One of my friends, who, like me, had known Andrei Belle for ages (probably Andrei Makarevich),
once said: Andrei has a fantastic quality: any mechanism, from a rusty lock to the engine of an
ultramodern speedboat, obeys him. He only has to blow, spit or poke around with a stick, and
the mechanism comes to life. It is back in working order. I would not have remembered that
comment, made during a meal, if I had not tried several times to see, in my mind’s eye, Belle’s
works as a whole — painted, as they were, at different times and using different materials and
different techniques. At one moment, there is a kind of mysterious, picturesque femme fatale,
luring one heaven knows where, but alongside are still lifes with bleeding pomegranates, and
then there is Air of Stranger’s Apartments, a series of colour photographs that records what is
known in the West as “street archaeology” — the front doors and windows of city houses,
endless in their diversity. Next there is a photo-based art cycle created, in fact, with Andrei
Makarevich, the Anatomy of the Memory series… What does all this actually have in common?
I think the unifying factor here is the artist’s ability to put the viewer’s consciousness into
working order. These images are, essentially, tuning-fork images that tune the consciousness.
Belle can squeeze out of an image everything that is possible on the semantic, associative and
even tactile levels. But, in the same way, he makes demands on the viewing public too: he leads
them firmly, mobilising the reserves of their emotional responses, their stored cultural and
iconographic memories, and the inexhaustible possibilities of the imagination.
The working with consciousness dates from the fin de siecle, the period to which Belle constantly
turns. From its Symbolistically illusory vamps and transient nature, which came to be
for Belle an object of study and, at the same time, desire. Belle’s trademark femme fatale is the
product of these seemingly divergent aims. The study is understandable, but an “art-based” approach
threatens to bring in stylisation. Yet the desire, the sensual, carnal approach wrests the
subject from the iconographic repository and brings it closer to tactile communication. The
culturologist Alexander Etkind noted that: “Symbolism took the deep levels and altered states
of consciousness, which had previously remained, as it were, outside culture — those derived
from dreams or meditation, induced by drugs, hypnosis or some pathological condition — and
transformed them into the raw material of creativity.” Belle did, I think, find a visual form that
was appropriate not so much to these states of consciousness as to our notions of them. More
precisely, to that aura of mystique, danger and suggestion that is as alluring, in our pragmatic
age, as the forbidden fruit.
Belle’s female images form the series, covering many years, that has actually made his
name. It continues to this day, since lust and analysis of the mechanism of its effect constitute
an inexhaustible subject matter. The materialisation and dematerialisation of desire are the two
poles between which this series develops, comprising, as it does, both paintings and watercolours.
But there are other poles too — the “pure” aestheticism of admiration and a sensual,
contactual experience that is almost voyeuristic in nature. Between these poles lies the range
of responses on which the artist relies: each thing bears within itself quite deliberately the “matrix”
of a meaningful response.
The recent series of colour photographs called Air of Stranger’s Apartments paradoxically continues
the aim that is inherent in the femme fatale cycle. Paradoxically because the visualities
of both series are almost diametrically opposed: the enticing, visually attractive female bodies
are replaced by the prickly textures of time- and climate-worn doors and shutters. As for the
continuation, I see it in the fact that here too the artist — consciously or otherwise — directs the
viewer’s response and installs (without any narrative clues, moreover, but by purely visual
means — the most objective architecture, colour and textures) some guidance for the experience.
The material dimension — the shell: the doors, walls, shutters and blank windows — is exteriorised
(as Mikhail Bakhtin puts it). But the shell is rendered in an expressively and graphically
powerful way. This really may seem to be street archaeology, since a documentary aspect is undoubtedly
present here. Yet all this is precisely a shell, protecting from the viewer some inner
content of the dwelling — the space denoted by the presence of the life that has gone on within
these walls. What is this content — infinite endurance, the meanness of survival or the poverty
of emotional being? Or is it, on the contrary, an outburst of uncommon passion that seared the
very shell from within? The presence of skeletons in the cupboard? Or an emptiness hidden by
a facade? The artist palpably manages the nature and visual impact of the viewing: the eye
counts the wooden boards, dwells on the deprivation and reacts to the strident lightning-flashes
of colour. The visual is so active that it seems to materialise. What is concealed is dematerialised,
but is ready both for an incorporeal and for a bodily existence: the non-narrative narration is
based on this opposition…
The visual as a materialisation of what is slipping away… In the Anatomy of the Memory
project, Belle found a co-author who shared his mania for navigating the flows of time. He is
the celebrated musician Andrei Makarevich, his long-standing fellow enthusiast of underwater
navigation and diving. Both of them are eager to investigate this effect of the irreversibility of
time’s flow: to visualise it and, in this way, if they cannot reverse it, at least to delay it slightly,
draw it nearer and let us take a closer look…
The project, executed by Belle and Makarevich as co-authors, can be classified as photobased
art: it is a series of old photographs appropriated by painting. Photography plus some
painterly substance. It is, in fact, this substance that visualises and materialises the flow of time.
