Dmitry Ikonnikov: Artistic Milieu

Alexander Rozhin

Magazine issue: 
#2 2011 (31)

Dmitry Ikonnikov, through the breadth of his perception and his deeply personal feeling and understanding of the nature of art, as well as his professional experience and unarguable talent, has achieved a remarkable freedom of expression. He has created a unique figurative language, which is marked by the harmonic invariance of the form and content of his work.

The poetics of the artist’s works are driven by an intuitive, deeply penetrative vision of things, in which the past is reflected deeply, and an invisible premonition of the future is hinted at. He is an extraordinary improviser, able to harness recognisable and real details and attributes of motifs, scenes and subjects, with his own internal interpretation of life. In essence, these are the compound expressions of philosophy, poetry and metaphor meticulously tested in practice; the pure “creation of the spirit” in a perfect artistic form that intrigues even the most mature and demanding connoisseurs by teasing their memory and conscience with unpredictable images.

Having essentially abandoned his earlier work on posters and book illustrations, resisting the temptation to compete with the famous and still popular artistic currents of the 1980s and 1990s, Dmitry Ikonnikov took instead the route of a priori comprehension of space and time. This new quality of his art and drawings is clearly visible in the main themes he has worked on — “Life on the Ninth Floor”, “Mediterranean”, and “City. Entrance from the Backyard”.

The “life on the ninth floor” period foresaw a new framework in the artist’s work, a deeply individual understanding of the semantic structure of artistic surfaces, the multimedia worth of colour and shading, and their major importance in the forming of a graphic-content base containing the essence of the artistic concept. It was exactly then that the ideas that were implemented in the later cycles and other “thematic” exercises first appeared.

The artist’s work has acquired its unique form, captivating the imagination of the viewer with its philosophical meditations, the rhythmical sensitivity of its palette and the harmony of part and whole. The still-lifes, views and genre scenes as valued forms, are the deeply personal reflections of the emotional state of the artist himself, filtered into the space and time of a gallery, imbued with feelings, thoughts and associations that are at once both related and unrelated to each other. In these works, specific historical prototypes are visible, which formed the artistic environment of the 20th century; the echoes of recent impressions and touching real-life memories can be heard. An especially poetic intonation can be divined, that is nevertheless separated from everyday worries and banal transiency.

Dmitry Ikonnikov delicately varies the description, details and fragments of emotional and physical existence of the objects he paints, whether it is the romantic corners of Moscow, St. Petersburg or Paris, or the everyday items that surround the artist. These structural and artistic elements often migrate from one work to another, attaining new emotional and conceptual meanings, very similar to the still-life works of Giorgio Morandi.

Gradually, Ikonnikov’s work begins to feature characters that recall the artwork of Pablo Picasso’s neoclassical period, and also an emotional accord with the Parisian views of Albert Marquet and Raoul Dufy. But these are not copies or imitations, but rather the manifestation of an inexplicable virtual link that arises subconsciously. And despite all of this, one cannot forget the all-important role played by the taste and aesthetic preferences of different artists. We find similar nods and emotional crossroads in his views of Moscow and Paris, St. Petersburg and Venice. Why and how this happens, only the artist could say — for him, evidently, the auras of these cities share certain features, their glamorous attractiveness from far and near. However much certain motifs seem familiar, and the reflections of French works seem to appear on the surface, Ikonnikov’s work is nothing less than an exercise in self-personification. This can be seen in perhaps every single work of the artist, irrespective of the genre or subject.

In this context, the main role in this aesthetic self-expression is given to the orchestral notes of colour: interactions of half-tones dissolving in the haze of air and light, silhouettes and translucency of dimension. The use of sfumato creates a special emotional atmosphere, or rather a meditative ambience with an inimitable tinge of inner musicality.

A symbiosis between different expressive components of the artist’s dramaturgy lends his works a magical allure, which in every single case brings forth an unexpected sensual and conceptual intrigue. However, this is devoid of the playfulness or metaphors that were so characteristic of Soviet art of the 1970s and 1980s, and which Ikonnikov used himself in his earlier works.

Nevertheless, the monumental works show a radical line between the past and the future in the artist’s work. The older works carry specific literary reminiscences and traits of external passion, whereas in the more recent ones these elements are rendered unnecessary, along with deliberate plots of scenic philosophical allegories. The artist takes a step from known pragmatism towards irrational creative and sensual understanding of the spiritual habitat, forever imprinted in our genetic memory. Thus, his works transform into elegiac installations charged with inner light and romantic spirituality. The artist’s self now appears as a demiurge; a carrier of pure art who stirs up our fantasies with skilful brush, enchanting colours and cosmologic harmony.

Perhaps some of these transformations are overstated, and other people may find such analysis excessive or unjustified, but our motive here is not idealisation of the mentality of the artist, but an attempt to assess this creative phenomenon as a specific form of spiritual insight and existence of self in time and space.

