ARTMargins Online Blog

In the afternoon I do interiors and at night I create my works

Some years ago I was lucky to get acquainted with young Belarusian artist Vasily Zenko. He is a member of Belarusian Union of Artists and it means that officially he represents “acceptable” side. In reality Vasily he not just tries to remain neutral, he is even not interested in all these intestine wars, he is just fond of art. His own art.

Tide. 2010. 80х70 a canvas, acryle.

How it all began?

My father Vasily Zenko is a professional photographer. He was awarded  many times on republic and international photo competitions. Probably, I inherited the artistic gene from him. My elder brother Andrew is an artist, too. Since my childhood I was keen on painting. I attended art studio in Stolbtsy town. And when I was 11 I entered Republic art and music boarding school named after Ivan Akhremchik (today it is “Gymnasium- college of art named after Ivan Akhremchik” – author's note).

Parents had rather skeptical attitude to my decision. They let me do this being sure I wouldn't enter the educational establishment. But quite unexpectedly they received a letter from Minsk, that I was accepted. So, from this very moment my formation as an artist began. I finished a boarding-school in 1996, it means that I got a teacher's diploma in the age of 17. I tried to enter the Academy at once (Belarusian State Academy of Art – author's note), the Department of monumental and decorative art. But, unfortunately, I didn't succeeded at this, so I started teaching at the Stolbtsy art school. Noteworthy, at the beginning of 1990s there was only musical department.

 So, in some sense, thanks to me art department was opened in this school. Nowadays this educational establishment has a great popularity in my native town. Many graduates of it become students of Minsk art universities… But in my 17, what kind of teacher could I be?! Humpty-dumpty with an earring on my ear, with my hair below the shoulders and shaved temples. I was teaching children, and prepared to enter the Academy in my free time. My efforts were not in vain, because next year I became a student of monumental and decorative art department of the Belarusian State Academy of Art.

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Why exactly monumental and decorative art?

When I studied at the boarding school, a young teacher came (now deceased), Vladimir Urchenko, thanks to whom a group of monumental art was opened. I joined that group because it was really interesting for me. It was not just oil painting on canvas – we studied mosaic, stained-glass window technique, sgraffito, etc. In other words, I learned a lot about different technologies, secrets of crafts, that later were very useful for me. That why at the Academy I wanted to study exactly in this department in order to get a professional education in this very sphere. I wanted to think widely, to work with interior, with large formats and various materials. It seems to me this is the most interesting and prestigious department, you can take a lot for yourself there.

Under the  influence of what artists have you been formed and how did your works transformed with time?

If to compare my early works with what I create now – there is a great difference in everything, from techniques to semantic content. Before the Academy I painted in oil, now I prefer acryl. Some time ago expressionism was close to my inner  sense, because of its morphogenesis and form of understanding. That's why that time I was influenced by works of such Belarusian artists as Leonid Khobotov, Sergei Kiruyschenko and art association “Nemiga'17”. But when the time to work on my Academy diploma came, I discovered quite new technique for myself,  which I still work in.

In course of time I improved it and now I have a right to say that it's mine, it includes several methods that only I know because I invented them myself. If to characterize my technique in general words, it is based on acryl painting on canvas with use of various textures, washing offs, glazes, dimensional contours. It is a combination of some stylistic peculiarities of Nouveau and primeval African art in special proportions. Generally the ideas for my plots I normally take from aborigine's art, I can't stop admiring their style and themes.

But nevertheless your main income is not from selling your own pictures, but from design of cottages and flats. Doesn't it offend your artistic ambitions? Don't you regret that you can't devote yourself to pure art?

Art presents in everything that I do. I always try to make my client listen to my opinion or even try to bring him over in order to save myself in each work. But I consider such work as just the way to earn money, because they are simply necessary for devoting myself to art. I work as interior designer and spend money on canvases, paints, on organizing of exhibitions. In other words, in the afternoon I do interiors and at night I create my works. I wish I could devote myself only to art, but unfortunately it doesn't bring money.