There are no realia, objectivities or even hints of the materiality of objects. It is not details that
are materialised, but the passing of time itself. This breathing of the pre-form or the proto-form
incorporates a metaphor for the flow of history as an aggregate of immaterial emanations — unfulfilled
desires, unrealised challenges and ineffectual impulses. These projections of private
wills and passions accompany the historical process in its material accomplishments and evidence,
without which there is no sensation of the passage of time, since it is not equivalent to
documentation or to an archive of material objects. And so photographs are infused into this
painterly substance — photographs from the beginning of the last century, give or take twenty
years… All sorts of photographs — cabinet photos, cartes de visite, photos for documents. No
alluring subjects, no celebrities, no relatives. Good, ordinary faces; the faces of people going
about their business — with their families, in their offices, in history… I have deliberately used
the word “infused”. No matter how they are utilised technically, the photographs exist in a
painterly-temporal flow. It is not a montage or a collage: such terms harbour connotations of
the external, something that has come from outside. Our case is different: the photographs
exist inside this flow, at a depth.
With its extreme concentration of reality, the photograph is de-realised… The painterly
substance, with its extreme concentration of the immaterial, the “abstract” and the non-figurative,
reveals the potential of reality…
A person who easily restores to life mechanisms that look totally beyond repair — both old
and ultramodern. An author who naturally puts back into working order a visual perception that
is saturated or just lazy. This Belle is an artist we need. One with just such skills…
Andrey Belle’s rapid rise to fame has thrown many art critics and curators
into confusion. Indeed, all the criteria of today’s mainstream suggest that
he should have no chance of success.
Firstly, he stands alone, having never received the blessing of that
impersonal curatorial/museum/gallery establishment which determines the
rules of the game today. But most importantly, he works with a material
which that very establishment has declared irrelevant. He is inconvenient,
if not downright hostile to them.
His material is that of desire, the senses, of sexual languor, of
unrealised and foreseen passions. It is sensual and romantic, with no
desire to act like the subject of contemporary art, which is by very
definition hermetic, impenetrable, existing according to its own logic. His
is an art, moreover, which throws all its forces against the postmodernist
logic of art as text, as self-sufficient, alienated both from its creator
and its auditorium.
For all these reasons, Belle should surely be doomed to irrelevance, to
superfluity. Somehow, however, things have proved otherwise. I shall seek
to explain the reasons for this unforeseen, unplanned success.
The key lies in today’s specific artist context (I refer here to the
mainstream, supported and formed as it is by a powerful establishment of
up-to-the-minute contemporary art, with all its theoretical, material and
media potential). Much has been achieved by this art which perceives itself
as text: self-sufficiency, self-obsession, independence of any obligations.
Obligations either to the author and his life, his ambitions, weaknesses,
dramas, loves and hates, or to the outside world, with its logic, common
sense, spirituality and banality, its routine and its flights of
extravagance. Art which is textual, existential, cut off from everything as
if by bullet-proof glass.
We can easily picture the archetypal contemporary collection, put together
on the basis of recommendations from advisers according to the accepted
conventions of the mainstream establishment. The objects are fully worthy
of attention, representing the foremost artistic ideas and strategies,
demonstrating the owner’s hipness, his involvement in the artistic process.
But nothing more. Even in museum collections this impersonality and
archetypal approach are coming to be perceived as the effect of inertia:
everything is too impersonal, too sterile, too bland. And as for the
private collection! How is it possible to live in the same space as a
selection of such self-sufficient, enclosed works, which cannot by
definition be “de-hermeticised”? Visiting several such collections in New
York with an international group of curators, I noted their excellent
quality, but it was clear that they were utterly alien to the lives of
their owners. I found myself thinking that the scattered toys of one
collector’s grandchildren were no less intriguing to me than the art
objects: even the passing visitor has a tangible need to overcome the
alienation radiating from such art.
This is a real and highly relevant problem facing artistic culture today:
that of the perception of art and the context of art, its existence in our
lives. It has led to a growing interest in phenomena which had apparently
been squeezed out of the sphere of modern art for ever, phenomena which are
once again emerging from museums onto the art scene, and onto the art
market: Art Deco, various Surrealist trends, the work of Klossowski and
Balthus. Art which is fascinating, tempting and intriguing.
Belle’s work and the attention it is receiving must be seen in the context
of this new interest in a sociable art, an art which relies on response –
and notably on emotional response.
My personal conviction is that such art is in demand precisely because it
gives form to those moments which are so catastrophically missing in the
dynamics of everyday life – romantic emotions, sexual languor, a sensual
perception of every moment.
In a word, Belle has chosen the right strategy. Was his choice made after
long reflection or was it intuitive? I cannot say. It was probably
intuitive. He is not a master of intellectual constructs. Belle is a master
of the senses. Of pauses. Of emotional states. Such is his character, his
nature. He does not analyse, but tends rather to look and listen
attentively. I remember how – before the jeeps and snowmobiles which came
along with success – he used to listen carefully to simple household
mechanisms – to clocks and telephones belonging to his friends – and then
fix them in a trice. Thus it is that he looks at those objects which will
go to make up a still life, the material from which such a work is then
built up. Thus he taps and strokes some old plank which will be his
picture, not the support but the very tactile flesh of the work itself.
