In memory of the Master

Issue #1 • 1656

In December 2011, the “Forum” Foundation and the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan (FAGU) organized a large-scale retrospective exhibition dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Rahim Akhmedov (1921-2008), the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, Professor, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Arts, Academician of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. The display produced a strong impression on the visitors and fans of his art. What follows are some remarks and observations made by Rahim Akhmedov, as well as recollections of people who had known the artist for many years. More comprehensive material, including memoirs, will be published in a book prepared for the anniversary of the master.

“For me, painting is poetry, landscape – music… The combination of colour and rhythm, the composition – these are the things common to music, poetry and painting. I love poetry, and even wrote verses when I was young.

…The most important genre for me is portrait, and it was no accident that I graduated from the class of Iosif Serebryaniy at the Repin Institute. My characters are very different. I do not like painting “people in ties”. I have greater affinity to the images of ordinary people – farmers, machine operators, and elderly people who experienced joys and sorrows of life. What interests me always is a type, a certain character with rich inner world that inspires a portrait of a person extraordinary, whose external image suggests individuality and originality of character… It was not decorations and insignia that were important to me, but the rich inner world of the portrayed… When painting elderly people, I was interested in psychologically deep image of a person who lived a life and saw a lot in his lifetime. There is nothing glamorous in my portraits, which were always conceived as a spontaneous, live study from nature. I tried to portray a person in an unconstrained and relaxed posture, while colours were intended to convey the general mood associated with the person’s character. As a portrait painter, I was strongly influenced by the great Valentin Serov. In his art the theme of artist’s dignity was developed most expressly and convincingly. I dedicated a portrait series to the intellectuals of Uzbekistan, my contemporaries and friends, who can rightly be called the pride and crème of the nation…

…The most valuable attainment of contemporary Uzbek culture is an opportunity for everyone to receive education… I enjoy working with students and believe that one has to have a special gift to be a teacher; one should love and respect his students. Here is my motto: “I learn by teaching”. Training process enriches not only students, but also me. I take a lot of new things from my students, and I learn, too. They give an impetus to my art and make me feel young.
I do not have any specially formulated teaching method or principle; I just take a brush and show how to work. We set up training sessions together, improvising each time. Yet one thing I keep telling my students is that drawing is the very foundation of painting. One has to put one’s soul in it, must learn to wield a pencil freely, bringing technique to perfection…”

Rahim Akhmedov, 2001

Sabur Mambeyev (Kazakhstan)
My friend Rahim Akhmedov

I have many vivid memoirs of Rahim Akhmedov, a man who was part of my life and with whom we studied in Leningrad, and generally of the time when in 1947 they organized a special studio for students from the republics of Central Asia and Caucasus in one of the classical education institutions of Russia – the Fine Arts Academy, which is another name of the Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture named after I. Repin. Despite the post-war hardships, 4-5 people from each republic were sent to the school. During the first two years we were all in the same group, and then were assigned to the personal studios of our professors.

We lived in a hostel on the Red Fleet Wharf, on the bank of the Neva River opposite the Fine Arts Academy… We were young, keen on sightseeing and walking around, but our greatest attraction and love were the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. We seldom had a chance to go to art shows, but every Sunday we visited the Hermitage and then the Russian Museum every other time. Later on, exhibitions started to run at the Academy too, as it had very good stock… Art life was not simple: many events, some banned, others let run. I remember impressionism was in such a disfavour, but eventually kind of “rehabilitated”…

Rahim Akhmedov represented Uzbekistan brilliantly. He participated in the war, and it seems to me that after the war it was not easy to learn the mysteries of painting and to study. Still he managed to adapt, and you know why? Inside him was a burning fire of creation, life and self-assertion! I also remember him as a man with great sense of humour, which was his “salvation”. He always assessed the ongoing developments correctly, and was successful at many things.

I was thinking, what was so specific about his life path, and concluded that three aspects were at play here: talent and a lot of hard work, great love of art, and his amazing integrity and sincerity.

I knew Akhmedov as one of the few artists who left town for the whole summer to do painting studies. He collected material, always finding vivid folk characters and making sketches for his paintings. With the passage of time – Time the supreme judge, you start thinking, what was the most remarkable thing he did. To my mind, above all, it is portraits. I still remember Rahim Akhmedov’s “Contemplating Mother”. In my opinion, this is outstanding work. Every aspect of it is valuable: there is character that is very complex, very deep, yet lifelike and warm; there is wonderful artistic solution and desire to have a new say. These aspects make this portrait interesting. I also like his “Woman Delegate”. Despite the simplicity of colours – red, green, yellow, it is amazingly decorative. The colour combination is so harmonious that the solution appears simple, while in fact everything is well-balanced and thought through. All these colours are so folk and so national that the painting generally reflects the artist’s innovative vision of the world, and everything points to his great love of people. I dare say the portrait is a masterpiece in the Uzbek art.
I remember his lyrical painting “Morning. Motherhood”. In Uzbekistan, mornings are very special: night feels cool in contrast with a very hot day, and early morning comes with an extraordinary beauty of this freshness. In the picture the sensation is deep-felt. All suggests that the artist is in love with his world and nature… Today it may be hard to recollect those days, but everyone distinguished Rahim and loved him… Everything he said was always well-considered and to the point. I don’t remember anyone contradicting him. Everybody had great respect for him as a remarkable and extraordinary person. He belonged to the breed of men with ambitious goals in art and life…

