Of Human Beauty

Issue #3 • 1655

Self-portrait. 1997. Canvas, oil

The SAN’AT editors offer the readers an extract from an article written by the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Abdulhak Abdullaev (1918-2002), “Of Human Beauty”, published in 1994 in his book titled “Craving for the Beautiful”.

Abdullaev is one of the prominent representatives of the first generation Uzbekistan artists, and throughout his entire artistic career he remained true to realistic painting tradition. He authored numerous portraits, including those of Abrar Hidoyatov, Aibek, Tamara Hanum, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and people who were close to him. He also created a series of self-portraits from different periods. The artist’ canvases are kept in museums in Uzbekistan, Russia, Italy, India and other countries.

Of the multitude of fine art forms, painting holds a special place. “Painting is poetry that one sees rather than hears”, great Leonardo da Vinci used to say. We owe the greatest creations of human genius to painting.

The works of painting masters are unique and hard to reproduce; therefore, millions of people have not yet seen its true masterpieces and have not known its essence and joy that painting brings. Yet they saw plenty of surrogates from which there is no salvation. Hence come numerous naive and erroneous notions about it, and often complete ignorance.

Mother's Portrait. 1998. Canvas, oil

A picture, a portrait, or a landscape may not reach out to the hearts unless illuminated with bright rays of exalted clear vision. Without promoters and connoisseurs of art not everyone will know what a great contribution painting brings to the global culture and the culture of every nation.

In Russia such people, among others, were Stasov, Tretyakov, Mamontov, and Dyagilev. Their voice was heard all over Russia and people were attracted to painting. “Everyone has to like painting and understand its great cultural value for Russia”, A. M. Gorkiy wrote from Italy, appealing to artistic intellectuals.

Every human has an intrinsic sense of beauty. No one is born with atrophied emotions. Irreversible damage is done when during childhood a human spirit does not receive essential food. Therefore, it is not surprising that we still consider painters nearly those who paint street billboards, while some other people believe that portraits are painted from photographs.

What a bitter misconception!.. What a humiliation, what an insult for the art that requires unprecedented sacrifice from an individual! Still how could they know that a portrait can only be painted from life, taking months or even years to complete, and that a good portrait is a dramatized biography of a person, and it can be even more than a biography of a single individual – it can be a biography of an entire epoch.

Pictorial art, like spiritual food, does the same as music and poetry, bearing in itself the elements of both. An artist puts all his ideas, senses and elation into his canvas. He is all in it: his soul, his consciousness, his ideal. And the depth of the artist’s works is measured by the depth of his inner visions, his mind and talent. That is why artists are called the explorers of the beautiful and heralds of beauty, in the broadest sense of these words.

To know what drives people’s engagement in art, one should look into the root of the art, its penetralia. Then it becomes clear that, apparently, at the basis of all artistic insights is the man’s burning love of life.

The Portrait of Usto (master) Raupov. 1952. Canvas, oil

If there is anything that makes people of art different from others, it is a special kind of attraction to a human being or nature, their perpetuate state of being in love with something or somebody.

The poet has phrased it well: my love for the art could not be so strong if my love for the mankind had not been stronger. Indeed, the very fact of existence of the mankind was the greatest miracle of all that perhaps will never cease to amaze us. Remember Shakespeare’s famous quote: ‘What a piece of work is a man!’ For me, who made human image the meaning of my entire life, it is the object of an ever growing amazement. This is the reason why all my life I never take my eyes away from it, and think only of it.

Every person is unique. He is not repeated in another person neither in character, nor in mind, nor in, and especially, face. Truly, every individual is a flower with its unique aroma of personal charm. And for those who study his face, this is the universe, the ocean filled with pearls of unexplored thoughts and emotions. It is no chance that an Uzbek wisdom says that a human face warms you better than the Sun.

The Portrait of Kari-Niyazov. 1952. Canvas, oil

Human beauty is not just in appearance, but also in the mind. He never does anything without prior deliberation and consideration, without making final decision… From time immemorial the man did everything to preserve his appearance. Knowledge that he will disappear forever invoked his fear and he rebelled against the devastating power of death and invented plastic art. This was a brilliant response to the brevity of human existence.

