Victor Gromyko’s roads
[b]The recent exhibition by People’s Artist of Belarus Victor Gromyko marked his 90th birthday, showing that we are never too old to pursue our passions. The master remains devoted to his calling, creating wonderful paintings each day in his studio. He proves the simple truth that art is a vocation rather than a profession. The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, congratulated the master on his 90th birthday, wishing him health, success, optimism and vivacity.[/b]
Artists of all ages admire him. In fact, Mr. Gromyko has helped shape a great number on their artistic path, having taught art for many years. He has always been happy to offer advice and share his rich personal experience. At the age of 90, he is still delighting audiences with his works and giving us food for thought with his outspoken opinions on the role of artists in society. Nevertheless, he is modest in all respects, spending each day in his workshop, devoting time to his true love.
Now, his memoir may soon be republished.
An extract from Victor Gromyko’s `Rainbow over the Road`:
…The spring of 1941 was late, as if trying to delay the arrival of that fatal summer. It’s said that birds see the future. Perhaps they have a certain instinct. Certainly, something drove the birds to mate and nest quickly before the catastrophe, making the most of the time allotted. They surely knew what lay ahead, when the white snow of insistent winter appeared briefly on grey hills, when the passionate songs of nightingales sounded loudly against the grey sky and the cuckoos’ magic voices awoke over white-and-black forests. They seemed to calculate the span of life. There is a proverb which tells us: ‘If a cuckoo sings on a bare tree, then grief will come’. Troop trains loaded with wheat travelled towards Germany, yet the newspapers said nothing of our soldiers being relocated close to the western border. They assured us of the indissolubility of the Soviet-German treaty while ordinary folk mistrusted our friendship with Fascist Germany...
…German motorcycles rattled into the village one morning — just as I was preparing to leave. A drunken captain lumbered into the house, swinging a parabellum gun before my face. He was crying and delirious but I could catch some of his phrases: that I was a Komsomol member and that he was ready to shoot me immediately. He then took me to the barn, continuing his threats and cries. However, he asked no questions and I remained silent. In the barn, he pushed his pistol into my face and pointed at the dark corners. There, several days ago, I had hidden a three-volume book by Marx behind a lower beam, in the hay. Its seal and front inscription indicated that it had been a school award for perfect studies, exemplary conduct and extensive public work...
...Rockets flew up one after another and we began to notice how the north-eastern part of the sky became lighter after the German observers calmed down, on the opposite side of the road. The night passed quickly, as did our chances of breaking the blockade. To escape the ‘mousetrap’ would be a challenge but we decided to forsake the main road and narrow-gauge railway line, choosing to push through the wood. There, it was impossible for partisans to break through, so there had been no need to locate firing points. We moved slowly closer to the road, creeping from one hiding place to the next, formed from trees laying in different directions. In some places, we had to climb over three or four fir tree trunks tangled in the overgrowth of bushes and underwood…
…A day passed and we had a spell of breathing more easily. We barely took notice of the shell attacks and strict regularity of the repeated barrages. All those who remained alive after the last operation must have returned to their places. Everything was as it had been: German troops were sitting in their camps, mud huts and trenches, while we took refuge in small hiding places in our damaged — yet living — archipelago. Those were calm, pleasant days of enjoying the sun, drying our clothes and moving from one hiding place to another. We made bonfires day and night, without adverse results. German aviation rarely troubled us so we became bold enough to gather at a larger safe haven, drinking tea made from berries and raspberry leaves. We discussed what to do next but agreed on nothing. In fact, we could hardly know what would happen next; we had no data on how many of our soldiers had survived and whether we had armaments for even a minor fight. How then could we plan our next move?...
‘They held out!’ is a phrase often used to describe such people as Mr. Gromyko — a member of the generation tested by war. He not only experienced the troubles of those severe years but helped liberate his native land from the Fascists. In 1941, he was a member of the conspiracy in Orsha, later becoming a reconnoitre, a machine gunner and, even, a unit commissar in a special regiment. Victor edited the Narodnye Mstiteli (Law and Order Avengers) newspaper.
