In September 2017, the classic of the abstract art of the 20th century, Nikolai Kazak, turned 100 years old.
Until recently, in the National Art Museum of Belarus, without the information about the author, an artfully executed image of a young man was kept. The picture is almost eighty years old, and only now thanks to relatives it turned out that this is a self-portrait of Nikolai Kazak. It could be assumed that recognition came to the master after death. But this is not so. The works of the talented artist-abstractionist in the second half of the last century were admired by the famous exhibitions of Europe and America. Today they are stored in many private collections and the largest museums in the world. But so far the name of Nikolai Kazak is little known in the country where he was born and at the earliest age realized that for him there is no life without art.
The beginning of time
Nikolai Maksimovich Kazak was born on September 24, 1917 in the village of Luscha on Luninetcin. Later the family moved to Khotynichi Gantsevichi district. Father, Georgievsky Cavalier, who served on the cruiser Varyag, worked there on the railway.
According to the children of Nicholas, my father drew from a young age. In 1935, a talented beginner artist was awarded a scholarship by the Prime Minister of Poland to study in Warsaw at the School of Fine and Decorative and Applied Arts. On the specialty of “monumental painting” he studied with Professor Mechislav Schultz. In 1938, won the competition for the logo “Siren” for the school buildings of the city. In1939, he already taught painting and graphics in the capital’s art school. Soon Nikolay returns to his homeland and works as an assistant to the inspector of schools in Gantsevichi district.
About the beginning of the war, Nikolai Kazak heard when he was staying with relatives in Leningrad. On the way to his native Polesye he got under bombardment, was arrested by the Red Army men, who mistook him for a spy. When I finally got home, it turned out that parents, younger brothers and a teenage sister were sent to Siberia together with the families of other Polish railway workers. Another sister who lived separately, the Germans shot together with her husband and child in front of Nicholas.
In 1942-1943, the artist lived in Baranovichi, taught drawing and geometry at school. Here was his only exhibition in Belarus in the style of traditional realism. Around the same time, Nikolai Kazak drew the first abstract images. For the opportunity to develop precisely in this direction in 1944, he leaves for Vienna, and a year later – to Rome.
Very soon the artist from Polissya becomes the brightest representative of cultural emigration in Italy. He studies at the art academy in Rome and works towards constructivism. Completely abandoning the traditional canvas, henceforth he creates not in space, but with space. Although an excellent draftsman will remain until the end of life.
In the eternal city for the first time exhibited his work in the style of Mondrian and Kandinsky. Here he made a three-dimensional design of space and matter, and in 1945-1946 laid out his own philosophy of physical art in a short essay-manifesto “Physical art – the action of the positive and negative.”
The newspaper of the Byelorussian emigrants “Batskaўshchyna” wrote in 1949: “The famous Belarusian artist Professor Kazak with his modern, revolutionary drawings exceeded all Italian artists. His work is now highly valued in Italy. ”
The art of Nikolai Kazak is compared with the works of Chagall, Soutine, Malevich and other Russian constructivists. However, with the work of Kazimir Malevich Kazak will get acquainted and admire them much later – at an exhibition in America in 1953. And while his work, which is not inferior in mastery to the founder of Suprematism, participates in national and international exhibitions in the galleries of Rome, Turin, Florence. The Cossack communicates with many well-known colleagues, writers, critics … And Enrico Pampolini – the central figure of the second Italian revival – takes the talented Belarusian under his wing.
The next stage of life and creativity began in 1951 in America. In Dallas, the first on this continent exhibition of Nikolai Kazak was held. A year later, having refused the offer to teach at the University of Washington, he settles in New York.
New York: laboratory in the laboratory
Famous architecture theorist Dutchman Rem Koolhaas in the best-selling New York City outside of himself (1978) presented the city as a kind of laboratory for a new culture of the industrial age of 1890 and 1940. Manhattan abolished the traditional concepts of beauty and harmony and became an example of a radically new culture and architecture. In their own sphere, this was also claimed by avant-garde artists. One of their best representatives, Nikolai Kazak fell in love with this city-“laboratory”, and until the end of his life he worked here in his laboratory – in a creative workshop.
“The physical art he creates with his balancing device of opposing, always present, always strong elements of universal physics – positive space (matter) and negative space (energy of” empty “space) is classical in its purity and freedom of thought.
His art is embodied in geometric forms, straight and rounded lines, primary colors, in wood, metal, plastic, in full three-dimensional constructions hanging from the ceiling and rising from the floor, low three-dimensional designs projecting from the walls. The peculiarity of these compositions is the effect of movement, formed by the interaction of dynamic forms, “- a quotation from the entry to the album” The Art of Cossack. With a foreword by Robert Cramer, comments by Marcello Galliano and the artist’s own manifesto on physical art “(New York, 1968).
The works of the key player of the avant-garde geometrical team of the first half of the 20th century (as it was called critics) were exhibited in America, Italy, France, Argentina and even in the Soviet Union. The Cossack was in the American Association of Abstractionists, lectured on art. With all this, he devoted enough time to his family.
With Polina Janina Poranska, where Nikolai married in 1954, they had a son, Alexander, and daughter Christina. Children remember that his father did not pay attention to fashion, he did not know how to make money on art. He did not aspire to material excesses, but he adequately provided and very fond of the family. Among other things, he created audio equipment in the well-known Emerson Radio and Phonograph Company.
Discipline and order, to which the father was accustomed, in the parochial school children were nurtured by nuns and priests. Children’s toys in the house were small wooden blocks, which later became elements of three-dimensional structures. In the modest one-room apartment of the Cossacks in the Bronx, and then in their own home there were often guests from the art world. He acquainted his family and friends with numerous exhibitions and museums. By the inspiration of the heads of the family, both the wife and the children received higher education. He considered it to be the cornerstone of enlightenment.
In the biography of the artist there is a fact that at the age of twelve he intended to go to a monastery and devote his life to God and art. Everything happened, but only in a secular life. Reasonings about the mind, God and the cosmos occupy a central place in the philosophy of physical art of Nikolai Kazak. Close to this were the impressions of the young Belarusian poetess Victoria Golovchik, who first saw the master’s work:
Дзесьці існуе сусвет другі:
Сонца і Меркурый сябры лепшыя.
Пабудуем новыя шляхі,
Ад Зямных здарэнняў незалежныя.
Ведаем, далёка за мяжой
Круцяцца гады блакітна-чорныя.
Адусюль вяртаемся з тугой
Да Радзімы з песняю мінорнаю.
Nikolay Kazak died on September 30, 1994. Three years before his death in Salt Lake City, a catalog of his works was published, compiled and curated by the leading American Slavic scholar, art historian, expert on the history of the Russian avant-garde John Bolt. The artist’s archive (about 350 items of biographical material, correspondence, manuscripts, drawings, photographs) is stored in the famous Smithsonian archives of American art.