Stories and Culture

The Gagauz Artist Fate Made

Saturday Morning Lunch

I was sitting on concrete with lunch and a black cat when a man sauntered up to our front door. He called my host mother’s name, and I leaned out of the shadow of the summer house to summon his attention: “Anna Nikolaevna’s not home right now.”

The first thing that struck me was his smile, replete with silver grills. The second thing was his warmth.

He began chatting, and spat a fast “Where are you from?” America. “You know! A volunteer?” Yes, I’ve been here more than a year now. “Anna Nikolaevna has volunteers from all over the world! French, German…” Andrei joked with me a little about German. He knew “Guten Tag!” and some other phrases (he garbled some words and I humored him with a smile). But in English? Only “bye bye!”

Then he spoke his business. His name was Andrei, and he had come with a brochure to invite Anna Nikolaevna to his 50-year artist’s exhibition. When I expressed interest in attending, he bent down to retrieve the brochure I had placed on the concrete, indicated some of his work and described one of his themes as “Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.” He gestured to an anthill he had painted.

He righted himself, handed me the invitation and turned to leave. As he hopped down to the next level of concrete he paused, placed his hand over his heart and wished, from the depths of his soul, that I would achieve my dreams like he had.

The Exhibition

I agreed to meet my host mother at the Comrat Gallery for the exhibit, since she wanted to secure a present for Andrei beforehand. I walked in at 11 as the first few were beginning to mill.

I saw Anna Nikoaevna, caught in conversation. I paused, scanned the space, and then scooted in when I saw an opening. I was curious: “Anna, did Andrei make that colorful rug, too?” There was a fine specimen hanging behind the gallery’s front desk. He hadn’t, but he was a rug designer, and she led me to look at his schema. Andrei paints them first, then weaves them, then sells them – every design from the exhibition hangs somewhere.

When Andrei arrived not so much later, the camera crews and journalists descended. The rotation was frantic, like tables turning in a decent New York restaurant. I hung back until Anna Nikolaevna pushed me to take my interview. I was lucky; she knows the man well.

IvarlakInterviewed

Interview with the Artist

Andrei presented his life as legend. His future began when he was 11 and he followed his mother to the neighbor’s house. The woman was a seer, and predicted that Andrei would become an artist, though not just yet. Andrei couldn’t believe the woman’s words, but looking back, it was clear: “She told me my whole life straight from the heart, and everything happened just as she had said.”

Andrei was conscripted into the military, as was compulsory for all young men in the Soviet Union, as a teenager. He would spend the next 8 months in Murmansk. His first job was to design the regiment’s “red corner,” the space where soldiers would gather to relax and banter. Not long after, a fellow soldier and resident artist got sick, and Andrei’s superiors began looking for him to take over the job.

He was nervous: “At first I was very afraid that I wouldn’t manage to do the work properly, and then they would kick me out, which would be very upsetting. But it turned out that [my comrade] left and I took his place. And I began little by little to draw, write, design and complete the assignments given by the acting commander.” In all, he served two and a half years.

When he came back to Comrat, he spent some time working in the local newsroom with Anna Nikolaevna. Then in 1967, he began his life as an artist drawing, designing rugs, printing monotypes and painting.

At this point, we were interrupted: Andrei was a man in demand. People kept trying to tear him away from us, particularly one man with bear-paw hands. We stopped the interview because he was nabbed for a picture. But Anna is assertive, and she pulled me back to him.

TheWholeGang

When asked about his plans for the future, Andrei was comfortable stating that at the age of 75, his plans are on hold. But a lack of a plan does not diminish the man. Andrei has vision for his work, which determine his themes: “Because for me, the world is enveloped in good and bad. Because the flowers, I believe, are good. This is beauty, this is elegance, and they are very similar to our beautiful girls.”

I managed to snap a few photographs before Andrei could be dragged away, and I thought I got it all: the silver grills, the tinted glasses, the explanatory white-hair-combed-forward. But in review, I was disappointed with most of the pictures: almost all were so dignified, with the renowned “Moldovan” smile! Only his candid moments were vibrant, where his grin marked his energetic character.

Announcing the Artist

The true ceremony began, as they always do in Moldova, with a series of speakers and not a little bit of poetry.