Clearly, he exhibited determination, bravery and human dignity, while the war uncovered his passion for life, which later found expression in his rich artistic legacy. Victor’s canvases explore the meaning of life and the importance of individual spiritual ideals. He has a strong sense of responsibility, while being known as a master of historical-heroic works and monumental epic landscapes, as well as more intimate psychological portraits.
Mr. Gromyko was born on January 2nd, 1923, in the Mogilev Region. Ninety years later, on January 3rd, 2013, Minsk’s National Art Museum honoured him as a master of pictorial painting. His jubilee exhibition — Seeing the Entire World — united over 60 works old and new, dating from the past seventy years, delighting fans.
At the age of 90, Mr. Gromyko remains full of artistic strength, devoting all his spare time to painting. He could hardly imagine his life without brushes and canvas. In the war years, he painted his colleagues in arms (between skirmishes); afterwards, he taught several generations of young artists. He views teaching as a true challenge, noting at the opening of his show, “Teaching is one of the most difficult professions. To teach art is twice as hard again. Apart from anything else, you need to teach people about life and to generate devotion to the vocation. This is vital; only then can success come.”
The exhibition at the country’s main museum does not feature all of his works, since many are held in foreign museums, galleries and private collections. However, it does include some of the most vivid conceptual works: Soldiers, 1941; Over the Pripyat; Devoted to the Women of the Great Patriotic War; and Apples of the Crop of 1941. They embody the painter’s philosophical, moral and aesthetic ideals, showing his heartfelt adoration for his homeland and its unique beauty, which is bound up with his memories of people’s achievements.
He tends to paint high horizons — ‘to see the whole world’, with its endless hills. He gives us a bird’s eye view, rich in colour — even over-bright. This palette combines with emotional depth, creating greatly dramatic works.
Mr. Gromyko’s faultless realism is also convincing in his portraits — which he began drawing as a student: `Old Man`, `Grandmother` and `Belarusians` are among the best known. Many are classics of Belarusian post-war art. Vasil Bykov’s portrait occupies a special place, joined by expressive images of the artist’s father, Yanka Bryl and Yevgeny Chemodurov. In recent years, Mr. Gromyko has been drawn even more passionately towards portraiture, including a dramatic, large sized portrait of our national writer.
Mr. Gromyko’s landscapes of recent years have obvious emotional intensity, expressed through colour and bold images. His `Rainbow over the Church` offers eloquent confirmation while his Japanese themed `Indestructible Hieroglyph of the Pacific Ocean Coast` reveals a new angle to his creativity, exploring the features of other lands. He took this further in vibrant cycles looking at Kazakhstan and Hungary. Self-knowledge is also clearly important to him in this huge, largely incomprehensible, divinely wonderful world. We see his sense of being tied to his nation’s destiny; it shapes his spiritual maturity and his artistic path.
Mr. Gromyko’s extraordinary eventful childhood and war-time youth — full of courage and bravery found expression not only in his artworks but in his three-edition autobiography: Rainbow over the Road. As well as his younger years, we see the Great Victory authentically described, tales of Minsk’s restoration and the foundation of the capital’s Art School (later known as the Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute). He detailed the launch of the National Art Museum, the Union of Artists of Belarus and the Art Fund in `The Sun Behind Clouds` and in `Light and Shadows of the Outgoing Century` looks at the creation of Belarus’ largest memorials, using words precisely yet with the same creative imagery known from his canvases. He sketches figures of art and culture for us in words — Valentin Volkov, Ivan Akhremchik and Vitaly Tsvirko, as well as a very fond literary portrait of Yelena Aladova (among the first to head the National Art Museum).
Young Victor Gromyko dreamt of seeing the entire world, which surely inspired the title of his recent exhibition. He is a realist and a romantic, having guided several generations of artists, with whom he shared his most intimate thoughts.
His ‘People’s Artist’ title and dozens of diplomas are evidence of public recognition but his efforts have never aimed at the gaining of approval. Having completed the last in his autobiographical trilogy recently, he is now keen to see the editions published widely, perhaps shaping more generations to come with his wise words.
By Victor Mikhailov
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