Do you think artist should have civilian and political position or it only hinders creativity?

Surely, he should. Every person should have his own civilian position, based on certain beliefs, values, etc. But I think all this shouldn't be imported into art. Otherwise an artist has a risk to go down to publicism and declarativeness. Of course, I have my own point of view on political situation in our country, on what is going on in the world, but it has now connection with my art. In my works I try to reveal universal values, that do not depend on your belonging to this or that political party.

What is your attitude to Belarusian Union of Artists? Why did you decide to join it?

I guess, because I wanted to. It's clear, that today a membership in this Union does not guarantee a well-off life as it was in the Soviet Union. In that time many artists survived (and some of them even prospered) thanks to state orders. Republican and all-union exhibitions were constantly organized where the government bought a big number of art works. Today the Union of Artists itself has to search for some livelihood. But being a member of it still gives certain opportunities.

If you are a member of the Union you can take part in exhibitions, projects. Besides the majority of artists in our country are members of the Union and it gives an opportunity to communicate with your colleagues. And also Belarusian Union of Artists gave me a studio. It is temporary, for 3 years, but nevertheless it is much better than to keep huge canvases in our rented flat or to rent an expensive city studio… If to take opposition art (though in the real context it is rather conventional concept), there is an art gallery “Ў”, that tries to exist independently, apart from art community and produces a project practically for itself. That's why it doesn't really influences on art situation in our country. But, probably, it is a different story… 

Do you think the opposition between official and unofficial art has a right for existence? 

Well, for me personally such opposition is rather strange. I do not welcome a protest for protest and always try to take a neutral position. It is not because I am cunning or wily. I just think such an opposition ruins general artistic atmosphere. One proves this thing, another – that thing instead of collaborating and doing  quality artistic projects, that deserve to be on the international level. It destroyes.

Do you feel this opposition on yourself?

No, I don't. I communicate with both sides. It is natural for me. Because all of them are professionals, works of each one occupy a certain niche and have a right for existence. And inner wars are alien for me, besides it is even not interesting. If I receive a proposal (no matter from whose side it is) to take part in any kind of project – I normally try to accept the offer. Creativity itself – is what really important for me. I've chosen my path (flora and fauna) – here there is no policy.

Why does this theme attract you so much? Because of its “sterility”?

Artists-activists – are the artists of protest. They are formed by the social environment in which they live. If this atmosphere of a protest do not exists, they would still find it in something else. So, they are people that were created by this social environment. But I can't understand where is an artist in all this? In general, modern art became too aggressive. Sometimes it seems that no creative part left. But I am interested in other things. When I see chameleons, lemurs, reptiles and other amazing creatures I experience a real emotional explosion – they are so incredible! 

The nature itself is absolutely harmonious and all the creatures, despite their outer unprepossessing, are perfect. I am fond of painting them. Sometimes I search the Internet in order to find images of crabs, shells, insects, etc. I can explore them for hours. If just to take an ordinary shell: there are so many shades in it, that give a feeling of amazing color sound. Andhowdifferenttheirshapecanbe! Itinspiresme. The only trouble with it is that sometimes I start to panic because I understand that I simply can't cover all this.

But in my works I pay attention not only to the natural beauty of these wonderful creatures. I like to compare nature world with society. For instance, in the art-project “Complicated relations” an attentive viewer could notice, that sometimes behavior of my main heroes “imitates” human's relations. In the images of animals and birds I visualized such emotions and feeling of people as love, envy, kindness, greed, etc. Surely, such a technique has been used long before this project. But there are some things and events, that each person feels and thinks about again and again, according to his private experience. People need to feel everything by themselves and none of theoretical knowledge can replace personal emotions and feelings.  

