Victor Alshevsky’s symbolic signs
Traits to portray the laureate of state art award
Victor Alshevsky belongs to the generation of painters from the 1970s, who went in search of a new figurative language. His artistry is rooted in the best achievements of the Belarusian art school, comprising metaphor, spiritual sincerity and the search for beauty and plasticity of art.
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.
Alshevsky is one of the most famous Belarusian artists of the past decade, with many successful shows under his belt. This comparatively swift success has not gone to his head though; in fact, his self-discipline is stronger than ever. He is not a white crow among Belarusian artists, as his pictures always fit smoothly into any exhibition — and foreign galleries are just as interested in his works.
Alshevsky’s works unite the figurative with the constructive, intriguing us with intellectual games and unusual experiments — rather than feelings. He varies his artistic images, their meaning and depiction — keeping us on our toes. His sensual portraits have immediacy, attracting attention from the general public — as well as art critics. It’s no wonder that he is seeing such success abroad.
“Modern art always follows global aesthetic, artistic and philosophical trends; it is a form of dialogue between cultures,” Victor asserts. However, the process includes many surprises. Few Belarusian artists follow global trends; those that do find their works regularly on show at places like the Pierre Cardin Hall in Paris and Moscow’s Central House of Artists — among them, Victor Alshevsky. He is grateful for his recognition abroad, especially since the European art market — which many Belarusian artists are now trying to conquer — boasts its own laws. He has addressed the nation’s historical legacy, alongside the universality of modernism and realism in art; now, modern Europe is striving to achieve complete accessibility for art — guaranteed globalisation based on migration and travel, rather than time.
Art is transforming to accommodate various cultural, political and social conditions and few Belarusian artists can confidently show that their art fits this mould, achieving a figurative and thematic balance. Victor Alshevsky represents a new artistic mindset of global culture, with works depicting fragments of the past alongside the present. He uses spirituality to create a unique philosophy. Alshevsky offers his own symbolic signs — often repeated; they stick in the memory. Having been showcased at fairs in Norway, Italy, Germany, Russia, Belarus, France and Austria, they receive new, unexpected meanings.
The path to such conceptualism has not been easy for Alshevsky — as for many others of his generation, he faced obstacles in the 1970s-80s. Additionally, throughout the 1990s, there was a global shift in consciousness. His generation’s initial artistic perception was rooted in old priorities and academic thinking. Few artists managed to find their own vision, being obliged to follow what was expected of them. Those who struck out as offbeat artists had to fight against public stereotypes.
Ages of change are always complicated, especially for artistic personalities. Alshevsky was among those who lived under such conditions. He had to search for his own artistic credo, seeking his niche and defending his ideas. He took his first steps in a village in the picturesque Mogilev Region, and still feels fed by rural wisdom and respect for nature and handicrafts — as his mother taught him. He recalls those childhood days fondly, often taking a pen and thick leather notebook to jot down his recollections. Alshevsky’s childhood memories are the foundation for his enduring persistence and confidence. The former is evident in his four attempts to enter the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute’s Monumental-Decorative Art Department. His confidence is rooted in his tenacious ambitions (unusual in a man from such a rural village).
People’s Artist of Belarus Prof. Gavriil Vashchenko, who headed the Monumental-Decorative Art Department in those years, recollects, “From a young age, Victor Alshevsky was notable in his determination — a useful tendency in an artist. It’s vital that we find power and strength for our daily work. We are ever searching for a place for our art, so that it might be acknowledged by everyone. The first steps are always the most difficult. Victor’s persistence helped him join the elite of his age.”
Alshevsky was lucky. He entered the Monumental-Decorative Art Department in its prime; moreover, it nurtured freedom in art. Monumental art — whose images ‘hovered’ overhead in every town — required strong symbolic images: in mosaic, fresco and enamel and glass painting. These young artists were able to think abstractedly, focusing on the form of artistic language.
Victor Alshevsky sees himself as a representative of ‘new reality’ — which has taken many years to mature. He has passed the stage of forming his own personality; now, he can find metaphors in any topic. From the very first, he was a patriot. Like his friends, he identified Belarus as having a historical identity and, in the late 1980s, people’s consciousness changed — as did Alshevsky’s artistry. His figures became more abstract, loosing an obvious identity. Perspective moved far away — eventually becoming a mere background.
Alshevsky still paints landscapes — though he produces few, and mostly on trips. They form part of his travel diary, figurative information on the sights he visits. His true passion is portraiture: precisely ‘grasping’ the essence of a person, alongside their habits and life experience. He aspires to create an emotional impression, to touch our heart and soul with his images. His fluid women’s figures — with their swan necks and well outlined figures — are like mysterious poetry. His male portraits, though characterised by greater accuracy and resemblance to a warrior nature, are usually abound with bright colours. They hint at the subject’s profession and lifestyle, with special attention paid to the eyes, facial expression and hands.
Alshevsky has a natural maturity of reflection, being interested in the world and its citizens — with all their hopes, joys and sorrows. 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.
Victor Alshevsky has always loved huge canvases and monumental images; these preferences have transformed into symbolic metaphors and, eventually, have become his own philosophy. His most significant symbol is an armoured knight, which could stand for cruelty, generosity or dictation of power or law — it’s up to us to decide. Some of his horsemen have nothing beneath their armour — denoting an invisible great power or its illusion. German art critic Barbara Eberhard may have been right in saying that Alshevsky’s art testifies to the incompatibility of hopes and possibilities.
The artist himself calls his work ‘a new reality’. Western critics often think him a surrealist and Victor accepts this; one of his works is dedicated to Salvador Dali (showing the famous master’s heart beating against a red background). Alshevsky refrains from directly depicting the present, though all his canvases show the pulsing nerve of the modern age. It cannot be hidden — in time or space.
Each of his works is a mystery. One canvas shows us a desert and a traveller carrying a temple on his shoulders. A noosed centaur is depicted prior to his falling into a bottomless well. Unarmed warriors blindly plod across a river lit by moonlight. Another depicts falling Icarus — symbolising the discord between our soul’s desire and the capabilities of the body. Alshevsky uses watches as a symbol of time and space, birds stand for people, a circle is the spindle of life, shells are houses and owls denote wisdom. Together, they become something beyond themselves — a coded message. The artist himself believes pictorial art should not be accepted at face value, since pictures are more than copying of external forms. Alshevsky hints that, to understand his works, we must use our imagination. He pushes viewers to expand their minds beyond stereotypes, allowing their intuition to guide them.
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. These unite in a single system of symbolism. The master accumulated much inspiration during a one year stay in Norway (on a scholarship from the Norwegian Education Ministry). He still makes frequent trips abroad.
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.
Recently, two important events supplemented Victor Alshevsky’s artistic biography. By Presidential Decree, he received the State Art Award for his series of paintings created for Gomel’s Palace and Park Ensemble. He dedicated his most recent exhibition to the Year of the Native Land and the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis. He has prepared a series of shows under the symbolic title — Legends of Our Civilisation — for Mogilev region’s towns. Belynichi, Shklov and Krichev residents have already seen the collection; Bobruisk and Mogilev are to follow. Victor continues to show us his philosophy on life through his works.