I was born in Minsk in 1945, the most memorable year of the 20 th century, the year of the Great Victory. And the date is quite questionable and provocative: August 13th .
We occupied two rooms in a hut: my mother, father, sister, younger brother and me. I remember a long coat to grow into, wearing which my hands were not seen, and that made me ashamed. I remember thick pancakes my father cooked in the stove. Even now, when I am already older than my gone father, and baking is my favourite activity, I still remember this peculiar and unforgettable taste. I never saw my granny relaxing. She always subjected me to severe punishment but I was never offended because I knew that the night would come and, before going to bed, she would hard-handedly touch my head with her scored palms stroking my hair and they would seem to be so tender. Great and small kid’s problems faded away and I went to sleep happy and beloved! 1953 - the year of Stalin’s death. I clearly remember myself standing on the windowsill for some reason, Granny holding me, the weather was gloomy and wet. Everyone was weeping. And as everyone was weeping, nobody could say anything sensible. And, looking at all of them and understanding nothing, I was also weeping like an adult.
It’s time to remember my parents. My father - Anatoli Korzhan. When the war broke out, he was 16, so he wasn’t drafted into the military. He became a partisan of Konstantin Zaslonov’s brigade. Later, he was the commander of a raiding force. It can only be guessed how many German trains were derailed by this youngster during the 4 years of war. He got a lot of danglers, including 2 Orders of Wartime Red banner. Such orders were not given to people of his age by chance, only according to their deserts. I remember my father to be a tall (182 cm was a considerable height at that time) handsome and slim man. He wasn’t seriously wounded. All women stared in wonder at him. I was happy to walk alongside of him. No doubt, the war left its mark on him. He was very hurtable, quick-tempered and severe as a parent. Being the eldest, I got my lumps deservingly and undeservingly, just for the future. He couldn’t imagine that a boy might complain about anything. My father had a passion. He adored forest. He grabbed any opportunity to be there. I was often taken to the forest by him. He never looked for mushrooms, he just felt their presence. And I learnt a lot of interesting things: how to make a fire, to build a hut of branches, to make a basket from birchbark, to bake potatoes on candent stones, to sleep at night in a winter forest without freezing up, which puddles contain drinkable water. He taught me to see and feel the beauty of customary things. These very trips became a decisive factor in choosing my future job. I am in my mid seventies now and I feel sorrow for not knowing when, where and thanks to whom my father learnt to draw, to be more precise - to paint. It seemed to me incomprehensible and inaccessible. I still remember the day when he gave me oils, 12 colours in big tubes. Since then till now, and, I am sure, till my last breath, this has been and will be my affection, my passion and my job. My father didn’t live long, he died at the age of 54. The war had its effect.
My mother, Maria Korzhan was 9 years older than my father. She was kind and hospitable. She loved me more than anybody else. Maybe because I was her first child or because I was the product of her views on upbringing. She even came to Kolodischi, where I did military service, every week. Her life was not a walk in the park. Three kids, a younger husband, whom she had to keep an eye on, the death of the youngest child. Unlike my father she lived quite a long life of 90 years. I stayed with her till the end, having thanked her for love and care.
My childhood was just the same that everyone had at that time: we were almost naked and barefooted but amazingly happy. In summer we needed only trunks, a couple of onions from the kitchen garden and a piece of bread. That was enough for not coming home till night comes. Old cottages, sheds. Fences, where we could play ringolevio, snowballs and hide-and-seek. Lapta, tipcat game, coin game, neighbourhood gardens and the square where we played football and baked potatoes. The river Svisloch, where we bathed until we were blue in the face. Bicycle rides to the country, competitions in running, jumping and weightlifting. Every boy wanted to be strong at that time. Childhood seemed to be easygoing, bright and happy. My favourite subjects at school were Painting and PE. I dedicated all my free time to both of them. I painted 8 copies of big sizes before going to the army and admired working on them 5-7 hours a day. I also had the first adult degree in skiing and shooting. Going to the army was enjoyment for me. All my friends gathered at my home. They were upset because of my leaving. Some of them even cried. We ate potatoes and drank lemonade. I realised that my imagination about beiing in the army was not real from the first days of my military service. I was not afraid of physical training but psychological conditions were much harder. Everything was far more violent and not so festive as I had imagined. But up to now I have no regret about having been in the army. I became an adult, I learnt to do things through the pain barrier neglecting my wishes. I obtained confidence, responsibility and adulthood.