The idea of my next project “Predator – Prey” wasn't limited by just demonstrating of a system “predator-prey” in eternally evolving world of biosphere. Though it deserves attention anyway, because everything in nature possesses unrepeatable beauty, variety and wisdom of the world order. In works that were included in this exposition I tried to show the correlation between general laws of nature and society. In the human world we can also meet both “predators” and ‘preys”. Such a division is formed because of psychological type of every person. In the project “REFLEXUS” I experimented with the ability of a man to percept outward things with a help of senses. 

It was important for me to show that a definite material object as a set of images and conceptions is reflected in a human's consciousness… I notice, that recently artists mostly deal with self-PR than create art. They pay much attention to political and social issues and forget about nature, because it is considered to be not urgent. But for me this theme is very palpitating, because flora and fauna rapidly disappears. I'd like to deal with some charity projects to help the endangered species, but, unfortunately, this tendency is not developed here.

I just thought, if you have a choice: to save a man or a dog, whom would you choose?

You know, now it's easy to say anything. But if to get into such situation in reality… In extreme situations people behave themselves absolutely unpredictable. I would try to save both. Though, sometimes there is a thought in my mind that humankind – is such a fungus, that should be destroyed, because everything harmonious in nature was already spoiled by men. And in the context of a real ecological situation all attempts to fix something look rather ridiculous.

Is it possible to call you a naturalist?

Well, I would call Ivan Shishkin a naturalist… Though, may be, in some sense this word can be related to me as well. If it means that I build my works on realistic form of representatives of flora and fauna and use colors typical for wild nature. But at the same time Belarusian art critic Eugene Shuneiko characterized my woks as “ecological romanticism”. It seems to me, this is the most correct definition.

You've got your own technique, tell a bit about it, why does it attract you?

I like the material itself, how it is possible though washing offs, dimensional contours to create various textures, through thin glazes reach complicated color effects.

How do you feel about Belarusian art space? Do you think Belarusian artists can say something in the world context?

The main thing is that we have “plasticine”, that is quite good to sculpt in it: we have enough interesting artists, we have environment which is able to present Belarusian art in the world on rather high level. But because of the opposition that was discussed above, because of political interference into art, all people are split into small groups, there is no wholeness in the artistic environment. I wish young artists cope with this conjuncture and start creating solid art space in our country.

But young people always rush to extremes. If only I have a right to decide, I would make a glass bottle, write the name of all our artists on sheets of paper and put them into this bottle. Then I would gather all the gallerists and ask everyone to take 5 names from the bottle in order each gallery start working with certain artists. Then they would change papers. I guess, such a game could take us out of the situation. I do not know any other effective methods. Even in the Belarusian Union of Artists there are a lot of poles and each one tries to become leading, destroying in such a way a wholeness of art environment. Art community should deal with interesting projects, not with opposition to each other. May be a qualified managerisneededforit. 

Would you like to become such a manager?

It is a difficult question. Nowadays in Belarusian art space we can see certain shifts towards mass projects. Personally I also try to organize exhibitions with young perspective Belarusian artists. Right now together with Alexey Khatskevich we prepare art-project on Apocalypse theme. It opens on the 30rd of November in the Republic Palace. It will be the view of two completely different artists of the doomsday, a theme, that is very urgent this year. We will try to cover all the Belarusian art space with all its “poles”, create a certain image of contemporary Belarusian art. And in the December, 2012 together with art critic Natalia Selitskaya I will gather our Belarusian artists in the project “Garden”. There each participant should choose a tree for himself as an object of art and create his own interpretation of it, his own reasoning of the tree. In the result we expect to get a solid “art-garden”. In general, there is a plenty of projects, but, unfortunately, the time for all of them is not enough.

Artem Onaschenko
Author: Artem OnaschenkoWebsite: http://kyky.org/tvCountry: Belarus
Artem Onaschenko, 26 years, blogger, journalist. In 2009 I graduated from Institute of Journalism of Belarusian State University, faculty of mass media. I worked 5 years on state TV-channel (CTV), now I am a television editor of internet-portal about modern Belarusian culture kyky.org/tv, where I have my own blog as well. I'm keen on literature of post-modernism, Indie rock music and Art house films.

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