Seclusion is not the best route to self-expression
[b]Mediation is vital for art. A writer or an artist must have knowledge and life experience, as well as something to make their book or picture original. A true piece of art always has novelty of outlook; only then can a novel become a best-seller or a picture attract art lovers to a museum or gallery [/b]Where is such talent found? Generally, anyone who has chosen art as their path should reveal their potential eventually, as long as their artistic credo is correctly defined. Which path should be taken? How can artists achieve their potential? Is learning from others an important component of success? We often discuss these problems with artist Vasily Yasyuk. Some time ago, I wrote that Vasily is known as a portrait master. His other works romanticise reality, making it unique. He has also made a name for himself as a skilful restorer; in particular, he painted the interiors of the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow, receiving high praise. Vasily’s works are found in state and private collections in Belarus, Russia, Poland, the USA, Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
Where is such talent found? Generally, anyone who has chosen art as their path should reveal their potential eventually, as long as their artistic credo is correctly defined. Which path should be taken? How can artists achieve their potential? Is learning from others an important component of success? We often discuss these problems with artist Vasily Yasyuk. Some time ago, I wrote that Vasily is known as a portrait master. His other works romanticise reality, making it unique. He has also made a name for himself as a skilful restorer; in particular, he painted the interiors of the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow, receiving high praise. Vasily’s works are found in state and private collections in Belarus, Russia, Poland, the USA, Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
Mr. Yasyuk has also lectured at the Belarusian Arts Academy for over twenty years and has written several textbooks. He expresses himself as an artist, spending hours in front of the easel. He’s eager to demonstrate his works to the public and sometimes sells his works; they surely arouse interest. His accumulated artistic experience and personal mastery enables him to teach his pupils.
We discuss the artistic exchange of experience with Vasily. Can artists communicate closely and is the practice of artistic exchange needed? Or does a true artist really only need seclusion?
An artist primarily realises themselves through their works. To what extent do they need to leave this artistic working process, travelling to exhibitions and open-air forums? Should they spend all their time in front of the easel, drawing without break?
Of course, it’s necessary to stand in front of the easel and work a great deal. However, to do this, an artist needs to expand their outlook, seeing not only themselves in art but, also, larger trends. Global art is developing at a great pace. Our life is computerised now, so artists often see their works on computer monitors. We must remember that true art is born via communication with nature, people, the country, other states and artists. Only then is our experience and spirit enriched, to be reflected in our painting.
At a personal exhibition, you see yourself from outside — with a different eye. Moreover, many things are re-evaluated. In 1990, alongside 50 artists, I took part in an exhibition in Germany. It was there that I realised what we lack: a relaxed attitude! We were also somewhat lacking in novel ideas, rhythms and new trends. This knowledge helped us. However, many artists are unable to change themselves. This is why I believe communication is extremely important for painters.
Which of the latest exhibitions and open-air forums have seemed most interesting to you?
It’s interesting when you visit another country, as you gain new impressions. Moreover, you gain a different view of your own country, loving it even more. Among the recent projects I’ve attended are an joint international open-air forum in Poland and a personal exhibition in German Binz. The latter is a true tourist Mecca, visited by about 2m people from all over the world. The exhibition is still open today. At the Polish event, I worked with some other Belarusians: People’s Artist Vladimir Tovstik (who heads the Arts Academy Department) and the five best students from the Academy.
What were your brightest impressions from the open-air forum?
It was very interesting. On arriving, we saw our historical homeland. Białystok has amazing architectural sites; the Branicki Palace is fantastic. You can stay for hours, just looking. The Old Town is no less interesting. We walked through it, drawing all the time. Ten days in the city were not enough for us to see everything in a relaxed fashion. The historical complex is fully restored.
After the forum, we organised a wonderful exhibition. The students worked hard. Usually it takes them a month to draw a picture but they managed to paint up to twenty there. The lecturers, in turn, painted 5-7 works. We were on an emotional high! Novelty and fresh ideas inspire further work. We could also see historical culture which is close to us, Belarusians.
