The winding path of an artist’s destiny

[b]Glass painter Tatiana Malysheva brings a nostalgic mood to her images, inspired by her own perception of life [/b]Her compositions at the University of Culture Art Gallery in Minsk perfectly reflect her personal artistic philosophy. Her Family Legacy was conceived as a holistic piece. To be precise, her creations interpret her recollections, and bring them to life through various materialsOriginally, she studied to become a decorator but after many years of creative effort Ms. Malysheva has become a specialist in ceramics and glass.
Glass painter Tatiana Malysheva brings a nostalgic mood to her images,
inspired by her own perception of life


Her compositions at the University of Culture Art Gallery in Minsk perfectly reflect her personal artistic philosophy. Her Family Legacy was conceived as a holistic piece. To be precise, her creations interpret her recollections, and bring them to life through various materials
Originally, she studied to become a decorator but after many years of creative effort Ms. Malysheva has become a specialist in ceramics and glass.
“I was brought up on my parents’ recollections of the four long years of struggle during the war,” recalls Ms. Malysheva. “The ideas of patriotism, duty, honour comradeship and loyalty to one’s Fatherland have deep meaning for me. These aren’t merely vague notions, but a fundamental moral faith. My parents were called to the front at a very young age to fight fascism, from the beginning of the war to the end, and were lucky to survive. The war prevented them from fulfilling their potential. My sister and I inherited their love of drawing, music and literature. For our family, Victory Day — marking the liberation of Belarus — has always been a great event, encompassing a military parade, reunions with fellow soldiers and honouring dead friends. My parents were decorated with 17 orders and medals. This sense of holiday, joy and pride in one’s country has endured my whole life and many of my glass works reflect this feeling.”
In her images, she has reflected ideas of loyalty to one’s homeland — or patriotism — as well as honour and comradeship. Many of the exhibited works reflect a joyful, festive mood, along with pride in one’s country. “I often study exhibitions at the History Museum and the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, learning about memorable dates, which will forever be part of the history of civilisation,” muses Ms. Malysheva. “Details of the harsh things that happened at the front are highly significant for me. I’d like to create a memorial out of soldiers’ canteens and mugs, and use ribbons and medals to decorate it.”
Her artistic technique allows her to re-create any photo on nickel chrome foil, placed between sheets of glass. Her huge dish at the show has ‘stained glass medals’ inspired by her parents’ medals and orders: their legacy.
It’s not easy for contemporary painters to make their own path; they have to prove themselves against the stiffest competition. Sometimes, technical progress ‘overloads’ them as they try to make a name for themselves in art. As a result, their work becomes non-expressive, without underlying thought. Only the talented and gifted can break through the high-tech web to surprise us with their archaic or naпve style. Only later do we begin to understand that everything is as it should be.
Of course, Tatiana Malysheva is a master of decorative art and can easily create any image. For example, she has ‘locked’ fire into clear geometric forms that resemble diamonds. This work is at the National Art Museum of Belarus. Her large multi-coloured red, white and blue piece, entitled Festive Vases, is based on architectural principles.

What determined your path in art? What influenced your decisions?
I’ve been drawing since I was five. As far back as I can remember, I was always drawing something. Since we lived in garrisons and remote areas, where there was not much cultural life, I was primarily self-taught and always used any opportunity to improve myself. We moved to Minsk when I was in the eighth grade, and it was fabulous, although I was a little bit worried. Two years later I tried to enter the Theatre and Art Institute’s Graphics Department. At that time, I couldn’t imagine that the Decorative and Applied Art Department even existed. However, I failed and became involved in ceramics and glass instead. Glass immediately became very important to me, involving a great deal of effort to create the shapes that I was looking for. Glasswork is a noble profession — the work is hard, yet very delicate. Glass factories are usually located in small towns, which, as a result, always boast dynasties of master craftsmen. This also adds some particular charm to our profession.

