Masters and Traditions
In the first half of 2008, the Russian Academy of Arts’ museum exhibitions and scientific and educational activities have shown impressive creative results in the diverse areas of its multi-faceted work. Dozens of modern art shows, by both Russian and foreign artists, have been displayed at the Academy’s halls, in the Zurab Tsereteli Gallery and Museum of Modern Art, and at other exhibition centres in Moscow and other cities in the country. Russia’s multi-objective programme encompassing the spiritual upbringing of the younger generation and the broadening of the aesthetic world of Russian citizens is actively taking shape.
In recent years the state has started paying closer attention to the arts. This, undoubtedly, is the result of the state's priorities in technology and culture and its clear understanding of the role of the scientific and creative intelligentsia in the creation of a national conception of dynamic development of the social consciousness and spiritual unity of the peoples of Russia. Russian Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to increase pay for full-fledged members and fellows of the Russian Academy of Sciences and its branch academies, among which is the Russian Academy of Arts, became a clear manifestation of the state's interest in academic specialists and its esteem for their contributions to state policy. This supports and creates the necessary conditions for the intellectual and creative growth of Russian science and culture.
The prominent exhibitions of the past year, dedicated to the 250th anniversary of Russian Academy of Arts, the 50th anniversary of the Russian Artists’ Union, and numerous other shows that preceded and accompanied these remarkable historic anniversary celebrations, in many ways brought along a renewed interest among the wider population in the arts, in Russia’s great spiritual heritage, and in the increased role of the arts in the life of a modern society.
But it is not just the large-scale, collective or museum exhibitions and events that determine the state's and millions of viewers' attitude towards the issues and the outlook of Russian art, but also individual shows of well-known masters' work: painters, sculptors, architects, graphic artists, and young artists, representing the new generation of the artistic intelligentsia.
Thanks to such individual shows, the viewer freely displays his aesthetic assumptions, his choice. Along with that, individual and group exhibitions affect the audience in a special way; they help develop our taste, enlarge our spiritual world, and personalize our artistic perceptions. Exhibitions by individual artists provide direct evidence of this powerful effect: the work of these artists shapes the modern cultural environment. It is an inherent part of the heritage of Russian fine art.
In the halls of the Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow, on Prechistenka Street, visitors encountered both well-known names and works, and discovered new artists as well. Here, in past months, works by Vladimir Mochalov and Viktor Kalinin, Alexei Shmarinov and Mikhail Kurilko-Ryumin, Boris Messerer and Igor Obrosov, Illarion Golitsyn and Alexei Pakhomov, Lev Shepelev and Oskar Kacharov, have been presented. These are artists whose creative work shows unique individual qualities, a high level of professional mastery, pronounced imagery, and, of course, original talent.
It is difficult in a short review to analyse individual exhibitions and works in the way they deserve, and perform comparative testimonials of the artists' singularity and their creative gifts. However, this article does not have such a goal. It is more important here to emphasize and keep in mind the most essential aspects of the artistic system that underlines each master's unique personality: the burlesque, ironic and witty graphic portraits splendidly created by Mochalov with amazing precision, the trenchant new romanticist paintings by Kalinin, an artist of psychological images and metaphorical compositions marked by deep feeling and an utterly unique pulsing polyphony of colour.
The canvases by Lev Shepelev are distinguished by another dramaturgy, another emotional content and manner of painting. The reserved, multi-layered colouration of the master's work intensifies the impression of time slowly flowing in his genre compositions and landscape motifs; all of that is captured by the perceptive artist, who is inclined to a philosophical view of the world. Lyrical and epic intonations prevail in Shepelev's work, with internal expressive energy gradually filling his work with complex associative tonality.
Every artist whose work has been presented in the Academy's halls has an inherent imaginative perception of all that exists, stemming from a faithfulness to certain traditions and schools, life and professional experience, creative intuition and mastery. Their art broadens the horizons of perception and vision of reality, of relation to the past, of comprehension of the contradictory canvas of life, of the bonds with the spiritual origins of modern civilization. These exhibitions help us understand the very nature of creativity, and feel its life-giving, transforming and inspiring power.
In some pieces we see the artists' strivings to show the inexhaustible beauty of nature, in other pieces we see their efforts to lay open the ambivalence of feelings and emotions, love and suffering, and human passions. The pieces carry within themselves not only aesthetic but educational functions.
Thus in Oskar Kacharov's creative heritage there is a visual opportunity to follow through the evolution of the master's artistic mentality, and his conversion of what is depictive and graphic to the language of colour. He left behind a complicated selective system related to the functional aesthetic approach to the compositional solution of the picture plane. His work continues the experiments and discoveries of Mikhail Matyushin and Kazimir Malevich.
