Posted: 21.02.2024 14:50:39

Dreams about Belarus

In memory of the People’s Artist of Belarus, Vasily Sharangovich

He used to say the following about himself, “I have always stood firmly on my native land, which, after the God-given time, will take me into its dark embrace. But I will always, as Yanka Kupala’s poem goes, ‘have dreams about Belarus’.” People’s Artist Vasily Sharangovich remained in the history of Belarusian art as the creator of the national school of graphics and as a book illustrator, whose works have raised more than one generation of readers. We got acquainted with his works as children — starting with the famous illustrations for The Adventures of Buratino, sold in millions of copies across the USSR, and then continued our acquaintance finding the illustrator’s name in the works of classics and contemporaries.

Vasily Sharangovich, People's Artist of Belarus     Oleg Karpovich

Vasily Sharangovich was the namesake of his uncle, Vasily Fomich, a revolutionary and second secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus. The Sharangovich are all relatives, and their roots are in Myadel Region, in the village of Kochany, where this family has lived for centuries. It was here in January 1939 that the future People’s Artist of Belarus was born, in the family of a skilled village blacksmith.
Vasily Sharangovich inherited willingness to do any job, even the most difficult one, from his father. Maybe that is the reason why specifically graphics subsequently appeared in his life — this is an area of art that requires the ability to handle printing plates and printing presses, acids for etching — all that is alien to gentle fingers of sophisticated 
painters. However, all of us have the nature of both parents, father and mother, and it was the mother’s poetic and creative nature that had a decisive influence on the fate of Vasily Sharangovich. It was his mother, Nina Vasilyevna, who taught her son to paint. She did needlework and made bouquets, remembered dozens of Adam Mickiewicz’s poems by heart from school and could paint beautifully in rare leisure hours. After all, what kind of rest could a village hostess in charge of all household chores have?
The first pictures that impressed Sharangovich were illustrations in the ABC book presented at the end of the war by 
a passing partisan, then reproductions of paintings in the Ogonyok magazine that his neighbours, rural teachers, were subscribed to. So the novice painter diligently redrew them. After a seven-year school, Sharangovich went to finish his studies in Myadel. Mathematics teacher Gennady Ostrovsky turned out to be an amateur artist, and he became Sharangovich’s first teacher. The two of them wandered around the neighbourhood, painting from nature. It was Ostrovsky who insisted that the student should definitely enter the Minsk Art School. He took Vasily to the capital of the republic: first of all, they submitted the documents, and then went to the art gallery.

Portrait of Yakub Kolas, linocut. Author: Vasily Sharangovich

During all his years of study, the artist was looking for where to earn money. He visited the Bolshoi Theatre as a background actor going on stage in performances and reviewing the entire repertoire. He was also a life model for senior painter students. Sharangovich was living with his poor classmates in the attic when he fell in love with Galina,
a student of the Belarusian State University Faculty of Philology, the daughter of the first secretary of Dubrovensky 
district party committee. For several years, he pretended to be a prosperous gallant cavalier, no worse than a city one. He lived with her all his life afterwards.
After graduating from college with a red diploma, Sharangovich entered the Belarusian Theatre and Art Institute, the newly formed department of graphics. Graphic artists had previously been trained throughout the USSR only in Leningrad, and the need for them was huge. Graphics meant posters, fonts, flyers, lively cartoons, and book design… Therefore, the faculty that opened in Minsk attracted applicants from all republics of the Soviet Union.  
“In 1962, in the first semester of the second year, I did a composition work on the topic ‘Illustrations for the The Last Meeting story by Yanka Bryl’, and it seems to me now that this predetermined my future fate in some way,” Vasily Sharangovich wrote in his memoirs. “During the semester, I completed a number of illustrations in the technique of two-colour lithography, and my work aroused certain interest, especially from our teacher Nikolai Gutiev, who was also the head of the editorial office of the Belarus Publishing House at that time...”
On the recommendation of Nikolai Gutsiev, the young artist was offered to illustrate a book by Ivan Muraveika in the Belarus publishing house and was paid a substantial fee for this work — one thousand rubles. Another man would have lived in a big way, but Sharangovich, out of the peasant habit, saved money for a rainy day, except for he finally got a decent suit for himself. After that, he worked on the design for the book of poems by Nil Gilevich The Green Island, then he got an offer to co-operate with the magazines Maladost and Vyasyolka, where artists were always needed.
It was Sharangovich who was the first Belarusian artist to illustrate Vilna Communards novel by Maksim Goretsky.
Being a passionate reader in love with his native language, he created illustrations for books by Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, Zmitrok Byadulya and Vladimir Korotkevich. Over the decades of work — more than 70 books!
Yet, Sharangovich did not live by books alone, though his easel graphics grew out of his reading circle. For example, in the Narochansky Land series of linocuts the artist immortalised his fellow villagers and loved ones, while the Memory of Fiery Villages series resulted from the work on the Confession of the Heart book by poet Anton Belevich, dedicated to the Khatyn tragedy, and readings by Yanka Bryl and Ales Adamovich.

Illustration for Pan Tadeusz novel by Adam Mickiewicz, mixed media. Author: Vasily Sharangovich 

Childhood memories disturbed his soul. The artist remembered how the village where his mother’s relatives lived was burned. He remembered the terrible black lumps — all that remained of people burned alive. He remembered the thick smell clogging the throat and nose over the ashes. For the rest of his life, he could not stand it when street cleaners were burning fallen leaves in autumn.
In 1967, Sharangovich received an offer to become a teacher at his native institute. Afterwards, he headed the graphics department there. Later, he became a rector, a professor, and raised a whole galaxy of talented students. He twice refused to become Minister — Minister of Culture and Minister of Education. It was enough for him to be a rector. Most of all he was afraid that administrative work and social burden would take away from him the main thing — the opportunity to be an artist and do what he loved. In the 1990-ies, he flatly refused to immigrate to the United States, although they promised him mountains of gold, huge income and a personal mansion there. 
Over the years of his tireless work, he raised the prestige of graphics to an unprecedented height. The competition to enter this department was crazy — young artists were eager to learn from Sharangovich, who in a casual and humble way, stood on a par with the best masters of the era. After all, who had given time and effort to graphics before him? They are Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall, who barely flashed across the Belarusian sky and bloomed like an exotic flower in Paris, Pablo Picasso — the real titans. Next to them, in the same row, the son of the Belarusian blacksmith, Vasily Sharangovich has remained forever.

Target, from the Memory of Fiery Villages series, author’s lithograph. Author: Vasily Sharangovich 


Vasily Sharangovich’s works are kept in the National Art Museum, the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, the Ministry of Culture of Russia, the collections of the Belarusian Union of Artists and the Union of Artists of Russia, in the museums of Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas, in private collections. 
In 2018, a personal gallery of the People’s Artist was opened in Naroch.
By Irina Ovsepyan