How fortunate that the portraits of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Balsac and Beethoven had been painted. I would have been as grateful for the masks or portraits of Avicenna, Navoi, Ulugbek, Biruni and Babur if these had been made in that time as precious monuments to the genii of Uzbek nation.

Regretfully, in the East, despite its ancient civilization and rich culture, religion prohibited any realistic representation of man. This circumstance has significantly crippled our culture and history. The sad outcome is that the images of great thinkers, poets and artists had not been preserved for the following generations to see.

I never spend a day without observing and searching for a person whose facial expression is ‘asking to be put on a canvas’, as we, artists, put it. The face of an ordinary person whom we would not otherwise notice, acquires a special significance when we learn that he performed some kind of a heroic deed. In these situations we develop a feeling of great respect for him! This joy of contemplating a human face I began to experience since early childhood when I avidly looked into the faces of adults.

There are many factors that contribute to the development of taste and create a prerequisite for the evolvement of artistic instincts almost from cradle. Wonderful climate, rich nature and beautiful family are not hard to find, especially here, in the East. And I was lucky in this respect: I grew up among half-brothers and sisters – all with beautiful faces, without exception!

A turning point that influenced my entire life was a trip to Moscow. There, in the Tretyakov Gallery, I had one of the most stunning experiences if my life. I was deeply impressed by portraits painted by Repin. Enchanted, I kept coming to his famous portrait of archdeacon. Only now I can say that those were moments for which I was being prepared by some unseen force that we only abide by yet are unable to express. Repin made the images of his models so true to life that they were producing an inexplicable effect on me. Naturally, at that time I could not understand what gigantic work it required to produce this kind of result. Only after the passage of many years I realized what kind of a height I was standing in front, unsuspecting how hard climbing it would be and how difficult for me to access.

Lying ahead of me were failures, breakdowns, falls and desperation. I was to go through many years of painful searching. A true schooling for the art of painting I received starting from the years of war; I drew portraits of collective farmers for portrait galleries directly on the ground. Working non-stop for five or six years I created over 200 quick-session portraits, and this gave what even an academy could perhaps not always provide.

To have a heart to draw portraits of prominent cultural activists of our country, namely Abrar Hidoyatov, Aibek, Sergei Borodin, I had to go through that very kind of schooling. In 1946 I chose Abrar Hidoyatov for my model and decided to depict him as Othello.

For more than 40 years my creative work has been dedicated to the creators of beauty, and it started with the portrait of Abrar Hidoyatov.

Tragedy “Othello” excited the minds of many generations of actors. After having seen Hidoyatov in the role of Othello, one of the British Members of Parliament who visited our country wrote that he had never seen such a performance even in Shakespeare’s homeland.

The awareness that Hidoyatov-Othello who won over people’s hearts and made his audience hold their breath as soon as he appeared on stage was going to be with me eye to eye put me in the state of elation and focus. I was very keen to present this great talent and thus express my humble recognition of it. By the way, that was not to be our first meeting. Already in the days of war I drew Hidoyatov’s portrait in a hospital where he had a shaven head and wore a hospital robe. When Hidoyatov agreed to sit for the portrait as Othello, we were given a make-up room next to the stage. Usually, before starting a portrait, an artist is looking for a characteristic posture, an interesting turn, a typical gaze of the one whose portrait he is going to paint. But Hidoyatov was so impressive in that character that there was no need to look for anything…

On Hidoyatov’s advice I started making a portrait of one of the Hamza Theatre founders – its director Mannon Uygur. This was already another character, another temperament. Uygur was an extremely focused individual, thinking only about his theatre. He had a very unusual appearance and a strong resemblance to an Indian. His beautiful face with a pleasant complexion featured thick black eyebrows, and beneath them deeply set wise eyes.

For ten years since 1944, on four occasions I returned to the mother’s portrait. In 1953, during my personal exhibition, of all displayed works, her portrait painted one year earlier earned the highest praise of artists and critics. Mother is the origin of all origins. It is the great image, an image beyond space and time; like a bright star, it will always rise above us, keeping us warm with the light of motherly love, or suffering from moon silence.

