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A HUNDRED YEARS IN GOMEL ART LIFE

By Hanna Kuzmich.

In the south-east of Belarus there is a big administrative center and the second largest city in the country - Gomel. Walking along the streets of its historical center as well as along the new districts it is hard to imagine that a hundred years ago it was a small provincial town. In the second half of XIX century the railway system was built here. It greatly influenced the development of the city. A lot of people were engaged into trading. They supplied Gomel and the nearest regions with various goods. There was a typical Russian educational system in Gomel at that time. The primary and church schools provided inhabitants with elementary knowledge as reading and writing. Also there were a few schools with a little bit wider curriculum. Besides mathematics, languages, history and geography children could learn dancing, singing, drawing and painting here. Just the members of higher social classes got the chance to understand beauty. For the majority of people the illustrations in books were the only way to learn modern visual arts. According to some documents at the beginning of the XX century there were social gatherings with the exhibitions of local amateur artists. Their names as well as their works were lost because of political events of the XX century.

The Russian revolution of 1917 and political and economic events of the next years influenced established masters as well as a new art generation. The first post-revolution decade is known as the time of co-existence, conflict and fight of various art schools. It was the period of art revival in Gomel.

In 1918 the art studio named after Mikhail Vrubel appeared at Cultural Center of Railroaders. The studio was headed by Sergey Kovrovskiy(1890-1944). In 1921 he took the most talented students to Moscow to study at the High Art and Craft Studios. One of the participants of that trip, Helena Samoilenko (Mashkovtseva), remembers this time: "We had our own rail coach equipped with plank beds. During a week it was moved by random freight trains to Moscow. We were young and hopeful. We joked during the trip. There was a large chalk inscription on the coach: "HLAM" (in Russian it was alphabet soup of “writers”, “artists” and “musicians”). At stops this inscription helped us to find the coach. We arrived in time and entered various studios. Classes were held in cold classrooms. We worked in coats. It was terribly cold but we had so great wish to study that nothing could stop us."

In the 1920-s the educational institution VHUTEMAS was a leading one and had innovative teaching methods. There were teachers representing various art schools: A. Arkhipov, S. Malyutin, I. Mashkov, R. Falk, etc. Artist Andrej Goncharov, graduate of VHUTEMAS, says about his teacher Mr. Mashkov: "Ilja Mashkov wanted us to learn various art manners in practice: we painted the same still-life in pointillism style, then in naturalistic stile, and, finally, "in-Mashkov-style". The discussions of art were of a great value for us. We visited Pushkin Museum and Mashkov explained us the methods of Matisse, Cezanne, the artists of Cubism. For me it was the first chance to meet the modern Western art". Also Ilja Mashkov was the teacher of Helena Samoilenko, the native of Gomel. Some participants of that Gomel cultural mission became well-known painters and graphics: George Nysskiy, Lev Smekhov, Akim Shevchenko, Helena Mashkovtseva etc. Sergei Kovrovskij graduated from VHUTEMAS art studio of P. Kelin and returned to Gomel. He continued to work at Cultural Center of Railroaders. He managed to involve in art a lot of talented persons.

In 1930-s Gomel cultural life had the same processes as the whole country did. Nonstandard art styles disappeared because of political and ideological censure. An artist got a new mission – to be understood by people and to reflect the development of the state. There was no more space for a new art search and self-expression. For many decades there were the only one official school - socialist realism. The works of art by Gomel artists Vasilij Aksamitov, Sergei Kovrov, Boris Zvinogrodskij, Konstantin Lebedev are the documentary of the city’s history. Of course, each of above-mentioned artists had the own individual art language.

The most known artist of that time was Boris Zvinogrodsky (1896-1982). The sense of action, space and lyricism of his canvases were highly appreciated even by inexperienced audience. The skills of master that studied at the capital (Moscow School of Art craft and Architecture) can be seen in industrial and urban landscapes, the views of the river Sozh, his favorite places of Gomel’s suburbs. He always was the follower of classical Russian art school. The artist worked mostly in open air and it caused the fidelity in his works. He recalls the creative process: " I climbed to the roof of the Palace of Pioneers. There was a wonderful view: spring overflow. One felt giddy because of air, of sun and of feeling of freedom. It was very easy to work. There was just one problem – to catch the sunlight, the air and the broad delta of the Sozh."

Boris Zvinogrodsky created dozens of works and taught many students during his long life. In 1948 he headed the art studio at Cultural Center of Railroaders. It was an important stage in the development of Gomel art school.

For many artists the theme of native nature helped to overcome the false rhetoric of official ideology. For example Victor Kazachenko (1918-1998) who was one of the founders of Gomel art school. His canvases combined intensive rhythms of a new life of industrial landscape with the beauty of a lonely tree near a pond or a blooming spring garden.

We should mention vivid and festive range of colours of works by Stanislav Djakonov (1932-2003). This artist worked within various genres. He crated expressive landscapes, historically truthful portraits and figurative compositions. He managed to make monumental works in straight and laconic way. His urban landscapes were full of quite lyricism.

In the early 1960-s there appeared a group of artists with specific way of landscape painting: Dmitry Oleynik (1929-2003), Nikolai Kazakevich (born 1934), Robert Landarsky (born 1936) they created a new brunch of Gomel art school called “Gomel impressionism”. Cheerful atmosphere, bright vivid colors and the absence of blackness. Robert Landarsky remembers the reaction at republican exhibitions: "... everyone used to visit our place at exhibitions to see our works. They differed from the rest art. Painter Dmitry Poliankov compared the works by the most of artists with “brown oven doors”. But our canvases were vivid." At the beginning there were a lot of criticism from the elder artists, but rather soon their manner got its audience as well as followers.

The ideological borders limited artists preventing their creative fulfillment. Social orders gave them the moments of real creativity but the artists understood that those works wouldn’t get to exhibitions. There are still a lot of blank spots in the art life of Soviet Gomel, especially in its "unofficial part".

The art as well as the whole cultural life in Gomel became more liberal and free during political and economic changes of 1980-1990. Some underground art styles got the chance of rehabilitation together with realistic art. With the time the diversity of styles became a norm. Abstractionism and surrealism, expressionism and realism, socialistic art and pointillism - this is an incomplete list of the styles of Gomel artists of 1990-2000. Among them there were Igor Semeko, Lubov Stepanova, Vitaliy Denisenko, Svetlana Nozdrin-Plotnitskaja, Andrei Krylov, Alexander Sushkov, Eugene Semeniuk, Svetlana Kurashova etc. Some of them tried to perfect the skill, other were searching for new forms of self-reflection.

Gomel art life of nowadays has a great variety of artistic stiles as well as demands of audience. According to an unofficial survey of visitors of "Gomel Palace and Park Ensemble": more than 50% of visitors prefer classic styles, 40% - visit various exhibitions, about 5% - prefer contemporary art. The third group consists of the younger generation who prefers innovations.

The art of future is being formed now in a great deal. Our country with its strong classical traditions is at the beginning of the way to a new perception, to a new understanding of art.

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