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Сто художников Сибири.

Выпуск II

Галерея «Сибирское искусство» и БФ «Современное искусство Сибири» в настоящее время ведет подготовку издания Профессионального справочника современного искусства «100 художников Сибири». Выпуск II».   Презентация Справочника намечена на начало 2016г в Музее им. Врубеля (Омск). Будет представлена  выставка произведений сибирских художников «100 художников Сибири»  и фотографический проект «В мастерской художника».  

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Traces of Archaic in Contemporary Siberian Art 

The history of peoples of Asia, "the culture of Siberian peoples attracted interest as long as hundred and probably thousand years ago”. According to historiography, direct and purposeful, i.e. scientific accumulation of facts began at the start of the seventeenth century, whereas the now famous “Drawing Book of Siberia" was compiled by Semyon Remizov in the first year of the eighteenth century. When in 1703 he, together with his sons, discovered a series of drawings in Kungur cave, he called them “wondrous drawings". According to archeologists this was the first registration of ancient drawings in Russia. It is worth noting that artists took an active part in the study of Siberian antiquities from the very beginning, at the earliest stages of collection of historical material. The Siberian expedition formed in the seventeenth century according to the decree of Peter the Great, included three artists. According to art historians, artists also contributed to collection of archeological and ethnographic material in the second half of the nineteenth century, pursuing the concept of “Siberian regionalism”.  This period of artistic activities was basically of applied character, subordinate to the interests of science. The period from the 1920-th and on, when artists dreamed of forming so called "Siberian style” making rather successful attempts in this direction is considered historically significant. What is important to note here is the fact, that an "ethnical turn" happened almost everywhere – in Irkutsk (Kopylov, Andreev), in Altai (Gurkin, Chevalkov), in Buryatia (Merdygeev, Khangalov), in Taimyr (Pankov et al.). In 1927 the words of I.L. Kopylov “To my mind Siberia is the most suitable place in the USSR for the development of grand art” sounded romantic, acquiring the status of a byword. Later on art historian will treat the “Siberian style” either critically or enthusiastically. To illustrate the attitude, P.D. Muratov can be quoted as stating in 1973 that “The major share of “Siberian style” works represented ethnographical sketches, sometimes of very high scientific (scientific is the exactly the word) value”. The “Northern style” with its “basic category of space”was formed in the period of 1920-1930. Representatives of peoples of Siberian North studied in the Leningrad Institute of Northern Peoples and their inborn ability to formulate space was striking for their teachers. "What an unusual, unrealizable feeling of space! To scale the space of the whole Siberia on a sheet of paper!” the Institute’s teaching staff was quoted as saying in admiration. In the period from the 1930-th and up to the 1960-th the Siberian archaic and especially ethnic painting was viewed only peripherally, if not critically, as the Social Realism with its hymns to the Soviet transformations of Siberia was in favor of the day.  

The revival of interest to the history of Siberia, its material and spiritual culture began at the start of the sixties, during the Khruschev's "thawing period" and vigorous construction of Siberian hydroelectrical power stations and historical discoveries of scientists with a notable participation of artists which became a living tradition since the eighteenth century. It is generally known that the greatest contribution to the revival of interest for archaic was made by V.F. Kapelko in Khakasia (who became famous as applied researcher and developer of copying techniques) and N.Ya. Tretjakov in Omsk, the author of magnificent paintings based on mythology of Altai and Siberian North. Despite obvious artistic achievements these authors and their few successors remained on the side of the trunk road of the Soviet art of the day. Revival, if not the explosion of interest for the archaic could be observed in the period from the eighties to the nineties, which fact can be attributed to the general political and cultural tendencies in our country. It may be assumed that the time has come for the long sought unity of scientific and artistic interests, the interests of art researches, especially those working in museums and these of the representatives of new trades – curators, gallery owners and collectors. A flow of “new” works, exhibitions, curator projects revealed the ever present “archaic” tendency as a phenomenon in its own right, forming a trend in the contemporary Siberian art.   

