Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko (July 5, 1929 – January 27, 1989) – stone-cutter, member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, creator of a series of unique stone-cut miniatures in the technique of volumetric mosaic in the genre “Russian types”.
The work of Vasily Konovalenko is at the intersection of sculpture and jewelery and is distinguished by subtle psychologism and plastic expressiveness. The artist created an extensive gallery of folk types, characters, captured their spirituality.
Biography of Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko
Born on July 5, 1929 in the Zaporozhye region, Akimovsky district, the village of Petrovka. Vasily’s father is Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko (1900-1946), Ukrainian, mother of Feodosia Tikhonovna Galiguzov (born in 1899), Russian. Both are natives of Zaporozhye. In the documents Konovalenko wrote: “the nationality is Ukrainian.” He was the fifth child in the family, the only boy. Childhood years were spent in another large industrial center of the 1930s: the mining town of Donetsk – the former Yuzovka, at that time called Stalino. In the village, Vasily lived only two years of his infant life, since since 1931 his father worked in the management of “Dontrans” – the transport organization of the industrial city of Stalin’s times.
In 1938 he went to school, graduated from the 5th grade, after which in 1943, due to martial law, he was evacuated with his mother. My father was mobilized into the Red Army.
In 1943 he returned to the city of Stalino. Since 1944 (since the age of 14) Vasily Konovalenko worked at the Donetsk National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater named after A. B. Solovyanenko as a prop sculptor. Initially, having entered the position of “apprentice artist-decorator”, two years later he received the position of “head of the sham shop”. In parallel, he continued to study in high school.
In 1944 he was recalled from work in the theater to the FZO school, where he studied from March 1944 to June 1945.
Received a compulsory working profession there in those years. Then he entered the School of Architecture and Art at the Faculty of Sculpture, where he received a secondary specialized education.
On March 28, 1949, he went to work in the Stalin Regional Association of Artists and worked until January 25, 1950 as a sculptor, after which he returned to his native theater and worked as head. props shop from February 1, 1950 to October 25, 1950.
From October 1950 he was drafted into the Red Army, served in the city of Lomonosov as a sailor of the Baltic Fleet. During his service, he first saw Leningrad – and decided to stay there.
In May 1951, after demobilization, he completely moved to Leningrad.
On August 14, he entered the Leningrad Musical Comedy Theater as a decorator, where he worked until October 22. After leaving, he immediately goes through a competition to the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theater. S. M. Kirov (former Mariinsky Theater). Works as a decorator in many performances. It was the time of Konovalenko’s active self-education. He is one of those 1950s artists who turned to self-education to overcome the imposed norms of party art. Konovalenko relies on classical samples of the Hermitage, on books about old masters, in search of his own creative path, far from the clichés of Soviet art education of those years.
At the Mariinsky Theater Konovalenko participates in the production of The Stone Flower, under the direction of S. I. Virsaladze (1957), as a decorator. Having started studying the art of sculpture, theatrical and decorative business, and props at an early age, by the beginning of work on the ballet “Stone Flower” in 1956, he was already an experienced artist, worked a lot with color and textures. The performance was an artistic breakthrough towards new theatrical thinking. Virsaladze and Grigorovich initiated a new style of work on the play, where all the participants collaborated as a single creative team.
The opportunity to show himself as an independent artist opened the way for Vasily to artistic staging work.
Working with the theme of stone, Konovalenko returned to the world of mining underground treasures, familiar to the artist from his life in a mining town. Collaboration on a legendary project with outstanding artists – Virsaladze, Osipenko, Vecheslova, Grigorovich – inspired the young artist. He carries out his own productions at the opera houses of the country. While working on the ballet “Stone Flower”, he began to independently master polychrome sculpture – a genre that was in decline at that moment.
By 1959, the first masterpieces of stone-cut sculpture appeared, but Vasily Konovalenko was not given the opportunity to exhibit sculptural works – and he combined a new direction with work on theatrical performances.
