Teacher and his pupils

<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-477.jpg">[b]On February 14th, People’s Artist of Belarus Pavel Maslenikov would have celebrated his 100th birthday: inspiring reflection on this famous master’s life and artistry[/b]<br />Pavel Maslenikov was an acknowledged master of pictorial art and theatrical set design in 20th century Belarus. Born on February 14th, 1941, in the village of Nizkaya Ulitsa (Mogilev District), he was greatly influenced by his childhood experiences, by his love of music and by his acquaintance with Russian and Belarusian literature. In 1938, Pavel graduated from Vitebsk’s Art College and gained employment as a set painter at the Belarusian State Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1941, he was working on sets for the opera Katerina when the Great Patriotic War began and he began his own part in the fight against the invading Fascists. He was later awarded medals — ‘For Defence of Moscow’ and ‘For Viktory over Germany’ — and a 2nd Degree Great Patriotic War Order.
On February 14th, People’s Artist of Belarus Pavel Maslenikov would have celebrated his 100th birthday: inspiring reflection on this famous master’s life and artistry

Pavel Maslenikov was an acknowledged master of pictorial art and theatrical set design in 20th century Belarus. Born on February 14th, 1941, in the village of Nizkaya Ulitsa (Mogilev District), he was greatly influenced by his childhood experiences, by his love of music and by his acquaintance with Russian and Belarusian literature. In 1938, Pavel graduated from Vitebsk’s Art College and gained employment as a set painter at the Belarusian State Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1941, he was working on sets for the opera Katerina when the Great Patriotic War began and he began his own part in the fight against the invading Fascists. He was later awarded medals — ‘For Defence of Moscow’ and ‘For Viktory over Germany’ — and a 2nd Degree Great Patriotic War Order.
After demobilisation in 1946, Pavel returned to the theatre to continue set painting. In 1953, he completed a ‘distance learning’ course run by the Repin Institute of Fine Arts, Sculpture and Architecture (St. Petersburg). In 1954, he gained the title of Honoured Figure of Arts of Belarus.
Mr. Maslenikov devoted around two decades of his life to the theatre: a period of maturing, artistic development, interesting meetings and co-operation with famous directors, composers, artistes and painters. The theatre was Pavel’s second home and workshop, where his talents and secrets were disclosed. Mr. Maslenikov’s unique artistic views on set decoration much influenced his world outlook and his feeling of professional responsibility, creating sets for Alexander Yurasovsky’s Trilby, Boris Asafiev’s Fountain of Bakhchisaray, Berdzhikh Smetana’s Bartered Bride, Mikhail Kroshner’s Nightingale, Anton Rubinshtein’s Demon, Piotr Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, Stanislaw Moniuszko’s Haunted Manor, and Johann Strauss’ Gypsy Baron — among others. Mr. Maslenikov created sets for the Yanka Kupala Belarusian State Theatre and the State Russian Drama Theatre named after Maxim Gorky — for such shows as Maxim Gorky’s Varvara, Nikolay Ostrovsky’s How the Steel was Tempered, and Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s Pinsk Gentry.
He travelled widely, visiting the Baltic States, the Crimea, Altai, Finland, Switzerland and India. Each trip brought his creation of such picturesque canvases as Altai Cycle and his Baltic States’ Cycle. However, most of his works were inspired by his native Belarus. Mr. Maslenikov loved to draw landscapes on diverse themes: city, architectural, marine, industrial and historical. These reflect perfectly the artist’s feelings and world outlook. Flax in Bloom, On Naroch and Winter in Belarus were all inspired by nature.
People’s spirituality is wonderfully disclosed in Mr. Maslenikov’s thematic pictures: Last, Road of Death, Harvest, Year of 1929 and On the Viktory Day. His works are impressive in their delicacy and poetic expression. During the last years of his life, Mr. Maslenikov worked on his Native Land series of beautiful Belarusian landscapes. Tunes of Summer, which Leaves admires Belarusian nature with wistful sorrow at the passing of summer, while In the Early Spring is truly cheerful, devoted to spring’s awakening.
Over his long life, Mr. Maslenikov created a diverse legacy: theatrical sets, landscape paintings, a teaching career and fame as an art critic. From 1960-1964, he headed the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute and, later, as associate professor, chaired the Pictorial Art Department. He significantly improved Belarus’ artistic education system, launching new specialities at the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute and providing the necessary intellectual and material foundations for training the national specialists of tomorrow in decorative-applied arts, set design, monumental art and art theory.
He set up departments of interior decoration, of monumental-decorative painting, of costume making, and of artistic work with wood, ceramics and glass, as well as launching access to remote learning within the department of art and theatre studies. Moreover, he contributed to the establishment of the Republican Boarding School of Music and Fine Arts (now known as the Belarusian Republican Training College-Gymnasium of Arts named after I.O. Akhremchik). Each of his pupils was truly talented, having their own character and unique inner light and he did his best to help them develop those talents, teaching skills to support their artistic progress — in theory and in practice. Mr. Maslenikov taught quite a few talented painters.
