Wheel of time by Valeriana Zholtok
[b]Artist’s works leave bright impression of many-faceted palette of age [/b]Talented people always retain their place in history, according to what they create. Their expressive stamp sticks in the memory. Valeriana Zholtok’s artistic geography has placed her among the rich diversity of our national fine arts. In fact, she is a true national artist and her works still attract us with unexplained force. She discloses vivid emotions of kinship.
Talented people always retain their place in history, according to what they create. Their expressive stamp sticks in the memory. Valeriana Zholtok’s artistic geography has placed her among the rich diversity of our national fine arts. In fact, she is a true national artist and her works still attract us with unexplained force. She discloses vivid emotions of kinship.
The recent exhibition at the National Art Museum of Belarus was dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Zholtok’s birth. Her works remain a bright example of how true art can surpass the borders of time, touching our hearts even several decades after it’s created. The secret of her artistic success and great popularity with experts and amateur art-lovers alike is explained by the charm of her pictures. They attract us with their modern themes and perfectly painted landscapes and still-life images. These genres reveal the true nature of her talent. She had a light touch, a lyrical perception of nature and human life. She had inexhaustible optimism, kindness and a female view on the world — which brings inanimate objects to life. Her delicate painting style, using transparent colours and secret tones and semi-tones, commands us to look closely; her palette whispers, persuading us to listen more carefully. All is harmony.
Valeriana Zholtok was born in Zhlobin (Gomel region) to a railway worker’s family. In the late 1930s, she studied at Vitebsk’s Art College. This Honoured Figure of Arts of Belarus then worked as a decorator-painter at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre. Of course, these facts from her biography speak little about her artistic achievements. The most eloquent fact is that over 40 works by Valeriana are kept by the National Art Museum, the Belarusian Union of Artists and Minsk’s Modern Fine Arts Museum. It’s not easy to reach such heights — especially for a female artist, irrespective of her talent.
“My mother worked easily and with pleasure,” notes her daughter, Elvira Poznyak. “To her, being an artist was the same as being a person, a woman, a mother. She was a talented painter, able to do so much, but this doesn’t mean that she didn’t experienced doubt, disappointment and failure. However, these never scared her. On the contrary, she became convinced of the need to find ways to implement her plans, searching for new techniques, which she still might reject. This was my mother’s way; she was so determined. Her failures were never the result of helplessness but, rather, of dissatisfaction with her work and her own high standards.”
Valeriana Zholtok participated in art exhibitions from 1946 onwards. In the post-war years and early 1950s, she painted landscapes, genre-pieces and sometimes still-life works. Most of her canvases are devoted to native Belarus and children — such as 1st September (1951), Winter Comes (1954), By Fire (1956) and Friends (1963). Some show Belarus during the Great Patriotic War years — such as To Partisans for Help (1957), Enemy Passed (1964) and Return (1967). Her lyrical landscapes Flood (1958) and Roads (1964) embody her love for nature.
Many of her works were created in a realistic manner, resembling pieces by Russian painters. Valeriana Zholtok’s attention to genre-pieces and children’s themes was not accidental. At that time, she was much interested in a life of peace, revelling in the pleasant calmness in the world. Artists often reveal their feelings via children’s images — as seen in her works. Belarusian pictorial art of the 1950s focused on the military theme, as related to everyday life. It was seen as a way of showing artistic maturity, enabling painters to observe, analyse and generalise their surroundings. Only genre-pieces were allowed to reveal positive and negative facts in a realistic manner; of course, an artist needed to have significant life experience, a sense of morality and a high level of mastery.
It’s no surprise that Zholtok’s best genre-pieces reflect the unique features of the 1950s. She used strong themes, giving each character their own role. Audiences don’t need to think much, as she clearly disclosed her vision. Her characters are so brightly depicted that it’s like seeing a snapshot of real life. Natural pictorial art follows this formula and Zholtok’s best works also embrace it, as was popular at the time.
Landscapes stand out in Valeriana’s works. At first sight, it seems to be her major genre. However, her numerous landscape sketches — made over the years — are like the unique diary of a traveller. She gives us her impressions and avoids moving from concrete observations. She has no desire to generalise, as seen especially in pictures created abroad. As a guest, Valeriana Zholtok carefully and kindly admired the unusual beauty of unknown places. “I wished not only to see but to remember this beauty,” she wrote in her diary. However, she was only able to capture the deep essence of the landscape in her own homeland. She knew well how spring begins in Belarus and how autumn approaches. She was aware of the charm of Belarusian winter and the secrets of fresh summer. Nevertheless, still-life was the focus of Zholtok’s artistry, allowing her to fully explore herself as an artist. Her evolution as a painter from the 1950s to the 1980s is evident.
Valeriana was a delicate artist, loving to observe and ponder her surroundings. Still-life gives artists the chance to be patient, removing themselves from the fuss of every day life. The genre requires dedication for talent to be realised. “On understanding this, an artist is honoured by the pleasant feeling of discovery, gladdened by what they’ve achieved. However, knowing that your ideas have been understood and accepted by audiences brings even greater joy,” said Valeriana.
She ‘discovered’ still-life as her favourite genre in the late 1950s — creating her earliest — and most significant — works: Spring (1957) and Forest Bell-Flowers (1958). Straightforward in perception, yet ripe with meaning, they marked a new level of her mastery. Moreover, they brightly indicated the renewal of Belarusian pictorial art. For Zholtok, this was a time of discovering the beautiful charm of her native land.
Zholtok’s still-life works often depict flowers, giving a festive yet solemn mood. She attentively selected blooms, recreating the palette independently to achieve harmony and emotional colour, as seen in her works Red Mountain Ash, Autumn Leafage and Blue Still-Life from the 1970s. They all boast a pronounced national character, stressing that these beautiful sights are found in Valeriana’s native land. She painted berries and folk objects — full of bright, expressive colours, making her works modern. In the 1950s, she launched a folklore-ethnographic theme in Belarusian still-life. Her understanding of national character is evident in her depiction of rushniks and folk ceramics.
In 1958, Zholtok painted Forest Bell-Flowers, which marked a turning point for Belarusian art in the late 20th century. She simply depicted a wooden village house with an open window and a jug with a huge bunch of forest flowers placed on a rushnik. Even now, its bright colours are enchanting. It arouses intimacy and reflects her optimistic view of the world. In fact, the picture is a poem about nature, nostalgic and personal.
Valeriana Zholtok’s artistic ‘luggage’ is rich. Evidently, she sought her own unique national style. Her mastery is still loved and shall remain so, being eternally appealing. True art never loses its popularity; it lives today and tomorrow.
By Victor Kharkov