You’ve managed to fulfil your potential in this profession. What is the most creatively stimulating aspect of the work?
I became keen on glass when I was a second year student and did an internship at Neman Glassworks, where I first tried my hand at making items from glass. My final paper was devoted to stained glass windows. After that, I wanted to work at the Neman Glassworks and become completely engaged in glass making. I left my well-established life in Minsk and spent 13 years in Berezovka.
A special attraction of our work is that you don’t know yourself what the result will be. Sometimes we sit and watch master craftsmen at work. If something they are working on goes wrong, they throw it away, but we may notice that the piece is very interesting and can be polished and improved. Then we sit and imagine what it could be like. We go back to the craftsmen and have them take another look at the piece. They think it strange that what they considered to be defective and a waste could have an experimental significance for us. Gradually, they become involved too and begin to prompt us with their own ideas, creating an endless symbiosis. We became good friends with them. Finally, a complete set of glassware appears and everyone is surprised at how it happened. Of course, it’s the result of sleepless nights and constant, dissatisfied searching…

Why did you decide to leave your flat in the capital and go to Berezovka? Where is Berezovka?
Berezovka is situated in Grodno Region, between Lida and Novogrudok. Everything happened because of my great passion for glass. Being a second year student at the institute I saw what could be made from glass and almost ‘fell in love’ with this wonderful material. We spent a summer at the Neman Glassworks and it was a true paradise. However, when I moved there I had a few problems. I had to rent a flat and my would-be husband had to go to Berezovka with me. Yevgeny Votkovsky was a very famous lover of books and book collector, as well as a metal engineer. He also spent some wonderful times there, visiting all the bookstores on his bicycle and collecting ancient coins. I was realising myself in art, while he read his collection of books.

Experiments with glass are a symbiosis of creativity and hard work, aren’t they?
Yes, getting an item of glass into the desired shape is undoubtedly hard work. My life changed drastically. I had to wake up at 6am to start blowing at 7am. The factory had a schedule and our workers had to work to that schedule. I had to arrive by 7am and bring some creative ideas and watch to see whether the master craftsmen could create what I had in mind. We had an irregular working day and could sometimes work in the workshops until 10pm. It was a hard job for me. Moreover, all our pieces were sent to exhibitions, so we had to copy them endlessly. The exhibitions took place in Moscow, Minsk, Leningrad, Grodno and Lithuania. We had to copy everything. If we saw any mistakes, they had to be fixed. At the same time as copying the old pieces, I was also creating new ones. It was very difficult. I had to concentrate, lead a healthy lifestyle and visit exhibitions, as did other master craftsmen throughout the Baltic States, Leningrad and Moscow. This was during Soviet times and we had an all-Union Art Council each year, which usually took place at a factory in Yerevan, Vladimir or Gus Khrustalny. The Neman Glassworks hosted the Council twice in 13 years. It brought together artists, who brought their best works created over the year and presented them at the all-Union Art Council, which consisted of the most prominent artists and famous art experts from throughout the Soviet Union. They examined our works and made their remarks and assessments. Then the ‘Decorative Art’ journal would write articles about the event. It was a huge endeavour and we put much effort and soul into it. However, we also received much in return; we went on many business trips and now I am very familiar with all of our large cities and exhibition halls.
The search for new techniques, textures and methods has gradually brought Tatiana Malysheva to her individual style. One of her favourite works — Architectonics — is inspired by her observation of rain drops. They fly, fall and finally reach the surface, producing big and small spirals. This artwork also uses primarily architectural principles, with seven shades of colour honouring the richest palette at the Neman Glassworks.

Are you concerned about current processes? Are they developing in the same direction as you? Or are things different now?
This year, I visited the factory in Berezovka twice, as I had a state scholar-ship. The state pays a specific sum of money to us for our experiments and trips. During my visits, I observed the situation at the plant attentively and was, frankly speaking, greatly upset. The furnaces we used, which were built by outstanding Lithuanian artists, were no longer there. We also had small furnaces upstairs, where we could spend day and night working with the glass. They no longer exist.

Are there enough master glassblowers? Or do we need to blow new life into the process today!?
It’s a very complex question and I don’t even know how to answer it. Beautiful glass items are still made, but the market is saturated, so few people buy glass objects nowadays, unless they are exclusive and particularly delicate. So, today, we only have two groups of master glassblowers, working for the art salon, Steklo (Glass) company store. Yes, there are still third generation glassblowers around, but today the Neman Glassworks has to manufacture glass wool to earn sufficient money to save the factory.