Having finished military service I had to think of my future life. The idea of going to Art Academy was a bit frightening. Firstly, I had never studied at an art school or college. Secondly, to enter the Academy one had to draw a picture of a naked person, which I had never done. The decision was “let chance decide”. There was some hope for 3 thousand sketches made in the army. I had always had a notebook and a pencil with me. There wasn’t a day of my military service without making a sketch! I was the best at catching the movement and plastic of a person, but there was not enough knowledge of anatomy. And, what concerns painting, I made copies mechanically choosing the colours, having no knowledge how to do it in the right way. I actually did not know how to paint from nature and what plein-air meant. Studying at the Academy I started realising but not comprehending what painting was. My vision of colours was bad and the tones of colours were much worse. I had no idea at that time that I would have to learn it all my life. To be brief, I wanted to drop out of the Academy in the middle of the freshman year but I recollected the army where I had sketched at mimic warfare, on guard duty, in winter with naked hands, at night, as there was no time at daytime. And I felt ashamed of my weakness. I started painting additionally on weak-offs and holidays. So, by the end of the freshman year the ice broke up. I obtained the result: the colours and tones were distinguished. That was not really what I desired, though, it was the first step. In the second course I got the first “five” (the highest mark) for painting and I got only fives till graduating. Painting gripped me more and more. I tried to paint something complicated in colour in order the air, the mood, the depth and the charm were felt. My most favourite colours were umber, sienna and ultramarine. I didn’t like carmine, cobalt and lake colour. Only some time later I realised that there were no bad colours. I found myself, my job and my future wife to whom I am still being married (the only time in my life). I still can’t understand when I was luckier - either while choosing the job, which I consider to be the best, or choosing the wife, whom I believe to be a fate’s gift and a unique person. I still remember my theses defence. My wife came with the two-months old daughter in a baby carriage. Somebody said looking at her: “This is his best thesis!”
I recollect a sunny day in the beginning of spring, first flush of grass and the desire to paint was so great! But I was babysitting with my daughter. She was about two years old. I spent a lot of time explaining to her the necessity of my job, that I would come soon, surrounded her with toys and went painting.When I returned, my self-supporting kid was smiling. I feel uneasy while writing about it now. Soon I was given a job in the Sovremennik cinema. At that time people liked going to the cinema. Sometimes they couldn’t do it as all the tickets had already been sold. That was in the 80-ies. I worked there for 5 years as an ad painter. I worked with pleasure. Ads and painting are different things, so I had to realise that ads must be bright, staring and readable. That influenced me in a good way. I started using bright colours more often paying attention to the colour-grade.
Then I worked for the Studio Theatre of a Film Actor. I made hundreds of drawings there. Fortunately, my daughter studied at an art school not far from the theatre and she often dropped in to discuss my and her works. I always took duties on New Year day. My workmates didn’t understand it as I was a family man. My daughter and wife had a magical New Year on the stage with a tall New Year tree, in the spotlight and wearing costumes from the dressing room. When I grew older it became difficult to combine work, keeping a country house and painting. I had to make a choice. The decision was to devote myself to creative work. My family supported this decision and I left the theatre. The country house was sold some time later.
I painted everything in Drozdy. It is a very beautiful area in Masukovschina district. Any painting is a home for air, position, sincerity and lyrics. Lyrical landscape painting isn’t easy to deal with. You have not only to love nature but also have a fine appreciation of it. You should always experience lack of it. You should look for any chance of being in contact with it. You should hear the music of the forest in disorganized birdsongs, hear what the trees are whispering to one another, see how grass is flirting with dew, how a birch tree is trying aglets on. Those few people, who have a knack for this, are really lucky. They work in this genre of painting. They are big adult-kids. A landscape cannot be understood by one’s brain, it should be felt by one’s soul. People of art have an extremely rare chance to express their inner world through their works. The more plentiful and purer their world is, the more amazing and wonderful they are (if they have ability of the hand). So were Nesterov, Savrasov, Shishkin, Byalnitski-Birulya and, of course, Levitan. Recollect their works. Being students, each of us was in sympathy with this or that artist. As for me, they were firstly landscape painters. I enjoyed impressionists, admired the ability of creating air in the works of Byalnitski-Birulya and was amazed by Levitan’s lyrics. I had really good teachers: Livshits, Voronov. I still envision Voronov’s works. He was a heaven-born artist. His paintings are colourful, light and airy. I was adult enough and, looking at iconic painters, I tried to find my own manner and style. Now, as I am over 70, I am happy that I have managed to do it.