IMG_8927

A man known to the Comrat art scene (I saw him act in a two-person play about Alzheimer’s, once) gave the opening comments. He introduced Andrei as an eminent artist and preserver of Gagauz culture, then let us in on a few of his secrets:

“In a conversation with Andrei Dmitrievich, one excellent rule was clear to me: ‘You must live so that not one second is spent in vain.’ Andrei Dmitrievich passed through practically all corners of what was then still the Soviet Union, and that has strengthened his character. For a long time he lived in communal housing, finding a common language with all levels of society. In principle, there is no way this could not have had an effect on his art. And at that moment, Andrei Dmitrievich confessed that he learned to eat quickly so that he wouldn’t spend his creative time on food.

I will not reveal all of his secrets at our jubilee, but so I can give you a larger idea of what was mentioned before, I want to say one more phrase of Andrei Dmitrievich: ‘All my life, the most infinitesimal detail, is depicted in my work.’ All you have to do is look more closely.”

IvarlakAndBashkan

The Governor of Gagauzia followed, and then a crush of eccentric artist friends (I haven’t seen so many leather shoes with “designer” holes since I’ve been in this country) lauded the man of the hour. It seemed like the whole crowd had something to say! A man next to me commented that one of them – a poet of the Gagauz language – was known for walking the streets reciting aloud.

There was clapping, appreciation, the Governor’s big smile, a gift of flowers, more flowers… and then the crowd broke, abruptly. Following the ceremony, the artist took the microphone to explain his rugs to the rest – and I slipped out.

And now, as the man who announced Andrei advised, let’s “look more closely” at a virtual gallery of the artist’s works:

Interview with Andrei Ivarlak:

Анна: Как ты стал художником? Отвечай.

Андрей: Значит, художником я стал, когда мне было одиннадцать лет, и когда моя мама пошла к соседке. Она гадала как… на зодиак. Зодиак. Вот оттуда началось, но сначала я не поверил в это, что такое, может быть и происходить с человеком. И что она мне сказала как на духу всё моей жизни, всё получилось, так как она сказала. Это первое. Она сказала, что я буду художником, но попозже. Ты и немножко подрастешь… да. И начиная, уже когда я служил в армии в Мурманске… я прослужил в  роте восемь месяцев, это военная. Вот. И оформил первоначально, попросили оформить красный уголок у нас такое. Есть здесь собирается все как на тусовку, будем так говорить. Вот, а после этого заболел мой товарищ. Он был художником при части, потом начали искать меня. И когда они начали искать меня, я первое время очень боялся, потому что не справлюсь, и потом выгонят, то очень обидно было бы. Но получилось так, он ушёл, я стал на его место. И начал по тихоночку рисовать, писать, оформлять и делать те задания, которые были даны вышестоящими начальниками. И вот когда пошло это… вся моя жизнь… вот эти два с половиной года я отдал армии.

А, потом когда я приехал в редакции немножко побыл, помните, мы работали в редакции с вами? Потом я осознал то, что эта женщина мне говорила. Я сознал, то, что это – да – это пришёл мой черёд. И вот тогда, начиная с шестьдесят седьмого года, я начал как творческий человек работать, действовать и созидать.

Картины есть.  Но первое – ковры, второе идёт монотипия, вот пойдете, посмотрите, а третье это современное, вот то, что я работаю. Всего я работаю пять лет. Я не работал. У меня было основное другие работы – ковры восемнадцать лет, монотипия и графические работы на протяжении вот всего,  что создано, двадцать лет я отдал, двадцать – двадцать лет. И когда кто-то говорит, что это так чисто случайно или что-то, понимаешь, что они врут, но я врать не могу. Потому что это действительно моей жизни так получилось.

Хейли: Почему вы решили рисовать на такие темы?

Андрей: Почему? Потому что меня окружает мир добра и зла. Потому что цветы, я считаю, что это добро. Это красота, это изящество, и они очень похожи на наших красивых девушек.

Хейли: Какие планы у вас есть?

Андрей: Вы знаете, когда мне было 40, 50, 60, уже 75, планы конечно очень останавливаются пока. И таких громкостей, чтобы я в дальнейшем попал на такую выставку, это навряд ли получится. Эта единственная выставка , которая у меня  идёт как отчёт. 50 лет, чем я занимался?

…………………………………

Anna Nikolaevna: How did you become an artist? Answer.

