Biography

1958 — Born in Minsk
1974-1976 — Studied at the art studio of V. Sumarev
From 1975 — Regular visits to the creative studio complex Academic Cottage
1976-1985 — Attended the drawing studio of O. Lutzevich
1978-1984 — Studied at Belarusian State Theatre and Art Institute under P. Krochalev and M. Dantzig
1984-1987 — Studied at the workshops of the Fine Arts Academy of the USSR in Minsk under M. Savitsky
1986 — Studied at the Academy of Arts in Berlin
1986 — Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden
1988 — Member of the Belarusian Union of Artists
2010 — Laureate of the "For Spiritual Revival" award
Since 1993 has lived in the village of Khoruzhi near Minsk. 


The Belarusian artist Igor Barkhatkov is in hiselement painting meadows, woods, wastes overgrown with grass (the grass ofoblivion) trees, little villages... It could be expressed shorter: the world ofIgor Barkhatkov is the landscape but we would not like to use this word here.It is somewhat affected, mincing and too much dissonant with all that ispainfully familiar, which belongs only to him and which the artist has revealedto us. If not “landscape” what should we call that genre? Views... still notthe right word. It sounds rather vulgar, like in a tourist guide. As it appearsthere is no appropriate word to determine this kind of painting. We could callit “pictures of nature”. Maybe... Let it be this way, though it is not accurateeither. While looking at the works of Barkhatkov you forget that they arepaintings. They seem to be life itself. The greatest art is that which you donot notice, as A. Rodin said. There is no need though to reveal the “secret” toa modern experienced art gallery visitor that the impression of identity of apainting and nature is an illusion. In reality every artist animates his workwith his thoughts, feelings and ideas. To put it another way: he extracts fromnature everything which is in tune both with his soul and with his time. Thegrass is green in Holland and in France and near Moscow, and Russian pines donot differ from French ones, but even so you could not confuse landscapes ofSezanne with those of Shishkin, Corot with Levitan or Savrasov withByalynitsky-Birulya. By the brushwork of every artist nature becomes different,it acquires novelty and unique features. So, what was the novelty shown to usby Barkhatkov? Why was it necessary to depict once more all those meadows, forestedges, village backyards? Of course, not to enjoy the fertile fields and fatcattle (as in the Dutch paintings of the 17th century), and not to please theidle nobles with the elegant groups of trees and smartly dressed shepherdessesunder them (as in the French paintings of the 18th century). And, surely, notto solve plein-air problems (as the impressionists of the 19th century did).And to rest from the deathly still pathos of academism with its “Romanhalf-naked warriors” (as in Polenov’s canvases). And moreover, not to glorifythe boundless fields of collective farms producing bounteous harvest well aboveplan (as in the paintings of socialist realists). In Barkhatkov’s paintingsthere is none of that placid, quiet admiration with a shade of nostalgia ofpast times, of noble country seats and suburban dachas where intellectuals chataround a samovar, with butterflies flying onto the veranda and the newly-mowngrass smelling so sweet... But then, perhaps, there is pathos, passion and thedesperation of Levitan or, at least, his morbid euphoria and a blessednessequal to suffering or suffering equal to blessedness in the paintings of ourartist? No, my dear friend, just have a look and you will see nothing of thesort. And now, take another close look, stand still before the canvases for awhile, take your time and at last you will see every thing that is reallypresent in these paintings. You will not be able to express it in words, thoughyou could use many. But one word will certainly sound in your soul, and it willstay there for a long time: God. The artist simply seems to paint what he cansee. And the whole secret is that he sees not what an ordinary eye can see. Hesees through the exterior of things their deep essence, the intention of ourCreator. All these “things” — the sky, trees, grass — are not created by man.Is it not enough to show them as they are and by that put the Creator aboveoneself as John the Baptist put Jesus of Nazareth? A. Stifter, a German writerof the 19th century, worded it well: “The greatest poetical fullness, the powermost thrilling and most absorbing our heart lies in the world and its parts.Reproduce reality with the reality which exists but do not change the ardourwhich is already there. You will create far more marvelous works than you couldever imagine or produce by painting fakes and declaring: there is ardour herenow”. My dear friend! If you do not feel the divine breath of the Creator inthese pictures, all my words are in vain. As we know well, it is impossible toprove the existence of God by means of our poor mind, which is foolishnessbefore the wisdom of the Creator. But when words are inadequate, then objects,forms, space and colour speak for themselves. Just glance at Barkhatkov’spaintings: there are no people. Nature is free of both the presence of peopleand the fruits of civilization. A sinful man deserves to be banished from theGod’s world, as Adam was expelled in his time for having desecrated the gardenof Eden by the original sin. The artist gives space to the Spirit of God andthe lines of the paintings are positioned horizontally to let it breathefreely. Low gray clouds, a strip of a forest on the horizon, lines of trees inthe foreground, ridges and the cornices of izba (log cabin) roofings — all ofthese are horizontal. The upper and lower parts of the painting stop beingneutral and join the melody of horizontality. Here you can clearly hear themarch of Time, the objective and absolute cosmic Time, which is fully dependenton the Superior will. It moves quietly and evenly from the left side of thecanvas to the right and we have no power to speed up or slow down its movement.We can only surrender to its cosmic rhythms. Igor Barkhatkov does not paintlines rapidly running away into the distance, highways, canals or large rivers,electric wires... Even park walks do not appear in his pictures (and it is wellknown that they ought to be present in the central perspective). A rapidmovement perpendicular to the picture’s plane forms a “black hole” at the pointof the convergence which absorbs the space and creates a rush — the disaster ofour time. For our glance not to run far away, the artist closes the horizon.That is why his space is intimate, you can stay alone with God in it. Maybe inthe horizon being closed and also because of the small size of the pictures,the precious characteristic feature of the artist’s soul shows itselfdistinctly — his modesty, even shyness before Him who is above all others.

