The parallel world
Artist Victor Alshevsky is trying to outrun time
Huge canvases hang in the painter’s studio: some are already finished and are taken into golden-silver frames. One of them, e.g., The Champions League, occupies the whole wall. Meanwhile, just a few canvases (with only ground applied) stand near another wall. They are also big and include already finished works, yet without frames. The easel has the picture the painter is now working on. However, Victor Alshevsky often returns to many of his works, since the creative process is unpredictable and unique while time is not a concrete category at all. Reflecting his impressions in his works, he often gets ahead of himself as if forecasting something. Anyway, parallels with the past are almost always present in Alshevsky’s pieces. This fully refers to his City cycle of works where Minsk’s architecture is strengthened by the images from the past and chronicle of the key events.
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 unafraid to experiment and easily transforms works by combining methods, seeking the essence of humanity, while exploring Fate and the future.
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 man 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.” 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. Meanwhile, 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 generalised images of 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.
Painter Alshevsky became a representative of the ‘new reality’, as he defines it. He imagined himself as a master, able to generalise 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.
However, he has always been fond of painting portraits, showing the essence of people, 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.
Nevertheless, 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.
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 emphasised 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 symbolising 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 ‘diagnose’ 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 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.
The search for his own figurative expressiveness has become the basis of Victor Alshevsky’s art. He feels free in interpreting themes and can masterfully combine different methods in a single work — from classical traditions to contemporary aesthetics. He is not afraid to experiment and easily transforms works by using both means in combination. Alshevsky strives to disclose the essence of humanity, exploring fate and the future. He unveils the world’s hidden secrets, as well as his personal ‘self’, in finding answers to eternal questions.
Alshevsky’s pictures stand out for their colour and size. They boast monumental images, with attention to symbolic detail, and push beyond the limits of the traditional. There is no doubt that they show his strong artistic personality. They testify to his individuality, his philosophical apprehension of life and the broadness of his artistic ideas and professional mastery.
“Modern art always follows global aesthetic, artistic and philosophical trends; it is a form of dialogue between cultures,” Victor asserts. “The necessity for greater creative openness is comprehended through mutual dialogue between cultures.”
Undoubtedly, Victor Alshevsky sees himself as a representative of ‘new reality’ — which includes generalised images of the world culture. The landmarks of history are not directly reflected in his works but they are the basis for his philosophical reflections — the past inspiring new images.
He took his first steps in a village in picturesque Mogilev Region. His small homeland is Belynichi District, where a most famous painter of Belarus was born — Vitold Belynitsky-Birulya. He is one of the brightest founders of the realistic trend in the Belarusian pictorial art. Mr. Alshevsky greatly appreciates such geographical and spiritual affinity with the maitre of the domestic painting. He tried to be a good successor of his prominent fellow countryman and Alshevsky has mostly succeeded in this.
Meanwhile, he has prepared a series — Legends of Our Civilisation — fifty picturesque canvases. Mr. Alshevsky first implemented such a large-scale project several years ago. It’s no surprise that the exhibition route of the project started at the artist’s small homeland, since it’s also a part of civilization: probably, not of material but of spiritual, which is even more important. The exposition has successfully toured the district towns of Belynichi, Shklov, Krichev, Osipovichi, and Bobruisk while being on show in the regional centre. The author himself saw the concept of the Legends of Our Civilisation as the legends of small and big cities of the Fatherland, and of the whole earthly civilization. Meanwhile, that project was primarily dedicated to his native land — which boasts rich history, interesting people and their spiritual beauty. The feeling of close and spiritual connection with the small homeland added creative powers to the painter and he has managed to reveal what made excited ordinary people from remote settlements, who have come at that time to get acquainted with his works.
Then The Fragments of the Tower of Babel project followed in which the painter also tried to express human aspirations towards knowledge. According to him, a civilisation is a community of cultures with their dictinctiveness preserved. It’s not accidentally that the towers of the ancient Belarusian castle in Mir are depicted near the Egyptian pyramids in Alshevsky’s works. The painter travelled much, so he associatively transferred to the canvas everything that he had once seen. However, he obligatory rethinks everything that was reflected in his soul and that is best remembered from his childhood. In order to understand the author’s position it’s vital to bear in mind that symbolic images of the Belarusian history always find a worthy place in his works among the universal history of the world.
One more exhibition at the National Art Museum may be also recollected in this respect. It was a creative project, comprising seven picturesque canvases thematically devoted to Minsk. Each had its own central motif, encouraging people to muse philosophically.
In his works, Alshevsky shows how ornamental relief and geometric shapes are combined in Belarusian architecture. He notes that these uniquely symbolise our national culture, with recognisable images.
“White Rus is pure and special — not due to the absence of history or culture but through its ancient origins. Belarus’ power lies in its revival; Minsk, and the whole country, has risen from the ashes many times — like the mythological Phoenix,” he explained, speaking of the exhibition.
Mr. Alshevsky’s White Spot at the Heart of Europe conveys deep philosophical ideas and looks at unusual compositions while exploring history through recognisable architectural symbols in the city of Minsk.
The essence of the rather innovative White Spot at the Heart of Europe exhibition was that art and reality can be viewed in the context of contemporary mythology. It’s no secret that technological progress has somehow isolated human consciousness, taking us hostage to extreme individualism.
Nevertheless, in the last century, classical pictorial art was set aside, being replaced by new concepts with mass appeal. Ordinary people became actors and co-authors, with everyday life becoming the latest form of creative self-expression. Art was no longer the exclusive domain of galleries and museums but was found on the streets and in city squares. Traditions were questioned in favour of new discoveries and philosophical musings. Now, those who feel themselves responsible for the future strive to make it richer spiritually.
White Spot at the Heart of Europe comprises several of Victor Alshevsky’s paintings, dedicated to a wonderful city at the centre of Europe — Minsk. He shows the many centuries of history belonging to our Belarusian land, which is rich in events and cultural traditions.
“We admire St. Petersburg and Moscow, Paris and London, Rome and Barcelona. However, on returning from such trips, we can’t but discover anew the unique beauty of our Minsk, covered with white snow, autumn leaves or May greenery,” confides Mr. Alshevsky. “In creating my collection of paintings devoted to our city, I wanted people to learn about it and admire it.”
This is painter Alshevsky’s philosophy and his real mission: it is a noble target, urging us to be creative.
Victor Alshevsky (from the recent conversation in his studio):
I think that next year I will make an exhibition of works (about 20 canvases), dedicated to so called Soviet period of architecture of our major avenue in Minsk — Nezavisimosti Avenue. As far as the Tower of Babel topic is concerned, I will continue ‘building’ it further…
Moreover, he is also currently preparing one more cycle of works, entitled Museums of the World. This is also a very interesting topic and Victor exclusively demonstrated me some of the pictures. These again stand out by their interesting solution — peculiar for the master who is trying to overrun time and penetrate into some parallel worlds.
By Victor Mikhailov