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Almond Blossoms


(Translation Alyona Nazarenko)  


-Let's go and visit him today, - I looked inquiringly at my husband.

- Today? But you see what the weather is like. It's storming outside.

- Well, we won't have a walk then. We'll only see him and go back.

-Ok, get ready then.


For some time past I am regarding him as a distant relative of mine. Him as in van Gogh.  What could possibly relate us – me, who was born and has always lived (till recent days) in Kiev, and a famous Dutch artist, who was exercising his talent in the nineteenth century? What could we have in common, two people, who have never met? Why do I have this feeling of closeness between us?..

It seems to me that it all began in my childhood... I was raised, as well as all other soviet children, mainly by kindergarten and school, by friends from neighborhood, by summer camps, and just a little bit by parents. As far as my kindergarten is concerned, I was totally out of luck.  Probably lots of children might think of their kindergarten experiences the same way, when they recall their useless attempts to catch hold of mother's skirt in hope to avoid being dropped off and afterwards their endless moments of cold and lonely waiting for the parents to come and pick them up. But don't be hasty to say you had a bad luck, just read this lines and you might see that your case wasn't that bad after all.           

It was all about the kindergarten teacher. With her “teaching practices” she desecrated the honorable word “Teacher”. She hated children. I suspect that her personal life was so frustrating, that she was venting all of her resentment over the absence of the relationship with a man, over her own unloved child and unhappy family  - on us, the silent five-year-olds.  But this story is not a psychoanalytical testimony. This is an attempt to find and understand the cause of my own dependence.  

This unlucky teacher had a very creative mind. Creative in terms of finding the ways to demonstrate her power. This was not at all difficult to do with the small kids, even with the whole group. I'll outline just several small sketches of our kindergarten life, that got stuck like a bone in my throat. I can't even tell how long it took me to get rid of this disturbing bone...

For example, if a child would spill a soup or a drink on the table, she will make this poor small delinquent take her/his underwear off during the lunch right in front of the whole group and clean the table with it. An ingenious move, isn't it?! Thanks God I have never undergone this execution. But there was this boy, Vovochka, who was constantly subject to this punishment. I felt so sorry for him, how hard it must have been to stand there naked in front of he whole group! (It seems I have already had empathy, as in understanding on the level of feelings). Once this Vovochka stood up and told her something. His words were clearer than any poem proclaimed during a children's matinee. He pronounced: “When I grow up, I will buy a gun. To kill you!”

She also threatened us: “If only you dare to tell your parents...” So we didn't tell. We were afraid of her. She was grown-up, unhappy and very wicked. What is more, at some point I learned to live with it, stopped weeping and catching hold of my dad's trousers during the painful drop-off moments (he was the one to take me to the kindergarten on his way to work). I must have understood then, that this was my destiny. I thought this was the way it works and that there was no other way. I didn't see any alternatives for myself, like staying at home for example. Furthermore, there were other kids in the kindergarten... (If you cannot change the situation, change your perception of it, right?)

Once we had a painting lesson. I liked drawing, so I was concentrated on my watercolor painting. I was making a picture of a tree. The trunk was the easy part.  It was mighty and brown. It wasn't especially exciting to draw it. Then the branches – well, a little bit better. I hurried to finish the branches to start with the most important, from my point of view, part – the leaves. It seemed to me, that these leaves harbored the genuine pleasure of creation. According to my artistic feeling, they had to be very small, just like tiny beads, scattered over the branches and reflecting the sunlight...

I was painting with the squirrel brush. Its tip was very thin and it felt so nice to dip it into the syrupy watercolor and to get the naked branches dressed into the tiny beads, the small, graceful, deep green leaves. I was flying away...

Suddenly I felt the monster was getting closer to me. It was this teacher, among other things she taught us painting. The monster enfolded in silence for a while. But I knew it was just for a while. And then she bent over and blew her dragon's breath right into my ear: “This is not correct!” My back felt ice cold... She was pressing me so heavily, that I couldn't see the sunlight. “ Here, that's the right way to do it, see?!”

She took the brush, my squirrel brush, dipped it all into the watercolor and set her sights on my bead tree. One by one she turned my beads into some huge terrible beasts. She pressed with the whole brush, and the leaves turned into longish ugly creatures. Like a fish, like a crucian carp, for example. Maybe it was a state-approved standard and all the teachers had to cultivate this standard sense of beauty. I don't know... But in that moment I felt sickness in addition to that chillness in my back. I froze under the monster. That was not the way I wanted it! This is not right! What I painted was more beautiful!

“Did you get it?”, the monster smiled, obviously satisfied with herself. She was breathing down my neck, waiting for me to copy her technique. I dipped my brush into the watercolor, took as much color as I could, so that the paint would form a drop on the exquisite tip of the brush. I breathed out... And started cross-hatching, covering it all with paint, to never see these ugly fish again, my shiny beads put to death. I was so-o-o scared... I don't remember what she did to me then. But this feeling of terror stayed with me for a long time and put me off painting. At least I never had this joyful flight feeling again. Of course I did paint after that. As far as I recall, I was especially good at doing a pencil drawing based on a folk tale about the fox and the crane. In the upper part of the picture I used to draw the story, how the crane came to visit the fox, at the bottom  - the return visit.


