Silver of native fog
[b]Anatoly Baranovsky awarded title of People’s Artist of Belarus, following career of hardships[/b]Anatoly Baranovsky produced most of his works in the late 20th century — when Belarusian realism was flourishing. This was his greatest influence, coupled with a keen love for his homeland.
Anatoly Baranovsky produced most of his works in the late 20th century — when Belarusian realism was flourishing. This was his greatest influence, coupled with a keen love for his homeland.
His landscapes often depict the Braslav District, as well as the Pripyat and Nieman rivers, Mozyr and Mogilev. His canvases abound with the poetry of autumn and spring: silver clouds and golden birch-trees. The melodies of the seasons resulted in his Clouds Sailing Over Native Land (1977), Land of My Golden Birch-Trees (1981), Melody of Autumn (1994), Miraculous Days — Clear and Blue (2003), and Autumn Over the Pripyat (2004).
He also painted architectural landscapes — such as those depicting the 12th century Kalozha church, the towers of ancient Mir Castle, and Peter and Paul’s Church of Novgorod; all radiate historical spirit. His epic pictures are no less magnificent: Mother. 1941 (1972), Braslav Width (1991), Portrait of a Daughter (1994) and The Lilac (2008).
His love for his homeland and its countryside was shared by other 20th century Belarusian artists: Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, Vladimir Kudrevich, Nikolay Tarasikov, Ivan Dmukhailo and Ivan Rey, among others. Mr. Baranovsky was also influenced by the Russian and French Impressionists, using seemingly ‘accidental’ compositional elements, soft colours and a combination of delicate and transparent paints. He also introduced his own trends: warm colours with pattern to create a balanced mood.
His Nest (1983) is the quintessence of his artistic aspirations. Like the outstanding works by Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas in praise of their Motherland, it is a hymn to his homeland, its nature and people. Mr. Baranovsky sees each of us as a world in ourselves: lofty and optimistic. He perceives his own life as one towards The Light — as he named one of his exhibitions. His early 21st century works continue to pursue the theme of realism — enriching Belarusian art with miraculous and precious treasures.
His work entitled People’s epitomises a significant period in his artistry — from the 1960s, when his motifs, moods and colours revolved around his native land. He continued in the style of 1920s new Impressionism while adding his own Belarusian spirit. We see sophisticated shades of silver and linen in his woods, fields and fast flowing rivers.
Each of Mr. Baranovsky’s works is individual, with its own initial impression and chosen corner of nature. However, they form a harmonious — almost musical — whole, as seen rarely among his colleagues. His canvases depict fragile birch-trees, spring fields and transparent blue skies, with tenderness; he seldom repeats himself, since each day brings new impressions. His study of nature dominates, with each landscape resembling an open window. Looking through them, we can’t but admire the untouched beauty of Belarusian nature.
He reveals his soul most fully at his workshop, where his most beloved pictures are kept. Mr. Baranovsky speaks sparsely but, here, shares sincere views on art and his work.
I believe that art is more significant than literature, as argued by Lev Tolstoy. On attending an exhibition of great Russian painters — Surikov, Repin and Serov — he told a rather anxious Repin that the latter had no need to worry. Tolstoy stressed his envy of artists, believing it possible to read a picture simply by looking at it briefly. He joked that it was far more arduous and less enticing to read two volumes of War and Peace!
Gegel also ranked art at the summit, above music and poetry. As a student, I read his books but only now can admit to true admiration, having learnt through experience. This art expert placed pictorial art at the supreme height!
How did you begin drawing?
From childhood, I had problems at home, so devoted all my time to drawing. I couldn’t sleep properly at night as I wanted to stay up alone and paint. I was born in Minsk’s suburbs and my family were involved in agriculture. My mother used to say that I was interested in nothing but paper and paints. My grandmother was talented, making patterns, and came first at an international contest in Belgium. Later, the Belgian Parliament purchased three of my works. I was self-taught and would love to walk along Botanicheskaya Street (where we lived), painting all I saw with water colours.
I then entered college but it was no easy path. My application to the pictorial painting department failed, so I studied sculpture. After a year, I discovered that my drawing wasn’t bad and, in my third year, was offered a transfer to the pictorial painting department, where two places had become free. I was told to simultaneously study at evening school to make up for lost school time (I’d only had eight years at school) but disliked this: I wanted to devote all my time to painting. Nevertheless, my application was approved and I was transferred to the pictorial painting department (as a second year student).
We had a high level of training and, by my third year, I enjoyed only the highest marks. After college, I tried to enter the Theatre and Art Institute but failed: others had connections and all ten places were occupied. At that time, the Institute was headed by Vitaly Tsvirko — a wonderful artist and man who did much for others. He persuaded Moscow (those were Soviet times) to open evening courses at the Institute, allowing me to study there.
Honoured Figure of Arts of Belarus, Professor Anatoly Baranovsky, a laureate of Belarus’ State Award, was born in Minsk in 1937. In 1965, he graduated from the Pictorial Department of the Belarusian Theatre and Art Institute (now the Belarusian State Arts Academy), being taught academic painting by Mai Dantsig and Ivan Stasevich.
Do you remember your teachers?
At that time, Ivan Stasevich worked at the Institute; he was a wonderful artist — a graduate of Moscow’s Surikov College. Mr. Stasevich was sincerely interested in my fate — as a father would be. In 1963 (during my third year of studies), People’s Artist Ivan Akhremchik arrived and everything changed. He didn’t like my style, which he made clear. He once asked me for paints and brushes and spent three hours working. All the other students left for various classes but I stayed, repainting the canvas after Mr. Akhremchik had left the room. I didn’t like his method of revealing the theme but realised I could be severely punished.