Andrei:  So I became an artist when I was 11 years old, when my mother went to see the neighbor. She read fortunes like… the Zodiac. The Zodiac. And from there it began, though at the beginning I didn’t believe in it, that this could be, and happen to a person. And she told me my whole life straight from the heart, and everything happened just as she had said. This is the first thing. She said I would be an artist, but later. And you grow up a little… yes. And it began when I was serving in the army in Murmansk. I served in that regiment eight months, that is, the military regiment. There you go. And at first I was designing. They asked me to come up with our “red corner.” This is where everyone gathers like they do at a party, we would say. So, after this my comrade got sick. He was the artist in his company, and then they began to look for me. And when they began to look for me, at first I was very afraid that I wouldn’t manage to do the work properly, and then they would kick me out, which would be very upsetting. But it turned out that he left and I took his place. And I began little by little to draw, write, design and complete the assignments given by the acting commander. And so when that happened… all my life… so I gave these two and a half years to the army.

But then when I came to the newsroom to work a little, remember, we worked together [addressing Anna Nikolaevna], at the newsroom with you? It was then that I grasped what that woman had said to me. I realized that – yes – my turn had come. And then, beginning in ’67, I began to work as a creative individual, to act and to create.

There are paintings here. But first – rugs, second are monotypes, so go ahead and look, and third is the contemporary work I do. In all, I have been working 5 years. I did not work before. I had other basic work – rugs 18 years, monotypes and graphic work for the longest of all, what was created, I gave 20 years, 20 – 20 years. And when someone says that it is purely accidental, you need to understand that they lie. But I can’t lie. Because this is truly how my life happened.

Haley: Why did you decide to paint these themes?

Andrei: Why? Because for me, the world is enveloped in good and bad. Because the flowers, I believe, are good. This is beauty, this is elegance, and they are very similar to our beautiful girls.

Haley: And what plans do you have?

Andrei: You know, when I was 40, 50, 60, it was one thing. I’m already 75 years old… the plans, of course, are on hold right now. And this kind of loud exhibition is unlikely to happen for me later on. It is this single exhibition that I have as a record. 50 years, and what was I doing before?

…………………………………

Presenting the Artist:

Диктор: Добрый день, дорогие друзья. Добрый день и уважаемые гости, приглашённые. Мы рады приветствовать вас на открытой персоналной выставке посвящённой пятидесятилетному, творческому юбилею нашего именитого художника. Заслуженного работника культуры Гагаузии, обладателя ордена имени Михайла Чакира. Разностороннего во всех смыслах этого слова, замечательного художника Андрея Дмитриевича Иварлак.

В беседе с Андреем Дмитриевичем, я уяснил одно замечательное правило. “Нужно жить так, чтобы ни одна секунда не была потрачена впустую.” Закалку Андрей Дмитриевич проходил практически во всех уголках тогда ещё Советского Союза. Долгое время проживая в обшежитиях, находя общий язык с различнами слоями населения. Что в принципе не могло не отразиться на его творчестве. Именно тогда, Андрей Дмитревич по секрету признался мне, что он научился, быстро есть, чтобы не тратить творческого времени на еду.

Не буду раскрывать всех секретов нашего юбиляра, но дабы пополнить всю картину вышеизложенного, хочу сказать ещё одну фразу Андрея Дмитриевича: “Вся моя жизнь, до мельчайших подробностей изображена в моих работах.”  Стоит лишь повнимательнее присмотреться.

Но этим мы займёмся чуть попозже. А я со своей стороны предоставляю слово Башкану Гагаузии, Ирине Федоровне Влах.

…………………………………

Announcer: Hello, dear friends. Hello to the respected guests, and to those who were invited. We are pleased to welcome you to the open personal exhibition dedicated to the 50-year artist’s jubilee of our eminent artist. He is one of the distinguished workers of Gagauz culture, the holder the Mikhail Chakhir Award. And he is the one versatile in all meanings of the word: the great artist Andrei Dmitrievich Ivarlak.

In a conversation with Andrei Dmitrievich, one excellent rule was clear to me: “You must live so that not one second is spent in vain.” Andrei Dmitrievich passed through practically all corners of what was then still the Soviet Union, and that has strengthened his character. For a long time he lived in communal housing, finding a common language with all levels of society. In principle, there is no way this could not have had an effect on his art. And at that moment, Andrei Dmitrievich confessed that he learned to eat quickly so that he wouldn’t spend his creative time on food.

I will not reveal all of his secrets at our jubilee, but so I can give you a larger idea of what was mentioned before, I want to say one more phrase of Andrei Dmitrievich: “All my life, the most minute detail is depicted in my work.” All you have to do is look more closely.

But we will attend to this a little later. And for my part, I now give the word to the Governor of Gagauzia, Irina Fedorovna Vlakh.

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