People’s Artist of Turkmenistan Medzhek Charyev is an extraordinary person in all respects. He can be called a cartoonist, a portrait and landscape painter, a master of caricature, an illustrator and a teacher. In a word, he is a multifaceted and multicultural person.
His personality could well be compared with an impressive musical composition, a multi-part musical poem, whichi is both lyrical and grotesque and, most importantly, not pretentious. This comparison is very relevant, since Medzhek himself admits that music occupies an important place in his artistic perception of the world. He can express it on the canvas, in strokes, in color, as it conveys emotion, mood and nuance. “Truth is never loud. It is in the nuances that must be caught and felt before picturing it,” the artist says.
Medzhek Charyev celebrated his 77th birthday in November 2020. His life has been full of memorable events. He spent his childhood in the city of Bayram-Ali, located in the Mary oasis, in the immediate vicinity of the monuments of Ancient Merv. The local library preserved the unique editions of works of Russian and foreign classical literature and illustrated books on art. Medzhek’s foster parents, the older sister and her husband who adopted the six-year-old boy after the death of his mother, also had their own library. The sister’s husband was a WWII veteran. He defended Leningrad during the war years and then received higher education in this city. The library included the collections of works by Pushkin and Stendhal. Medzhek’s acquaintance with whose works was highly appreciated by his Moscow teachers years later.
His love for fiction and art was also fostered by wonderful teachers. Most of them were the wives of the officers of the military unit stationed in Bayram-Ali. They used to take children to the club of the military unit to watch films and theatrical performances. This is how Medzhek learned of filmstrips for children and felt an urge to drawing. The future artist honed his talents while working for the school newspaper that featured both his cartoons and drawings. He often had to defend himself with fists against so-called heroes of his caricatures. A thin boy had to build up muscles. He swam a lot and went for various sports for 10 years.
Medzhek’s love for landscapes also comes from the early childhood. His father, a village teacher, often took his son to hunting. Sometimes, they went far into the desert, the vibrant colors of which excited the boy’s imagination and found reflection in his simple poems and landscape sketches. Over time, those impressions led him to creating landscape watercolors, among which the most salient were various sketches of the desert, as well as the Caspian Sea coast and the foothills of the Kopetdag. Medzhek loves to talk about his childhood graphic discovery. “I remember how one picture impressed me in winter. There were black birds on white snow. I put it to paper in ink.” This is how things from the childhood got reflection in Medzhek Charyev’s multifaceted art throughout his career, permeated with his philosophical thought and irony.
He was lucky to meet talented people, Medzhek recalls. “At the Ashgabat art school, my mentor was the leading figure of the national school of painting, Ayhan Khadzhiev”. The master of Turkmen cinema, Alty Karliev, hired him to work at the Turkmenfilm studio.
For his successes the young artist got recommendations for studies in Leningrad. However, the climate of the northern capital did not suit the Turkmen boy. He fell ill and did not even make it to the admission panel. However, a year later, he again decided to try his luck, now in Moscow, at the animation department of the art faculty of the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). Only seven people were admitted, including Medzhek.
Many different subjects were taught at VGIK, including architecture, music, languages. Medzhek recalls with great gratitude the painting school of Yuri Ivanovich Pimenov, a famous artist and teacher, who instilled love of still life in Medzhek. However, most importantly, VGIK helped Medzhek to develop his skills as an artist-animator. The animation class was taught by one of the masters in this area – Ivan Petrovich Ivanov-Vano, producer of famous animated films, including The Little Humpbacked Horse which was favored by many generations.
Moscow was attractive for the great many opportunities for creative growth. Returning to Ashgabat and taking part in shooting of several films, Medzhek again went to Moscow (1982), where a special two-year directing courses for animators reopened for the first time after a long break. The Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors (VKSR) is one of the oldest film schools in Russia, where professionals taught and studied.
Prominent scientists taught there. For example, thanks to his theory of ethnogenesis, historian, archaeologist, orientalist, writer and translator Lev Gumilyov helped Medzhek to take a fresh look at the history of his own people, understand and comprehend his roots. Other teachers included the well-known director, Alexander Mitta, who taught Medzhek a concept of suspense, i.e. anxious expectation (a tense moment in the development of the plot) that was very important for every artist. His acquaintance with the teacher, director, artist and screenwriter of animated films, Fyodor Khitruk, played a special role in terms of his professional growth.
Medzhek Charyev is rightfully considered the father of Turkmen hand-drawn animation. The first such cartoon was “Bovendzhik” (1975), followed by “Mered and the Sun”, “The Beetle and the Ant”, “The Flying Carpet”, “The Poor and the Greedy”, and other hand-drawn fairy tale animations that conveyed in the figurative language of animation the thoughts and emotions of their creator. Medzhek Charyev also boasts wonderful illustrations for Turkmen fairy tales. More than one generation knows the edition “Turkmen fairy tales” in a bright yellow cover, featuring illustrations by Medzhek Charyev.
Medzhek’s talents were highly appreciated by the outstanding Turkmen composer, Nury Khalmamedov, who himself contributed to the Turkmen animation by creating a number of musical compositions for cartoons. Nurturing plans to create opera “Decisive Step”, Nury Khalmamedov invited Medzhek to work as scene director. A well-known theater artist, scene painter of famous Turkmen opera and drama performances Yefim Kordysh, also highly appreciated his talents.
As for Medzhek, he preferred small forms, miniature landscape sketches, still life, pencil portraits. “When creating portraits, talking with people, I try to convey not so much the photographic similarity but the energy and character of a person.”
“Life is amazing. Every day it presents us with the miracle of a new day. As long as I am happy with it, I remain young in spirit,” Medzhek Charyev said. He quoted his own poetic lines…“Nobody lives forever. When my turn comes, I will regret only one thing, that I have not spent all my love.”