If sometimes human life is compared to a sea, then a talent can be compared to a precious pearl in the sea. It can happen that these pearls remain concealed from the world behind the tight leafs of their shells, and then this is the result of hardships and vicissitudes of life or lack of human understanding. The duty of our conscience is to help a talent reveal and realize itself.

This is the reason why I still have a vision of an unknown artist whom I met in Samarqand long time ago; he painted miniatures, and I remember him standing barefoot on the snow in the chill of winter afternoons…

How many more of such people were there, whose talent did not have a chance or time to bloom to its full potential?
Shorakhim Shoabdurasulov, the student of Alexander Volkov: everyone who saw his works, including myself, admired them, as he was heaven-born artist. When he untimely perished in an accident, this, no doubt, was a great loss to the world of art.

A young artist from Moscow, Alexander Dofine. People’s Artist of the USSR Sergei Gerasimov once said this about him: «He was a talent that is born once in a hundred years». Alexander died in Samarqand during war time, unable to endure the hardships of evacuation.
The life of a gifted artist Nikita Favorskiy, the son of a famous graphic artist Vladimir Favorskiy, also ended untimely.
And think of all those talented people whose lives were taken by the war and deprivation of the difficult years that followed? The tragedy of talents pains the heart. Yet it is important to remember them and give them tribute not with tears, but with one’s creative work, carrying over the work they could not do. To maintain a living memory of our comrades and friends who did not leave their lives in full and could not complete their mission on earth is the sacred duty of all of us who live.

It is well-known that masterpieces of art can be the source of inspiration for an artist just like real life phenomena.
Throughout my whole life, great pieces of art gave me an impetus to create. And a special role here belongs to the specimens of decorative and applied art. The Fine Arts Museum in Tashkent has halls where I always linger for a long time. These are the displays of carpets, floor rugs, embroideries and traditional textiles. For me, getting in touch with folk art always means spiritual purification and the inflow of inspiration.

I should say that for me, along with recognized masterpieces admired by everyone, of equal importance were other pieces of art, perhaps little known, yet able to touch my soul and dear to me personally.

The role of Dutch painting in the history of art is universally known. Among the works of Dutch painters widely known in Europe, those that rank among the finest ones are the canvases by Peter Paul Rubens, whose work shines like the brightest diamond in this treasury. Paintings he created had long become classic, and female images on his canvasses caused the emergence of a «Rubenesque woman» type, the characteristic features of which being voluminous shapes, white skin and reddish-golden hair. In our country some Rubens paintings can be found in the Hermitage and in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

In 1977, travelling through Italy, I visited an exhibition in Florence that was dedicated to the 400th anniversary of Rubens. I was walking around the halls covered with the artist’s paintings, looking intently at every one of them, and strangely, my feeling of reverence for Rubens’ work did not grow, but, on the contrary, I was getting increasingly lukewarm. On the other hand, three or four small works by Fra Angelico impressed me tremendously.

In the art museum in Naples, among thousands and thousands of masterpieces, one better than the other, I was determined to find one painting. It was a family portrait performed in encaustic technique that had been brought here from Pompeii. According to my information, the portrait that resembled the so-called Faiyum portraits was the property of the museum in Naples. A dream I harboured for many years was to see it, so I was running from one hall to another in the three-storey building, trying to find the portrait. As I did not know the language, I made a drawing of the portrait (based on its reproductions) and started showing it to the custodians. Using gestures they explained that I had to go to the restoration department. Unfortunately, it turned out that the restoration department did not have the painting — it was sent for restoration to another city…

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and its Egyptian section display many wonderful pieces, yet I first hurry to the Faiyum portraits: having seen them for the first time forty five years ago, I still cannot watch my fill since.

When, how and who created the Faiyum portraits?