Blessed are the gentle forthey inherit the earth...

In his work, every artist, being aware of it or not,chooses one out of two possibilities: mass or space, material or spiritualsource. At the same time the physical essence of his subject does not matter.You can paint mountains alive and flying (as the Chinese do) or you can paint astony and iron sky (as cubists do). If a painter was overwhelmed by space andair, the light would inevitably be present in his works and the forms would beairy and transparent. This is exactly what we see in Igor Barkhatkov’spaintings. The light in his canvases is indeed the Comforting Spirit pacifyingthe soul. There is so much kindness and hope in the soft light of a wintermorning, in the cool sun of early autumn, in the golden brilliance of fadingtrees! Sad are the meadows, coppices and gray little peasant houses: who knowswhat fate evenly flowing time will bring them? Won’t their peace be destroyedby the grinding of excavators and the wailing of the saws? Won’t the peasants’houses be crushed by a heartless bulldozer which leaves naked with all theshamelessness of a rapist the innermost secrets of a human dwelling: thebread-giving stove, wornout floor boards, a shred of floral wallpaper... Thepainter’s look is sad, he gazes at his model as if for the last time, as ifsaying farewell to a dear person. But the sorrow of the parting is eased by thehope and faith that God will not connive our ruin.

oh burning bush,

what is the fault of thepeople?

Life-giving hope is inspired by the soft caressinglight depicted with such mastery that it takes some time to understand how itis done. Take, for instance, “The Church in Uzda”. The sky is dark. Not a sun’sray can be seen through the heavy clouds but light is shining, radiating out ofthe picture. Live, meaningful light! In my opinion, this is the best paintingof all portraying a church. It radiates a mysterious glow. Unfortunately, thismay not be conveyed in reproductions. The trees are thick and dark green here,their crowns are breathing moist coolness, they live a secret quiet life intheir dark deepness, while nearby a similar mysterious and silent life is livedby a small white church having the same thickness in its white body. So thatnothing prevents this radiance from filling all the space of the picture, theartist paints transparent trees either completely leafless or with scantyspring or autumn foliage. He likes the lightest of the trees, the birch.

It’s sweet beholding birch andnun...

In black and white you feelall Russia's spirit...

