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ISSUE 119 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/28/2005

Russian illustrator visits classes

By Joe Christopherson
Contributing Writers

Friday, October 28, 2005

Viacheslav Begidjanov is a medium height middle-aged man, balding, with a white beard. He speaks quietly. Often mumbling through his explanations, he does not speak English.

Far away from his native Russia, Viacheslav Begidjanov has been visiting Midwestern colleges and sharing his illustrations with undergraduate art classes as part of a global scholars program sponsored by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. He visited St. Olaf art and Russian classes this week.

Except for private collectors and a show in 1989 at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, Begidjanov is relatively unknown in the United States. In Russia he is a prominent illustrator known for his meticulous pencil drawings and wood engravings.

He works intensely with a knife-sharpened pencil, rendering intricate plots and slight nuances into illustrations. His depictions of the scenes speak to his study of the literary works that he illustrates.

Begidjanov created a series of wood engravings for “Master and Margarita” by Mihail Bolgakov, a satire of Russian society in the 1830s. Begidjanov relied on the shifts in theme and tone in the novel to guide his stylistic choices. He does not miss a single detail of the scenes he depicts.

He spent two years on his illustrations for “Master and Maragrita.” A year of that was studying the text and drawing preliminary sketches; another year was slowly engraving. His newest series, based on Dante’s “Inferno,” will eventually include 300 scenes.

He has yet to find a funding source for his Dante project and has only completed a dozen of the pieces. What motivates him to produce such extensive bodies of work? “I wish I only knew,” he said.

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1944, Begidjanov eventually settled in Saint Petersburg where he attended the prestigious Mukhina Art Institute. After dabbling in ceramics and glass, he focused on the graphic arts.

Begidjanov graduated in 1975 and the following year he became a member of the Union of Artists. Since the late 1970s, his works have been regularly shown in Eastern Europe.

Begidjanov became interested in wood engraving when he saw some engravings at an exhibition. He ordered blocks of wood and supplies and began to explore the medium in the same methodological way he approaches his subjects.

In the Soviet era, the government supported artists as long as they supported their government. Modern Russia, on the other hand, is more ambivalent towards its artists. It is often difficult to find funding from government and private sources.

“It is profitable to criticize the old regime now just as it was profitable for artist to criticize capitalism during the Soviet Union” Begidjanov said.

However, Begidjanov’s choice of themes is as divorced as possible from the political realities that he has had to deal with. Instead he has searched in great works of literature for inspiration.

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