Finally, in 1973 (the artist is 44 years old), the first personal exhibition of his sculptures of stone-cutting art was held. The exhibition at the Russian Museum became a sensation, and Konovalenko’s sculptures were purchased by the Gokhran of Russia as a national treasure. Konovalenko was twice awarded gold medals at VDNKh. The catalog of the exhibition was personally compiled by the famous director of the Russian Museum Vasily Pushkarev.
Konovalenko, now a recognized sculptor and stone-cutter, is invited to Moscow as the chief artist of the Ministry of Geology and is given the opportunity to create his own school-workshop “Laboratory of small sculptural forms”. He moves to Moscow. However, dissatisfied with the fact that the exhibition in the Russian Museum was made over his head, Grigory Romanov begins an unjustified criminal prosecution of Konovalenko. The sculptor is “hinted” that a unique collection of his works (estimated by foreign experts at $ 2 million) should be “donated” to the state. What does he do – and only then the persecution ends. Having recruited students to school, teaching them, Konovalenko himself continued to work in the direction that made him famous.
The position of a lone artist led to a clash with the authorities, threats.
After the story with Romanov, Vasily was demanded to create values for the bureaucratic elite, political sculptural portraits of Brezhnev, Lenin, etc., which did not correspond to Vasily’s worldview.
In 1981 (at 52) he was forced to emigrate to America, taking with him only his favorite fishing rod. Traces of the activities of the emigrant of the 1980s were erased, erased in the Soviet years in the artist’s homeland, his name was not mentioned anywhere for several years, and after perestroika, newspaper articles multiplied errors and contradictions in the data about his life. In this confusion, the fundamental points were also distorted: Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko was presented as a villager, an artist who suddenly encountered the theme of stone in the ballet “Stone Flower” and for the first time switched to sculpture (although he began to work as a sculptor very early and grew up in a mining town) … Photos of his masterpieces were published in Soviet publications without his name.
In March 1984, a personal exhibition of Vasily Konovalenko took place at the Museum of Natural History of Denver, Colorado. The works remained in the permanent exhibition of the museum. The artist was 55 years old. The tremendous success of the exhibition, world recognition was overshadowed only by the break with the Motherland.
In 1989 Konovalenko began negotiations about an exhibition in Russia and about returning to his homeland to create a school of stone-cutting art.
Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko is full of plans and hopes.
He achieved masterly skill, created a number of masterpieces, he strove to give it to his native country. He was one of those who are rightfully said to be the face of the era! And this impulse of return is a significant gesture of the artist. A sudden attack interrupted his plans. Vasily Vasilyevich Konovalenko died on January 27, 1989 in New Windsor, New York. The cause of death is a cerebral hemorrhage. Before his death, he spent five days in the hospital, in a coma. Vasily is buried (like many other emigrants) in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Nyack, New York, USA.
Many features connect Konovalenko with his great predecessors Vrubel, Kustodiev, other artists and sculptors of the turn of the 20th century associated with theater, small sculpture, mosaics, and stone. The Impressionists influenced Vasily’s feeling of color and pattern in stone, especially C. Monet, with whom Konovalenko’s understanding of stone-carving sculpture as “painting in stone” correlates. The unnamed Russian masters of the factory Urals, and then the sculptors Derbyshev, Perkhin, Fredman-Kluzel, Savitsky and others, created at the beginning of the 20th century the tradition of small-scale sculpture, which Konovalenko developed, moving from the decorative and applied aspect of stone-cutting and jewelry craftsmanship to fine art. The sculptor Mikhail Anikushin saw in his works the features of ancient masters: “From the ancient masters, the artist adopted the ability to feel and feel a stone as a living organism.”
In 1987, under the impression of V.V. Konovalenko, Ural stone-cutters A. Zhukov, R. Tyrlov and D. Emelianenko performed the first three-figure composition “Evening”. Obtaining a positive response from Vasily Konovalenko in 1988 at an exhibition in New York, artists note as an important fact.