Thick massive trees are seen only in the background.They stand like a wall protecting the delicate peace of the meadows and farm.In 1991 and 1992 the artist often painted churches. They are humble and meeklike nearby peasant houses; there is no pride and ostentatious greatness, eventhough their architecture tries to express it in vain endeavor. The white wallsare not blinding, they merely shine softly, the crosses do not glitter withgold, the domes do not tower above the ridges and are sometimes even lower. Andthe temples themselves do not look inhabited. They seem to be either neglectedor abandoned or half destroyed. But still the presence of the temple givespeace to your soul and removes the excessive melancholy and uneasiness seen inhis earlier paintings. Take a close look: the axis of the temple coincidesquite accurately with the symmetry axis of the picture, while the crossunderlines and reveals it. The temple is the basis for everything. And thoughthe architecture is “noble” the essence is still close to common people. Thepicture “A Quiet Evening in Mlyovo” shows, so to say, two temples standing sideby side. The central temple (and thus the main one) is formed by a group ofpeasant houses crowned by a belfry. The other temple, on the right, has lostits dominating position. It is equal, if not inferior. In the early 1990s theartist, following his destiny, approaches the temple so closely that all he hasto do is just cross the threshold and enter it. He paints church interiors, theclergy and altar boys with candles. The works of this series are a significantcultural phenomenon. You can see a brave attempt of the artist to commemoratein paintings the revival of Christianity in our Motherland. This aim (if it isdominating) leads to the genre of sketch or study. The artist wants to create adocument: here is a modern church with a real priest, here are altar boys incrude country boots and hair fashioned in a crew cut. One of them has aturned-up nose, the other wears glasses. Not long ago, in their free time boyslike this played football or fought between themselves in the street, and now,lo and behold, they believe in God. The picture is so factual and documentary,that the painting itself recedes into the background and becomes only an instrument.The “uninhabited” church interiors in Igor Barkhatkov’s pictures areundoubtedly much better. The church interior is a special subject in thehistory of painting. Realistic images of it are usually worthy of display in ahistorical museum (as a document of bygone times) rather than in an artgallery. What is the reason? In life, the interior is perceived as a whole andas you move, your eye runs over the space; impressions of separate fragmentsare summarized into a general picture. If you are going to depict the interiorwith the help of perspective, you will be able to show only one view from oneangle confined to the narrow space of human vision (40-50 degrees horizontallyand even less vertically). Can a fragment represent the whole if that whole isa kind of the Universe, the abode of God, one and indivisible by its nature? Torestore in the picture the lost spirit of the whole, there has to be somecondition breaking the law of realistic vision. The architectural fantasies ofPiranesi, Bibiena and Gonzago are so much alive and valuable because they areas far from realism as dream is from reality. But the painter has a miraculousability to overcome the inertness of the brick walls and pillars, to make themas light as Christ’s burden; there is a way to enliven even a narrow templecorner in the picture, and that is by the use of colour and light. Barkhatkovknows how to use it in an interior as skillfully as in a landscape. What hasbeen left of all the decoration of the church in New Jerusalem? In the picturewe can see bare brick walls and small windows, but we feel quite clearly thatthe Holy Spirit is still here. It is in that pinkish light inside and in thebright sunny light outside penetrating freely into the temple unobstructed bydoors or window panes. 

I am the light of the world...(John 8:12)

While you have the light,believe in the light,

In order that you may becomesons of light (John 12:36)

The Spaso-Georgiyevskaya Church in Mlyovo has so faravoided being ransacked and ravaged (though shameless plunderers are “working”hard to this end). Who knows, perhaps, if these are not the last icons shininggold in the semi-darkness of the temple in Barkhatkov’s picture? This radianceas well as the bright light on the altar inspires hope: the Lord is alive, Hewon’t let His house be destroyed. The path chosen leads the painter nearer andnearer to the holy of holies, leads to the icon itself.. Where can we go fromhere? At this point it is necessary to come to a halt, to plunge your gaze andyour soul into the dark faces of the Holy Mother and Child and to portraysolely Them, not diverting your attention to anything else. Thus the iconappears — a picture in a double frame. The internal frame shows a medievalimage and the exterior one the same image seen by a modern man. In a hundredyears, the artist to come will set another candle in front of Barkhatkov’spicture and will depict it in his own third frame and soon, step by step, theimage will move farther and farther away into the depths of picture space. In afew thousand years, the icon will become almost indiscernible. Will a man seehis reflection in it, will he recognize himself in those dark faces? In thispicture, the artist raises a complex philosophical problem and inspires us tomuse not so much on the past but mostly about the future. While looking at thepicture “Old Staircase” in your mind you go up its ramshackle steps halfovergrown with grass... The ascent is very difficult because the air issaturated with moisture as if before a thunderstorm, and there is quite a lotof steps too, 33 of them. But where does the staircase lead to? What is to beat the top of the hill is not shown by the artist but clearly appears in yourimagination. For this little hill in the forest is Golgotha; leading to it aresteps equal in number to the years lived on earth by the Saviour. And here, atthe top He himself seems to appear on the cross. After all, Golgotha is notonly in Jerusalem and Christ did not wander through the Promised Land only.Sacred history repeats itself up to the end of time and in any place, just asGod lives in any of His creatures and in any heart. It does not matter that thetrees, grass and a gray sky seem so usual; the eye is so accustomed to seeingthem... as if there does not exist proper solemnity or something special tosignify the greatness of the place and event. Remember that Christ was “likeall others”, without special marks. And deep sorrow takes hold of our soul:these steps will soon be overgrown with grass, the broken handrails will falldown, the hill will become deserted... This very sad sight is represented inthe picture “Forgotten Cross” (1992). Involuntarily the words of VyacheslavIvanov come to mind:

The holy oil is spilled, thelamp is drying,

The empty icon-lamp is dark.