He turned to art studies after finishing post-graduate courses at the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Arts Studies, Ethnography and Folklore. In 1960, he defended his thesis paper, also writing a monograph, entitled Belarusian Soviet Thematic Painting. Mr. Maslenikov wrote articles for the media and scientific journals and the five-volume Encyclopaedia of Belarusian Literature and Art. He contributed to the nine-volume Art History of USSR Nations and the 6-volume History of Belarusian Art (which brought him and his co-authors Belarus’ State Award in 1996).
Mr. Maslenikov died in 1995 and, in 1996, a Presidential Decree was signed ‘On Perpetuating the Memory of People’s Artist of Belarus Pavel Maslenikov’; in line with the document, Mogilev Regional Art Museum was named after the artist. A year later, a picture gallery dedicated to Mr. Maslenikov’s life-long work opened at the museum and a bust of the artist — sculpted by Vladimir Letun — was erected in a nearby park. Pavel Maslenikov’s works are held worldwide, by museums and individuals: in Belarus, Russia, Italy, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Japan and elsewhere.
Recently, a retrospective exhibition opened at the National Art Museum, devoted to the 100th anniversary of Mr. Maslenikov’s birth, featuring around 70 works. The museum’s senior research assistant, Natalia Selitskaya, tells us that 13 of the pictures are on loan from the Mogilev Regional Art Museum, while 14 come from the National Art Museum. Mr. Maslenikov’s colleagues and pupils have provided around 50 works (including pictorial, graphical and ceramic pieces), while his family have given around 20 treasures.
Pavel’s daughter, Vera Prokoptsova, recently presented a book on her father. At the Mogilev launch, she explained, “Pavel Maslenikov: An Artist’s Portrait in the Mirror of Time contains anecdotes from his pupils, who recall him as a talented master and teacher and a kind-hearted man. The present show also features their creations: canvases, folk weaving, costumes and fabric works. My father initiated the teaching of practical arts and costume making at the Theatre and Art Institute, which he headed for over 15 years. It’s wonderful that his traditions and knowledge are echoed by his pupils.”
Celebrations dedicated to the artist’s anniversary include not only exhibitions. The Mogilev Region has pioneered festivities by launching a commemorative envelope with an original stamp, while Mogilev TV Company has premiered Pavel Maslenikov’s Seventh Sky documentary. The Minsk museum has presented a Pavel Maslenikov: 100 Years commemorative coin — minted in Vilnius and placed into circulation by the National Bank (3,000 coins in total). One side features the artist’s face and signature, alongside a fragment of his Ostroshitskoe Lake painting, and his dates of birth and death. The reverse shows Belarus’ relief emblem and a fragment of his Golden Birch Trees.
In spring, Mogilev will host an international open-air workshop devoted to the anniversary: Images of Motherhood in Fine Arts. Artists from ten countries are to be welcomed to the village of Knyazhitsy (where Pavel spent his childhood). Meanwhile, the local school is to unveil a plaque devoted to the master and pupils will be invited to take part in a contest of children’s drawing.
The jubilee will be widely celebrated all over the Mogilev Region, with local schools, universities and libraries hosting artistic meetings, film presentations and other events.
However, let’s return to the National Art Museum which hosted an opening of the exhibition, dedicated to the master’s jubilee. The exhibition, called Teacher and His Pupils, reflects not only the huge legacy of a famous painter, but also exposes those rich traditions that have been strengthened by students of the master.
Pavel Maslenikov is one of the most famous Belarusian masters of landscape painting and scenic painting of the 20th century. Scenic painter, landscape artist, art historian and teacher and supporter of classical traditions in art, he lived by the process of creativity, appreciated skills and professionalism. The work of the Honoured Figure of Arts of BSSR, People’s Artist of Belarus, PhD of Arts, associate professor, laureate of the State Award of Belarus, Pavel Maslenikov was equally focused on creating a national theatre culture and the development of Belarusian arts.
The current exhibition features more than fifty paintings of the master from the collection of the National Art Museum of Belarus, the Mogilev Regional Art Museum of Pavel Maslenikov and the late artist’s family. Landscapes created by Pavel Maslenikov from the late 1940s to the early 1990s depict native nature which was close to his heart. The artist does not offer any unusual visual images, but everyone wants to stare endlessly at them, to admire the colours. Picturesque distances, soft lines, the slow pace of colour transitions. The contact with beauty in its highest manifestation is felt again and again, when the aesthetic merges with the ethical ideal. Beauty interflows with the good. Semantic foundation of a landscape, inscribed in the visual, stems from the experience of life, absorbing all its wisdom.