Thus it is that he lingers at the flea market, looking penetratingly at
some old photograph or manuscript which he will introduce into the fabric
of the image.
Is he then, a lonely voyeur, passeist and intuitive? Certainly, the
qualities described above would seem to confirm that image. As would the
lifestyle he has led in recent years. After many unsettled and nomadic
years (on completing higher education he tried his hand in several
different spheres and came to be an arts manger, travelling with musical
and artistic collectives throughout Russia and the West), Belle created a
Home. The kind of Home which is always written with a capital letter, the
kind of Home which is, according to old Russian tradition, a shelter, a
refuge. (Russian scholars of 19th-century artistic culture know the theme
well, for it recurs frequently in their work – “the motif of refuge in the
work of such and such an artist…”). Belle lives near St Petersburg in
this large house built according to his own design, on a hill in a bend of
the upper reaches of the River Neva. He does not often come into town.
Nature, the secluded location, the low horizon, water… A veritable
Lakeland School…. Yet at the same time Belle is a very modern man, using
a computer in his work, getting around in a jeep and on a snowmobile, fully
competent to judge the relative merits of different kinds of aqualung
equipment, seriously into underwater diving in the most exotic locations.
Living within the rhythms and stresses of today’s world. Apparently,
therefore, fully comprehending the danger of alienation which is
inseparable from those rhythms and stresses. Perhaps it is as a
compensation for this that his is art is so human, so open.
Let us begin with his still lives. A common theme and selection of objects
runs through them all: bottles and jars, pharmaceutical vessels, old
kerosene lamps… Fanciful forms, but, most importantly, enigmatic and
mysterious visual effects: the strange fragmentation of rays of light,
unexpected inner luminescence, elusive reflections and sparks. Fish – dried
to paper lightness, or simply smoke-dried, edible, ready to put on the
table. Fish which demonstrate their structure, their anatomy, the skeleton,
and yet appetising…
Lastly, the fruits of the earth: onions and potatoes, apples… and
pomegranates. Most frequently pomegranates, a point of some significance.
Pomegranates are the key to Belle’s poetics. Quasi-real pomegranates,
almost corporeal, as if we can taste the bitterness, seem to embody Belle’s
sensual outlook. A concordance between the fruit theme, with all those
accompanying cultural associations of temptation, and purely visual
anthropomorphity, an excuse for something spherical, tactile, squeezable –
a kind of painted writing… Sensibility overflowing into sensuality. A
sensuality which has not quite managed to become manifest, an elusive
Here, to me, is Belle’s main secret. On the one hand he seeks to
objectivise both the object’s form and the emotions behind it. The plank,
picked out from amongst many apparently identical planks, weighed and
endlessly assessed, preserving the warmth of the sun and some now
non-existent (such planks are usually taken from the remains of a
dismantled wooden house), sets in train this “objectivisation”. This is not
just a surface, like the panel on which an icon is painted; this wooden
support has symbolic meanings and emotional content. Next the role of
“objectiviser” is taken up by painting itself – painting which is concrete,
tactile, warm, handmade in the full sense of the word. Objectivity,
“objectivisation”, corporeality – the theme resounds sharply throughout;
such it would seem is the work’s content. But not so. Of no less importance
is the theme of elusiveness, ambiguity, of mystery… (This theme is deeply
rooted in Russian culture: there was a whole sphere of work in the 18th and
19th centuries known as “obmanki” – deceptive, illusionistic still life or
nudes. The objects were painted so convincingly that a viewer felt he had
only to hold out his hand to touch the fruit or the warm female body – but
instead he found only canvas). This theme too is realised through very
specific devices. The object’s form, particularly when the object is not
natural but handmade, is – for all its illusionistic, convincing nature –
quite openly a generalisation. You notice this when you are distracted from
the form of the natural (fruits, fish etc) and from natural, apparently
carefully observed lighting effects. Then you see that the image is in fact
graphic and linear, that its summary nature is emphasised by a broken, even
exaggerated contour. Finally, the motif of generalisation -temporal in this
case – is supported by the appropriation of old photographs and
manuscripts. Welded into the fabric of the work, they are not there for the
sake of literary suggestion or to make historical references. Their natural
function is to provide a sense of the majestic flow of time… That is,
they are there to provide a generalisation, to mark the deceptive nature of
the “here and now” which we inertly perceive as given.
Belle thus balances himself between the objective presence and
elusiveness, between quasi-corporeality which promises possession and the
impossibility of possession…
This theme of ambivalent possession continues in the artist’s images of
women. In extremely concentrated form. Corporeality, sensuality and
eroticism are here not guessed at, sought for, expected. They are
primordial categories determining form and meaning. Belle paints women who
are openly erotic, attractive and tempting. He presents his nudes as
precious jewels, painting the rich surface, the ennobling texture, the
attributes, with immense love and care. As Andre Malraux wrote in his
foreword to Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, “eroticism is also a kind
of jewel”. Belle relies upon a very concrete type of female sexuality.