Later, when I was given a job under the chair headed by Mr. Akhremchik, he admitted, “I was so disparaging to you but you never answered back.” I then responded, “A single word from you could have had me sent away.”
Feeling ill at ease, I decided to leave, taking my resignation letter when I saw a note on the wall stating that Mr. Akhremchik had died. After a new chair was formed, its first session decided that pictorial painting would be lectured by my friend, Ivan Stasevich, and by myself. I’ve been working at the Belarusian Arts Academy for 36 years now.
What was the most vital element of your studies at the Institute?
I learnt to see, understand and overcome mistakes. Mr. Akhremchik made me stronger — although he could have broken me. He said, “If you had listened to me, you would have immediately joined mainstream life.” I replied, “I need no other life...”
When did you realise your own style and unique manner?
In 1965, when I graduated from the Institute, or perhaps earlier, when I was creating my diploma paper (a complicated figure composition). I felt I was meeting the theme, despite disapproval. My great desire saved me and I always took risks. I visited Moscow exhibitions, simply buying a ticket to go to those wonderful shows. I met some interesting people and would never agree to false or forced ideas.
Did your themes vary?
They were stipulated but I drew from my personal experience. Actually, I remember the war better than yesterday. I lived through it. My diploma paper was entitled Off to the Frontline. Later, I drew a picture on this theme for an exhibition. Of course, life continues. I’ve fallen in love with landscapes, portraits and still-life.
Mr. Baranovsky’s artistic manner was finally formed in the 1970s, when he produced many works. He prefers easel painting and has contributed much to the development of the landscape genre, focusing on nature. He strives to reveal not only its beauty but its inner character: its melodic voices and hidden colours. He uses many shades of silver, which he sees as the defining colour of the Belarusian countryside.
His works are notable for their precise figurative structure, which harmoniously combines his artistic manner and his sharp compositional eye. His pictures are lyrical and deeply figurative.
Evidently, you paint landscapes more often. Why?
This is a good question. A landscape is a universal theme. To be more exact, it is the essence of eternity. I was young when I fell in love with nature. It captured my soul forever.
However, you don’t always depict nature in an obvious way.
A landscape painting is not a photo; it reveals its creator’s perceptions. My landscapes are filled with ideas and moods. Painting is the core of my life, as it was in my student years, when I used to draw every day: morning and evening.
[b]Is silver your favourite colour?
Look [he shows me a picture]. This is the Braslav area, which is unforgettably beautiful. I’ve always loved drawing it with my students (some are well-known now). Our countryside is so wonderful — in Polesie and the Mozyr District. Mist is the most delicate of nature’s mysteries; I’m yet to unravel its secrets. When it reflects in water, it gives me chills.
Your early pictures were colourful but gradually became less so — why?
I treat bold colours with suspicion, since they seem to desire an immediate impression. My approach is more elusive, which is more fitting for the Belarusian countryside. The seasons change but all are wonderful. We should notice the soul of our native land. I always advise my students against using too many bright colours since they should be reflecting the true tones and shades of nature. There are three secrets: colour, form and space. I use them all. This secret accompanies human development, allowing us to enrich our feelings and become more attentive to the environment. It’s vital for our souls.
Pictorial art and music are divine, enhancing our humanity. They don’t just please our soul; they nurture and protect it.
What of artists’ responsibility?
We have a responsibility to ensure that the truth passes through our souls. We must make audiences our co-artists, establishing a connection.
Some fail to achieve this and others do not wish to follow this path.
There are plenty of such cases, especially in our modern days. Anything is permissible and accessible. In the 19th century, it was felt that we lagged behind by at least two hundred years. We are now in a new millennium and morals are falling, evidently.
Mr. Baranovsky has been lecturing at his alma mater since 1966 and has so far taught many monumental-decorative artists. Among them are Vladimir Tovstik, Vladimir Zinkevich, Vladimir Krivoblotsky, Vasily Barabantsev and Victor Olshevsky. Many of his pupils lecture at higher and secondary special educational establishments of culture and art. In 2000, he was awarded a prize ‘For Merits in Fine Arts’, by the Belarusian Union of Artists.
As a teacher, can you pass on the principles of hard work and perseverance?
I’ve always felt a connection to nature and have encouraged young people in the same path. So many years have passed but they still remember my lessons. I’ve fulfilled my duty. I’ve experienced times of anxiety, when I could hardly draw, but I’ve always tried to attend open air sessions with my pupils. People differ, of course.
You were recently awarded the title of ‘People’s Artist’. What will follow? What are your feelings?
I’m anxious. However, this is supplemented with joy, a sense of responsibility and gratitude to our people.
Many reference books and encyclopaedias contain information on Mr. Baranovsky, who has taken part in many international exhibitions. His best pictures are kept at Belarus’ National Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Fine Arts (Minsk), the Republican Art Gallery of the Belarusian Union of Artists, Bulgaria’s Sozopol Picture Gallery and Mogilev’s P. Maslenikov Art Museum. His Nests (1978-1980), Clouds Sailing Over Native Land (1977), Memory (1978), Land of My Golden Birch-Trees (1981) and Roofs of Sozopol (1984) are particular landmarks of Belarusian pictorial painting.
Mr. Baranovsky’s pictures have been exhibited in Russia, Bulgaria, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Japan and elsewhere. The artist and his pupils also took part in the Modern Belarusian Artists show — hosted by Paris’ Pierre Cardin Hall in April 2002.
Can the Motherland give artists all they need to fully reveal their mastery?
Yes. Our talents are given by God. Our education system could be improved upon, so needs attention, being viewed from all angles. Everything will work out fine if we keep an open mind.
Do you work hard?
Every day — without any days off.
By Victor Mikhailov