Alexander Kharitonov “A miracle is always unconspicuous”

Tatiana Sokolova

Magazine issue: 
#1 2008 (18)

Historically, Alexander Kharitonov is one of the brightest founders of the Russian avant-garde of the 1960s. But he occupies a special place in the constellation of non-conformist artists working outside the official mainstream: untouched by anything social, his art is profoundly religious.

Alexander Vasilievich Kharitonov was bom on May 10 1931 in the Plushchikha neighborhood in Moscow. He studied at a Moscow municipal art school, where he was acclaimed as one of the most gifted pupils. His first solo show took place in the new building of Moscow State University in 1958.

Since the 1950s the artist had been creating his mystic world of philosophical paintings-cum-parables, and most of his pieces, from the very first ones onwards, evoked themes associated with the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian culture.

Kharitonov can be called a great romantic, a unique painter with an individual concept of emotional landscape imagery, and a past master of finest jewellery drawing, the creator of a multi-lay ered pinpoint technique both in painting and in drawing; but most essentially, this artist blazed a new trail in Russian Christian Orthodox art.

In one of his articles about Kharitonov’s art, the professor and art scholar Mikhail Sokolov calls Kharitonov one of the most significant Russian artists of the second half of the 20th century, because Kharitonov reveals in his art the thoughts and hopes of a whole generation which preserved its spiritual fortitude through the years of political stagnation. Actually, Kharitonov has the same place in Russian art as Georges Henri Rouault — that great interpreter of the sacraments of the Catholic Church — in French art.

According to the artist himself, his art, both technically and philosophically, rests on three pillars: Byzantine and Old Russian icon painting, and the Old Russian tradition of embroidery using precious stones, pearls and beads. Kharitonov ranked among his teachers the writers Fyodor Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol, the artist Alexei Savrasov, the theologian Pavel Florensky, and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In life as in art, the path of Alexander Kharitonov is a glorious path of determined spiritual ascent. In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s the artist wrote fairy tales and made paintings and drawings in the vein of allegorical legends. He was called a magician and sorcerer; the pieces he created in the 1970s—1980s show that Kharitonov was developing the genre of Russian romantic landscape as a philosophical image of the universe, and also that he fully committed himself to Russian Christian Orthodox traditions of painting and drawing.

From 1986, the year when the artist was paralyzed, he usually began to work on a picture imaging clouds consonant with different musical tunes, drawing us into the divine world of saints and angels. He believed he was the happiest of people — he accepted his sickness as a monk’s Schema, he showed to people that our life, which is only a part of infinite eternity, is a great gift and a feast.

Professor Norton Dodge, the major collector of Russian avant-garde whose collection is housed at the Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University (New Jersey) wrote that Alexander Kharitonov, occupying an exceptional place in modern culture, brilliantly and powerfully embodied in his art in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Russia’s spiritual heritage and psyche. Norton Dodge believes that Kharitonov’s pictures are on a par with Old Russian icons.

Any artist’s creation, be it a lanscape, a religious painting, a drawing or the as-yet-unpublished blank verses, fairy tales and philosophical essays, appear as revelations provoking the viewer or reader to think profoundly and philosophically about eternal Christian values. The maestro’s pictures are a part of his soul, worthy of long contemplation, seemingly addressing the viewer individually. Alexander Kharitonov’s art, both demotic and classic at the same time, is an inexhaustible meditation in colour on the deathless spirit of the Russian people.

Kharitonov’s exhibition took place at the Tretyakov Gallery (in the Tolmachy Exhibition Hall), featuring more than 60 paintings and drawings from the Tretyakov Gallery and private collections.

Bartholomew’s Infancy (St.Sergius of Radonezh). 1976
Bartholomew’s Infancy (St.Sergius of Radonezh). 1976
Oil on canvas. 40.5 by 54.5 cm
Memory of Old Russian Art. 1980
Memory of Old Russian Art. 1980
Oil on canvas. 80 by 91 cm
Casting Away and Gathering Together Stones. 1992
Casting Away and Gathering Together Stones. 1992
Oil on canvas. 38 by 55 cm
Trinity (in Memory of Andrei Sakharov). 1990
Trinity (in Memory of Andrei Sakharov). 1990
Oil on canvas. 34 by 47.7 cm
Pink Road to White Birches, or My Farewell. 1990
Pink Road to White Birches, or My Farewell. 1990
Oil on canvas. 27 by 46 cm
There are Three Angels and, It Seems, Four More in the Sky. 1986–1989
There are Three Angels and, It Seems, Four More in the Sky. 1986–1989
Oil on canvas. 89 by 197 cm





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