The art of ancient Egypt is rich in remarkable items famous worldwide. Perhaps, among them, these few Faiyum portraits, compared to the Egyptian temples, sculpture, painting, bas-reliefs and architecture, are not the most significant, yet it is these portraits that cause my incessant admiration. These are the portraits made of mummies and performed in encaustic technique on coffin covers. They appeared in Egyptian art in the early centuries of the Common Era, after the conquests of Alexander of Macedonia. These amazing works that draw the attention of Egyptian scholars, historians and art historians from all over the world, during every my encounter with them, impress me as if they were just created, making me ever more filled with admiration for the long-gone artists who wrought them. The Faiyum portraits are the product of a belief that existed in ancient Egypt that the soul of a deceased, when returning to the body, should be able to accurately identify its former abode. Therefore the creators of the portraits tried to achieve the maximum likeness to the original.

By visiting many countries I was fortunate to learn about the art of many nations. When introduced to the great art of Italy and enjoying the works of Leonardo da Vinci, sculptures of Michelangelo Buonarroti, frescos of Piero della Francesca, Botticelli and Fra Angelico, immortal pieces by Titian and Veronese and admiring Italian basilicas, I was enriched with deep aesthetical impressions. Yet the Faiyum portraits are no second to them, and, perhaps cause even greater excitement in my heart, being firmly entrenched there.

Another piece of art that earned my special affection is a painting by a famous artist Vermeer (Jan van der Meer van Delft) «Woman Reading a Letter». It is known that during the war fascist occupants destroyed a countless number of cultural treasures. Yet, when the war ended, the soviet government retuned the surviving Dresden Gallery to the people of Germany — a treasure that cannot be measured in any sum of money.
When the items from Dresden Gallery were displayed in Moscow and most visitors rushed to see the most famous painting of Raphael, «Sistine Madonna», I hurried to find the «Woman Reading a Letter» that was placed in one of the smaller rooms.

Small-size painting shows a young woman standing by the window and looking intently at the lines of a letter. Recently married, she received a letter from her husband who went on some business to a war-away land. The letter, apparently, tells her about their soon meeting. The news makes the young woman overfilled with joy, for she is already bearing a child under her heart. Her beloved husband is interested to know about it too. Every day, every morning and every night she looks at the lines of slightly crumpled message that she carefully keeps under her pillow. Rays of sunlight from the open window that bathe the woman enhance the lyrical mood of the painting. The letter in her hands is the centre of the composition that holds and organizes the plot, and, at the same time, it is a trigger driving the essence of the piece. If the letter is removed, the entire composition would collapse.

This painting generates the whole universe of emotions and experiences in me, giving me joy over, and over again.
My thought often turns to the art of Kamoliddin Bekh-zod, which, unfortunately, I did not have a chance to see in the original, but which always lives in my mind and imagination. Till this day I regret that during my trip to Cairo the works of Bekhzod in the Museum of Islamic Art were removed to the store-room because of the war with Israel. However, I was impressed with the specimen of traditional folk art, including ceramics.

It is quite amazing to see the connection, through which live has an impact on art, and the latter, in turn, influences reality…
One hundred and fifty years ago archaeologists discovered several versions of the sculpture of Nefertiti, wife of Egyptian Pharaoh Ehnaton. The image of the beautiful woman who lived about four thousand years ago — it appealed to the hearts of art connoisseurs long before the Common Era — had an influence upon women of Europe and America in the second half of the 20th century: they began to make up their eyes and eyebrows, copying Nefertiti. Truly, one could see the magic power of art at work…

Among the works that are particularly dear to me are the canvases by Boris Kustodiev «Merchant’s Wife», «On the Bank of Volga», «Fair» and «Maslenitsa» [«Pancake-week»] glorifying the beauty of Russian women; they gave grounds for the appearance of a term «Kustodiev woman», just like the work of the French artist Pierre Auguste Renoir, namely his «Portrait of Janna Samari», «The Nude», etc, generated the notion of «Renoir woman». When I look at their canvases, it seems as if the spirit of these artists itself is communicating with me.