Kacharov's study of the energy of colour led him to search for new minimalist means of constructive solutions of imaginative and figurative challenges in painting, and allowed him to develop his own “alphabet”, a colouristic, contextual language of imaginative self-expression. This alphabet, both unique and universal, comprises the conceptual foundation of the artist's recent theoretical and practical work. Along with the artist's principal work, the exhibition included canvases painted in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. These offer a glimpse into the previous stages of the artist's work, and the process of enlarging his range of formal pictorial and graphic solutions, that helped increase the metaphysical tendencies in Kacharov’s art; he created his own formula of “number and compass”, colour and form.
The watercolours of Alexei Shmarinov, one of the most consistent masters of this amazing, complex and exquisite painting technique, inspired different feelings and impressions in viewers. The son of Dementy Shmarinov, the brilliant Russian artist and outstanding illustrator of Russian and foreign literary classics, Alexei inherited from his father poetically inspired ideas of beauty and harmony, and a reverent attitude toward the realistic traditions of Russian art, toward the heritage of Alexei Savrasov, Ivan Shishkin, Isaak Levitan, and other great masters.
Shmarinov's pieces have an unique charm and emotional expressiveness. His watercolours spellbind viewers with their masterly execution. They demonstrate a rare subtlety of feeling for nature, for the medium of air and colour, and for the colour rendering of landscape motifs. The transparent depth of the picture plane brings forth in our imagination endless poetic associations. Visual contemplation gradually opens up the artist's deep feeling of his native land's subtle splendour, and its charm that excites the soul and the heart.
He paints his watercolours with rapture and passion; he brilliantly renders the breathtaking effects of sunrises and sunsets, the dense depths of forests and boundless meadows, the smooth mirror-like ponds and the ripples of rivers. When we look at Shmarinov's pieces, we immerse ourselves in the world of nature, full of mysterious beauty and rustling sounds, we find ourselves bewitched by the intoxicating fragrance of grasses and flowers, the patterns of branches and leaves, the rays of sun shining through treetops. There is a certain magic in them, a relentless pulling power that stems from the mastery of the great artist, who is capable of such poignant and brilliant depiction of everything that excites and inspires him. Shmarinov’s water colours are a prime example of his faithfulness to the traditions of realism, the truth of life and art. He is a worthy representative of the remarkable dynasty of Russian artists that embodies the spiritual richness of our culture.
Igor Obrosov is a painter and graphic artist with his own social attitude, values and moral principals. His art is distinguished by a deep spiritual empathy for the dramatic destiny and tragic events in the history of his motherland. The pain of the soul, the agonizing moral questions, are evoked by Obrosov's paintings of Russian villages, the victims of Stalinist repressions, people who have lived through horrible ordeals, who have suffered, survived, died. This is a requiem for the victims and heroes of remorseless times.
As the art critic Maria Chegodaeva has put it, the master's art is perceived as confession and repentance. The main colours of Obrosov's pallette are black and white, and he uses the relationship of these colours to express a complicated range of emotions in the imagery of his epic and poignant pieces. Many of his paintings are autobiographical, and address reminiscences of years long past. Along with narrative and thematic canvases, Obrosov also exhibited a gallery of portraits of his contemporaries and historic figures. Many of Obrosov's subjects are well-known to the viewer: they are the poets Yulia Drunina and Bella Akhmadulina, and the artists Boris Messerer and Illarion Golitsin. In each portrait one feels the essence of the personality, the presence of the inspired mind.
Obrosov is one of the bright representatives of the “severe style”, of the generation of the 1960s, people of such creative calibre as Viktor Popkov, Nikolai Andronov, and Pavel Nikonov, who embody a whole epoch in our art. His paintings, portraits, landscapes, and still lives have become an expression of courage and will, suffering and love.
Among the Academy’s prominent figures, Boris Messerer’s exhibition made a significant impression on the public. Messerer is an artist of many gifts, a master of set design, and a painter and graphic artist in a class by himself. He is the creator of stage sets and costumes for dozens of plays staged by well-known contemporary directors such as Boris Pokrovsky, Leonid Yakobson, Avram Efros, Valentin Pluchek, Yevgeny Simonov, Yury Zavadsky, Oleg Efremov, and Galina Volchek.
