Alexey Kolesnikov with his family
You selected as your avatar in the social media an image from your applied ornament titled “dialogue”. How does this work describe your family?
In my work, I depict two people who found each other amid the stone jungle of a large city. My wife and I met for the first time when we were both twelve, and we fell in love with one another at 15. We had already worked hard on our relationship by the time we married, and the first thing that we wanted to say with this work is that our family is built on love. To us, love is not something static; instead, it is a feeling that evolves throughout one’s life. It is more like a river. When it starts from a source high up in the mountains, its flow is wild and raging; it quiets down as the river widens and advances towards the estuary. What used to be a youthful passion has grown into something quieter and more mature. Our love is just as strong, and it is shared generously with our children.
The picture itself is a work in progress. We have a large family, and we would like to see it grow even bigger. When I first created this work, we were just two. Today, there are six of us. Our son Kostya added more people to the picture as he was doing his English homework. The teacher had asked her class to draw pictures of their families. Recently, he made another addition to our family portrait, his youngest brother Vanya, who was born this summer.
Alexey, Elena and newborn son Ivan
Congratulations! Tell me more about your children
Our oldest son Kostya is ten. He is very hands-on. He likes making things with his own hands, and he spends a lot of time playing with lego pieces. Recently, he tied clay modelling. He is growing up a solid and concrete individual with a strong core and good leadership habits. He does not just accept instructions - you have to know how to convince and negotiate with him.
Alexey with his son Kostya
Our six-year-old, Kolya, will listen to you out of respect. He has a lot of imagination. He likes drawing and appliqué work.
His three-year-old brother Sasha is a little man. He has had to learn how to stand up to his older brothers to protect his personal space. He is also very smart.
Our youngest son Vanya is only a few months old. He was born on 2 July, on the feast day of Saint John of Shanghai. He is cute, like all small children. I cannot say, however, that he is commanding of all our attention. This just does not happen in a large family like ours. Our love is shared equally among all of our children. The children, too, are passing their love around generously.
Alexey, Elena with Sasha
You trained as a painter, but are now doing many things. You make theatrical decorations and design stuffed toys. You are a sculpture and installation artist, and you are also building a house. How do you manage to be successful in so many areas at the same time?
A true artist should have many talents, especially in today’s world. It used to be possible to train as a painter and spend all your life painting portraits and landscapes. Today, one has to be more versatile and not be afraid to try one’s hand in other arts and occupations, like sculpture, kilt-making, construction. One also has to be a good parent on top of that.
We have worked with many Belarusian theatres and collaborated with well-known theatrical and cinema artists. Perhaps our most prominent work is the reconstruction of the eight-meter curtain for the play “Paulinka” by a well-known Belarusian classic. The curtain and the decorations for the play were remade in 2017 for the first time since 1994. As students, my wife and I completed another prominent project - the wall frescoes and the Centre of Charity. The total area of the frescoes was over 155 metres - it was a very big project.
Decorations for the play "Paulinka" created by Alexey and Elena Kolesnikovy
In 2015, my wife and I began to work as stuffed toy designers at the monastic textile workshops, and we designed several toy series. Our first series was called ‘Stress Relievers’. Recently, I joined the Convent’s sewing workshop.
The workshop was in urgent need of an embroidery artist, and I happened to have experience operating a sewing machine. Being a father means spending a lot of time with children who play with toys. I often play with the children and watch animation films with them. This gives me an idea of which images and characters they like the most. I rely on this knowledge and my skills as an artist as I make new toy designs for the workshop.
You and your wife are both artists. You often work together on the same project, which means staying together at home and at work. How does this affect your relationship and your work-life balance?
After college, we both continued our education at the Academy of Arts. My wife was working with cloth, while I specialised in graphic design. Working together as one team was a mutually enriching experience.
Wall painting in the Centre of Charity, Minsk
We are different personalities and we complement one another very well. I am introverted, and my wife is very outgoing. I am the brain of the team, I generate ideas. My wife is our leader and organiser. I think that this is very productive. - We use the same approach with our children.
We are a family of artists and our way of life is somewhat different from many other families. For example, when we were working with the theatres, we would have some very unpredictable work schedules. So we would bring our children with us and have them play among the decorations. It was fun.
Last year, we participated as a family in the contest “Christmas Theatre Puppet”, where we won an award for our sculpture called “Guardian of Time”. My wife and older son did most of the work. I helped a little. But they dedicated the sculpture to me (smiles).
Wall painting in the Centre of Charity, Minsk
As the head of your large family, how do you see your main role in it?
Being the guardian of the faith. There is no way a family could live without it. The children need to have a firm spiritual foundation on which they can build their lives. In today’s world, children are particularly vulnerable to the flow of destructive ideas and information. The seeds of spiritual life that we planted in the hearts of our children seemed barely visible at first, but signs of their spiritual growth are now becoming ever more noticeable.
For me and my wife, faith is a necessary part of our lives. The children see this, and we do not have to push our faith on them. We pray all the time. One can often hear us read Akathists to our Lord, to the Mother of God, and to different saints. There was one day when we did not pray. Our son Kolya noticed and asked us why.
Alexey in the textile workshop
When at church, I do not insist that my children attend the entire service. I understand how difficult it may be for three active boys to stand still for a long time. I let them play outside, and I pray that they come back inside by the start of the Communion. They always do. They take communion and go back outside. To them, faith is still only a daily routine.
In your opinion, what is the main ingredient of a happy family life?
When we marry, we promise to God to no longer live for ourselves but for your family - your spouse and your children. Marriage is about humility and sacrifice. People who continue to live for themselves when they marry will see their union fall apart before too long. One has to learn to make sacrifices - this is one of the ingredients.
To keep a marriage strong, one also has to work hard on one’s self-improvement and on keeping and strengthening one’s relationship with God, and with the other family members.
The Feast of the Protection is perhaps one of the brightest and most joyful feasts of the Orthodox liturgical calendar in this part of the world. The Mother of God will provide and comfort us if we pray fervently to her.