Reality may seem much simpler, but a true work of art nonetheless lives a life of its own, often attaining multiple meanings against the will of the creator; there are values originating from our associations and fantasies. Therein lays the deep magic of creativity and the inexplicable attractive force of art, forever thrilling and enchanting.

The seeming naivety of this reasoning once again ascertains the right for these statements to exist regardless of the object under discussion.

The fact that this analysis is relevant not only for the works of Dmitry Ikonnikov, but also for the creations of various other major artists of our time, suggests its perception and interpretation are free from direct visual description of the facts and aspects of culture. Thus, coming back to the paintings and graphics of Ikonnikov, we take the liberty to depart from a classical analysis of his creative evolution, and instead to express here an intuitive, informal perception of the visual context and semantic significance of his art. The novelty of feelings is triggered by the form — in a very broad sense of the meaning — in which they are defined and embodied. The form, as a predicate of emotional and conceptual range in the art of Dmitry Ikonnikov, is one of the main sources and stimulants for a broad analysis of his holistic view of the world, the view that reflects an integral whole of sensual experience, practical knowledge and creative thought.

His numerous city motifs have common stylistic characteristics, they re-echo in colours and are joined together by sfumato, a subtle haze that furnishes his paintings with a note of dreams and nostalgia. The artist’s preferences are not clearly seen here, as unique features of Paris, Moscow and St. Petersburg miraculously travel from one geographical point to another.

Ikonnikov creates a wonderful and subtle polyphony of moods inspired by long-awaited meetings with enchanting views of the bridges and curves of the Seine, white nights on the Neva and the familiar silhouettes along the banks of the Moskva River. Such mysterious teleportation of landmarks and transformation of emotional tokens are probably inevitable today. They are inspired by the actual and alleged knowledge about the cities of the artist’s youth and dreams, mostly acquired from works of the wonderful French (if we talk about Paris) writers Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Andre Malraux; the poets Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valery, and
Jacques Prevert; from books and art albums of Camille Pissarro, Albert Marquet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Raoul Dufy and Russian painters like Konstantin Korovin, Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova.

The tempting, unforgettable and inimitable images of Paris, its boulevards and squares, street cafes and river banks, the life of the bohemians and the lives of the clochards... generations of people owe this memory to the talent and love of French writers, poets and artists. Similarly, the St. Petersburg of our dreams, the Northern Palmyra, is also happily alive in our conscience thanks to the poetry of Alexander Pushkin and Alexander Blok, Boris Pasternak and Joseph Brodsky, and the dramas of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and other famous Russian cultural luminaries.

The mind’s eye of potential visitors to these magnificent European cities transposes images from one city to another and vice versa, which is a way to compare and analyse their architectural patterns. It is also often the basis of our attitudes towards Rome, Venice and Moscow: the testing of our emotions, associations, anticipation and unexpected impressions. However, these preliminary insights, this cultural and documentary data cannot be compared to a personal embrace of these cities; cities that evoke enthusiastic compliments, high emotions and a deep affection. For each of us, regardless of what our memory offers us from what we have read or heard, Paris and Moscow, Rome and St. Petersburg unveil the mystery of their special charm and beauty, and each of us has a Paris, Moscow and St. Petersburg of our own. We can see this in Dmitry Ikonnikov’s city scenes, inspired by a personal empathy of the experienced, a striving to find in a conglomerate of impressions something truly important and very special, to discover a soul of the city that reflects his own emotional and visual expectations.

In Ikonnikov’s works, cities of diverse historical destinies, very different but still resembling one another, convey common themes generated through the artist’s infinite appeal to these historical centres of European culture. That is why artistic sketches of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Paris in Ikonnikov’s beautiful paintings and graphics all render a common romantic feeling of their magic aura.

Quite different to these are the “Mediterranean” works of the artist, created under the Adriatic sun during his artistic visit to Croatia. His tasks here are quite different, too. Genre sketches and different views of the coast bring us into an atmosphere of warmth and delight, nonchalance and timeless leisure. The characters of this artistic cycle represent a very different life, a life unchanged for many centuries, a life of myths and legends of Ancient Hellas. They bring to mind rhymes from Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, and call up images of antique gods and the people who imagined them.

These characters live by the same laws and tread on the same ground as their long-gone ancestors, and time itself freezes, while we forget about the trite problems of the modern era. Ikonnikov embraces the epoch and draws it through the childhood impressions he formed through the books of ancient authors, and in museum halls filled with Greek statues, their rooms decorated with mosaic and vases. He makes us witness and participate in one of the most thrilling stages in the history of civilization and world culture. In today’s life in Montenegro, in the character and behaviour of its citizens, in the nature of this Balkan country itself, the artist feels a special magnetic force in its absolute purity, not affected by people and centuries. Ikonnikov grasped this bond between a distant past and the future, and subtly conveys it to his viewers.