Despite the large service and public workload, Pavel Maslenikov practiced and perfected his skill of a painter on a daily basis. With an easel on his shoulder, he walked and toured many countries: India, Nepal, Finland, Sweden, the Carpathian Mountains of Altai, the Baltic States, the Crimea and the Volga River area, Italy, France and Egypt... And, of course, all corners of his native Belarus. He created a landscape chronicle of his travels. His works stand out with a romantic mood, a realistic reflection of nature.
It becomes evident when one observes them at the exhibition, that his paintings cover all possible landscapes: urban, architectural, marine, industrial, historical. One feels that the artist’s canvases reproduce the nature which is close to his heart. Feelings, especially the concept of the universe and life, are expressed through his landscapes. Pictures like Flax in Bloom, On Naroch, Winter in Belarus and many others, were painted directly from nature.
It is possible to see the reflection of spiritual life in thematic canvases like Last, Road of Death, Harvest, Year of 1929 and On the Viktory Day. His pictures surprise with their subtlety of painting and their ability to identify the rich nature of poetic feeling. During the last years of his life, Pavel Maslenikov worked on a series called Native Land. It consists of several landscapes (also presented at the exhibition), which truthfully and convincingly convey the beauty of the Fatherland. In the landscape Tunes of Summer, which Leaves there is admiration for the beauty of nature and the sadness that summer ends, and In the Early Spring contains the joy of spring awakening.
Summarising his creative life, Pavel Maslenikov wrote, “The long journey of an artist’s ascension into professional, creative life passes in the depths of the social life of people, in the infinite richness of his spiritual life, the spiritual union of nations.”
He left us a rich artistic heritage. The artist determined the fate of most of his works during his lifetime. He donated about 140 pictures, sketches of scenery and costumes to the Mogilev Regional Art Museum and the city of Mogilev, near to where he was born and spent his school years. And he returned there once again, giving fellow citizens his pictures, where he created unique, enchanting images of his native land, his own special world where reality is intertwined with poetry, painting filled with musicality, and expression approaching theatricality.
During his teaching years at the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute, Pavel Maslenikov trained several generations of students who subsequently found their own ways, and became worthy successors to their teacher in the national art. The current exhibition also features works by eleven well known Belarusian artists: Valentina Bartlova, Tamara Vlasyuk, Yevgeny Zhdan, Galina Krivoblotskaya, Alla Nepochelovich, Mikhail Romanyuk, Sergey Solokhin, Natalia Sukhoverkhova, Yevgenia Shuneiko and Margarita Shchemeleva. The work of each of them is different, containing their distinct personality, beginning with the selection of the type of art in which they prefer to work, and ending with a personal vision of the world, interpreted in their works. However, one thing binds them all — they were lucky enough to learn from the master, who planted in each of them, a grain of creativity.
Certainly, the surname of Maslenikov is widely known both among Belarusian artists and painting fans. Certainly, it was Pavel Maslenikov who gave impetus to it. However, his son — Vladimir Maslenikov — is today a brilliant continuer of artistic traditions of his father. Vladimir boasts his own unique creative features, while his works are recognisable. Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid ‘dynasty’, especially as the family of Maslenikov also has new successors of Pavel Maslenikov’s artistic heritage. Meanwhile, we will continue this a bit later.
I met Vladimir Maslenikov in his studio. On the eve of our conversation about the dynasty, I had already had a full idea about him as a painter. Certainly, Vladimir Maslenikov belongs to that generation of Belarusian artists whose creativity absorbed best traditions of the national pictorial school. Each canvas of the artist is filled with colourful harmony, and the pictorial palette of the painter is restrained and tunes in quiet colour of native Belarusian nature. The world of beauty is present in all his works — either portraits or epic landscapes of his native nature.
It has been more than thirty years as Vladimir Maslenikov, using a brush and paints, has investigated Belarusian spaces: well-known and at the same time still unknown. He searches and finds all new motifs, since long ago he opened for himself the fact that native land is capable to constantly amaze an eye of an artist with its extraordinary landscapes. The painter has his own figurative style of landscape in which the image of surprisingly bright natural space dominates. This talented Belarusian artist has so many individual discoveries that new creative prospects are easily opened to him. The idea of boundless space, figuratively coded in Vladimir Maslenikov’s landscapes, obligatory envisages the introduction of high sky, which captivates by its inexhaustible space blueness. Moreover, the artist has such symbolical compositions where heavenly tops are drawn by ‘giant mountains’ of dark clouds or penetrated by sun rays that break through a cloudy haze. Such figurative elements add greater importance and expressiveness to native land that corresponds to its natural beauty and cleanliness.