These are women of the Symbolist and Art Deco period: from the come-on
female types of Klimt and Sacher-Masoch to the wantonly refined “American
women in Paris”. Yet he paints his models (or rather, variations of one and
the same model – Belle’s nude) from life. This is not stylisation. This is
a game, a game of aesthetic sensuality, of refined eroticism. (The
dialectics of the objective, quasi-real and ephemeral, the mirage, here too
are combined with corporeality, right down to the transparent superficial
strokes and the working up of masses, and with generalisation and the
outline drawing.) But since this is a game, by accenting the tangibly
fleshy, the directly accessible (all those poses, those garters and other
attributes) Belle remains faithful to himself: reminding us of the
impossible, the inaccessible, the elusive. Articulating the sexual, he does
not forget the romantic. Stealing Beauty…
Here lies Belle’s poetry. Together with his works, adventure and intrigue
enter your home. Physical, final possession of his works is deceptive. You
have almost tasted the pomegranates, almost touched the desired flesh…
But it all melts away, like a mirage. Yet still with an almost physically
tangible possibility – almost an inevitability – of return…
Each of us seeks to somehow resist the rationality and alienation of
contemporary existence. For Andrey Belle, his weapon is confidence in the
reality of the mirage.
He isn’t like an artist at all. In fact, you don’t associate him with any profession whatsoever.
If he were invited to take part in the Intuition TV game show [Identity in the USA] and placed
on the stand, no one would have a clue as to his livelihood.
An artist is someone who is absent-minded, shy, bearded and unkempt. He wears a black
pullover stretched at the elbows and has a taste for strong drink and negative philosophy. He’s
nothing like that. Or, as represented in actual art, he has hysterical clothing, hellish sunglasses
and an enigmatic sexual orientation, on the tip of his tongue is a collection of names that no one
knows, and on his mind a single concept and sponsors. That’s even less like him.
No, I really don’t know how you’d classify him.
We met ages ago, and I couldn’t imagine that he was an artist at all. In those far-off times,
he worked as the unpaid director of the rock group “Akvarium”. It’s just that he was very keen
on the group. BG [its leader, Boris Grebenshchikov] once told me, an underwater hunter, that
they had in their team a director who used to harpoon enormous fish in the River Neva. I didn’t
believe this and insisted on meeting him straightaway. We did meet and, just a few days later,
crept into the icy Neva with harpoon guns and torches. It was a late October night at the
Ivanovskiye Rapids. Those who understand will appreciate what we were doing; it’s useless to
explain to anyone else. All in all, it’s an operation way beyond the extreme. While I was tumbling
around, fighting the fierce current ten metres down in a life-threatening environment, he had already
crawled out onto the bank in a matter-of-fact manner with a whopping big salmon on his
harpoon. I was crushed: before that moment, I had regarded myself as quite a good hunter.
It’s turned out since that he can do superlatively well everything that he loves. And he
loves a huge number of totally different things. Loving is one thing, though (I love things too),
but being competent is quite another matter. He can repair a radio, stop a heart attack, grow
a lotus flower in northern Russia and defuse a bomb. Maybe he can even detonate one, if need
be. He can hammer a nail into something like a professional (I’d lose a finger), put a log house
together (how does he know how to do it?), paint a wall after undercoating it (and he knows,
the lucky devil, what to use and in what order!) and even build a house — as he has done — with
his own hands. That house is filled with an incredible number of amazing things that a normal
person would find quite useless. He adores toys with the passion of an orphanage child deprived
of its childhood. The best way to distract him from all the world’s problems is to thrust into
his hands the latest telephone or camera. Two days later, he’ll be using that camera to take
photos that will arouse the acute professional jealousy of people who have devoted their entire
lives to photography. I’m not exaggerating. He adores driving a car, which he feels like an extension
of himself, and, when I get into that car of his, I pray throughout the journey. Not because
he drives badly, but because he drives very fast. Anyway, everyone is in one piece so far.
He adores travelling (like me), and sometimes he and I find ourselves in some very remote and
wild places in the world and in very difficult conditions. In the field, he is organised and unfastidious,
and impresses one with his store of the practical knowledge that is needed precisely
in that situation.
But these are all trifles. Here is a perfectly true story about the man. I was involved in it and can
vouch for every word. We were returning to Havana from a field trip through southern
Cuba — about five hundred kilometres through places that were virtually devoid of any signs of
civilisation. There was a road, though. Once every two hours, the chance of a lift would come
along in the form of a lorry heading north. We would stop a lorry, throw our gear into the back,
climb on ourselves and move on towards our destination. Night fell when we were about seventy
kilometres from Havana. Our plane was leaving in the morning, and I was getting worried. But
we were in luck: another lorry stopped, and we scrambled into the back in total darkness and
eventually reached our embassy. There it transpired that my friend had lost his sunglasses. They
were not just any old glasses, but a present from someone — maybe even Billy Joel. What would
a normal person have done in that situation? He would have sighed, spat, had a stiff drink and
forgotten about it. What would I have done? I’d have lamented and grieved for the rest of the
night. What does our hero do? He cadges a car from a lad at the embassy and drives to the place
of our last vehicle change — he had already analysed the whole train of events and was certain
that that was the place where he had dropped the glasses. It was useless to try to talk him out of
it. Well, chaps, a suburban road in Cuba is not exactly the Sadovoye Koltso [ring road in
Moscow]: there’s no lighting, and the tropical night doesn’t even let you make out the fingers
on your hand. It’s impossible to find, in such conditions, the place where you stopped two hours
before in the same darkness. Believe you me! He returned two hours later — with the glasses.