Ali Khamraev
The Elm-Tree

Last summer, passing through the mountain valley in Shakhimardan, I noticed a mighty tree growing on the precipice. Wind was strolling in its branches, creating waves of green foliage, and children were playing in its cool shade.
‘What kind of tree is that?’
‘The elm… It’s three hundred years old’, the driver said.
Then I saw the tree in winter. Without leaves and lightly powdered with snow, it propped the blue sky with its gnarled branches, and its almost black mighty trunk held fast to the ground. I turned my head to look at the tree until it disappeared from view behind the bend. The elm reminded me of something, but what? The thought persisted, and then it hit me! Of course, this is the image of my old friend, painter Rahim Akhmedov! He departed recently, almost reaching the age of ninety. Rahim Akhmedov was a mighty man, a great artist, and a wonderful father and grandfather. He stood firmly on the ground, no wind or storm could bend him, and everyone who had the good fortune to know Rahim-aka can tell a story about him. And I will tell you mine…

A trip to Paris was unforgettable. The Uzbek Embassy in France organized Rahim Akhmedov’s exhibition… I remember finding Rahim-aka early in the morning on the banks of River Seine, making sketches in his album. In the Louvre, he walked around the halls for hours, looking intently at the world’s masterpieces, bringing his eyes close to the canvases to examine brush-strokes. Akhmedov spent a long time at Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”; sighing, with nervous hands, he seemed not to notice the crowd of many tongues. And we were filming it all…

He was gentle and kind to ordinary people. At the Old Town market every textile seller knew him, and he knew them all. Feeling the coarse calico in his hands, he asked about children and family, negotiated softly, and got the goods for better price. People knew and loved their great rassom – the painter.

And what a fine portrait painter he was! He never pictured leaders or officials, his heroes being ordinary workers, farmers, scientists and artists. I believe that his “Contemplating Mother” is a true masterpiece. This image of a woman whose sons perished in the battlefields inspired a sculptural composition of the Eternal Flame Memorial on the Independence Square in Tashkent. I also like the portrait of artist Alexander Wiener, Akhmedov’s neighbour and friend. For me, the landscapes of Aktash and blossoming peach-tree in the yard have come to symbolize my native land called Uzbekistan. Akhmedov was a heaven-born painter, whose world was all about colours, light and shade, intensity or softness of a brush-stroke… Having seen a landscape that impressed him, or met an interesting person, or noticed an old tree bark overgrown with moss, Akhmedov rushed to put it all on canvas. The artist got carried away and excited, and that’s what impressionism is all about, and in this my senior friend followed his teacher, Pavel Petrovich Ben’kov. Akhmedov’s favourite French artists, Gauguin and Matisse, often times echo in his art…

Over time, the artist went into landscape and still-life painting; immersed in the world’s beauty, his soul found peace. The master was never alone, giving his spare time to educating young artists. He was demanding and strict, and used to say: “Sing with your own voice, however small it may be!” This motto was carried by the whole generation of his talented students, from Bakhtiar Babaev to Jamal Usmanov.

…Rahim Akhmedov was a modest man who kept low profile. He was forever a representative, a scholar, and People’s artist. He stayed clear of the dirt and scum of envy, scheming and squabbling so common in the artistic world. He passed away instantly, without torment or suffering, when his heart stopped amid orchards and mountains, which he painted all his life. It seems that his soul is still present in those places. When I watch the sunrise over Tian-Shan mountains from my home on the eighth floor, I can sense my friend’s warm hand, his penetrating look, and kind smile. It’s as if I hear Rahim-aka cheer:

‘Wake up, comrade director! There is work to do!’

P. S. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Central Asian elm is a tree known for its particularly hard and dense timber resilient to wear and destruction.

Evgeniy Melnikov
Remembering the Person, Artist, and Pedagogue… Rahim Akhmedov

Rahim Akhmedovich Akhmedov taught and educated many people, including myself, when I was a student of the Art Institute, and after graduation he continued coaching me.

I was in his class in 1954, my first year. Rahim Akhmedovich taught us painting, while Oganes Karapetovich Tatevosyan – drawing and composition; it was the first enrolment in the Theatre Institute after the opening of the arts department there.

