HOW IT ALL STARTED
It is generally believed that Turkmen visual art was born in September 1920 with the opening of Turkmenistan's first art school in Ashgabat. The idea of establishing this school belongs to the young military painters - Ilya (Reuben) Mazel, Alexander Vladychuk and Sergey Beglyarov. Working together, they used to decorate the city during holidays, draw posters and write campaigning slogans for the Red Army propaganda train, painted the soldiers' barracks, thus promoting the ideas of equality and the goals of the revolution and new forms of visual art that the local population had never seen before.
At that troubled time, bloody battles amazingly intertwined with the painters' romantic ideas about establishing an art studio in Transcaspia. Young painters shared the burning desire to create an art school in which any proletariat, Russian or Muslim with natural artistic talent, could grow up as a painter. The opening of an art studio took place on 16 September 1920 in the premises of the former Military Officers Assembly. It admitted not only the Red Army soldiers but also anyone from the local population. The art studio accounted for two hundred and fourteen people. The People's Commissar for Education, Anatoly Lunacharsky, was the first to give a favorable assessment of the studio in 1922 after he familiarized himself with the curriculum and the work of the studio. At his suggestion, the studio was renamed to the High-Powered School of Oriental Art (USHIV).
Dreaming of the future art of Turkmenistan, teachers of special disciplines Ilya Mazel (1890-1967) and Alexander Vladychuk (1894-1956) infected their students with love for art by their creative work, helped students to develop their natural talent and keen pictorial vision, carefully and delicately bringing to light their individuality. Sergey Beglyarov (1898-1949) studied and simultaneously taught drawing at the school. Byashim Nurali, a son of a farm laborer from the nearby village named Askhabad, who arrived in the city on a donkey to sell milk, saw a group of people through the open window of one of the city buildings who enthusiastically drew something, and he asked them to let him try his hand in drawing too. This is how a local Turkmen, having violated the Islamic ban to paint any living being, came to big art and subsequently became a truly folk painter.
The program of study was very intense, but no one missed classes. The focus was on life drawing. In most cases, they painted each other because of lack of sitters. They also lacked materials for work - paper, canvases, paints. They drew on newspapers, in pencil, charcoal, watercolor and only later with oil paints. Teachers primarily taught the traditional basics and achievements of Western European and Russian visual and artistic cultures. At the same time, the art teachers closely followed Turkmen folk art and its traditions.
Suffering from attacks of tropical malaria, Mazel had to move to Moscow in early 1923. Yet, living far from dear to heart Turkmenistan, he remembered his students and arranged an exhibition of their works in May 1923 with the support of the Association of Oriental Studies under the People's Commissariat for Nationalities of the USSR. The record of this exhibition says that it was designed "to introduce the art and life of the peoples of Turkmenistan, which are still very little-known." It was the first exhibition of Turkmen art in Moscow.
Although the exhibition was small and hastily arranged, it nevertheless succeeded in drawing attention of the mass media in the person of art critic Yakov Tugenhold. As he wrote in one of the issues of Izvestia newspaper, "there were exhibited not as many great life drawings as free compositions... National orientation was a crosscutting theme of most of the works. The school has already found a number of talents among the local working population."
Tugenhold meant Byashim Nurali, who was Turkmen by nationality. His paintings stood out of all the works at the exhibition owing to the ingenuous methods of constructing his paintings and original scenic way of drawing.
Byashim wondered like a child at the drawings, pencils and paints that he saw at the school. This rapt surprise is visible in all his works and this feeling never left him through all his life. Teachers, especially Mazel, immediately noted his unusual poetic nature. They both felt specific kinship of their sensitive souls. After all, they were both poets with a heightened sense of beauty. In the following years, Mazel continued helping Nurali during his stay in Moscow.
Coming to Moscow with fellow students, Nurali entered the workers' courses at the Higher Art and Technical Studios (Vkhutemas). He worked a lot, participated in the All-Union art exhibitions, and he was successful. Many of his works went from exhibitions straight to the collections of the Museum of Oriental Art and the Tretyakov Gallery later on. The works of that time present him as an established painter. With the support of the Turkmen representation in Moscow, Nurali was admitted to the institute without entrance exams in 1928.
After graduating from the Higher Art and Technical Institute (Vkhutein, replacing Vkhutemas) in 1930, Nurali returned to Ashgabat. The 1930s was the time of formation of the national intelligentsia, during which theaters, institutes, universities, the Academy of Sciences and artist unions were created. In 1931, Nurali was invited to teach at a visual arts department that was established under the Ashgabat music-technical school on Sergei Beglyarov's initiative with the support of the People's Commissariat for Education. Later on, he taught at a full-fledged art school. Then, Nurali left for the newly opened children's art school that now bears his name.
