juxtaposes inviolability with vulnerability. Ideas are inviolable while natural law states that all else — flesh and organic matter — has a finite lifespan. Meanwhile, even ideals are built on questionable foundations, with the risk of falling like a house of cards.
Loiko attempts to comprehend eternal truths to find unity in the world and does this through the symbolism of iconography, where gestures, faces and colours each have their own deeper meaning. He constructs complex layers, inviting us to delve deeper, as a metaphor for delving into other aspects of our lives.
In creating such pictures, which resemble tapestries, he invites us to recognise patterns within the chaos. In balancing on the edge between birth and destruction, the beginning and the end, he creates something ‘other’ — neither reality nor fantasy. Perhaps, his works resemble that brief moment between dreaming and awakening when recollections and faces blur and fade into a mosaic of the semi-real.
Georgy Loiko suffered, filled with self-doubt, torturing himself with anxiety, repeatedly wondering whether his canvases were worthy of being called art. However, he could no longer return to his old realism. He had travelled far since his early days. He continued to question the value of his work for a long time, especially during foreign trips and visits to museums and galleries. He spent hours peering at icons and musing on their mysteries, feeling a desire to use their power to create something new but remaining bewildered as to how to do so. He was raised with the strict realistic traditions of Russian classical painting, where the world is seen plainly rather than analysed.
In his Metamorphoses series, he used colourful shapes, spots, lines and planes of colour — all of an abstract character, unconnected with real associations. This ‘non-objective impressionism’ leads us to another world: one of feelings and symbolism, experienced through music, colour and dreams, bringing both anxiety and joy. His shapes and lines intersect and overlap while shapes are shaded in gradated tones; it’s easy to imagine that these resemble the sky, ground, leaves or other recognisable objects but it’s senseless to search for any real plot. The names of the canvases speak for themselves: Spiritual Matters, Unreality, Impressions, Colour Mirage, Internal Silence and Free Space. If you look closely, you should always be able to find something which resonates with your own thoughts and feelings. Some compositions boast up to five colourful layers, with texture used as well as colour, tone and line. Led by his inner intuition, the brush strokes have spontaneity.
It’s staggering to think of how much an artist can create over their entire life. Mr. Loiko has managed to achieve a great deal yet still believes that his most important work lies ahead. Perhaps all true masters feel this way. He is most at peace when creating: monumental canvases or stained glass windows. Above all, Mr. Loiko is unpredictable — in life and creativity. However, his encouragement of others remains constant. He infects them with his zest for life and desire to find meaning in the world.
“If you want to achieve something, go ahead,” he emphasises. “Don’t search for truth behind doors; it’s always to be found inside your own self.” It’s a precept that Mr. Loiko lives for.
By Viktor Mikhailov
Searching for one’s own truth
[b]In the 1970s, young painters of pictorial art were known for their keen vision and reflection of the ‘truth’. Their thinking was relaxed and philosophical, while aspiring to explore moral and aesthetic foundations. Their creativity synthesised new artistic concepts and national traditions in depicting the heroic and tragic history of their Fatherland. Their canvases were full of love for Belarus: its life and people[/b]Artist Georgy Loiko belongs to this generation of painters. He drew from childhood, with a natural sense of colour and composition. He was keen to attend the pictorial art studios of famous artists Sergey Katkov and Viktor Versotksy and, aged 11, began attending Minsk’s first city art school.