Beautiful glass items are being bought, aren’t they? They are still popular now…
Glass is wonderful, when it’s created by an artist. However, when it’s mass produced, the artist can’t always follow the whole process and errors and faults may occur. As a result, the finished item isn’t the one conceived by the artist, but an item with technical faults. The UK continues to place orders in our country; the British appreciate colourless glass with clear contemporary forms. There are a number of other orders, enabling the factory to stay afloat. Some true artists have stayed on, preferring to continue working regardless of everything. In particular, Galina Sidarovich has worked at the Neman Glassworks for 30 years and has developed plenty of interesting forms. There are also young master craftsmen: husbands and wives, who continue to participate in exhibitions. I’d say that artistic enthusiasm is still high.

There is a new generation of master glassblowers coming up, isn’t there? Can we say today that a Belarusian school of art glass exists and, if so, how does it compare to other schools?
When I began working at the factory, we had two graduates from Leningrad, two from Moscow and one from Estonia. I — coming from the Belarusian school — blended into this mixed group.
It was rather hard during the first two years, but, through self-improvement and self-development, things got easier. Now, I believe that was the golden epoch of glass making. Within two years, I felt that I could work for myself and that I had both feet on the ground. The Belarusian school paid a lot of attention to drawing, painting and good artistic training. I was keen on drawing and painting, which enabled me to rank amongst artists from famous Moscow and Leningrad (as it was then) glass schools. Olga Sazykina and Galya Sidorevich came after me and then our students followed. They are now all working successfully. The notion of ‘our school’ has perhaps lost its meaning these days, since we are all contemporary European painters.

You have a section at the Belarusian Union of Artists, don’t you?
Last year, I was a secretary and now I’m working at the bureau. I make glass exhibits, which is easy for me. After a hundred exhibitions I believe I can make a wonderful exhibit from almost everything.

Do you feel that you could help, with your advice and knowledge, those who would like to develop these ideas? Do you feel the need to teach?
During the thirteen years I spent at the Neman Glassworks, several students used to visit us each spring. They came from Armenia, the Baltic States, Leningrad, Moscow and Minsk. I tried to pass on my experience over a space of two months, which was the amount of time the students had to prepare a term paper or final paper. We helped many students and even now I help as much as I can. For example, Lena Atrashkevich, who teachers at the Academy of Arts, recently organised the first international glass-blowing symposium at the Neman Glassworks. Twenty-four artists attended, including seven from Minsk. One came from Hungary, two from Lithuania and two from Latvia. Several master craftsmen came from Leningrad, and some represented the Moscow school. During the symposium we got on well and had the opportunity to work with the craftsmen, capturing the process on film. Each of us had half a day to work with the craftsmen. Can you imagine that we were able to bring to life within just four hours that which had taken several months to prepare? We then had a final exhibition, which is now showing in Grodno and which will move to Polotsk before returning to the Modern Fine Arts Museum in Minsk by September.
The exhibition at the University of Culture Art Gallery in Minsk was a great event for me. I made every effort in order to prove that applied art is not inferior to fine art. We are just as able to draw and are aware of composition. This is reflected in the noble material, glass. We were able to exhibit our artworks in a wonderful gallery, which had plenty of light. My own composition was at the centre of the exhibition.
In sum, this was an exhibition of last year’s scholarship holders and my pieces at the exhibition represented my creative portfolio. It proved that the scholarship wasn’t spent in vain, but led to the realisation of several projects. It’s very pleasant to receive praise and I can now show my pieces at exhibitions all year long.
Her talent comes easily today and she shares her experience with students. She is also a scholarship holder, having received an award from the state (paid to the most talented artists). Her current exhibition is a portfolio of the past year’s achievements. The scholarship has had an impact on her future career, providing money for materials and equipment, allowing her to achieve her creative goals. Tatiana is grateful to the state for this support. She has gained in confidence and will be able to think of the future, making her dreams a reality.

What are your plans?
I’ve taken on a new project, devoted to Mir Castle. My favourite technique is nickel chrome foil, whose coefficient of expansion is equal to that of glass, in which you use a graphic pencil for drawing. I once drew a portrait of my parents on foil and placed medals between glass sheets.
I have selected images of the castle, drawn them and created huge dishes, which are on show at the exhibition, entitled ‘Minsk Castle — Yesterday and Today’.
After Mir Castle, Nesvizh Castle will be undergoing restoration. I’d like to collect images of Nesvizh and make souvenirs from them.

You’re trying to link the past, the present and the future in this way?
Yes, I’m trying.

By Victor Kharkov
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