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A large retrospective exhibition of works by one of the founders of the Turkmen tapestry, Kakamurad Baylyev (1949-1996), became an important event in the cultural life of the Turkmen capital this year because it brought together all master's works. Bearing a distinctive hallmark of his time, his style is noted for the multifaceted search for imaginative means of artistic expression. The unique spirituality and musicality of his tapestries, plasticity and decorative expressiveness of his painting, accentuated emotionality and expressiveness of the graphics constitute the enduring value of Baylyev's art heritage.
The master of the Turkmen tapestry school, Kakamurad Baylyev, lived a short but vibrant artistic life. His works are a rare phenomenon of Turkmen art. He went down in his history as a master with a subtle sense of color harmony and a gifted monumental artist. Thanks to his works, an original new kind of tapestry art emerged in the applied art that is very characteristic of the Turkmen mentality. The master's works resemble his deep understanding of the nature, the rhythm of life, psychology and temperament of the Turkmen people, the centuries-old history of national folklore.
Kakamurad Baylyev's works as well as the works by all other painters that have been crucial for the success of the Turkmen tapestry, who came to the scene only in the early 70s of the last century, continue the ancient national art traditions of the Turkmen people and keep abreast of the world art. Kakamurad Baylyev's work is grounded in the extraordinary synthesis of purely modern and deeply national.
He was interested not only in the nuances of latest art trends but also in the artistic traditions of the historical past of the East and West. The contemporary artistic tasks found reflection in the traditional national character of his art. The artist tirelessly experimented, developed the decorative qualities of tapestry, demonstrating the inexhaustible potential of artistic expressiveness that led to the creation of various tapestries in terms of themes and artistic forms - from subject-themed to associative-metaphorical.
The general figurative and emotional expression of the artist's personal sensory experiences, the nature of his aesthetics and understanding of reality pervades almost all his works regardless of the different ways of their embodiment. His specific vision of things was guided by his interest not in the particular but in revealing the common, most specific signs of objects and phenomena, expressed in the original, bold figurative generalizations.
The focus of education at the Moscow Textile Institute in the sphere of decorative and applied arts and the acute vision of the young artist helped him to develop the creative and imaginative thinking.
Having studied thoroughly the experience of artists belonging to Western European avant-garde movements, the Russian realistic school, the Baltic tapestry, and, naturally, the traditions of folk art, he worked as easily and freely in various compositional-technical and color methods as perhaps no other master of the Turkmen tapestry. The first tapestries "For a better world" (1977), "Potter" (1978) made Baylyev famous. Most of his early works clearly demonstrate a special way of storytelling, their own narrative style. The painter seems to have deliberately saved his narrative compositions from anything that could produce a potent effect. His colors look quiet, almost ascetic. The master is not after visual attractiveness of plots. He comes closer to nature, using the gradation of tone and diffused light, applying a lighter color, finds the successful blending of flatness and depth.
The color schemes in his compositions are very soft and pictorial. The color is pretty monotonous, yet the tonal relationships are very rich. There are different kinds of compositions. Some "walk" by themselves towards the viewer, while others, on the contrary, wait for the viewer to come up, peer at them, think about and be inspired by the charm and poetry hidden from superficial eyes. Kakamurad Baylyev's tapestries look just like that.
The times when a tapestry was made using the tools and techniques of modern painting with its characteristic expressive brushstrokes, variable, flowing color spots and complex color relationships proved that the rules of traditional weaving that abide by the strictest discipline of weaving are not flexible enough for the achievement of the desired result. That is when artists begin to look for new ways to enrich the fabric surface. Compared to the works by masters of Turkmen tapestry such as Vera Gyllyeva, Amanmurad Ataev, Annakuli Khodzhakuliyev that simply follow the rules of weaving and painting as an integral part of a flat wall, Baylyev boldly applies the plasticity techniques in his works, i.e. innovations introduced into the weaving process, the so-called "spatial tapestry".
The artist's perfect skill in the plasticity techniques makes it possible for him to experiment with different ways of interweaving that did not affect the significance and content of his thematic and general tapestries. His decorative tapestries look differently depending on their shape and placement in the interior - as a spot, a plane or a shape. They are most strikingly exemplified by the tapestries made for sanatorium "Turkmenistan" in the city of Nalchik and sanatorium "Izvestia" in the city of Adler.
