Vladimir Maslenikov’s space and time

Famous Belarusian artist celebrates the 60th birthday with personal exhibition
Vladimir Maslenikov was born in 1956 in Minsk. In 1980, he graduated from the Belarusian Theatre and Art Institute. He works in monumental painting in the genres of landscape, portrait and still-life. He has been a member of the Union of Artists since 1989. Between 1996 and 2014 he has taken part in 18 international painting plein-airs. He has conducted 9 personal exhibitions. Since 2011 he has worked as the Head of the Painting Chair at the Belarusian State Academy of Arts and Professor. In 2012, he was awarded the Frantsisk Skorina Medal and his works are kept at the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, collections of the Belarusian Union of Artists, Modern Fine Arts Museum, Mogilev Regional Art Museum (named after P.V. Maslenikov), the Belarusian State Museum of Great Patriotic War History, Gomel’s Regional Local History Museum, as well as in private galleries and collections throughout Russia, Belarus, Italy, Germany, the USA, Israel, France, Switzerland, the UK and China.

Vladimir Maslenikov (on the right) with artist Nikolay Apiyok

Before a vast assembly, the exhibition opened at the Mikhail Savitsky Art Gallery in Minsk, with many warm words spoken in honour of the author and hero of the day: for his creativity, his teaching activity and his individuality. The exhibition features over 70 works, representing a retrospective of his works: from his 1980s portraits, through the 1990s, to his early 2000s landscapes, and many works from recent years. Landscapes dominate, showing his figurative landscape style, distinguished by his depiction of endless open spaces. Often, his panoramas are cut through by the twisting flow of rivers carrying us into unknown and enigmatic horizons: the Zapadnaya Dvina, Dnieper, Nieman or Berezina.

Vladimir Maslenikov is also known as a talented portrait painter, with keen observation skills, and a delicate sense of psychology. He always depicts those whom he knows well and loves, showing his subject’s best features. His portrait galleries are constantly supplemented by wonderful new images of his contemporaries.

Mr. Maslenikov’s birthday exhibition also includes his self-portraits, inserted between landscapes. In 1976, he was a student, in 1996 — an Associate Professor and in 2016 — a Professor. Mr. Maslenikov has been heading one of the leading chairs at the Arts Academy for five years, his opinion valued on what constitutes ‘good art’. As a teacher, he accepts various trends but, as a painter, he is faithful only to realism.

His early works include a portrait of theatre director Valery Maslyuk, while that of Eduard Malofeev belongs to his recent pieces; both are his friends. In early childhood, he spent time on the banks of the River Dnieper with his father: classical landscape painter Pavel Maslenikov. He admits that his easel lives in the boot of his car.

In Soviet days, Victor Gromyko (now the oldest People’s Artist) taught him landscape painting at the institute. Gromyko was a fellow student of People’s Artist of Belarus Mikhail Savitsky, whom the gallery is named after.

Meanwhile, this is the tenth personal exhibition of Vladimir Maslenikov. However, this time, the Professor first moved away from his principle to showcase only new pieces in the exposition. Prof. Maslenikov’s older works have been brought to the capital from Mogilev’s Art Museum (named after Pavel Maslenikov) — which Mogilev residents call Maslenikov’s Museum.

Impressions of the exhibition of the artist celebrating the jubilee are expressed  in different ways

Painter Maslenikov perceives his native nature as a source of creative inspiration.

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 Masle-nikov — 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 of. Meanwhile, we will continue this a bit later.

Undoubtedly, Vladimir Maslenikov belongs to that generation of Belarusian artists whose creativity absorbed the 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.

My Belarus. 2008

From the conversation with Vladimir Maslenikov at his studio:

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 Crimea, we obligatory took canvases with us, as well as cardboard and sketch-box 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 sketch-box easel.

Indian summer. 2015

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.

Artist Vladimir Maslenikov perceives Belarusian nature as a primary source of inexhaustible artistic inspirations where a leading dominant is the aspiration towards something elevated, harmonious feeling of the real world and feeling of live connection with prehistoric epochs, when mythological connection of all phenomena of life originated. Such paradigm of the author’s creative thinking justifies itself by constant updating of picturesque methods and approaches. The artist, for example, indefatigably underlines coloristic accord of all motifs of the native earth through their spring and summer blossoming, when bright colours revive in the gold of the sun and greenery of fields while sinking in deep blueness of the sky. Vladimir Maslenikov is one of few contemporary Belarusian artists, who perfectly handles gradation of warm and somber colours and he can masterfully convey air space, tints of sun rays in foliage of trees, in field ‘waves’ of young ears, and live mirror of water smooth surface. Therefore, his life-asserting landscapes are always close and gentle while naturally bringing up the sense of beauty.

Besides  vast panoramas, the artist often appeals to more chamber motifs of silent creeks, wood footpaths and birchwoods. These plots are filled with delicate inner state. It’s possible to call them ‘islets’ of nature impressions which stay in memory since early childhood. Such picturesque motifs are popular among our contemporaries, many of whom are frequently torn off from natural environment, where they were born and grew up, while living in monotonous urban environment. The painter realizes this problem and tries to draw apart the borders of ‘concrete reality’ and return the feelings and emotions of his numerous admirers into the green kingdom of nature, due to creative talent.

Spring flood. 2005

Do you enjoy painting big canvases or does the size of the canvas have no importance?

I paint canvases of various sizes. However, for some reason I mostly like big canvases where I can do things in a big way. Most of my plots are epic and my landscapes are panoramic, which presupposes big format.

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 sons now respects my opinion. When my elder son [Pavel Maslenikov] 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 Pa-vel, 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.

