Posted: 08.06.2023 17:57:00

Heaven and earth of Aleksandr Kishchenko

National Art Museum of Belarus hosts an exhibition dedicated
to the anniversary of the People’s Artist of Belarus

Self Portrait
He ran around with artists, had all possible awards and titles, brought up a whole generation of talented monumental painters, but at the same time, he always remained on his own, outside the framework and directions. Original, active, impetuous — Aleksandr Kishchenko did not know fatigue at all, did not know how to relax and seemed to be afraid of not having time to realise everything that he had planned. Painting, mosaics, tapestries — he was interested in absolutely everything. In addition, he was one of the few who managed to go beyond the exhibition halls and fit his works into urban landscapes. Coloured mosaic panels on high-rise buildings in the Vostok-1 microdistrict of the capital, the famous Partisans on the facade of the Tourist Hotel and the Hymn to Labour triptych on the ends of residential buildings in Novopolotsk — Kishchenko easily combined high art and national identity. This year, the People’s Artist of Belarus could have turned 90 years old. The anniversary date, of course, was not missed by the National Art Museum. 

Space as a premonition

Forty paintings and two tapestries — the Heaven and Earth exhibition of Aleksandr Kishchenko turned out to be moderately chamber, but at the same time revealing the artist as one of the most powerful figures of Russian art of the 20th century. At the same time, the creative biography of the master, who was born and raised in the Voronezh Region, is simultaneously connected with three countries: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The Belarusian (and the main, as it turned out) page of his life began with the filing of another future folk artist, Gavriil Vashchenko, who called an old institute friend from Kiev to Minsk to teach at the department of monumental and decorative painting at the theatre and art institute. A telegram from Kishchenko to his wife has been preserved: ‘Urgently leave for Minsk with the son. We will live and work here. Telegraph me about the time of arrival’.
Valentina Voitsekhovskaya

The curator of the exhibition, senior researcher at the department of Belarusian art of the 20th-21st centuries, Valentina Voitsekhovskaya, did not lay out the artist’s life in strict chronological order by periods, but an attentive viewer, in general, does not need this. Valentina Voitsekhovskaya is sure that the most important thing is to capture the essence. Kishchenko took into his art what inspired him and corresponded to his own point of view. Even in his youth, he began to be fascinated by ancient philosophy, the idea of man’s belonging to the space. He accepted the universe as an eternal and unified whole — this is how the style of the artist was formed, which he himself later defined as ‘universal realism’.
“Like all inquisitive great masters, Kishchenko studied the experience of world art: ancient Greek, ancient Egyptian, Renaissance, and this eventually led to a certain personal result. Aleksandr felt everything that happens on Earth as part of the Universe, outer space. Therefore, in all his works, hatches, arches extending into infinity, many references to the Cosmos are quite clearly visible — all these elements have become fundamental in his creativity,” Valentina Voitsekhovskaya explains.

Boy with a Rooster
For the first time Kishchenko showed his works in Minsk in 1966 at the republican youth exhibition. Among them was The Circus Boy — a small canvas, which the artist’s widow Nina Kukharenko kindly provided for an exhibition at the National Art Museum. In general, it is noteworthy that the exposition contains only four works from the museum fund. Everything else is from the collection of the artist’s family.
“It was more interesting for us to show what has been kept in the family all these years. These paintings are not publicly available; they were brought from the workshop especially for the exhibition. But after the end of the exhibition, three works will remain in the funds of the National Art Museum, such a gift to the museum was made by Nina Kukharenko,” Valentina Voitsekhovskaya draws the attention.

Muses and tapestries

This, in particular, is Still Life with Green Pears, painted in mid-1960s. Not quite the early period of Kishchenko’s work, but one of the oldest paintings in the exhibition. Perhaps only the Portrait of a Woman is older — the work of 1959, when the artist was still a student at the Lvov Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts. And here is the ‘youngest’ exhibit — a portrait of the architect Vladimir Salazkin. His artist finished shortly before his death in 1997.
“Many viewers have repeatedly noted that the heroes of Kishchenko’s portraits do not look like themselves in real life, but at the same time they are very recognisable. This is due to his approach to models. Aleksandr Kishchenko believed that the artist should not carefully copy and transfer all the features to the canvas. You need to capture the essence, understand the person — and already build a portrait on this. Interpret, removing all unnecessary, secondary. Perhaps the result is too subjective, but this is the style of the artist,” Valentina Voitsekhovskaya explains.
Still Life with Green Pears

The artist also worked on a portrait of the People’s Artist of the USSR Elena Obraztsova. A diva with a chic bouquet in her hands — this picture, of course, stands out among other works in the exhibition. It is known that Kishchenko met the famous singer in Minsk when he was working on tapestries for the Opera and Ballet Theatre. Obraztsova was just on tour in the Belarusian capital at that time. And already on the first acquaintance, the artist invited the singer to the workshop to paint her portrait. Nevertheless, due to the excessive employment of the artist at that time, it did not work out. At the same time, a friendship began, Obraztsova invited Kishchenko to all her performances in Moscow and Leningrad. And in the late 1970s, having found some time, she came with her family to visit the artist in his small homeland in Boguchar. The result of that trip were two portraits. However, the main woman and Muse of the master is, of course, his wife Nina. He painted her a huge number of times, moreover, her features are guessed in every female portrait of the artist. Today Nina Kukharenko is the keeper of his vast heritage.
A special place in the creativity of Aleksandr Kishchenko was occupied by tapestry. It was with tapestries that the artist first of all became known outside of Belarus. The name of the master is associated with the revival of monumental artistic textiles as a new type of modern decorative art of Belarus in the last third of the 20th century — it is not for nothing that the name Kishchenko is now assigned to the Borisov Combine of Decorative and Applied Arts. Only two tapestries are presented at the exhibition — this art is fundamental, eternal, but rather difficult to exhibit. Here, in the showcases, you can see some documents and rare photographs provided by the Kishchenko family.
Among the documents presented at the exhibition, we can see a picture of the artist’s father Maksim Yakovlevich. Once Aleksandr Kishchenko was given the wrong middle name in the documents — Mikhailovich, for many years he was going to correct the mistake, but did not have time. The artist named his youngest son Maksim in memory of his father who died like a hero in battle in 1943.

By Yuliana Leonovich