This very excitement that can only be born when one gets in touch with real art, sometimes makes me abandon all my chores and duties and travel to Moscow. And the first thing there is Tretyakov Gallery with its immortal pieces that I love so much: from the icons of Andrei Rublev to «The Appearance of Christ before the People» by Alexander Ivanov, the fruit of thirty years’ work. And once again, the excitement from the encounter with the High Art: I stand motionless before the canvases of Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel, and at length I look into the «Archdeacon», this amazingly deep character created by Ilya Repin. I delight in watching the works of Konstantin Korovin and Igor Grabar who created remarkable landscapes, and of great Vasiliy Surikov who revealed the tragedies of Russian history in his paintings.

Having quenched my longing for the big-time art with these first impressions, once again, like a youth in love waiting for a rendezvous, I head for the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. And the first thing I do there is, of course, go to the Faiyum portraits. I spend a lot of time standing before the masterpieces of Rembrandt, Rubens and other old masters and the works of the 19th-20th century French painters displayed in several halls on the second floor of the museum -Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh… Finally, having satisfied my sight with the other treasures of this wonderful museum, I walk to the canvasses of the great 20th century artist, my favourite Henri Matisse.

Every time after this experience it is very hard to leave Moscow! If I were deprived of the opportunity to have these encounters with art, I would perhaps have suffered from spiritual craving, like a traveller in a desert perishes from thirst. When it happens that I cannot go to the museums of Moscow or to The Hermitage and The Russian Museum in Leningrad, then I head for Samarqand. And only after having admired my fill of Gur-Emir and having visited Registan Square with its beautiful madrasah, and having breathed enough of Samarqand air, I can continue doing my art work. All these things are the spiritual sources without which I cannot think of myself as of an artist or personality. They help the roots that nourished me live in my soul, and over and over again they urge me to engage in my own creative work.

As early as in my childhood years I developed a habit of recording all live impressions in pictures, trying to immediately draw down everything that attracted my attention or touched me in any way — using a crayon, or a piece of coal, or whatever came within easy reach. In my early years, as is all boys’ wont, my pictures were mainly of horses, side view. Clearly, in this case only one horse’s eye is drawn. But how should one portray both ears of a horse? I had been racking my brain over the problem and finally pictured horse’s ears in the shape of letter M.

Later on I drew everything I encountered and saw around me in the streets, on busy crossroads and market-places: passers-by, white-bearded old men and hunched old women, adolescent boys and girls, children, trees, ravines and hills, roadside ditches, grass and greenery… All these things I lovingly put on paper. The habit lived on: at school, at the institute, in my mature years… And even today, in my declining years, I remain true to it. Recently, having returned from a performance of a dancer Kizlarkhon Dostmukhammedova whom we all admire, I first made small sketches based on my fresh memories, and then I reproduced them and enlarged. Kizlarkhon liked the drawings and I presented one of them to her.

I like not only to accurately reproduce my impressions, but rather create fantasies based од these impressions. For the work becomes art only when reality that surrounds the artist, becomes spiritualized with the light of his own inner world, his thoughts and fantasies. As a result of this, a mystery of a new image is born, that did not exist before, and it becomes a revelation for the viewer. Presentation of accurate pictures of reality is permissible and even essential only in isolated sketches or studies — and that is all. A piece itself, if it has something to do with real art, is created independently of existing and visible reality, providing full freedom and space for sensations and at times barely noticeable movements of soul. Only this can make the artist’s creation a universal human asset and enables it to touch the innermost soul strings.

Since I remember myself, I aspired for the realization of the only one dream that was the most important: to become an artist, whatever it takes. On this path there were significant victories and inevitable failures, but today, having the experience of the years gone by, I can tell that I have reached the goal of my life, at least to some extent. As a poet said,
Become a nightingale who sings of the beautiful roses,
Keep their fragrance carried by a light breeze.

Glorifying what is worthy of admiration, as the nightingale sings of beautiful flowers, and being a custodian of the garden of grace — this is what I have always felt to be my most important mission on earth. If the words are true that the best works of an artist are those not yet created, then I am also still preoccupied with new conceptions, and my soul harbours hope that my new beautiful paintings are yet to be seen…
From the book by Chingiz Akhmarov «Path to Art. Memoirs», Tashkent. 2008.

Chingiz Akhmarov