I meant to interview Vyacheslav Zakharinsky long ago, even chatting on the phone two years ago. Sadly, something hampered us from meeting, so I recently called again. It took only a few minutes to agree our meeting at his workshop, which Vyacheslav calls his studio. The place is so clean and cosy that I quite wanted to take off my shoes. Clearly, it’s more than a mere shelter for the artist; it’s a place for Vyacheslav to muse on his innermost thoughts and where his soul can rest, welcoming friends and nurturing his creativity
I came unprepared, knowing only that Mr. Zakharinsky differs from many other artists in his style and manner of painting. He is a philosopher, fully penetrating deeper issues and inspired by all he sees. He openly demonstrates subjectivism, which many fail to understand, searching for his own beauty in our world.
Our interview began by a discussion of the nature of ‘beauty’ — upon which art is based.
He tells me, “Of course, the notion was invented not by us but by the divine presence. Man is beautiful, as is nature. External and inner beauty exist, but there is also the harmony of the two combined. All art synthesises beauty and harmony. Naturally, beauty is at the heart of art, so my goal as an artist is to reach its heights. A picture must boast powerful energy, radiating beauty to attract attention, and inspire us to feel joy, sorrow or empathy, as well as to ponder. A true piece of art can accommodate all these emotions.
Many philosophers dislike using the word too freely, lest we idealise beauty. However, I view beauty as being among the major notions in life; a strong piece of art encapsulates the harmony of true beauty.”
When did you realise this and did it take you long?
Of course! A philosopher is not born. Everything comes with experience. In making mistakes and studying the laws of our world, we acquire habits which help our outlook, our philosophical understanding of life and our sense of beauty. Two questions exist for every artist: what to depict and how? They define the value of art. We need to focus on thoughts and concepts. If these are present, then something worthy is created; if not, nothing can excuse the result: not a headache, illness or bad weather.
As an artist, the key question for me is which subject to choose; it’s the core, with mastery and professionalism of minor importance. A less talented painter may prefer to focus on fantasy themes, which can be produced without great mastery. An original idea is vital — as shown by Marc Chagall. He paid little attention to mastery of technique, despite being a professional. However, he made a name for himself as a global artist.
Some bright masters can draw perfect portraits or landscapes but lack a deeper idea. This may be why traditional artwork took a backseat with the advent of photography. My belief is that you need to know what you are trying to show and for what reason. The way it looks is secondary.
Do you draw with your soul?
Is it possible not to do so? Your soul lives inside you, always at the heart of your being. How else can you grow grain, build a house or create a piece of art. Even if the brain dominates, the soul is needed to work in harmony; they work jointly.
You could hardly be called a realistic artist. Do you wish people to understand your pictures or do you prefer them to make up their own minds?
There’s no need to use such words as ‘realism’ or ‘abstractionism’. Modern audiences are so informed and our lives are so diverse and universal that a single picture can unite abstractionism, realism and the avant-garde. Artists can incorporate all styles, including abstract and realistic elements. If you are asking which I love more — realistic or abstract approaches — I’ll tell you that I love ideas and thoughts. When a picture is planned, its style comes naturally, with realistic elements or conventional.
Everything is universal now. A supreme level of mastery — both professional and executive — has always attracted me as an artist. A talented painter can be compared to a good musician, making their instrument produce any motif needed. An artist must be a master to use different pictorial approaches in their work; they need to be a virtuoso!
To know the best of the professional school, it’s necessary to learn from old masters; they can teach us a great deal. Visit museums, see pictures and study; it’s then easy to realise any idea.
What place does the Belarusian school of pictorial art occupy in European culture?
Art developed around certain painters. During the Renaissance, great artists’ pupils studied their style, learning much from them. As a result, a school appeared. Nothing similar exists today. I love the notion of this old system. Now, pupils are chosen via exams and are selected even by those who lecture in other subjects. In the past, a master enrolled his pupils as he saw fit, teaching them. Great painters were trained as a result. We can talk of high Belarusian art from the 1970s or the 1950s-1960s but there was no school created by a single master, boasting its own professional and philosophical principles. We can only speak of artists from a certain period of time.
Let’s put this question differently: what place does Belarusian fine art occupy in European culture?