Admittedly, by then several lorries had run over them, but that wasn’t important. He’d found
them. He had some new lenses put in and wears them to this day. I could recount many such stories.
I don’t know how he does it.
Incidentally, it’s not because he’s mean — they’re precious glasses! It’s because he’s reluctant
to submit to circumstances.
It’s a good quality for an artist — being reluctant to submit to circumstances.
Or just being reluctant to submit.
On Lake Baikal, our launch was ready for departure — we were going off for a week to the
opposite shore. He unpacked his rucksack, grabbed his camera, jumped into the car and disappeared.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” We waited for four hours. It turns out that, while driving
around Irkutsk, he had noticed the magnificent time-worn doors and shutters on some old lopsided
wooden houses — from the window of a moving car. He went back, photographed them
and put on a splendid exhibition.
I had walked around Irkutsk many times. I had, of course, seen those doors and shutters.
I had even admired them. I had spent a little time admiring them — in my mind — and then left.
And that was that.
He and I once undertook a piece of joint work, based on old photographs, which we both
love (in general, we share the same love for almost everything). Drawing (for me, at any rate) is
something very intimate — it’s not like playing the piano four-handed. When I was a student,
I couldn’t even tolerate it when the teacher set about making corrections to my drawing with his
own hand: it’s nothing to do with him! I waited for that process to start with some trepidation:
what if it’s not good enough? We worked with feverish haste, without talking at all: the exchange
of information took place through the transfer of inspirational energy. We produced an amazing
series called Anatomy of the Memory. I can praise it boldly, since it’s ours, not mine. Mankind
has yet to discover the fruits of our labour. It has not yet had the opportunity. When we die, the
world will gasp.
As for my friend’s pictures, I don’t know how to write about them. That’s for the art experts
to do. Pictures have to be looked at. I look at them every day, since they’re all over the walls of
my home. And I feel all the better for it. Is there any point in praising the obvious?
He who has eyes to see, let him see.
Anatomy… Do you remember those mysterious, leafy volumes, which found their way into our
sticky young paws by various means — probably, back then, not entirely legal ones? Enchantingly
and frighteningly erotic, the pictures of the naked bodies on the pages of these books evoked
the thrill of communion with the unknown.
The magnificent graphic images prevented one from lingering on a superficial contemplation
of the plastic lines and forms.
No! Removing the skin from the interlaced sinews and muscles, they led deeper, revealing
the true nature of ourselves, leaving us weak at the knees and with a pain in the side. I experienced
something similar in the process of creating this project with my good friend. Like two projectors
in an anatomical theatre, in the silence of the studio, to the sound of stainless steel brushes clattering
against the metallic tray of paints, we uncovered the essence of subjects consigned to eternity.
Attempting to extract long extinguished feelings, we tried to explore what guided them in
their aspirations, loves, joys and troubles. Our fascination grew as we grasped the irreversibility
of the processes of the development — or, perhaps, the degradation — of society; the impossibility
of the majority of our contemporaries understanding materials that were, quite recently,
so familiar and close to us all.
Under the scalpel of the palette knife, we sensed the epithelium of time parting — revealing,
in the dazzling incision, strange, beautiful and sometimes horrible organs of a past life, scarred
and deformed by the terrible diseases of the past century…
Our task was to extract the brightest elements pulling on the subtle and profound strings
of the human heart; to systematise, describe and, ultimately, to present them to the viewer, embalmed
in formaldehyde, for a better understanding of the subject.
How wonderful to re-experience a moment frozen over a century ago, to delight and marvel
at it, to discover something insanely beautiful inside something awful. Like unexpectedly coming
across the delicate lace of a butterfly’s wing, previously invisible, against the cracked bark of
a long dead tree…
Time lies outside our understanding. Because time is irreversible and makes everything that it
touches irreversible. A moving picture can be wound back and forward a dozen times: we will
still be there, like living people. Only the film gets scratched and torn. Tomorrow, it may fade
completely. You can walk up and down any road, but the next day you will be slightly different —
and so will the road.
Time is a road in one direction.
How can this be? A voice can be heard, you listen and cry, yet the person is long gone.
The camera is now part of a mobile telephone. Photography has turned into a pleasant and
harmless pastime. A hundred years ago, however, this was something akin to a religious ceremony.
People approached the camera like a confessional box. That is why everything can be seen in the
reflections of their eyes: how they loved; how they suffered and smiled; how their lives, so unlike
our own, passed. You can see all this — if you want to.
Time is a road in one direction.
I cannot help thinking, though, that if there are single laws of nature, maybe there is something
that we ourselves do not know?
A current can be made to run in the opposite direction. All you have to do is to change
the poles around. For, ultimately, it does not matter which way the arrow points.