Messerer became world famous for his set designs for ballets by Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Rodion Schedrin, and Aram Khachaturian. He worked in the Bolshoi Theatre, the Sovremennik Theatre, the Theatre on Malaya Bronnaya, the Mayakovsky Theatre, the Satire Theatre, Mossovet Theatre, Chekhov’s Moscow Arts Theatre, and in theatres in St. Petersburg, Baku, Tbilisi, and Kiev. Theatre was the launching pad that propelled Messerer, an architecture school graduate, into the world of the fine arts. It was no coincidence that this happened: he had been surrounded by the world of theatre since he was born. The artist’s father, Asaf Mikhailovich, was a famous dancer and choreographer, his mother, Anel Sudakevich, an actress who later became a costume designer. Creativity pervaded the Messerer home, and it shaped Boris’ talent from his early years.
Vasily Aksenov, the writer, friend and kindred spirit of Boris Messerer, used to say, “There is one more masterpiece among Boris Messerer’s many stage settings, paintings, and graphic art pieces ... It is his attic on Povarskaya Street ... Here, on the ledge of Messerer’s stage settings, the idea for ‘Metropol’, the independent almanac of writing, was born.”
In this publication (1979), the intelligentsia’s freethinking evolved into a spiritual manifesto of the creative avant-garde, represented by Bella Akhmadulina, Vladimir Vysotsky, Vasily Aksenov, Fazil Iskander, and other talented and courageous people, the conscience of our culture.
Messerer brought his own style to theatrical design, based on high professionalism, creative imagination, and his own philosophy. He managed to unite various traditions, breathe new life into them, and make them especially relevant. His designs for classical and modern stage productions stand out by the constructive logic of their expressive language, and by the musical structure of their rhythms, which create a spatial and conceptual environment for the action on the stage. He transforms compositional plastic methods and finds unexpected conceptual solutions and ideas, creating imaginative portals at large-scale museum exhibitions such as “Moscow-Berlin” at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, “One Hundred and Twelve Chairs” at the State Historical Museum in Moscow, and others.
Messerer’s paintings, graphic art and installations are particularly interesting. Here we sense the constant presence of his theatrical beginnings and architectural understanding of space. One of Messerer’s favorite genres is the still life. “The quiet life of things and objects” becomes in his paintings and graphic sheets a special view of the world, sometimes elegiac, not without nostalgic melancholy, and at times full of internal tension and drama. As a rule, he depicts the same objects, the attributes of everyday life long gone, oil lamps, irons, phonographs, large bottles. Messerer’s alteration of colour and rhythm allow these household effects to acquire new tonality and meaning every time, even as their basic form remains the same. In these works Messerer is utterly independent from the plot, libretto, or text of a play. It is here that his creative nature, imagination, and contemplative thoughts about the past and the present unfold in all their philosophical depth and aesthetic value.
The exhibition of theatre decoration and sketches for sets and costumes by another prominent artist, Mikhail Kurilko-Ryumin, offered the audience a look at creative work deeply connected with the classical principles of Russian stage design.
Kurilko-Ryumin was born in Petrograd, into the family of the artist Mikhail Ivanovich Kurilko, who brought up a whole galaxy of brilliant masters of theatre. He was a remarkable person, an outstanding teacher, who appreciated fine art. He was a passionate collector and an eccentric. The arts were an organic part of the family atmosphere, and Mikhail Mikhailovich grew up with an attitude of reverence towards them. He inherited his father’s selfless devotion to, and love of, the theatre. He saw his father’s productions, the work of a multi-dimensional artist, one of the classics of set design. He heard his father’s bright and witty stories of theatre life.
When he returned home from the World War II front, Kurilko-Ryumin, who had already completed his education at the All-Union Institute of Cinematography, came to the theatre. Since then he has designed sets for more than 140 plays in theatres in Russia and abroad. He is erudite, with a deep knowledge of art history, literature and dramaturgy. He is a superb set designer and a subtle lyrical painter, the author of moody landscapes. Theatre for Kurilko-Ryumin is life itself, the sphere of endless inspiration and discoveries. His stage and costume designs are distinguished by deep visual penetration into the emotional fabric of each play. Kurilko-Ryumin’s work is always recognizable for his subtle taste, his genuine feeling for history, and his understanding of the specifics of the material. Using traditional methods and elements of depictive solution of the stage space, backdrop, wings and lighting, Kurilko-Ryumin finds his own unique approach to stage design. At the same time, he sees deeply into the director’s conception of each opera or ballet, tragedy or comedy, his work process directly connected with the director’s idea and intent, as well as with those of the cast.
Before Kurilko-Ryumin begins designing sets for a play, he visualizes the play from beginning to end. Thus every theatrical image he creates has its own colour rendering, emotional tonality, pattern of movement and gesture. With the help of the positioning of wings in space, the picturesque decoration of backdrop, and the colour palette and costume silhouettes, he brilliantly develops a visual dramaturgy of the play’s content. His sets emphasize the nature of each character; they construct both scenes and the mise-en-scene.