This reminds me of a sporting competition, where swimmers win a certain number of medals, occupying a certain place. I would not dare to say what place is held by modern Belarusian or Italian art. It’s necessary to step aside from the idea of comparison; I can’t answer unambiguously. Fans of Belarusian art reside in Israel and Florida while Belarusians might be interested in a German painter. Art becomes more popular when it is publicised by the media. Accordingly, Belarus needs to promote its artists to the wider world. Our painters are very interesting and talented. I’ve observed the reaction of audiences and professionals at international exhibitions, where many are keen to buy and own works by Belarusian painters. They need promotion via books, TV programmes and international interviews. Art is our national wealth, since culture and art are the best brand for our country.
What’s the philosophy of your pictures?
It would be easy if I could use a single word; I envy those artists who can easily define the philosophy of their artistry. If one word exists, it’s love — for life, man and God. We are born to learn about life and the human essence. A desire has arisen within me to show the beauty of divine creation. I’m interested in many things, including the female form. From time to time, I return to this, especially when I feel emotional. I have several cycles, such as ‘Nude’ and ‘Lady’, which demonstrate different styles — as I’m inspired by various techniques. An artist is like a child, with artistry as their game, playing with form and mood. It might seem silly but it’s great to preserve childish spontaneity and a love for form and colour.
Should artists study at an academic school?
It’s desirable, since a good academic school helps you to solve professional issues of training. In fact, many genius artists never graduated from academies but their determination carried them through. An academy can even be harmful, since everything depends on the skill of teachers. However, our academic school is very strong in its professional traditions. We need to preserve this forever.
I’ve noticed that you tend to draw cycles of pictures. Why is this?
A cycle allows me to more fully penetrate a theme. When I was young, I dreamt of painting my thoughts on a single canvas. I still sometimes try to do so and admire the result initially. However, a week passes and I have another fifteen thoughts! To incorporate these, I’d have to change the composition and its colours. I eventually realised that I had to decide where to stop. If other thoughts arise, I take another canvas for them — but retain the theme. As a result, two pictures appear. While drawing my second picture, I may have another five thoughts, initiating a third picture. I don’t want to banish my thoughts, so I just keep creating further pictures on the theme. I can use ten or, even, fifteen pictures to explore an idea. You can track the path of my thoughts. I’m inspired by this approach, which has become my artistic principle.
What aspect is most vital to your creativity?
Everything is of equal importance, so it’s impossible to distinguish one aspect. The process of creativity comprises equal components, so everything is important — even your mood on going to the studio that day. Everything is vital. Nothing in life is trifling, since everything is intertwined and has meaning.
Do you try to ‘improve’ public taste?
In the Soviet period, artists were required to explore the industrial theme. If you don’t think that your works bring aesthetic pleasure there’s no point picking up a brush! This must be the foremost goal of any artist. We all desire public approval, since this is how we receive feedback for our art. If a picture can hold someone’s attention, inspiring more thorough examination, it’s a sign that it is interesting. It should inspire a connection.
Do you trust your creative intuition?
Yes, I have a good sense of reliable intuition. I view it as God’s voice… or an angel’s guess. Whether we listen or not, it lives inside us.
Are you critical of your works, often redrafting them?
Yes, I have a serious attitude towards them, which does sometimes annoy me. I envy those who can work light-heartedly since, if you can work with a smile, it will show in your art. I have a very serious attitude towards completing each picture, wanting it to arouse aesthetic pleasure. How is this achieved — from a technical point of view? It requires a laborious and serious attitude, as well as tolerance, patience and diligence to correct that which isn’t yet satisfactory. One should definitely possess these qualities.
What are your current plans and what new ideas do you have?
I ask God to help me, opening up a world of interesting ideas, since these are the most vital aspect of creating a picture. It all begins when interesting ideas come to mind.
Should artists exhibit and why?
These days, I’m more interested in the process of creation than in exhibiting for its own sake. When I was younger, I was eager to have personal exhibitions at which I could display as many of my works as possible. It’s an expensive pleasure. Of course, it is important to have your works seen, so I try to use other avenues. Organising an exhibition is costly in time and effort as well as money. Meanwhile, the publication of books and calendars allows greater numbers of people to enjoy your works. I know that many of my calendars are found in people’s homes. It’s a fantastic way of sharing your creativity.
What’s your creative credo?
I aim to penetrate the sense of human existence as deeply as possible while exploring the themes of our place in our world and our relations with others. I wish to understand the truth of God’s plan: man and Universe; and man and love.
Do you think our contemporary times inspire creativity?
Any time can inspire creativity, since everything depends on the artist, their mood and their ability to interpret our world. Of course, our environment is an important factor, including those we converse with, since no man is an island. Artists wish to find an audience of like-minded people to converse with, inspiring the discussion of something vital.