With the past. With everything that has passed away, leaving in this world a perceptible or
ephemeral trace, a material trace or signs on the matter from which the soul and the feelings
are made — matter that has not been probed by science.
I am certain that every movement of a substance — the wafting of the wind that sways the
feather grass, the ripples made by the mayfly that has fallen into the sticky water, or the turbulent
blur of the fish that has spotted the prey — does, nevertheless, remain in the memory
of some very complex brain of the universe around us. And, in their endless interconnection,
all these events subsequently influence what is happening, without, of course, excluding us
human beings, who form an integral part of the matter of the universe.
As we are born, we are certainly granted access to that memory’s vast reserves, but then,
by automatically separating knowledge into the necessary and the unnecessary, the brain limits
the access to that information. As a result, we possess only the knowledge that we have amassed
ourselves or gained through the collective memory of mankind.
Sometimes it seems that you are on the verge of understanding something very important
and interesting, but it is impossible to break through the barrier of the past, which prevents
you from glimpsing a place where you were once, very long ago, and you just cannot bring it
That is why, when sorting through old objects that are beautiful in their traces of events
and time, I always look at them closely and see how that notch appeared on a homemade
sickle, with an added birch-bark handle, when it unexpectedly struck a rock in the grass,
which in turn remembers that encounter, as well as everything that has happened to it since
the time when a thousand-year-old glacier carried it from the unknown and melted, leaving it
in the middle of a field that was not always a field because quite recently, some five thousand
years ago, there was a forest here, but it was flooded by the sea and vanished, giving way to
grass as soon as the water receded.
In the midst of the smooth passage of time, the succession of centuries, years and seasons,
man, who appeared last in the chain of all living things, in all their diversity, can be seen as
a parasite on the skin of the planet, beyond which he is already spreading his disputes. Man is
coming to be not the repository of reason and the memory of the past, but rather a worm that
is destroying the fruit on which it lives. If a self-destruct mechanism engages (as it may already
have done), everything will end far sooner than we think.
It is, after all, so simple. And it is the main reason why I have little interest in the future.
I delight in the past, I remember, and I live in it.
I love a photograph — time that has been stopped. I scrutinise the faces of fine people,
long departed — beautiful women and handsome men, and the landscapes behind them.
By looking closely at that old paper, a frail medium of information, one can discern feelings
and thoughts, stupidity and falsehood, love and hatred.
I love the musical scores of past centuries — they still hear the sounds and feel the hands
of the musician turning their pages.
Pictures are a special element of the past. In a picture by Raphael or Rembrandt, one can, if
one wishes, see in the layer of paint one of his, Raphael’s, hairs or an eyelash of Rembrandt’s
that fell onto the varnish, or fingerprints made when they touched the still wet canvas, while
the thick brushstrokes retain the waves of their voices. Somewhere in the molecules of paint,
varnish and primer there is a record of the picture’s entire history — from the portrait of the
painter applying the last brushstroke to the thief slinking away from the museum with the picture,
and the hands of the restorers who have given it fresh life.
At times, it seems to me that I am here by chance. I do not belong to this year or century.
My view of love as complete mutual understanding and the ability to communicate with the
loved one without using meaningless sound waves, but just feeling everything beforehand, has
proved to be ill-adapted to earthly life. One has constantly to talk, talk about the same thing,
without the slightest hope of any understanding. What is more, there is a blinding pain, caused
by the awareness that something has been irretrievably lost. And you keep repeating yourself
again and again in the sole, fervent hope of capturing the elusive phantom of understanding
All this is harboured inside me and reminds me of its existence all the time through
a troubled soul and a pain in my left shoulder. Recently solitude has been the remedy that still
enables me to think sometimes, dream of the unattainable and go on living while looking backwards.
Today I am trying to present my sensations to you and perhaps to make sense of them myself.
Even as a child, I was unable to remain indifferent when examining an ordinary
stone — grey, with white streaks and specks of rust, probably washed out of a river bank by the
People are perfectly able, using ingenious devices, to retrieve information recorded on
magnetic tape, cinefilm or a laser disc, but there is no such device that will show you that grey
stone at the time of the creation of the world, during the Mesozoic era, the Palaeolithic age
and the Jurassic period. What glacier brought it and from where, how did a dinosaur’s foot
press it into the ground, how did the hoof of a horse bearing a crusader on his latest campaign
slide over it, and what revolutions and wars has it seen during its endless life? On what screen
can one see a tiny glass bottle being made by some unknown craftsman, what poison was
poured into it and who drank it? Or was it perhaps medicine that saved someone’s life?
Glass is a particularly amazing structure, since, given its fragility and usually short life, it
needs special conditions if it is to be preserved and pass on to us what it knows.
The same applies to wood. It is both an organism that had its own history, and a material
that takes on amazing shapes by the force of circumstances and continues to gather information
in each new capacity.
Plants in general form a special object of study. They have their own silent, immobile life
and certainly more wisdom than many people possess. Among plants, beauty does not depend
on form. A dry, slender blade of grass may be more endearing and convincing than a huge bouquet
Since it is derived from plants, paper demands to be treated with respect in its own right.