What was the determining factor in your choice of profession of an artist? When did it come?
The fact that my father was an artist was the determining factor for me. When did it come? When I was four years old, I didn’t paint yet, but already said that I would be an artist and a driver. As a result, it happened so: I became an inveterate driver-amateur. I have been driving a car since I was thirteen.

Surely, it’s difficult to be in the light of such star, as your father — the People’s Artist of Belarus Pavel Maslenikov. At the same time, you are artist Vladimir Maslenikov. How do you manage to have own style and your own stylistics of painting? How do you manage to be an original artist?
I can say that it’s very difficult, especially, when you are a young artist, who has just graduated from the institute. Almost half of my life I had to prove that I’m not only Pavel Maslenikov’s son, but also a good artist. Therefore, when I graduated from the institute, during the first years I intentionally didn’t exhibit my landscapes; I primarily exhibited portraits so that people would not compare me with my father. Then I gradually shifted to landscapes, because it was closer to me. However, I paint portraits too.

What did you admire in your father’s creative activity?
I admired his working capacity. He tensely worked through all his life. When I was a child he always brought me with him to make sketches. Whether you like it or not, the love towards landscapes appeared. We travelled all over Belarus. When we went to the Crimea, we obligatory took canvases with us, as well as cardboard and sketchbox easels. For example, when we were in Gurzuf, all people were on the beach while we were in the mountains, painting sketches. We painted nearly four sketches a day. I liked it so much that today I don’t go anywhere without a sketchbox easel.

