Surprising Paris

News agencies have reported that the exhibition by Belarusian painter Victor Alshevsky is a great success in the French capital.
News agencies have reported that the exhibition by Belarusian painter Victor Alshevsky is a great success in the French capital. The event was hosted by the Cercle de l’Union Interalliee Club, which unites elite representatives of French and foreign governments and business circles, including ambassadors of foreign states.  

This club was founded in 1917 and is located in the historical home of Henri Rothschild, near the Élysée Palace.

The President of the Cercle de l’Union Interalliee, Denis de Kergorlay, and the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France, Pavel Latushko, introduced Mr. Alshevsky’s creativity to club members and representatives of Paris’ political and business elite. Those invited noted his bright mastery and originality, although it is not Mr. Alshevsky’s first exhibition abroad or in Paris. However, he has again surprised sophisticated Parisians, although he probably thinks it of little consequence.

Victor Alshevsky belongs to a generation of painters who were most active in the 1970s, founded in the Belarusian art school, with its metaphors, spiritual sincerity and expressiveness. The search for his own figurative expressiveness has been the basis for Victor’s art, interpreting themes and masterfully combining various techniques: from classical traditions to contemporary aesthetics.

He is not afraid to experiment and easily transforms works by combining methods, seeking the essence of humanity, while exploring Fate and the future. He unveils the world’s hidden secrets, as well as his personal ‘self’, searching for answers to eternal questions.

Over the last decade, Victor has become one of the most famous painters in Belarus, exhibited regularly, with success. This has enhanced his self-discipline rather than going to his head and his works always fit alongside those of other Belarusians harmoniously. Gallery curators and art experts worldwide are captivated by his imagination and intellectual schemes. The unexpected nature of his works and their variety inspire continued reflection. Meanwhile, the sensuality of his images, especially his intimate portraits, draws us in: experts and the common men alike. This ensures his permanent popularity far and wide.

He explains, “Modern art always follows a global aesthetic, as well as artistic and philosophical trends: it is a form of dialogue between cultures. The need for greater creative openness is comprehended through mutual dialogue between cultures.”

Boris Zaborov (to the left) and Victor Alshevsky (in the centre) met at the opening of the exhibition in Paris

Few Belarusian painters are involved in global artistic processes, with only a handful regularly taking part in international exhibitions over the last decade; Victor Alshevsky is usually among them. Most artists are known for either seeking recognition in their own country and beyond, or for very much reviling the idea. The European artistic market, to which most Belarusian artists turn, has its own laws of modernism and realistic figurativeness, and its own contemporary trends, preserved in various cultural, political and social conditions. Few artists famous in Belarus can boast that their creativity fits the strict framework of the European market. There is a particular balance to be achieved in doing so.

Mr. Alshevsky manages to represent new artistic thought, including generalized images of the world culture, and using fragments of history and modernity, with themes diverted from the soil of reality, and symbolism. His spiritual images are the foundation of his original philosophy. His expressive creativity, like that of others from his generation, is based on former priorities, and academic thinking. Not all from this cohort found their own vision, as is fashionable today. Those who proved themselves interesting and unusual battled many stereotypes.

Change is both exciting and brings complications, especially to the life of creative people. Victor has survived such times while finding his own path. Moreover, he found his artistic vision in the countryside of Mogilev Region, fed by rural wisdom and respect for nature and handicrafts — as his mother taught him. He recalls childhood fondly, often taking a pen and thick leather notebook to jot down his recollections. Those memories are the foundation for his persistence and confidence: evident in his four attempts to enter the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute’s Monumental Department. His confidence is rooted in his tenacious ambitions, which are unusual in a man from such a rural upbringing.

As Prof. Gavriil Vashchenko, People’s Artist of Belarus, and the former Head of the Monumental-Decorative Art Chair of the Institute, recollected, “Victor Alshevsky, from youth, was notable for his purposefulness and persistence: good traits for an artist. The most important thing in independent life is to be motivated, finding your own direction and place in art, which will be recognized by everyone. The first steps are always difficult.”

Opening ceremony of Victor Alshevsky’s Flowers for Paris exhibition

Victor was lucky, entering the department not simply at the moment of its prosperity but plunging into an atmosphere of free creativity. Monumental art inherently creates images ‘soaring’ over the Earth; it requires generality and symbolism. This changed the thinking of young artists so that the graduates were not simply familiar with mastery, painting and stained-glass, but thought in images and paid attention to form.

Mr. Alshevsky became a representative of the ‘new reality’, as he defines it. He imagined himself as a master, able to generalize a theme, and searching for metaphors in multi-figured compositions. From the first moment, he was patriotic, embodying national ideas, as his friends did: young artists who identified Belarus as a historically developed community in the world.

He has always been fond of painting portraits, showing the essence of a person, their habits, and experience, through their emotional expression. His images excite and draw us in: his elegant women with their swan necks and shape accentuated by clothes. A delicate gauze of poetry adds an air of beguiling mystery to each portrait.

Victor also likes to paint men’s portraits. These are sharper, with vivid colours, and tend to show a man’s nature through his profession, using activity to reveal character. He also focuses on the look in their eyes, their facial expression, and their hands.