The artist revels in the trickle of a line that slightly touches the surface of paper, slowly and persistently evading unnecessary details, as if he has an eternity to spare. The “Mediterranean cycle” paintings are rational, concise and reserved; carefully calibrated to convey deliberation and relaxation. The painter seems to be familiar with these mountain tops for ages, and he’s so used to the eternal sounds of waves that he can’t be disturbed by or awakened from this wonderful daydream.

This cloudless world appears to be devoid of conflict, but even here, behind the external idyll of a relaxed soul, one can feel a premonition, a moment of unknown expectation, which, in our opinion, strikes an invisible emotional tuning fork for most of Ikonnikov’s “Mediterranean” creations. Even references to antique history do not evoke the effect for which any enlightened person should be ready, leaving the viewer quite indifferent to the grandeur of ancient civilizations instead of truly admiring it.

Enjoying the natural scenes, skillfully filling the canvas with a southerly breeze, the shadow-and-light effects and the transparent depth of the waves, the artist observes this languorous splendour from one side. For him, it’s more than the usual polishing up of skills: it’s an attempt to compare the seemingly slow, monotonous, endless life with the speed in which existence can change — all within an enclosed space of a holiday resort.

Serene and idle in their scenic solutions, these artistic works have a shade of unpredictability about them, an invisible connection with cosmologic reflections about eternity and existence. But this connection is a product of the subconscious, as if the dream is about to end in a restless awakening. That is why the Mediterranean tune transforms to give birth to still-life paintings. These works are neither an addition to the theme, nor its development, they have a totally different function: to reshape the serenity of landscapes and genre motifs. Thickened tint and deepened hue bring along a new perception of time; the colour acquires internal tension, and the objects gain an invisible motion.

Ikonnikov’s still-life images show a new form of visual understanding of existence, a form beyond temporary factors and circumstances. It’s a unique way of self-expression, described by the famous art theoretician Boris R. Vipper: “The time has come when everything in the art of painting — genre, indoor scenes and landscapes — has acquired still-life perceptions. Still-life has become the special artist’s view of the world.”

The artist is charmed by this “quiet life” (not by “dead nature”, if we literally translate nature morte from the French), a life with its peripetia, joys and passions. He’s free to change and move the figures of this visual speech: the objects and attributes that reflect the owner’s feelings and personality, just like a mind game carried over to a chess board. The still-life offers an endless field for imagination, an open space for visual and figurative combinations and modifications, and creative models of the universe, opening up boundless possibilities to convey all shades of sense and feeling.

In his still-life experiences, Dmitry Ikonnikov skillfully and devotedly uses his rich arsenal of methods and techniques. The master’s elaborate works in this genre show that he possesses everything that nature can give. With his expert hands, at the right time, he miraculously creates a harmony of proportion, in which, speaking in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, we see the reality itself.

There are endless variations with large vessels, and smoking pipes, several utensils and items of everyday life, rhythmically placed and lighted, painted in daylight and at night, reflecting changes of emotions, movements of the soul, vectors of the mood and thoughts of the artist. He uses numerous technical tools of drawing and painting, as well as different approaches to figurative expression, to achieve the maximum effect and render the philosophical depth through a complex system of observing the object-and-space environment around him. Ikonnikov develops his own methodology, creates new materials that allow him to carefully and originally depict his own feelings and perceptions about time and the self. He uses various materials, such as gouache and acrylics, sepia and oil pastels, he works with paper and canvas, and uses mixed techniques.

An expert in painting and graphics, he doesn’t pause in long reflection on how to draw a sketch or build up a composition. Thanks to his flawless knowledge of the rules of his craft and his excellence in what he does, viewers seldom have questions about how this or that work was created. The artist has no visible difficulties in implementing his creative ideas, which he does in a clear and stress-free manner and which emphasizes yet again the high level of his professional culture. He builds his artistic surface on subtle gradations of tone and colour, softening the texture with sfumato, behind which the main colours of his palette are seen, layer after layer, vibrant with internal tune.

All of Dmitry Ikonnikov’s works have an emotional dominant as the basis of the artist’s concept that defines the structure of the form, the character of the content and the shape of the “dramaturgy”. His creations whip up the imagination of the viewer through the depth of associative thinking, the polyphony of feelings, the irrealism of concrete and recognisable motifs, the spirit and the ingenuity. In his artistic life, Ikonnikov largely follows the philosophical formula of Andre Malraux: “We exist to live, whereas art exists to come to life”. We can justly regard the new works of the artist as an important phenomenon in art today. They open up untravelled paths and lead us to believe in the unfailing nature of the idea that this world can be made richer through figurative perception and representation.

The creative work of Dmitry Ikonnikov, a romantic, idea-fuelled and sensuous artist, impersonates the microcosm of his aesthetic soul. Neither the conventional aspects of real time, nor the boundaries of a secluded environment can restrict him; he is a true representation of the freely-expressed feelings and thoughts of a real artist.





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