The first time I found myself in the van Gogh Museum, I had a strange feeling. I felt like I used to know him personally. I couldn't tell what happened to me at that moment... Was it about his technique? I didn't really like his technique that much, it seemed to me like an excessive accentuation, redundant outlining, over-crowding.

I couldn't comprehend what that was, but there was something, that made me fall silent. I froze up watching his “Almond Blossoms” (I ignorantly thought this tree was an apple!). I couldn't move. In a very special place, somewhere at the bottom of my back, I felt that he had been fighting his own monster while working on this painting. His monster was his imbalanced mind. As I stood there, I sensed his fight and his monster. (Empathy, I tell you.) I felt his obsession and his will to break the chains of his soul, that was betraying him, with the help of this blossom; his not entirely sound soul, that got frozen in an eternally long winter. He was trying to break through these fetters by the means of that unspeakable and so recognizable van Gogh trademark turquoise green color. And then dark blue. And then white, more and more white. And suddenly it all becomes flooded with the blithesome light. And against this background, there is this gentle but firm branch with the transparent pinkish-white innocent flowers. (How did he manage to reach this transparency?) They have just awoken from the long winter, emerging to meet that promising spring sun halfway. “You will never betray us and always shine, won't you?” 

It is hard to tell, if this is really my old established incident of the unfinished bead tree that caused this relation to van Gogh. Be it as it may, when I first started painting again after such a long break, I chose to make the copy of this exact van Gogh's masterpiece.

The story of my return to painting goes back to the time when my husband and I were on vacation in Spain, staying with a good friend of ours. He is an artist. We spent most of the time together then. One day he ran out of the white color, so we went to the art supplies store.  I was strolling around all kinds of interesting, magical things for painting, and suddenly I decided to buy two small canvasses and told my friend I wanted to try and paint something. Of course he had everything I could possibly need: colors, brushes, drawing easel.

“What would I paint?” That's a rhetorical question! Of course, it will be His “Almond Blossoms”. I recalled my last visit to his museum when I lived through this mirage again and felt a great desire to paint this picture. Well, not this picture but a copy, inspired by the van Gogh's painting. 

“Interesting, why did you choose van Gogh?”, my husband and his friend couldn't believe this was in earnest.

As I understood later, no one took my wish to try seriously. “Any bauble of folly will keep baby jolly”, they thought. Nevertheless, I found the picture in the Internet and printed it out. Our friend gave me a small instruction, some tips and tricks on how to use water, how to mix colors. The colors were great, by the way. And the brushes too. Squirrel brushes, I would think.  

I have chosen turquoise color for the base coat. At first, the distant dark, as if from the depth. And then white, more and more white. Till the joyful light appeared, almost that van Gogh-style light. And I flew away... Flew away together with that delight, splashing over the boundaries of my body, with that joy of creation. “For one who's experienced the joy of creation, no other pleasure can exist.” - Anton Chekhov.

It felt as if I was resuming that interrupted painting lesson I had in my remote childhood. My companions kept coming and going, amused, they said something. But I wasn't there with them, on that terrace. I was flying...

I was being there, where the spring is born after the long winter, when the trees drop their heavy snow hats and spread their branches. They resurrect from those freezing northern winds, they straighten and stretch out towards the sun to never lose it again. And once it genuinely rises, they will give nature everything they cumulated during the whole long winter, and give the juice of life, and fly up for the joy of the pristine blossom.       . 

When the background was ready, my friends looked slightly surprised. Their faces told me that the background was a success. And then I started painting the branches. I have received some small tips from my teacher on how to use the white color. OK, the branches were ready. My friends didn't even notice how I turned to the flowers.

And finally my small painting (20x20) was finished! It was clear to me that this was not the van Gogh's masterpiece, but I liked it so much!

Needless to say how surprised my friends were! They watched my painting, then me, then the painting again. It seemed they tried to find something they didn't see in me before, as if I was hiding a secret; that, for example, I had always been painting and at that moment was trying to make fools out of them. They couldn't understand. They saw it all themselves! They were asking  over and over again if I had been doing this before, were taking a closer look at the picture...

Having recovered after that initial shock, our friend asked, almost shouted “Why didn't you do that before?” What could I tell him about the monster, the lesson in the kindergarten and the unborn bead leaves?..

As far as my reaction was concerned, I felt ebullient joy over my accomplishment and a strong urge to cry at the same time. Probably that was because of the harm my teacher did so ignorantly, when she interrupted my flight. Either that, or I was just infinitely happy that I had made that painting. It meant I could paint!


From then onward I have been dedicated to painting....

Since then I feel even greater affinity to van Gogh. Sometimes I have an inexpugnable desire to go and visit him, to take a stroll among his paintings.

From time to time I tell my husband: “Let's go and see him”. At first he was surprised, but soon got used to it. He knows I would take the same route among the paintings, and afterwards would cling to the “Almond Blossoms”. And that's the moment when I shouldn't be disturbed. I would stand as if in front of the sacred image and rejoice over him having seen that spring and having captured this gentle, innocent blossoming branch on his canvas. His almond blossoms.

 Ван гог 

Lyudmyla Lisyuchenko



Если тебе не помогают врачи, пусть станут для тебя врачами следующие три вещи: хорошее настроение, покой и умеренная диета.

(Античный афоризм)


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