Even today you paint Belarusian nature, landscapes. Do you feel closeness to your land? Do you want to express these feelings in the works? Or do you write only what you like?
I practically don’t leave Belarus today, because of the family, summer cottage, village. However, in Belarus there are so many beautiful and various places: plains, lakes, and hills. Each condition of Belarusian nature is beautiful in its own way: snow, rain, and the sun. I love my native land very much.

Did your father see your works? Did you have any creative exchange of opinions or admonitions? How did it all happen?
My father was never lavish with praise. He considered that if you graduated from the institute, it doesn’t mean that you became a professional artist. In any way, you should gain experience. And even when the first success came to me, my father — we worked in one studio — didn’t interfere into my creativity until I asked him something. Though he was a strong-willed person he behaved delicately. The praise consisted in any allegorical meaning. For example, he could come from the exhibition and say: ‘You know, my guys (his guys are his generation of artists) said that my son stands out against a background of his generation’. It meant the highest praise.

Probably, it was pleasant for you to hear that?
Certainly. I understood that it was praise, knowing the character of the father. It was acknowledgement. I’m so much respectful to the father that the highest praise for me was that from him. If he acknowledged, it meant that it was good. As well as my son now respects my opinion [Pavel Maslenikov, the grandson of P.V. Maslenikov]. When he studied at the Academy of Arts, I came on viewing and said: ‘You’ve grown’. However, he received not very high marks. He said after viewing: ‘It was the first time I heard your praise. After all, I received high marks at the art school while you criticised me all the time’.

You said that your son follows your way too. It means, the dynasty of Maslenikov as artists continues. However, how do you think: why did your son also become an artist?
Moreover, my younger son Alexey now studies to be a designer while the daughter-in-law is an artist. As for Pavel, so when he was five years old, I could not pull him out of a studio. Probably, everything had been already predetermined. There is another moment: I can give him advice in this work. After all, when I was a child I said that I would be an artist though I didn’t understand what this was. At that time the father worked at the theatre as an art director, so I grew up, as it’s possible to say, at the opera theatre. When the example is before your eyes, it greatly influences the motifs of your behaviour.

Taking into account how the fine arts sphere develops, how do you see its tomorrow? Will this process continue?
I think everything will be good. The senior generation says that they were not such as today’s youth. Well, youth is the same as ours was earlier. I am an optimist.

Are you self-critical?
I’m very self-critical. It even disturbs me sometimes.

What do you consider the main thing in your creativity?
The main thing is improvement in the direction in which I work. My father used to say that here is no limit to perfection. I want to work both with landscapes and portraits, and, probably, with still-life paintings. I try to work in different genres. I like to paint portraits: different images, different characters.

Are you familiar with creative failure?
Certainly, sometimes failures happen, but they are relative. I can consider one work unsuccessful while a spectator won’t notice this, and vice versa. It is just necessary to work, that’s all. As the father said, if you will wait for inspiration, it may never come. Come, take a brush in hands — and inspiration will come.

There is a museum named after your father in Mogilev. Is it popular? Do the works give a chance to people to learn more about artist Pavel Maslenikov?
It’s a Regional Art Museum named after Maslenikov. The museum has a lot of my father’s works. There is a whole wing where there is a personal gallery of People’s Artist of Belarus, Pavel Maslenikov. There are three halls and a memorial room. There are big funds. After all, the father himself gave a lot of his works to this museum. After his death I gave more than forty pictorial works, sketches of scenery, and costumes. I consider that his best works are in this museum. After all, he gave the museum almost his entire exhibition, dedicated to his 80th anniversary. Undoubtedly, these are his major works. He exhibited these works in Minsk, and then went to Mogilev and presented them to the city. At first, a gallery was opened, and then the museum got the name, when the father died. I go there every year. The international painting plain-airs are held there, bringing artists from the CIS and non-CIS states: France, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland and elsewhere. Pupils come for excursions, and off-site exhibitions with lectures are also held. The work is in full swing! The museum building is very interesting, being built in the previous century. Good restoration was made there, and it already has more than forty works of mine.
Picturesque searches enable him to find possible answers to acute philosophical issues, connected with criteria of creativity. It won’t be exaggeration to say that today Vladimir Maslenikov is one of the most prominent masters of contemporary landscape. The author of such significant compositions as Belarusian Spaces, Polotsk Distances and The Lake Land deliberately develops an epic cycle, dedicated to Belarusian nature. He is in the plenitude of his creative powers and each new work brings in new pages into his artistic luggage. The landscapes, created by him in the past and those written nowadays, are masterfully written poetic novels about his native land, boasting unexceptional artistic taste. Especially good are those which glorify the image of the native land delicately, thoroughly and with amazingly sharp feeling of nature’s life. His landscapes are true and are filled with restrained lyricism. The author can be recognised immediately even without signature judging by his special pictorial manner, which harmoniously combines the accuracy of life reconstruction and deep poetry, the accuracy of the drawing and colourful beauty. Moreover, his special national colour scheme evidently stands out and penetrates his creativity.