In sorrow, slow decay is dying

The so-much-suffered land ofmine.

In this picture everything sounds in one key — quietresigned sorrow about things irretrievable and gone for ever. But there ishope: though the grave is forgotten, the cross stays and stands upright andstable. This means that not all is lost, just patience and faith are needed andthe rest will be “added to you”. Ivanov ends the sorrowful verses with:

Everything will be kneadedlike clay

In us. But the heart is like adiamond!

But don’t be fooled by the external simplicity ofBarkhatkov’s landscapes. He is an artist who has “double vision’’, he is highlysymbolistic. This peculiarity of his art is distinctly seen in his workscomposed of many figures or in pictures with a certain theme. Here you do nothave a “ready” model, you have to compose, decide and arrange everything. Inother words the artist is working from “inside” of himself. That is why hisinnermost spiritual mentality becomes much more obvious here than in alandscape or a still life. It is not so easy to be righteous; the closer youcome to God, the more you are attacked by the enemy of the human race. Thedevil dared to tempt even Christ himself. Many, alas, very many young artistscould not resist the temptations of this world and took the path of denial anddecay. Barkhatkov fortunately avoided the devil's victories. I doubt if he hadever felt uncertainty about the truthfulness of his way. His faith protects himlike a solid wall. Moreover, fate did not leave him in solitude as it had manyartists. He was led and supported by his father, Anton Barkhatkov, and hisbrother Vitold. Then later, in his wife Elena Nikolayevna he found a trustful,like-minded comrade in art. Igor Barkhatkov’s father is not only his closerelative and first teacher. Igor’s attitude towards his father cannot beseparated from his attitude to art or to the problem of “fathers and sons” orto traditions and innovations. Barkhatkov jnr set out on his great creativecrusade “with an open visor”, having unfolded his banner with a motto and coatof arms on it revealing his principles and convictions. This banner is hisdiploma work “Father and Son”. At first sight, the idea of this picture seemsto be expressed too directly. It is perceived as a manifesto or a leaflet inpaint. The content overshadows the painting. The old commandment of a father tohis son should have been written on the frame of the picture.

“My Son! Keep your fatherscommands and do not forsake your mother's teaching;

bind them upon your heartforever; fasten them around your neck...’’ (Prov. 6:20-21)

The son trusts his father absolutely, he is ready todefend him from any unkind encroachment. He sees it as the aim of his life tocontinue his father’s pursuit. The son is not afraid of being reproached thathe is not up-to-date or anything similar. Faith in his father’s cause gives himstrength and courage to withstand any opponents. This is the best positionbecause it is said: “Be it done to you according to your faith...’’ (Matt.9:29). But if the painting spoke only about complete and unreasonable acceptanceof the Father’s heritage it would look like a political poster. If you lookclosely at the painting the external straightforwardness disappears and itsdramatic effect, complexity and deepness reveal themselves gradually. In thecomposition, in the postures of the figures, in their gestures and faces, anattentive observer will read that the father and son’s problem is not thatsimple, and that tradition must not only be kept but continued, that is,surmounted. And one more thing: at the closest spiritual unity of fathers andsons, the insurmountable distance is still there between them, becausedouble-unity is available only for gods, not for ordinary people. There is sucha law in human history: what is once created will never disappear. Culture hasvast stores but has no incinerators. Even the heritage of primitive people haslived up to now in myths, in the inmost recesses of our mind and inarcheological findings. As to the culture of ancient and modern times, it goeswithout saying that sometimes Plato and Seneca are closer to us and moreunderstandable than Heidegger or Bachelard. Here an analogy with the physicallaw of energy conservation comes to mind: nothing disappears. Realism in art isalive for ever and thus it will stay. Never will fields and meadows, trees,grass and flowers lose their value, never will they become unnecessary. Keepingall these in form and in paint, art will never lose its attractiveness. Will amodern city dweller understand the purity and truth of this painting? Will hisears deafened by the noises of our hectic life hear the silence of these forestmeadows, wastelands and village outskirts? With profound and deep faith Ianswer: Yes, this art we do need. What is more, people will understand it. 

Lenina Mironova


© 2020 Igor Barkhatkov. All rights reserved.
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