After all, it may become a newspaper, sheet music, a drawing or a photograph. That is already
a transition to perfectly concrete sound or visual historical images. Further scope for study
opens up with every change of form.
Metal and its metamorphoses, as caused by man and, even more importantly, by time,
constitute a separate class of observations. The most renowned storyteller is unlikely to be
able to remember the number of stories known by a small bronze ink-pot or hand-made nail.
But how is one to make them speak?
I am not the first to broach the problem of the memory of things. I am interested mainly
in the associations that spring from contact with some object or event. It is these associations
that I try to transfer onto canvas, revealing at least a small part of the secret.
What I do should not be seen as something that is complete. It is rather a way, or the
search for a way, towards the possible solution of the problem, if that solution exists at all…
And God saw the light, that it was good:
and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness
he called Night.
In the beginning was the shadow…
It is, after all, so obvious: having just created light, God dispersed the darkness, and all manner
of variations, derived from the blending of these two substances, opened up to his gaze in
this still silent world…
Then, once he had viewed the display, God decided that was so good that it needed a suitable
As yet, there was no Adam, but the shadows were there…
And Eve had not yet offered him that which, struck by her beauty, he could not forego, but
the shadow was already thickening beneath the tree in a desolate Eden and beneath the serpent
It was this interplay of shade and light that was primordial in this world, and that is why it
formed the basis for everything that followed…
I am sure that Adam, an undoubted aesthete, recovered quickly after the unpleasant affair
of the banishment from Eden, looked round and examined the Earth with its splendours, enhanced
by the presence against this backdrop of the beautiful woman he loved, and the first thing he
began to dream of was how to stop and preserve the fleeting moments of this supreme, visual
(and not only visual) delight. This wish was so great that he soon became dissatisfied with rudimentary
charcoal and ochre drawings on rocks.
These transfusions of light into half-tones, into total blackness and back again fascinated
and troubled man since those early times and right up to the day, when the recording of images
dear to the artist’s heart started to become a reality…
It is not important who was first — whether it was the masters who traced the outlines of
nature from the cloudy screen of a camera obscura, whether it was Daguerre or Niepce or Talbot,
with his first, one-square-inch photograph, or Bayard and his first photographic exhibition in
Paris or John Herschel, with his dry report on hyposulphite of soda to the Royal Society in England;
they achieved what everyone had been dreaming of, probably including God too, ever since
he had divided the light from the darkness…
Developing rapidly, this invention turned into the art of managing the combination of light
and shade and the imposition of shade on light, and, most importantly, of fixing the result on
glass or paper — something that has given man the amazing possibility of not only keeping for
himself, but also of preserving for centuries precisely those variations of light and shade that so
struck him at that second and would have disappeared without trace in pitiless time…
And, at last, here and now, I too am presenting my observations, made once and left by me
to live on, framed or otherwise, on the walls of warm flats or in the albums of family and friends.
I do not wish, by means of this exhibition, either to shock or convince, or to exalt or glorify
anyone or anything. I only want to show you, my dear friends, the interplay of shadows that
I myself captured, since I saw it, and it occurred in my life.
I invite you to try to enter into the feelings that possessed me at the moment when the
proverbial bird was leaving my camera lens.
Believe me, those feelings were sincere…
Andrei Belle was born in 1957 in Minsk. Since his birth, he lived and studied in Leningrad, now
St Petersburg. From 1975 to 1977, he served in the Soviet Army. In 1977, he went straight from
the army into the V. I. Mukhina Leningrad Higher School of Commercial Art. He began to
exhibit his work while still at the institute. Upon graduating and being professionally assigned
to the Lot Central Research Institute, he started work as an independent artist — a painter and
graphic artist. From the mid-1980s onwards, he drew closer to musical circles: from 1985 to
1992, he worked with the Akvarium rock group. In 1988, he was in charge of the group’s charity
concerts for the Soviet Cultural Foundation in order to erect a monument to Petr Tchaikovsky.
From 1988 to 1992, he exhibited and worked with the Mitki group. Once perestroika had begun,
he was much exhibited both in Russia and worldwide — in the USA, the UK, Canada, Germany,
Belgium, Holland and France, promoting Russian art, which was not too popular during the
post-perestroika period in Europe and America.
His friendship with stage artistes and musicians, particularly with Andrei Makarevich, prompted
him to take part in many musical projects as an artist, resulting in designs for Makarevich’s
albums The Songs I Love (1996), The Cardboard Wings of Love (1996), Megamix (1996),
The Woman’s Album (1998), Etcetera (2002), The Thin Scar on My Favourite Bum (2003),
The Songs of Bulat Okudzhava (2005); Maxim Leonidov’s album Let’s Have a Smoke (2001);
Jean Tatlian’s two albums Night Coach and Russian Blues (2001), and so on.
His participation in charity auctions, e. g. Sotheby’s Cow Parade in 2005 and the Milost
Foundation’s auction in St Petersburg in 2007, enabled considerable amounts of money to be
collected for sick children. In 2001, the artist was awarded the title of “Master” during the
Master Class project directed by Mikhail Piotrovsky. In 2007, the President of the Russian Federation
decreed that Andrei Belle should be decorated with the Order for Services to the Fatherland,
About creative activities. Highlights of the exhibition.