Don’t you impose your manner to someone?
No, in no way. I don’t want that everyone write in such a way. My principle is also not to repeat the creative manner of my father. Over the last decade, I’ve seen many copies of my works in various places. Why to impose upon your own? Vice versa, painters need to find their own niche. The more various painters are the better.

It often happens that there’s more interesting in the painter’s early pieces than in their later creative activity. How was this with you? Did you perceive world in a different way when you were young?
Everything was perceived differently in student years. There was time when I enjoyed Renato Guttuso and I even created composition — similar to his stylistics. I was making everything then less consciously, and there were hesitations. Once I liked Čiurlionis and made pieces — similar to his. This was my search. However, I’ve finally come to what I do now and I improve as years come. If we take my works, created 25 years ago, they seem slightly weaker compared to what I currently do. I think that I follow the right road: without any jumps and gradually — higher and higher.
There’re different sketches. Some don’t say anything to either spectators’ heads or their hearts; it’s seen that randomness in motifs and deliberate carelessness of form dominate there. Vladimir Maslenikov’s sketches are different, producing greater picturesque culture of the master and faultless sharpness of eyes. He thoroughly selects everything that is typical for our nature, which inspires excitement in souls and charms with blue distances and free rivers…

Aren’t you tired of writing?
I receive pleasure from this and I think that I’m a happy person, as are many painters who are involved in their favourite occupation. They enjoy this and also earn money.

Do your works have a generalised image?
Yes, of course. I think that there can’t be nature work in such large formats as I have. This is a compositional picture, for example, this one which is called ‘My Belarus’ [he points to a picture hanging in the studio]. This is a generalised image, encompassing our spaces and lakes. One can notice that water is present almost everywhere in my works. Lakes, forests and great spaces — all these are Belarus. The picture is over and it has already visited the ‘Traditions and Modernity’ exhibition.
The way to reflect space in Vladimir Maslenikov’s landscapes is very interesting, with the forefront always reinforcing its positions, followed by great spaces. Spacious mind is felt in his pieces, combined with the poet’s staring glaze. The painter is able to listen to the nature’s voices while searching its unique features and national character. The objective beauty of the world, seen and reflected in an artistic image, is the mastery of human emotional education and inspiring deep emotions among spectators.

Don’t you schedule your personal exhibition for the nearest time?
My personal exhibitions have been held in various years in the Palace of the Republic, Minsk’s Palace of Arts, Mogilev’s Regional Art Museum, Minsk’s Art Gallery and the Belarusian University of Physical Culture. There’s no need to make a personal exhibition spontaneously. Usually I develop its concept a year in advance. I should know where it will be held, what the exposition will be and which works I need. Works that harmonise with each other are needed. In one word, a personal exhibition is a very complex process and it should be viewed creatively.
Speaking about Vladimir Maslenikov’s pictures, one can’t but return again and again to those bright national colours which are also used in his father’s creative activity. The dynasty of Maslenikovs is Belarusian painters who really appreciate the history, culture and nature of their own country. It means that the tradition is alive and doesn’t break.

By Viktor Mikhailov
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