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Vitebsk Engraving School

On January 26, 2017 the National Art Museum of Belarus opens the exhibition of Vitebsk Engraving School. The opening ceremony starts at 5 p.m.

In the 20th century Vitsebsk has become not only a special center for the formation of avant-garde art, the place of the formation of a kind of Vitsebsk art school, but also it has played an important role in the development of the Belarusian engraving art. In the last century the most notable were two local events marking the two steps of rather bright development of Vitsebsk engraving, which is represented by the two related graphic techniques – engraving on wood (xylography) and carving on linoleum (linocut).

The first stage is connected with the rise and flourishing of wood engraving in the middle and the second half of the 1920s. Even the art works preserved in spite of the dramatic events of the Great Patriotic War allows us to confidently talk about the formation of a kind of Vitsebsk School of Engraving at that time.

Salamon Yudovin (1892–1954), Yafim Minin (1894–1937) and Zinoviy Harbavets (1898–1979) largely contributed to the revival and the development of xylograph (woodcut) in Vitsebsk. Being the pupils of the famous Yehuda Pen, and later on the teachers of the Vitsebsk Institute of Practical Arts, Salamon Yudovin and Yafim Minin had reached the peak of perfection in the field of easel graphics and book illustration. Their art works were distinguished for high professional skills and realistic imagery. The pedagogical activity of the artists played an important role. Salamon Yudovin, whom many consider the founder of the Vitsebsk School of Engraving, had been teaching special subjects in the Graphic Studio of the Vitsebsk Institute of Practical Arts (VIPA); since 1922 Yafim Minin, a Vitsebsk resident, had been working at the Vitsebsk Institute of Practical Arts, he gave the lectures on the history of art, he was a teacher of drawing and engraving. In 1924 Zinoviy ​​Harbavets began his teaching and artistic activity in Vitebsk. Firstly he addressed himself not to end face but to edging engraving. Unlike other Vitebsk engravers he was far more a portrait painter than a landscape one. However, the artist did not leave architectural monuments and treasures of Vitsebsk without his artistic attention.

Aliaksandr Akhola-Valo (1990–1997) also successfully mastered in the technique of linocut at the Graphic Workshop of Salamon Yudovin in Vitsebsk. In the second half of the 1920s he continued to work using this technique, even when he had moved to Minsk, and in the 1950–1980s when he lived in Sweden. The artist paid his tribute to the period of the Belarusian Renaissance, and he sought to image the features of the new social order.

The 1960–1980s have become another distinctive stage in the development of engraving in Vitsebsk. At this time in the art of the Soviet Union there was a revival of interest in the art of engraving, especially linocut. There was the time when even own national art schools of engraving were formed. Its specific characteristics such as language brevity, a spectacular clarity of rhythmic structure, availability and relative speed of execution, cheapness of material and ability to increase the circulation – contributed to the development of this technique’s popularity.

During the 1960–1980s the technique of linocut has acquired a highlighted easel character in the art works by Vitsebsk artists. In the vast majority the graphic sheets made by Vitsebsk residents are allocated by their emotional expressiveness, an exquisite lyrical and poetic structure.

Ryhor Klikushyn (1921–2014) became one of the first artists of Vitsebsk, who in the early 1960s had turned to the usage of linocut. The artist has enthusiastically mastered the possibilities of black and white as well as colored linocut, the expressive possibilities of which transmitted a sublime and romantic spirit of that time. The artist gave many years to the pedagogical work: he was the Dean of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the Faculty of Arts and Graphics, he was the organizer and the Head of the Circle of Graphics.

Mikalai Gugnin (1946) and Viktar Danilau (1946) began their artistic path in linocut from the Circle of Graphics, the Head of which was Ryhor Klikushyn. Viachaslau Shamshur, Mikalai Taranda and others also applied the technique of linocut. In the art works by these artists monumentality, a spatial diversity, and a desire to bring the stories to a usual level of a typical generalization are becoming urgent. But the desire to emphasize the significance, the magnitude of the depicted events could have not overshadowed the main thing – an emotional start, sincerity in reflecting the reality. The motives of everyday life, landscapes with their characteristic lyrical and romantic features have hardly occupied a leading place in the art works performed by graphic artists.

It should also be noted that Heorhiy Kisialeu (1935) and Barys Kuzmichou (1936–2000) were among the famous Belarusian graphics that in the 19601970s had been attracted by linocut. Barys Kuzmichou worked in different techniques of easel graphics, but he paid a special attention to black-and-white and colored linocut. Starting from his first art works he has announced himself as an artist whose art works harmoniously combine lyrical and philosophical reasons and motives. The engravings made by Heorhiy Kisialeu have a distinctive character. A thematic and genre range of his art work is quite wide – from ordinary Vitsebsk landscapes, still lifes to complex ornamental compositions. Isaac Barouski’s (1921–1991) graphic heritage is small, but it is an emphasized landmark for the understanding of diversity and uniqueness of his artistic talent. Some linocuts can be primarily noted not for an academic completeness and the perfection of plastic development but for their ease and clarity of graphics ... as well as their charm.

In the 1980s scenic effects, the attempts of expanding limited expressive abilities of linocut art, of becoming “the winners” of its dryness and conventionality have become dominated motives in the art works of Vitebsk painters. Meanwhile freedom and an outer expressiveness of visual language, attention to details do not interfere with the integrity and harmonization of the composition system.

The vast majority of the engravings by Anatol Ilyinau (1935) are characterized by their lyrical tone every so often approached by a sublime melancholy. His art works – a kind of visual lyric poetry in which the images of the native land sound brightly and metaphorically. The series of his linocuts is dedicated to the Lepial, Braslau and Vitsebsk regions. The creative activities of a famous watercolorist – Henadz Shutau (1939) is not limited to a single technique. The artist not only created linocuts by himself, but he has also instilled love of this technique to one of his students – Yury Baranau (1949) in whose art works poetically sublimed Vitsebsk had become a dominant motive.

During the 1980–1990s and at the beginning of the 20th century Leanid Antimonau, the Head of the Engraving Studio of the Faculty of Arts, and later on his student and successor Aleh Kastagryz, have already supported the interest for technique of linocut of the students of the Vitsebsk State University after Pyotr Masherau. Diploma thesis and creative works among which there are the engravings by Mikalai Azaronak, A. Nikifarau, Viktar Shylko and Ekatiaryna Baitsova shown in this exhibition were performed under the guidance of these teachers.

Today, at a certain distance from the last century, it can be clearly seen that the two stylistically similar techniques of engraving – wood engraving and linocut – had their own way of development in the space of Vitsebsk art in the 20th century and at the same time they contributed to the formation of rather an integrated school of graphics, in which several generations of Vitsebsk artists clearly showed their talents.

Curators: Mikhas Tsybulski, Svetlana Rzheutskaya