Did your home town inspire your creative contemplation?
Of course, I’ve written such lines as: ‘My small homeland, my dear Glusk, my dear land’. I was born in the beautiful town of Glusk, on the lovely River Ptich, surrounded by amazing nature and kind people. These all laid the foundations of my humanity. I’m confident that everything begins with your upbringing; you come to the arts already boasting an established character.
When did you begin to create your works?
Like all children, I was keen on drawing at school. A wonderful person, Russian Ivan Bulgakov, happened to live in my town. He was taken prisoner after the war, then ran away, eventually finding himself in my native Glusk, after making his way through deep forests.
He went behind the front line to reach his comrades but they were moving too fast and he lost them. He married a local girl in Glusk, raised children and took a job teaching art to schoolchildren, having studied at Moscow’s Art College before the war. He nurtured the talent of the town’s youngsters, setting up a fine arts studio at the House of Pioneers, teaching drawing and establishing a fine arts circle at the local secondary school. He inspired me to enter a wonderful world of fine arts and painting, discussing books, the Bible and the history of art through the ages. He was a very educated man who was keen on art and did his best to try and encourage children to appreciate the world of art for themselves. Ivan Bulgakov was my angel.
Did you study art later?
I completed Minsk’s Art College and graduated from the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute. I visited galleries and museums often, to visually examine works: their manner, colours and technicality — all essential factors guiding an artist. It’s obligatory to master these skills.
Did you ever live abroad?
Once, a Polish gallery took an interest in me. During our first international plain air workshop in Poland, I met a famous Polish artist (now Rector of the European Academy of Arts). He invited me to join his academy as a teacher, representing Belarus.
Yet you returned to your homeland.
I returned because I was invited to give a personal exhibition in Minsk.
Who invited you?
Staff from our Foreign Ministry visited my studio, seeing my pictures. In 1996, my personal exhibition displayed paintings I’d created over a decade: it was a landmark event for me and a revelation for the Belarusian audience. Many media representatives attended and the exhibition was even extended at the request of the public.
Do you seek public acknowledgment?
It’s probably vital to all artists to receive feedback. I’d say that it’s important to everyone to hear the opinions of others regarding their efforts. Artists like to hear kind words; it’s only human nature. We need to feel that our labour matters to someone. If I hadn’t become a painter, I’d have become a crop farmer, ploughing the soil to grow and harvest wheat.
I may even have become a street cleaner, hoping for people to recognise me and say that the street swept by Zakharinsky was so clean that not a speck of dirt remained to dirty anyone’s shoes. Of course, the most important thing is your own attitude towards labour; you have to care, working hard from a heartfelt desire. This was instilled in me by my parents from childhood and became an axiom for my whole life: whatever you do, you should do well. Our ‘Belarus’ tractor is one of the best worldwide, being manufactured well and being convenient for users. Everything should be done in the same way — or so we should aspire. I dream that everything ‘made in Belarus’ be among the best in the world.
I switched off my dictaphone on this encouraging note as I felt that Mr. Zakharinsky had managed to reveal the essence of his nature, expressing his opinion towards art and his personal creativity. He had revealed his principles and opened his soul, showing me Zakharinsky as an artist and as a man. I have the strong conviction that he boasts an integrated nature rather than two faces or a split personality. He is sincere in his judgments, loves his home town and is passionate about nature.
His next project is to show the beauty of Glusk area through documental photography rather than painting, having decided that art can actually reduce the charm of a landscape. Photography is entirely objective. Mr. Zakharinsky hopes that more people will come to learn about Belarus through his works which are spread worldwide, popularising the country in which he was born.
His original pictures — full of his subjectivism — are clearly recognisable. Mr. Zakharinsky identifies himself only with the land where he was born and raised and where he has seen professional success. He remains full of creative plans. Almost the next day after our meeting, he left the capital for provincial Glusk, where he has built a small cottage in which to create art and ponder life. There, his thoughts become images. Despite their complexity, they attract us with their sincerity and unique passion.
By Victor Mikhailov
Subjective Vyacheslav Zakharinsky
[b]I meant to interview Vyacheslav Zakharinsky long ago, even chatting on the phone two years ago. Sadly, something hampered us from meeting, so I recently called again. It took only a few minutes to agree our meeting at his workshop, which Vyacheslav calls his studio. The place is so clean and cosy that I quite wanted to take off my shoes...[/b]