REVELATIONS FOR THE AGES
The formation of the Turkmen school of painting is inextricably linked with the name of Izzat Klychev. He was its undisputed leader for many years. Many of his students developed further his pictorial innovations. The paintings by this master are a living pulse and part of the national history. They occupy a well-deserved place in the world art culture of the past century.
The village of Yalkym in the land of ancient Merv, where Klychev was born on October 10, 1923, became a starting point in his life and an artistic canvas of his works. Izzat was the fourth and youngest boy in the family of teacher Annaklych Sukhannazar. His father was educated in one of the madrasahs of Bukhara back in tsarist times and became known among people as Akhun (Teacher). He opened a school in his village, where his sons also studied.
The great upheavals of hundred years ago made a sharp turn in the life of the Turkmen people. Annaklych-Akhun became part of the construction of a new culture. He taught and compiled the first textbooks in the Turkmen language for children. In January 1925, he led a group of delegates from Turkmenistan to the First All-Union Congress of Teachers in Moscow. The establishment of the new power was the time of brutal breakdown of the old way of life of the people that claimed countless victims. The family of Annaklych-Akhun, who in 1933 was exiled to Akmola region in Kazakhstan, also suffered losses. He and his wife Annabibi soon died in exile, leaving their sons orphans. The eldest son, Reshid, managed to take his younger brothers to Turkmenistan, to his native village of Yalkym. Many years later, Izzat Klychev reflected the memory of the father in his painting “Teacher. Father’s Portrait”, who was the primary moral guide to his sons in their life.
An aesthetic sense and understanding of the beauty of the world woke up in him very early. His native village that boarded closely with the Karakum sands embodied the image of the Motherland in his soul. The craving for drawing led the fifteen-year-old teenager to the Ashgabat children’s art school in 1938.
Ashgabat stunned the rural boy. He got many new impressions, and his acquaintance with the first Turkmen painters Byashim Nurali, Sergey Beglyarov, Ivan Cherinko certainly influenced the formation of his personality. In 1939, the Museum of Fine Arts was opened in the capital of the republic, where the young man saw for the first time the original works by Russian and Western European masters of painting. This world captured him so much that he could not dream of anything so passionately other than entering an art school.
And a year later, his dream came true. Izzat was admitted as a first-year student to the painting department of the Yulia Daneshvar workshop. This short woman with beautiful braids became for Izzat a guiding star in his artistic career. At that time, she just graduated from the Moscow Art Institute and arrived in Ashgabat with her husband, also a young painter, Muzafar Daneshvar.
Despite her youth, she was able to become a good mentor to her students, in particular, Izzat. Over two years of Klychev’s studies at the school, Yulia Daneshvar helped him to develop attentiveness to nature and models and characters of models. In the open air, she taught him to be sensitive to the state of nature, see its beauty in the whole spectrum of bright Turkmen colors.
The Great Patriotic War interrupted his studies. Izzat, like many of his peers, volunteered for the war while still a boy, he was barely eighteen. He fought in the war as a signalman, always being at the forefront of the troops. Fate was kind to him. Having reached Berlin, he survived, and after the Victory he continued his military service in Azerbaijan. Being able to be demobilized only in 1947, Izzat returned to Ashgabat and again joined his native school. He was welcomed with joy, and, following Yulia Prokofievna’s advice, Klychev decided to continue his studies at the Leningrad Art Institute named after Repin, the former Academy of Arts. He was lucky again. That year, the so-called “national studio” opened at the Repin Art Institute, and they were looking for a group of gifted young men from Central Asia. Klychev was admitted to it, and a new phase of his life began.
Leningrad, with its richest traditions of European culture, the luxurious collections of the Hermitage and the Russian Museum, undoubtedly played a huge role in forming the artistic worldview and skill of young Klychev, where he gained experience and displayed his talent. By the time of his graduation from the institute in 1953, Klychev already matured as a painter with his own themes and images. He did his thesis under the guidance of Professor Boris Ioganson. He successfully met the examination committee’s requirement for graduates to present a “thematic painting” with all its external attributes. Soon after graduation, he got married and the image of his young wife, with whom he immediately fell in love for a lifetime, can be seen on many of his sketches and canvases of the fifties of the past century.
In 1954, he returned to Leningrad and enrolled in postgraduate courses at the Alexander Gerasimov studio, the then president of the USSR Academy of Arts. At that time, the political agenda of “socialist realism” was still strong. However, a latent struggle against official art already began in the post-war youth artistic environment. Stereotypes gradually collapsed in the cultural life of the country. A new “austere” style gradually manifested itself in their works. This style was born out of the heated debates of this rebellious generation of artists. And Klychev found himself in the thick of this movement. “I work differently now; I understood that I have to work differently,” he wrote at that time to his young colleague Stanislav Babikov. They were both caught up in the driving urge for search of a new meaning of art and new means of expression.
In 1957, he created a monumental three-meter canvas called “For the better fate. Against interventionists”. A scene of farewell of young Red Army soldiers with their relatives is the plot of the painting. The harsh and somewhat shaded reddish-brown twilight coloring is in tune with the troubled time of the Civil War. Using broad and confident brushstrokes, without fragmenting the form, he artistically painted the images of heroes, in which unnecessary details and former pettiness are discarded. This painting became a program of Klychev’s art that turned all Turkmen fine arts onto a new path.