In his works, Nurali created dreamy-romantic stories about his time, radiating warm contemplation and peace of mind. His compositions with inherent popular historicism are full of poetic content. The works of this master will retain their artistic value throughout the entire history of Turkmenistan. Nurali maintained his original style and national thinking of the artist. He brings his own program of beauty, truth and humanism, in which all dull things disappear and genuine values continue to live.
Olga Mizgireva (1908-1994) was one of the most impressive talents of USHIV graduates. Olga Mizgireva's artistic heritage consists of only four oil paintings created in 1926-1927. They are two Turkmen clay jugs and two watercolor leaves of paper painted with national ornaments that are stored at the Ashgabat Museum of Fine Arts. Her paintings are dedicated to Turkmen women, whose life and work had always been the focus of her attention.
Small-sized, exquisite in terms of color and compositional solutions, Mizgireva's paintings are very beautiful with rich red color inherent in the Turkmen carpet. A smooth style of painting by means of a thin colorful layer is also considered an aesthetic quality of her paintings.
The closure of USHIV in 1925 slowed down the development of fine arts. Young painter Olga Mizgireva, like some other students of the art school, began working at the Turkmen State Publishing House. Later, she joined the newly opened Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Turkmen SSR as a painter of visual aids. This step predestined her future career, as she moved to Kara-Kala to work at the experimental station of the All-Union Institute of Plants as a botanist and devoted herself to this science, reaching the title of Doctor of Biological Sciences.
Thanks to his enthusiasm, Sergey Nikitich Beglyarov (1898-1949), Honored Artist of Turkmenistan, who played an important role not only in the establishment of USHIV, managed to continue the work of his friends - colleagues and restore art education in the republic. Linking his destiny to the Turkmen people, Beglyarov knew the language, traditions, art and culture of this people. He was a talented painter who already at the beginning of his career developed his own artistic language and style, and he was free to choose painting techniques. He had a firm professional hand and originality of compositional decisions.
On Beglyarov's initiative, an art department was established at the Ashgabat Musical College in 1931. It became an independent art school in 1934. Sergey Beglyarov was the first head teacher of the school. Byashim Nurali also taught there. At the beginning of the 1930s, there gradually emerged the backbone of the future Union of Artists of Turkmenistan, consisting of Ivan Cherinko and Gennady Babikov, who came from Moscow, as well as graduates of USHIV. They organized the Painters Society of Turkmenistan and established the Union of Artists of Turkmenistan in December 1938.
Art life began to revive gradually. Despite their small numbers, young Turkmen painters kept abreast of the times, traveled around the republic, finding the characters for their works among fishermen at sea, new oil fields or in the fields of collective farm workers. Painters began to regularly exhibit their works.
Despite the fact that organizational and teaching activities consumed most of Beglyarov's time, he did his best to continue painting. The painter faced a new, complex world, full of pathos and romance, carrying strong transformative power. The 1930s was the time of hard work for Beglyarov. In those years, he created many works, some of which have survived to our time. They bear witness to the change in the artistic language and sometimes fading of the color palette and the search for new plastic images. Sergey Beglyarov worked in all genres - portrait, landscape, still life, multi-character plot compositions. He also did very interesting graphic works.
In 1944, Beglyarov's personal exhibition was organized at the Ashgabat Museum of Fine Arts, and it was a success. His last exhibition was arranged jointly with painter Byashim Nurali in 1948. Sergey Beglyarov passed away in 1949.
The fate of the original source of Turkmen fine art - the High-Powered School of Oriental Art - was sad. In May 1925, following a quarrel with unsubmissive Alexander Vladychuk, shortsighted officials closed USHIV, lending their ear to the slander by one of Vladychuk's students. They disbanded it "as useless" and the artistic life in Turkmenistan stood still until the early 1930s. The work of the art school was cut at the very take-off. Nevertheless, the efforts of its enthusiastic leaders had taken their toll. Despite all its shortcomings, the art culture of Turkmenistan was built on this foundation.
Having undergone lots of trials at the initial stage of its existence, both in terms of small number of painters and lack of their professional skills and difficult moments in history, Turkmen painters already in the early 1960s created a national school of painting guided by their figurative-style searching. This school takes roots in the depths of folk art that is famous for its decorativeness, deep philosophical meaning and spirituality.