The second open-air forum was organised in Mazury — also in Poland. However, the culture and architecture were different, being the territory of former Germany. In Białystok, we recognised similarities with Belarus; in Mazury, the houses and architecture are different. This was a very important moment of spiritual enrichment. Nature also deserves mentioning. Mazury’s countryside resembles our lake regions. Our Lake Naroch area is extremely similar to Mazury.
Of course, enrichment is achieved by chatting with artists from other states: Germany, Poland and Lithuania. This is live communication. Enrichment happens on seeing how a painter works. Technical moments also enrich an artist. Seeing how acrylic, water-colours or oils can be used is important for an artist.
Can we look at open-air shows from the point of view of human communication? An exchange of ideas happens, in addition to what can be seen with our eyes...
Yes. I’d like to speak about this. Do you know why the Mazury open-air forum stuck in my memory so much? Just imagine how art unites people. We watched the Eurovision Song Contest and the whole hall — where artists and forum participants were sitting — applauded the Belarusians. I was impressed with that heart-warming attitude; our colleagues wanted to support us. It was amazing. This is part of communication. Art brings people closer and enriches them. We had no feeling that we were from different countries. We are a small world united by art. I’m convinced that true art has no borders. This is why we must visit our colleagues, while inviting them to come to Belarus. The Association of European Artists has already asked Belarus to host an open-air forum. We are ready to invite people to attend. This will surely help the tourist business, since we have so many beautiful places to visit in our country. Who else except an artist can show them to tourists? If we were to organise a small joint exhibition in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, it would bring us closer.
You lecture at the Arts Academy. Do the students also gain the chance to communicate with those from abroad?
I’ve been working at the Academy for 27 years. My service book has only one record. I’m convinced that artistic exchanges and open-air events are more important for students than for established painters. When we showcased an exhibition in Białystok, Polish artists came, admiring the mastery and technique of our students, praising their acuteness. Really, our students have fantastic vision.
We are on the eve of the Union of Artists’ session. What should be on the agenda… artistic exchanges or something else?
An artist’s studio is important and should be given free of charge; it’s an issue we’ll tackle at the session. In Germany, municipal authorities pay for artists’ workshops; it’s a bright example for us. I’ll support the present leadership of the Union. Its work is quite active, with interesting exhibitions being organised (these are so popular that entrants compete to be shown). It’s not easy to take part in a show these days. We still lack outstanding works; it’s a matter which must receive attention. State orders need to be placed to allow painters’ work to become more active and significant.
You often visit Europe, especially Germany — even without obvious artistic reasons, such as an open-air forum. What kind of art do they prefer there and what do customers demand from you as an artist? Why are they interested in your work?
Firstly, high mastery enables a Belarusian artist to rival any painter in the world. Secondly, we have novel ideas, which we bring to the world. Our unique traditions, such as figurative work, have been lost in the West. Western audiences appreciate our continuing work in this genre. At our Academy, we’ve preserved classical understanding of drawing, pictorial art and nature. Even the Dьsseldorf Academy has lost this. We are in demand in the West —due to our figurative art and work from nature. Additionally, we boast top levels regarding the mastery of our performance. Of course, the experience of our foreign colleagues helps. In the 1990s, we spent a month on a single work; now, we can paint something in just a few days. We are using the freedom of painting commonly seen among Western artists. Skill is not enough on its own though; you need direction, which can be expressed even in a small landscape. Why do small canvases by Levitan capture our imagination? It is because they have a strong focus. Many small apples could be drawn against an autumn landscape but they would remain mere apples rather than a picture. You can paint something in an hour, a year or decade, but it must have focus. This is very important. Many Western artists lack this.
What are your artistic plans? What are you working on and what do you want to achieve next?
When an artist works on a picture, they do not wish to talk about it. I’d rather say that I’m working on Christ’s image and want to donate this picture to our Patriarchate. I dreamt that I should paint this picture, so I began work. Many have tried to realise this idea before me of course, but not in the same way. We’ve already agreed with the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs that this work will be a present to the Patriarchate. It’s the focus of my art at the moment. I’m drawing other pictures — such as a series of Christmas landscapes and still-life works, which are joyful and optimistic. These will always be part of my work as an artist but my Christ will be life-affirming; it’s my concept.
By Victor Mikhaiiov