Born 1957 in the city of Minsk. Having always lived and studied in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. In 1977 he entered the Leningrad College of industrial arts. V. I. Mukhina. Began exhibiting at the Institute. At the end of the Institute and the distribution by profession in TSNII Lot, began to work as an independent artist in painting and graphics. Close contact with musical circles, worked with the group “Aquarium” from 1985 to 1992 year. Oversaw charitable concerts from the Soviet cultural Foundation in 1988 for the construction of a monument to Tchaikovsky. From 1988 to 1992 he exhibited and worked with a group of artists “Mitki”.With the beginning of perestroika Union many were exhibited both in Russia and worldwide: in USA ,England, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France to promote Russian art, not very popular in the post-reconstruction period both in Europe and around the world. Close communication and friendship with artists and musicians, in particular with Andrei Makarevich allowed to participate in many music projects as an artist. At this time, was decorated albums A. Makarevich “Songs I like”, “Cardboard wings of love”, “Women’s album”, “Etc”, “Songs of Bulat Okudzhava, “Thin scar”, “Mega mix”, Maxim Leonidov album “Songs about war”, two albums by Jean Tatljan “Night stagecoach” and “Russian Blues”, and so on. Participation in charity auctions such as Sotheby’s 2005 called “cow Parade” auction Fund “Mercy” in 2007 in St. Petersburg allowed us to raise significant funds for sick children.
1987 – 1 Biennale of contemporary art.
1988 – Exhibition in the Harbour
1988,1989,1991-1999 – participation in exhibitions in the Central exhibition hall the arena of SPB.
1988-Museum of city history
In 1989 the Mitki in defense of Oleg Grigoriev.
1989-“Moscow art gallery, Toronto Canada
1990-Museum of Tomsk
1990-Gallery 10-10 exhibition with art group “Mitka”
1991-Exhibition complex “Harbour” exhibition “Realities of Russian Rock”
1991-exhibition “City” arena SPB
1991-permanent exhibition at “Gregory gallery” in Washington, USA.
1992-“the Mitki group in Moscow Palace of youth. Moscow.
1992-“the Mitki group in Minsk Central house of artists, Minsk.
1992-“Modern art of St. Petersburg” Museum of Saint-Jean Bruges. Belgium
1992 – the 2 Biennale of contemporary art
1992 – gallery “Anichkin bridge”-Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace
1992-Personal. Gallery “Borey”
1992 – gallery “Anna”
1993 – gallery “Palette”
1993-gallery of the Yusupov Palace
1993-gallery “L-club” Moscow
1994-“Master-class” Union of artists of SPB
1994-1997-“small circle of friends” gallery “Palette”
1995-“Nostalgia” solo exhibition at the gallery “Palette”, St. PETERSBURG
1996-Joint exhibition with Andrey Makarevich “Andrew” in the gallery Palette SPB
1997-Art Manege Moscow
1997 – exhibition “December, tradition and date gallery Bolenski Moscow
1997- “Art salon Moscow” gallery Bolenski
1997-2000 – 3 and 4 Biennale of contemporary art.
1997-exhibition in Vilnius, in the framework of action for the design and installation of the monument symbolizing the unity of artists all over the world in the Central square of the city of moletai.
1998-Personal exhibition Central house of artists in Moscow city “for Himself alone…”
1999- “the Three BS”- exhibition in London
2000 – Solo exhibition in nice France “Original gallery”
2001 – Art Manege gallery, Moscow Arslonga
2001 – personal exhibition London England “INDAR Parish FAI Nart
2002-“Erotic objects,” nice, France “Original gallery”
2002-Personal exhibition London England “Amadeus gallery” March 23
2003-awarded the title of “Master” in the framework of the project “Master-class” under the leadership of Mikhail Piotrovsky.
2003 – CEC Sokolniki exhibition contemporary art gallery Arslonga
2005-Participation in the charity auction house Sotheby’s “Cow Parade”
2006-Central exhibition hall “Manege” exhibition “25 years of Rock-club”
2006-Personal exhibition in the Museum of history of St. Petersburg Peter and Paul fortress in the Neva curtain
2007-Participation in charitable auction in support of sick kids Foundation
2008 – Joint with Andrei Makarevich, personal exhibition “Anatomy of memory”, the State Russian Museum. Petersburg.
2008 – Joint with Andrei Makarevich, personal exhibition “Anatomy of memory”
The State Tretyakov Gallery. Moscow.
2009-Personal exhibition ” Ragged time.” Gallery Artiflex. Petersburg.
2009 – personal exhibition in the Pushkin Museum on the Moika 12
2010 – personal exhibition of painting ” …don’t ask why…” dedicated to the birthday of A. S. Pushkin in the Pushkin Museum.
2010 – personal exhibition in Moscow gallery “On Clean ponds”
2011 – “Gates and doors”, State Russian Museum. Petersburg.
2011 – Personal exhibition “the Air of other people’s apartments” in the Pushkin Museum on the Moika 12.
2012 – participation in exhibition “Master class” Kronstadt.