Rahim Akhmedov was a born painter, and most suited to teach the discipline.

I recall one classroom episode… We were painting a set, and I couldn’t work it out, failing to find the right hue and shade… Rahim Akhmedovich came over to me, and I complained about my problem. Comparing my canvas with the set, he began to explain. The explanation took a long time. But he was telling me things I was unable to grasp; I could feel that everything he was saying was right and to the point. Yet the verbal meaning escaped me. I knew that he was logical, and his words were constructive, but how to show the explanation on canvas? With paints? So I gave Rahim Akhmedovich my brushes and asked: “Could you, please demonstrate, how this is done…”

Rahim Akhmedovich looked at me carefully and walked away, without saying a word… He probably thought that I wanted to test if he himself could paint on canvas what he was talking about… No such thing was on my mind, I was just a naive freshman, acting on impulse…
Rahim Akhmedovich always recalled this episode whenever he saw me… It was a public event; entering the hall, I saw Rahim Akhmedovich, walked up to him, and we hugged. When Rahim Akhmedovich appeared in public, he was immediately surrounded by young people and became the centre of attention. In the circle of his students, Rahim Akhmedovich, yet again, told the young artists about this very distant “brushes” episode at the institute. Everybody had a good-natured laugh. And I was laughing, too. The episode became a classical joke. One remembers such moments for a lifetime, for they ornament our life and make it memorable. Without them, life is like an unseasoned food…

Zuhra Rakhimova
In Memory of Rahim Akhmedov

In 1957 we moved to a new house on Avaz Otar Ughly Street, and Rahim-aka was our neighbour… In those days, the Avaz Otar Ughly was a residential quarter where local intelligentsia concentrated. Apart from Rahim Akhmedov, there lived artists Yusuf Elizarov, Abdulkhak Abdullaev and Alexander Wiener, a renowned children’s writer Quddus Mohammadi; a bit further away resided a family of a famous film director Nabi Ganiev, whose granddaughter Shakhnoza Ganieva is now a well-known TV presenter. We were all good friends in our neighbourhood, and my first impressions of Rahim-aka come from the observations of a neighbour.

Rahim Akhmedov was a friend of my father, a well-known Uzbek novelist and journalist Ibraghim Rahimov; although Rahim-aka was five years his junior, they developed a relationship of mutual respect. At that time my father was an editor of the country’s leading newspaper Qizil Uzbekiston. I remember clearly the first time Rahim-aka visited our home. Slim and not so tall, in a casually worn shirt, his movements were quick and energetic. His appearance impressed me much: bushy eyebrows, slanting eyes shining brightly on his swarthy face, and his vivid, metaphorical language. For some reason, to myself, I called him Genghis Khan.

Rahim Akhmedov and my father were a very contrasting pair, and many found their friendship surprising. In the circle of nears and dears my father was a joyful man, an inexhaustible source of wit, whose life experience, at the same time, made him appear diplomatic, reserved and cautious in his statements. Rahim-aka, on the contrary, rushing into our house, immediately started speaking his mind, commenting on the current events, regardless of any authority… My father had great respect for Rahim-aka for his straightforwardness, original thinking and sincerity…

To end of his days Rahim-aka kept his perpetual boyish enthusiasm, undaunted spirit and daring character, which made his personality so magnetic and charming. Yet he was always very approachable and easy to communicate. I was then a schoolgirl, and it pleased me a lot when he always treated me as an adult.

From that time I remember very well an episode when some important event was celebrated… Many artists, poets, actors and musicians gathered in his house. There were enthusiastic and vocal Tamara Khanum, Halima Nasyrova, Saeed Ahmad, Ural Tansykbaev with his spouse Elizaveta Yakovlevna, Chinghiz Ahmarov, E. Kalontarov, my father, artists from our neighbourhood, and other guests. The house was freshly renovated, but on that day its walls were covered with friendly cartoons and autographs…

I’ve always liked his paintings and portraits that have become Uzbek painting classics. I remember the powerful impression produced by his landscapes displayed at an exhibition. He almost never exhibited them before. They differed from the landscapes of his contemporaries in a way that they radiated some kind of special zest for life, for want of a better word. Naturally, every artist invests his love of nature into a landscape painting, but to me it seemed that in Rahim Akhmedov’s landscapes every brush-stroke was literally bursting with unquenchable admiration for every flower, a twig, a blade of grass and ever-changing nature. Everything in his paintings showed enchantment, admiration and passion, as if this beauty took the artist’s breath away, and he was rushing to capture every single moment of it.
In recent years we worked together at the Behzad National Institute of Arts and Design. Whenever we met I asked him about his doings and health. “Excellent!”, he invariably replied with such youthful enthusiasm that made me believe he was immortal!

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