Kurilko-Ryumin’s flawless use of the whole arsenal of expressive means, his individuality of creative thinking, stems from the combination of talent and experience and from the lessons received from his father and such great stage designers as Vadim Ryndin, Anatoly Petritsky, and Simon Virsaladze.
The exhibition once again confirmed the artist’s high standing in the art world. It also confirmed the role of his work in the development of contemporary Russian theatre design, in the preservation of the extraordinary richness of classical set design, and in the nurturing of a new generation of stage designers.
In a posthumous exhibition, Illarion Vladimirovich Golitsyn was presented as an outstanding figure in Russian fine art. He was an unparalleled painter and graphic artist, a distinctive sculptor, a talented person in every way — indeed, an extraordinary one. As an artist, he always set a hard-to-reach goal for himself, which he defined with poetic precision in a poem dedicated to his mother. “How can one draw an image of life,” Golitsyn wrote, “so that the copy can live forever?” In these two lines the formula that defines Golitsyn’s attitude towards his creative vocation is encapsulated. Golitsyn came from an ancient Russian princely family, but he would he never talk about it. Regardless of his noble origin, he was and — in his artistic legacy — remains an aristocrat of the spirit, a noble and profound human being.
Golitsyn’s work is filled with the music of light, rare charm and inspiration. A spot, a line, a mark, a wash in his monochromatic graphic sheets brings forth the feeling of depth, volume, movement. His masterfully executed drawings, portraits and landscapes have a refined freedom of self-expression and psychological insight. Golitsyn’s creative work may be rightfully defined by the great Leonardo’s words, “the harmony of proportion”, which should be interpreted in all their specific professional and philosophical meaning. As the student of Vladimir Favorsky, Golitsyn treated the legacy of one of the most profound artists of the 20th century with great tact and respect. As Favorsky’s spiritual follower, Golitsyn, together with the like-minded artists Andrei Borodin and Gury Zakharov, continued the traditions of the Moscow school, enriching it with new visual discoveries, original plastic language, and relevant themes and moral sensibilities.
The exhibition of work by Mirel Yakovlevna Shaginian, an artist of inexhaustible optimism, delighted the audience with its luminous canvases and sparkling colours. At the age of 90, Shaginian does not cease to be joyful and surprised by life, and continues to surprise and delight her colleagues and admirers of her sunny talent. The art critic Yulia Petrova wrote about Shaginian, “She was possessed by three passions: love of painting, the Crimean seaside town of Koktebel, and Africa.” Shaginian’s idyllic paintings are distinguished by the spontaneity of her creative vision of the world; they have an amazing aura of kindness and happiness. Her honest, sincere art addresses the simple feelings of people who know how to value life, sunshine, and the smell of the sea — people who greet each new day as a holiday.
The works of the artist Andrei Pakhomov, a graduate of the graphic art department of the Repin Institute of Painting,
Sculpture and Architecture, featured at the Academy include graphic pieces and paintings created over the last 15 years. His father Alexei Fyodorovich Pakhomov is remembered in the history of Russian visual arts as a brilliant illustrator of children’s books and Russian literary classics, the author of a series of lithographs “Leningrad During the Siege” and noteworthy paintings created in the 1930s.
Andrei Pakhomov became a worthy successor to the tradition of the St. Petersburg-Leningrad school and contributed much to its development. His works are an example of faultless professional culture and inspired workmanship and imagery. Pakhomov’s paintings demonstrate the richness and diversity of creative techniques, and the philosophical concept of his art. He is a true virtuoso in easel painting and book illustration, and in lithographs he can effortlessly use the expressive means of pen or pencil drawing and the potential of etchings and other print media. His drawings highlight a consummate ability to handle the plane of a paper sheet and the role of lines and colour spots shaping a twodimensional space. The shifting angles of nude figures, and the inner motion emphasized by the positions of the silhouettes combine to create a special, intense milieu that seems to exist in perpetuity. He is a master of both romantic poetry and the grotesque.
His work has long caught the attention of collectors, gallery owners and museum curators, and Pakhomov’s works are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Vienna’s Albertina, the Museum of Prints and Drawings (Kupferstichkabinett) in Dresden and other internationally acclaimed public and private collections.
The “relay run” of the Academy’s exhibitions continues, outpacing time and opening up new horizons of Russian contemporary art.
Oil on canvas
Italian pencil, gouache on paper
Graphite pencil, gouache on paper
Watercolour on paper
Watercolour on paper
Tempera on canvas
Tempera on canvas
Paper, authorʼs technique
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Oil on hardboard
Oil on canvas
Oil on cardboard
Acrylic paint on canvas
Oil on canvas
Pencil on paper
Sepia on paper