All my landscapes have been painted in the open air, from nature, from the first to the last touch of the paintbrush. I come to the chosen place at the same time every day. It is very important, especially, for painting sunlight. One session lasts 3-4 hours of painting. Preparing palette before the session takes an hour and a half. Going to the place of painting takes from an hour up to an hour and a half. I go on foot. To finish a painting I have to walk about a hundred km. Canvas, a painter’s case and a holdall bag with all necessary things weigh 12-15 kilos. I enjoy walking. All my worries and hardships disappear after walking about 5 km. I have walked not less than 90 thousand km during my 40 years of painting. While painting I forget all my troubles and health problems. A festive atmosphere is created. I try to mirror my feelings on the canvas and I am happy if I manage to show the tenth part of what I feel and see. It always happens so. It is a great tension. You paint not only with your eyes and a paintbrush, but all parts of your body take part in this process. Your soul, thoughts, nerves and something else, which can’t be seen or described. Painting is a nagging pain that you don’t want to get rid of. I am sometimes asked: “How do you gain inspiration?” I needn’t gain it because it is always with me. If I could live without selling my works, I would leave all of them with me. They are my children, whom I have transmitted so much of my love, passion, care and health. I am sure, paintings should be given only to good people.
I need to see the motif live, feel it, admire it and talk with it. Only then it can take you seriously. Nature is a living body. Grass is growing, trees are becoming green, water is flowing, clouds are drifting across the sky. Everything is moving because everything is alive. Nature, like people and animals, has its own language. It chooses itself who to share its secrets with. I don’t try to compete with a camera. Our aims are different. I try to see and transmit the most specific, the most genuine and the most constitutive features. Having come to the place, I always greet it and, having finished the last session, I say: “Thank you and good-bye.” Nature is the best teacher. Everything is in harmony, the colour-grade is gorgeous and there is a myriad of amazing shades. And everything is melting in the serene air. The experience of life becomes more colourful, more nuanced and it makes you more painful. My 87 year old mother started losing her vision. She needed everyday care. I moved into her house. That was my birthplace. Even the street names were the same. Many things had changed, but there was the same river, the same square, though glamorised, the same smells. I was born there and lived there for 27 years. I had a lot of acquaintances with whom we had grown up together. I used to go to Kolodischi by suburban train in order to paint. I had done military service there and I knew the place very well. But the charming of the place and the smell of childhood disappeared after my mother’s death. I tried to leave all these feelings behind. At that time my family decided to sell the house in Borisov. The reason was that my wife’s parents had died long before, the house was unkept and the wild grass was breast high. We cleaned it off, painted the floors and advertised for sale. I was sitting on a bench in the evening patting the dogs. The air… I could never get enough of it. There were pines and other trees around me. It was quiet and comfy. I remembered how my heart had shrunk when I was painting those little haymows, old huts and sheds. The older I became the more obsessive was my wish to spend the rest of my life in such a neighbourhood. To go out in the morning wearing only underpants, to walk barefoot on the grass, to broom the yard, to admire the smell of the cut herbs odour, heated logs and new potatoes with dill. The fact that the house was on sale started causing sorrow. All the more, the place was quite familiar to me. I had been coming there for 20 years to paint the roof, the floors, the windows, to open ground, to fetch water from the well, to split wood. The hosts had always treated me like a son. I imagined that we would sell the house and I would have to come back to Minsk. I felt like fish out of water. And my wife hoaxed: “Sell the flat and reconstruct the house if you like it so much.” I did not think it over for a long time. Borisov was all in greenness, there was the river Beresina, wide open spaces and forests around. What could be better for painting! To cut it short, I am extremely happy that I changed my way of life at that time. Now I do not have to worry about getting on a suburban train during the summer season, about not having my canvas pierced by somebody, about not covering somebody in paint. At last, I have space for my painter’s studio. I have started painting canvases of bigger sizes. They are closer to nature, to real measures. I believe that here, in Borisov, I will paint my best works if I have luck and good eyesight.
There is no other word, except for happiness, which has caused so many contradictory thoughts in my mind. I have heard it thousands of times over the course of my life. Postcards, desiderates, moving words always contained it. We usually wish a lot of happiness, as if it is made somewhere and there is so much of it that everyone can have it. But what is it? When you get the highest grade at school, you are happy. When you enter a university, you are happy. When a sportsman gets on the podium, he is happy. I think it is possible to speak abiut happiness seriously only when you are old enough. You do not need to think about it. Live according to your sense of conscience, love your dearest and nearest, never betray friends. Happiness will decide itself who and when can be able to experience it. I have a wonderful wife. She is intelligent, beautiful, proud, kind, caring, patient, decent and reliable. She is the only person who has been able to stay with me for 45 years. Our daughter is the pride of both of us. She is spectacular, charming, clever, hardworking, responsive, forgiving and vulnerable. It is difficult to find a descriptive word for my son-in-law. I would use a cliche: it is impossible to find such a person nowadays. And my grandson is the darling of all hearts. He is incredibly kind, talented, sensitive and vulnerable. He has a clear head and an amazingly pure way of looking at things. In addition to this I can mention superb relationship between all of us, a cosy house in Borisov where I can live in my old age. I have arrived at the decision to say it for the first time in my life: I am happy. This happiness will not leave me till the end of my life. If anybody doesn’t agree with this definition, it’s up to him to find another one. I have no objection.