The Universe of Jazep Drazdovich
01.06 - 30.12.2018

Personality of Jazep Drazdovich (1888-1954) holds a special place in the history of the Belarusian culture. In the 1910s and 1930s, he lived at the epicenter of cultural events and participated in the most important processes that were crucial for the national Renaissance. Everything he did was saturated with the fragrance of cosmic, universal scope, which is not typical for the Belarusian culture. It is from here that the phenomenality of Drazdovich's art stems.

There is a lot and very little biographical information about Drazdovich at the same time, as everyone writing about Drazdovich is forced to rely primarily on his own memories and testimonies – his diaries, letters and autobiographical essays.

Yazep Drazdovich was born on October 1, 1888 in the Puńki village, Dzisna District, near the Halubickaja Pušča (now Hlubokaje District, Viciebsk Region). He was the youngest child in a large family of a poor nobleman. In 1906, Drazdovich entered the Vilna School of Drawing headed by academician of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts Ivan Trutnev (1827-1912), a well-known painter and graphic artist at the time. In those years Drazdovich was closely associated with the editorial office of the “Nasha Niva” newspaper. In 1909, Drazdovich was asked to design the cover for “The First Belarusian Calendar”. This was the beginning of his career.

Many contemporaries valued Drazdovich primarily as a graphic. This part of his heritage was different from everything else he created and was highly appreciated. The graphic heritage of Drazdovich is impressive in its quality, diversity and quantity. During each trip Drazdovich made sketches of local architecture: Vilno, Minsk, Mir, Navahrudak, Pinsk, Haĺšany, Lida, Kreva, lots of villages scattered across Belarus... And, as always, Drazdovich didn't want to remain just an artist – he collected historical information, was interested in local legends, sometimes doing archaeological experiments.

Curiously enough, the geography of the travels of Drazdovich was quite limited. In life he avoided long distances, was not eager to go to the exotic countries, which usually provide a visitor with avariety of impressions (of course, except for his flights to space that he made almost every night beginning from a certain period). The artist did not dare to go too far away from his native Dzisenščyna. He was attracted by other ways, and it seems the most intricate routes he paved inside himself like all of us do.

1921 was a defining year in the life of Drazdovich. At this time, the Belarusian Museum was created in Vilno. It was the most abundant (thousands of units) storage of various materials on the history and culture of Belarus. When in 1944 it was decided to liquidate the Ivan Lutskevich Belarusian Museum, all the exhibits were divided into groups, most of them remained in Vilno, few got to Minsk. For example, all the texts documenting the “space travels” of Drazdovich are stored now in the Central Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

One of the first gifts to the Belarusian Museum were his series of graphic works (vintage architecture and portraits of princes of Polack: Rahvalod, Usiaslaw the Sorcerer, Brachyslaw, etc.). Anyway, since that time, Drazdovich's works appeared at the Belarusian Museum exposition over and over again. He handed over everything he did to the museum, and thanks to it his heritage of the 1920s and 1930s is well preserved, unlike the early works and the post-war ones. Drazdovich's fascination with the history of Belarus was embodied in a variety of graphic, pictorial and literary works.

The artist's pictorial heritage is quantitatively inferior to the graphic one. Maybe the reason is that, in contrast to the graphic works, most of which are performed in strict conformity with the “classical standards”, Drazdovich's paintings always teetered on the shaky brink between the professional and the insight naive art. Such “borderline” phenomena can sometimes confuse and confound, as they do not fit into any coordinate system. But it is this “borderline” characteristic, the unique charisma, the “imperfection” of these works that attract and fascinate the viewer. Today Drazdovich’s paintings cause no less interest than his graphic works...

In his art, Jazep Drazdovich easily delved into the past or travelled to the outer space, so the “here and now” reality seemed to him much less interesting for the artistic embodiment. But he always held true to the realistic principle, the method of embodiment, the accuracy and meticulousness in the transfer of details.

In the 1930s, Drazdovich experiences financial difficulties, and, as always, such a challenging social situation paradoxically, or maybe quite naturally, gives a unique result. He looked into the Space – and the Space looked into him. This, of course, provided an exceptional result for the Belarusian culture.

Drazdovich was convinced that he was gifted with clairvoyance. And as easily as he addressed the distant past of his land, he immersed himself in the space. He was spending day after day in the library, eagerly absorbing all the literature on astronomy that he could find and immersing himself in magical (somnambulistic) dreams, travelling to the “astral plane”. He traveled to the distant stars and planets – the Moon, Mars, Saturn, Venus, enjoyed the beautiful landscapes, the incredible flora and fauna, visited unknown countries and cities and observed the lives of local people. In the morning he meticulously, to the last detail, wrote down and documented everything he had seen in the diary and in special notebooks, then making them into albums. Some of these drawings were later developed into paintings.

He left dozens of evidence about his night visits to the space and astral travel in his paintings, graphic works and texts. Drazdovich is unanimously considered “the founder of the space theme in Belarusian art”. Maybe we should admit that Drazdovich is the unique artist, that it never happened again and not only in the Belarusian art. The unprecedented nature of this part of Drazdovich's work is that he considered his sketches and notes on space travel significant not just from the artistic point of view, but primarily from the scientific one. However, sometimes Drazdovich suggested that he observes not the modern life on the visited planets, but the times to come. Moreover, everything Drazdovich sees on other planets suspiciously reminds him of Belarus. At least, he compares everything with the surrounding Belarusian realities.

In 1931, Drazdovich published a scientific brochure “Heavenly Runs” – a publication with hand-made linocuts. The 1930s scientists were unaware that the space is uninhabited, it was believed that life on other planets existed in other conditions.

Since 1933, the artist moved in with his older brother Kanstantsin and engaged in wood carving. He crafted special staffs with images of people and animals, chests (for his diary) and snuffboxes. He carved figures of the Virgin, saints and angels. He made bas-relief portraits of his mother, brothers and friends. At this time, Drazdovich often stayed for a long time in the surrounding villages, creating the painted wall carpets – “maljavanki”.

Drazdovich did not live to the day the man travelled to space (April 12, 1961). In 1954, the villagers found Drazdovich lying unconscious on the road. The artist was brought to the nearest hospital, where he died on September 15, 1954.

Drazdovich was compared to all kinds of artists: Leonardo da Vinci, Mikalojus Čiurlionis and Nicholas Roerich, but these comparisons do not seem very convincing. Perhaps, we must admit that never and nowhere there was an artist similar to Drazdovich.

This exhibition features the major collections from the Belarusian museums, and is also dedicated to Arsenij Lis (1934-2018), one of the first researchers of the art of Jazep Drazdovich, author of the book about the artist entitled “The Eternal Wanderer” (1984).


Curator Volga Arkhipava, Leading Researcher of the Department of Contemporary Belarusian Art of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus

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