Chinese admirers of the art of Vladimir Maslenikov  have been  able to visit the exhibition as well 

There was time when your father was writing while now the time is different. Is the creative process also changing?

Maybe. If we take the last thirty years we can see that more trends have been revealed. I’m a realist but I think it’s good when there’re many trends in creativity. It’s good that we aren’t the same.

Is the current time favourable for creativity?

State orders existed during the Soviet times and someone liked this. Now, everything is very individually, with some enjoying popularity and others not. This time is favourable for my creative activity, with the state providing support and the works being purchased. This is good that art is in demand.

Do you take into account the situation? When you’re writing a picture do you want it be liked by people? Or do you write only what you wants to express?

Fortunately, this coincides in my creativity. What I want to write is liked by other people. This is happiness.

What is painter Vladimir Maslenikov’s creative credo?

Truth of life?

Undoubtedly, you are a painter mostly devoted towards realistic painting. What is its essence?

I write from nature. I have written hundreds of etudes in various corners of Belarus. Like small streams gather in one big river my etudes are the basis for the work over a big compositional landscape, reflecting the beauty of our native nature. The most important is that the result should be the following: a spectator looks on the picture and wants to go there, to the river bank. I once had an occurrence: I’ve written a landscape, completely composed, and called it ‘The Lepel Lakes’ [an area in Vitebsk Region]. A driver came in, who carries pictures to exhibitions, and asks: ‘What is it?’ I responded to him that this is Lepel lakes. ‘Exactly. I was fishing there,’ he said. However, this was an imaginary place.

Work should have recognisable state, resulting in the desire to walk along the imaginary field. I always try to reflect my personal feelings and emotional perception of nature through my works to my spectators.

Is it easy to do?

In different ways. Sometimes work is done quickly and sometimes I readjust and rearrange everything several times. Moreover, one can take great pains over a picture but fails to achieve the result — this also happens yet rarely.

Don’t you think that realistic manner of painting is currently losing its grounds? Painting in Europe is known to having more abstract forms. Should we be proud that we have a worthy school of realistic painting and that there’re painters who work in this sphere highly professionally? 

I think we can be proud of this though, frankly speaking, the realistic painting is slightly losing its grounds. Young people master this art less and less; even if someone practices it he does it at a weak level. Meanwhile, I’m not a supporter of the division: realism — not realism. The most vital is that everything should be done professionally regardless of the genre and trend you’re working in. Italians once came to me. They once had a brilliant painting school in Italy! Now there’s nothing there while we do have it and the Academy of Arts has very good preparatory school.

It’s easier for you to assess since you have been involved in pedagogic work for so many years, isn’t it? You see the successes of the new generation. What will we have tomorrow in the pictorial arts?

I think that people need to be taught. It’s up to them how they will be working when they become professionals; however, they need to receive professional school education. They should be able to do everything. One should go into other trends not because they’re able to do this but because they’ve understood that this is the way they would like to work.

Family. 2016

What is your attitude towards participation in exhibitions?

After graduating from the Art Institute I took part almost in all Republican exhibitions: both group and personal. I constantly exhibit my works and I think it’s necessary to show one’s creativity in order to see oneself among others. Sometimes the work seems to be good but appears to be little interesting at the exhibition or vice versa. Exhibitions are necessary in order to assess oneself realistically and objectively.

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 able to paint a portrait of any person?

Yes. However, I usually paint those who are interesting to me. Most of all I painted relatives — father, mother, children, sister. If a person is interesting not only spiritually, but also outwardly then, of course, it’s more interesting to paint.

Vladimir Maslenikov approved himself as an observant and very shrewd psychologist in a portrait genre. He depicts people whom he knows well. First of all, these are very warm portraits of his father, mother, and sister. The artist always finds the best human qualities in his models. His portrait gallery is being constantly reple-nished with new images of contemporaries who wish to see picturesque transformation, trusting the talent of the artist.

The exhibition opening has been attended by many

Are you familiar with creative fai-lure?

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 Masle-nikov. 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.

Can painters nowadays earn money for their pictures? As you’ve said there were state orders previously and now there’re not. Is it worse or better for painters?

When there were state orders few pictures were purchased. At present, there’re no orders but, e.g., I now sell more pictures than previously to organisations and ordinary citizens in galleries. If a painter doesn’t sell their works they won’t have money to provide their family and to buy the necessary materials to create a new picture and to pay for their studio.

Do you monitor the creative process in other countries?

I can judge about this only proceeding from plein airs that are held in our country. Painters from different states work in various genres of contemporary painting but traditions of realistic school are still very strong in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Belarusian painters worthily represent the realistic school while demonstrating their high professional level.

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 recognized 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; this was also peculiar for his father — Pa­vel Maslenikov. The painter has well studied his native nature and sees so much beautiful in it that he doesn’t even need to go far away. He opens up inexhaustible riches of motifs, conditions, delicate and pictorial relations near Minsk and in Mogilev Region. Each time this is something new and enriching which makes spectators (even if they aren’t painters) to look narrowly on the surrounding world and to love it more.

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. This is happiness. When I work too much I go to my summer cottage where I also have a studio. There’re also breaks when I don’t take the brush for a week. I’m not a fisherman or a hunter. I have only one hobby — automobiles — my fingers itch if I don’t drive for a week.

Do your works have a generalized 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 generalized 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. 

Don’t you schedule your personal exhibition for the nearest time?

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.

The way to reflect space in Vladimir Maslenikov’s landscapes is very interes-ting, 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.

By Veniamin Mikheev
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