Defining the degree of tapestries' influence on the uniformity of perception of the interior, assessing their roles in conveying the theme, the idea and image of the interior, as well as taking into account the basic techniques and identifying compositional patterns of placing his tapestries in the interior space, Baylyev actually solves the architectural-design and scenographic tasks. The shapes, functions and placement of the tapestries in the interiors of the sanatorium are interdependent. Using the sculptural principle in the volumetric tapestry "Mulberry" (1980), the artist puts the center of the composition of the entire interior in the decorative tapestries "Willow" (1980), "Melody of Turkmenistan", "Turkmen way of life. Memories" (1983). He emphasizes various parts of the interior using the principle of monumentalism in the flat-partition wall tapestries "My Turkmenistan" and "Camels" (1980) and divides spaces into zones.
Baylyev's major works that are characterized by poetic, sublime images include thematic-narrative tapestries "Motherhood" (1978), "Earth", "Shepherd's Melody" (1980), "Admiration" (1983), "Awakening" (1985), "Veterans" (1986), "Going on Holiday" (1987). They affirm the joy of peaceful days and significance of the eternal sources of folk life. They are distinguished by the originality of compositional choices, emotional and psychological expressiveness. Images become more significant, more saturated and complete.
Baylyev's tapestry characters cannot be attributed to any particular era. They live in a special world, outside of conventional time and space. Visible images conceal the artist's dreams, the shades of his subtle feelings produced by various experiences of the phenomena of life. The conciseness and restraint of colors of his early works is replaced by a richer and juicier color palette. Baylyev's tapestries amaze viewers with the workmanship, richness and subtlety of color combinations.
Making a flat tapestry, following the methods of the classical weaving technique, the painter nevertheless transforms it to some extent. He uses thicker yarn, not only woolen but also synthetic. Therefore, the surface of his tapestry is always plastic, embossed and tangible in comparison with the classical ones. When putting his ideas to tapestry, the painter follows the material in his thinking. For him it is not a neutral background for the image but an active element in the structure of the work of art. The texture of the thread, its properties, thickness, color combinations, technical and aesthetic qualities - everything is creatively used by the artist in making the tapestry, influencing the figuratively thematic side of the work.
Among his works of the 1990s, one can single out the associative-pictorial and illusory tapestries, such as "The Bull Holding the Earth" (1991), "Recollections of Egypt", "Thinkers" (1992), "Initiative" (1993) "Adam and Eve "(1994). They testify to the master's transition to the new artistic level, to a more in-depth, philosophical approach to the problems of human existence. In fact, the themes of his works go beyond the existing traditional practices, and new semantic nuances, such as allegories and metaphors appear in their interpretation. In interpreting historical and mythological plots, the artist managed to combine a keen personal perception of the topic with a deep philosophical generalization.
The plastic language of the master's works becomes more and more expressive. The tension and expression of the decorative silhouette, the energetic pairing of volumes, the well-thought-out plastic accents emphasize the drama of images and, at the same time, give them a high pathos. All this and elegant textured elaboration of details equip them with highly decorative features and enhance the symbolic sounding.
Baylyev's art is noted for the deep understanding of the tapestry specifics and the warmth that is inherent only in weaving, in any form, with its density, softness, flexibility and textured richness. As for the motif of the plot that is often inspired by the immediate thoughts about life, history and the present day, it only served as the cause for textile improvisations that fascinate by their uncertainty and many other aspects. In tapestries made in the classical plane technique and in the innovative works, the master achieves an organic unity of the principles of monumental composition and the traditions of decorative art.
Looking at the artist's legacy, it is clear that his artistic potential was much greater than what he managed to accomplish. However, the point is not about the quantity of works. What is more important is that the images created by Baylyev introduced bright and unique features into the modern Turkmen tapestry, harmoniously combining heartfelt lyrical intonations with high poetry. The master's legacy is marked by the originality of creative individuality, and it is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the universal culture. A worthy definition of the significance of Baylyev's works, an assessment of the social and aesthetic content of his works will certainly require efforts of new researchers in the future.

Altyndzhemal BAYLYEVA

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005