Collection of pictures for exhibition in Paris

His creativity has always been accompanied by reflection and artistic thoughtfulness, showing an interest in the wider world, and all people — with their thoughts, destinies and personal experiences. Yet, it seems that the tumultuous events in the life of the country have bypassed his studio, omitted from his works, although these events may indirectly influence his philosophy.

He has always preferred to create huge canvases and monumental images, with simple compositions, often featuring symbolism and metaphors. The most significant symbol for him is a knight in armour, although some of his horsemen appear ‘empty’ beneath their breastplates. As German critic Barbara Eberhard emphasized in her review, it seems that there is an incompatibility between desire and possibility.

Today, the artist calls his creativity a ‘new reality’. Western critics constantly view him as a surrealist, which he does not refute. One of his pictures is devoted to Salvador Dalí, showing the heart of the well-known master beating against a red background. He does not paint ‘our time’, yet each work contains a pulsating nerve of modernity. It is impossible to hide in another reality or space.

Each picture is a mystery: we see a wayfarer in the desert, bearing a temple on his shoulders; a lassoed centaur falling into a bottomless well; unarmed soldiers blindly wading through a river flooded with cold moonlight; Icarus, falling, symbolising the dissonance between the soul’s desires and the possibilities of the body; a clock — as a symbol of time and space; birds as people; a circle as the wheel of life; shells representing houses; and owls symbolizing wisdom. Gathered together, at first sight, unconnected figures and objects seem unreal, like a secret message. According to the artist, fine arts cannot be read superficially. A picture is more than a copy of an exterior form. Public perception in many respects depends on the imagination of those who view his works. He notes that he pushes us to look anew, freeing our imagination, and trusting in our intuition and feelings.

Alshevsky creates more than an artistic image; he gives us his personal understanding of the world — through his own experience. This enables him to ‘diagnoze’ our age. His philosophy is based on personal impressions from his travels, books he has read and thoughts he has had.

In the 1990s, Victor began a new artistic stage, addressing the world history and creating his eye-catching Letters of Time series. He drew historical artefacts within the context of time and their architectural situation — including domes and columns, facades and portals, sphinxes and pyramids, San Pietro and the Tower of Pisa: the architecture of Belarus, Russia, Italy, France and Egypt. Alshevsky’s images are often unrecognisable; they are not part of the landscape but are traces of human activity — illusions of time and space. His every gesture is a thread uniting him with himself and with his own place in life.

Nevertheless, Victor is a realist, although some would argue otherwise. The National Art Museum has showcased many of his portraits: representing real people known well to the artist. Besides being realistic in their similarity, each has some symbolic element, uniting the contemporary with a historical prototype, underlining the connection of different time periods. He often draws himself in knight’s armour, connecting personally with this image. The details he chooses to depict are chosen with care.

Victor presents himself as a knight, with his visor raised: in his creative life and everyday routine. He often includes knights in his works, although most lack faces, with helmets closed. At first sight, they seem impersonal and soulless yet these medieval symbols help him contemplate our place in today’s world and the loneliness of being.  

Victor’s silhouettes are also mysterious: such that many cannot begin to decipher his message. In fact, he invites us to use our own imagination and personal mediation, believing that he cannot impose his personal perception of the world on us. It’s necessary to unleash fantasy, intuition and feelings. Only in such a way can we enter Victor’s diverse world of philosophy and creativity.

Undoubtedly, Victor Alshevsky views the world philosophically; even in ordinary conversation, he tends to ‘shift’ to philosophical musings, explaining the essence of things and the logic of their origin. He may be an artist by profession but he is a philosopher in life; the two are complementary, aiding and supporting each other and helping him generate original ideas for his new endeavour.

We often meet in his studio, among his canvases, which hang on the walls. Some are large scale, radiating symbolism, while others are more cosy and intimate. In fact, he is more of a monumental artist, keen on large shapes and symbolism — such as his knight in armour and his lady with a white lily. He tends to segment each painting, adding Roman streets, Egyptian pyramids, Norwegian fiords and Belarusian churches. This is the philosophy of artist Alshevsky.

Meanwhile, we have another reason to return to Paris, since the French capital recently hosted a touring exhibition of reproductions of works by contemporary Belarusian painters — as part of the Zabor art project. According to the Belarusian Ambassador to France, Pavel Latushko, the project has familiarized the sophisticated French audience with Belarusian pictorial art.

Many in the world are aware of such names as Marc Chagall, Chaïm Soutine, Michel Kikoïne and Pinchus Krémègne: they came to Paris in the early 20th century, aiming to reach the pinnacle of Montparnasse and gain worldwide recognition as artists of the Paris School. However, few know that these masters were all born and raised in Belarus. The artists presented at the current exhibition are also united by their geographical connection to Belarus.

A century later, Zabor has offered Paris residents and guests a look at modern Belarusian paintings, via an art-promenade. Reproductions of works by eight Belarusian painters have taken part in the Parisian segment of the project, aiming to promote the styles and themes of Belarusian painting. Strolling along quiet Henri-Martin Avenue, people can see the mystical realism of Viktor Alshevsky.

The exhibition is symbolic, since Marc Chagall and Chaïm Soutine conquered the capital of arts in the early 20th century. Now, a century later, Belarusian painters have again demonstrated contemporary art in Paris.

By Victor Mikhailov

PS: At the time of printing, Victor Alshevsky’s exhibition had moved to the Spanish town of El Escorial, 40km from Madrid.
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