In his following works, Izzat Klychev increasingly applied the avant-garde principles of painting style that echoed the brightness of local colors of Turkmen folk art, carpets and clothing. The artistic language of his paintings of that period does not give the impression of stylization. On the contrary, this poetic structure evokes a spiritual response in viewers. Klychev’s techniques of major color generalization with rich shades of red come from the thousand-year-old traditions of Turkmen ornamental art. His aesthetic program is clearly imbued with the centuries-old features of folk artistic thinking that provided spiritual support for the artist. The “austere style” of Klychev’s paintings was refreshed with brightness and decorativeness of colors, the laconism of the compositional solution, outwardly restrained but artistically unconstrained, and all these techniques helped him create a wonderful world of bright and sunny images.
Izzat Klychev’s experience became a role model for young Turkmen painters who graduated from art universities in Moscow and Leningrad in those years and returned to Ashgabat. The style developed by Klychev had a powerful impact on his contemporaries and still has a beneficial effect on new generations of Turkmen painters. In the sixties and seventies of the past century, the life of the master was replete with social activism. He became widely known quite early, not only among his people, but also far beyond the borders of the republic and abroad. He was elected chairman of the board of the Union of Artists of Turkmenistan, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and member of many government commissions. He regularly traveled around the country and the world, met with fellow countrymen, helped them solve everyday problems, using his reputation with the local authorities. Old Turkmen artists still remember the enormous efforts he made to ensure the first-ever construction of buildings of the exhibition hall and the sculptural factory, workshops of local sculptors in Ashgabat. In his native city of Mary, he set up an independent union of local artists.
Gentle and delicate at heart, he knew how to speak a common language not only with colleagues but also officials. Sometimes he made compromises, but he could also fundamentally disagree if he did not share the point of view of his opponents. At the same time, despite the extremely high workload of public affairs, Klychev did not get tired of working creatively. He would put his impressions of traveling around the world or the native land in new canvases that often turned into significant events in Turkmen painting. “Shearers”, “Pharaohs”, “Beluchi”, “Me and my mother”, “Desert”, “Magic Patterns” – all these and many other paintings convey the subtlety and spontaneity of the sense of life, the author’s harmonization of the pictorial and poetic world with the realities of time. It is no coincidence that in 1967 these paintings, brought together in a series called “My Turkmenistan”, were awarded the State Prize of the USSR. In the same year, he painted the triptych “Day of Joy. Harvest Festival” that became widely known and a symbol of that era.
Izzat Klychev was always passionate about painting portraits of people who were interesting to him and loved by him, both famous contemporaries and completely unknown ones. And each of them, whether it is a small sketch or a complex composition, fully presents the nature of the character’s personality, his spiritual appearance. It is noteworthy that Klychev never portrayed the scenes of war, which he went through from beginning to end, but the war is still invisibly present in the images of his fellow front-line soldiers, participants in the Great Patriotic War. The plots of Klychev’s portraits are connected with the background, portraying a story about the fate of the heroes, where the richness of color rhythms organically intertwines with the natural psychological expression of the images.
Motherhood and childhood are a special topic in his works. The world of warm intimate feelings is embedded in the composition enclosed in a circle and called “Happiness”. The images of young mothers are always generalized, each of them is brought almost to the degree of a symbol. Arranged in a circle, they rhythmically repeat the pattern of the Turkmen carpet. Pomegranate, a favorite fruit in the East, glorified by poets as a symbol of fertility, is featured in the composition as an image of the universe, continuity and “plurality in unity”.
Subtly feeling the nature, Klychev often painted landscapes with passion and love for his native land that was inherent in him. And, of course, he loved the genre of still life. These works convey an inextinguishable spark of poetic transformation of things, be it flowers or fruits – orange, wine-red, golden and lilac-violet tones, that create a major polyphony of the beauty of the world, and the brushstrokes seem to be precious stones.
A special sense of the beauty of rhythm was the remarkable quality of this artist. For example, in the composition “Girls of Our Village”, dark-skinned beauties rhythmically repeat the geometry of the patterned felt mat on which they sit. In one of his last paintings, “Dance of Kushtdepty”, Klychev did not deviate from the techniques of the same rhythmic mode, repeating the alternation in the movements and costumes of the dancers. In his later works, the Turkmen ornament began to play an even greater role than before. In his declining years, he turned to the experience of the Central Asian miniature and managed to create a wonderful cycle of illustrations for Turkmen fairy tales on the basis of rich folklore.
Having become a recognized classic of painting in his lifetime, Izzat Klychev never repeated himself but constantly searched for something new, and it happened that sometimes these searches were fruitless, resulting in ordinary paintings and artistic failures. His name was always in the midst of various disputes. Some blasphemed him, others extolled him, but the artist lived on and kept working, remaining true himself in his art. His artistic worldview full of humanistic ideas was rich and multifaceted. The works that he created with such a powerful talent have now turned into an indestructible monument to the great Master, who lived and worked for a long time on the Turkmen land.