In the art of a portrait… face is paramount. A question that may arise is whether there is something that is most important in this paramount feature. There is! It is the expression of face and eyes. It is difficult to track their most subtle twinkling or, as we artists put it, their most subtle nuances. Usually calm, they communicate millions of emotions. Who did not see the expression of joy, sorrow, fear or terror on a face?! At the moments of greatest emotional charge ones face becomes particularly charming: at this moment it radiates dramatic suspense.

Nothing can produce a stronger effect on our psyche than an irresistible power of eyes. Eyes can tell us as much as words spoken with our mouth. I would call them a mirror of human consciousness and a keeper of our moral and behaviour; they never sleep to keep us away from the multitude of temptations. Indeed, one can argue that there is no sin or crime that would not fear their deadly arrows. What a wonderful object for psychological discoveries, when one is drawing a portrait! A portraitist aspires to have a deeper insight into his model, and tries to put his soul inside out at the moment when the fantasies are at their peak.

Beauty has many faces. The expression in one pair of eyes may speak about the sunset in human existence, in the other – how energy is gushing in a person. In the wide-open, expressive eyes of Aibek there is something thorny, something on the verge of insanity. Aibek is a great talent, and therefore it is not surprising that his gaze is unusual and takes one beyond the boundaries of what we believe is the norm. When I first saw his terrifying glance, I said to myself, this is an eagle. These were the eyes that the author of “Navoi” novel needed to have to be able to see the great thinker and poet through the haze of centuries.

In the spiritual sphere of human existence there is phenomenon that produces particularly strong impact. The power of its charm is so great that it affects us before we are aware of it. I mean primarily those who lucky people whom mother nature blessed with both harmony and beauty. No other words we pronounce with greater pleasure than words “beautiful woman” or “handsome man”.

When I see people who stand out with their beauty I develop a mood that takes over any other emotions… No artist is able to do what nature does. It is no chance that such people always inspired poets and not only them.

Aristotle referred to beauty as man’s best referee. Prominent oriental poet Saadi, a wise connoisseur of human heart, wrote in his book “Gulistan”: “The hearts of all sensible people seek communication with a beautiful person, his friendship they consider happiness and service to him a blessing, for, as they say, it is better to have a little beauty than lots of wealth; beauty is a balm for an ailing heart and a key to a locked door…” A. M. Gorkiy wrote, “The time will come when people will be admiring each other”.

In my understanding, physical beauty is not the least important aspect, which everyone can cultivate in oneself to an extent by being neat and tasteful. If we agree with an astute argument that aesthetics is the ethics of the future, then we would be unable to achieve high ethics if we remain indifferent to aesthetics. I am convinced that the time will come when everyone will be required to be prepared aesthetically no less than academically or politically, before entrusted with an important position. Spiritual richness, erudition, and gift in understanding artistic value – these are things that a person will be given credit for in the first place.

This what Shalyapin said about painting: “After great and truthful Russian drama, painting is the second most influential thing in my artistic career. I think that with my na?ve and primitive taste for painting I would never be able to create those characters on stage that brought me fame. For thorough stage representation of truth and beauty, which I aspired to, I had to learn the truth and poetry of real painting.”

Every individual belongs to himself to the same extent as he belongs to society. Society, while providing all the essential things now, subsequently is going to demand a greater return. And the better your cultural knowledge and stronger your craving for beauty, the greater the return will be. All great men of the past became such only due to their great love for art, poetry, philosophy… Without these three origins their fantasy would have not taken flight and they would not have been able to look at the world from the height where eagles dare.

Our predecessors left behind many masterpieces of world’s art, giving us a source of inexhaustible pleasure. A road to them is open. For instance, the discovery of Afrasiab shook the entire academic world. Prior to Afrasiab, amazing murals and sculptures had been discovered in Varakhsha and Penjikent and made part of the Hermitage exposition. They fill our hearts with pride with the culture of our Motherland and the talent of our forefathers. One has to learn how to experience the feeling of reverent trembling. This is impossible to do if one does not know the feeling of amazement, for amazement can lead to admiration, and admiration to the cognition of the subject.

More than anything, fear to be indifferent. Indifference causes the finest strings of your heart to rust. It causes irreparable damage to our wonderful beauty sensors given to us by nature itself… Knowing how precious time is, we shall treasure every moment and use it to develop our mind and emotions…

Abdulhak Abdullaev

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