This assumption is supported by a number of indicative facts. The “archaic” triptych “AgriculturalLand” (1992) by N.I. Rybakov became the winner of the Best Contemporary Painting contest, held by the Novokuznetsk Museum of Fine Arts in 1993. Many projects based on mythologic and ethnographic plots were awarded the highest prizes of the International Museum Biennale held by the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center “Na Strelke" ("Deer Farmer's Summer Camp” (1995) by Yu. Aivaseda (Cultural and Ethnographic Center of Varjegan town), “Woden’s Steel” (1997) by Yu. Nerush (Surgut Museum of Fine Arts), “Treasure 1169” (2003) by S. Baranov (Omsk Museum of Fine Arts) to name just a few). An interesting project titled “Sayano-Altai’s Altyn-Cher – an Intercultural Dialog on the Verge of the Third Millenium” was implemented by the Novokuznetsk Museum of Fine Arts during the period of 2000 – 2002, exhibiting not only ethnographic antiquities from museums’ collections, but also works of contemporary artists. S.V. Lazarev, an artist from Tomsk initiated a mobile exhibition “Myths of Taiga and Tundra”, which was a great success with the public, as well as with art researchers and induced many similar events all over Siberia. It is worth remembering that the period from the end of the previous century to the beginning of the current one was marked by the publication of major works, dedicated to ethnography and archeology of Siberia. The most notable of them are authored by A.V. Golovnev, A.I. Matyschenko, A.N. Martynov, and A.Ya. Sher. Thus we establish the fact of not a sum of individual interests in the problem, but a stable socio-cultural and scientific situation in which the contemporary “archaic” art occupies its own and a very significant place. A longstanding project titled “Trace” forms a part of this sequence of cultural events.

The project has its own history, rather remarkable at that. In started in 1999 with “Trace-1” (Novokuznetsk Museum of Fine Arts), then followed by “Trace-2” hosted in 2004-2005 by the Krasnoyarsk’s Union of Artists. Today’s “Trace-3” is exhibited in the Novosibirsk Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition being arranged by the “SiberianArtGallery” from Novokuznetsk. The artists, forming the nucleus of the project are the following: Sergei Lazarev, Alexander Suslov, Nikolai Rybakov, Sergei Anufriev, Valery Sysoyev, Eugene Dorokhov, Natalia Spesivtseva, and Tatiana Koltochikhina.  Throughout its existence the project underwent serious changes and transformations concerning genre, as well as topics and stylistic and formal aspects of works it unites.

For the sake of further discussion let us clarify the meaning of the term and make a brief overview of the sources of this phenomenon of contemporary art. Let us call it “Siberian Neo-Archaic Art”, for the nature of the phenomenon in question is not yet clear due to the lack of analysis. Its sources can be traced back to the genetic memory and the “cultural layer” of artists themselves. The "memory” and the “cultural layer” get mixed in the mind of a contemporary artist, turning it into an existential foundation of the artistic act. Let us also denote some evidences, uniting all artists, belonging to the Siberian neo-archaic art. They all inherited either a need for natural environment (N. Rybakov, S. Lazarev, V. Sysoev) or a tendency for the archaic, getting tired of realism and becoming “archaic” due to self-education, reading books, investigating archives and participating in archeological and ethnographical expeditions (N. Tretiakov, V. Kapelko, E. Dorokhov, V. Bugaev, A. Suslov) or in the result of a combination of the above (S. Dykov, L. Pastushkova, N. Spesivtseva). S.V. Dykov, an artist and a poet from Altai summarized this symbiosis of the Siberian neo-archaic artists in the following verse:


Alphabet, forgotten in caves

                                   Simplicity is sleeping in the depths of Spirit

                                   Writing hidden everywhere

                                   In sunny curves and in waves

                                   In coniferous needles and stone cracks,

                                   Inside round bubbles of rain,

                                   In our gestures and features,

                                   And in our first voluntary drawings


-           The verse continues in the form of drawings intermingled with texts, thus demonstrating the unity of writing and voluntary drawing.

The historiography of the phenomenon is yet brief. There appeared some comments in the press, following “Trace-1” exhibition, whereas “Trace-2” gathered a round table discussion in Krasnoyarsk. After reading the materials dedicated to “Trace-1” and recollecting the Krasnoyarsk discussion (which was too spontaneous to acquire scientific value) one can’t help making a conclusion that art critics are not as yet ready for what the artists are doing.  

Positioning the artists of their respective cities, art critics note many significant features in the cultural phenomenon proper. They try to distinguish the uniting principle of the “heirs” that is based on “the artistic and friendly sympathies of the ones travelling the road of spiritual development of the past, each one going its own way” (Tatiana Vysotskaya, Novokuznetsk), on “the attempts to revive the syncretic disposition of the natural being” (Larissa Danilova, Novokuznetsk). Others mark “a number of variants of the topic, evolving sometimes in absolutely different directions, ranging from stylization to the metaphors of the plastic image (Elena Khudonogova, Krasnoyarsk). Still others note “the artistic manifestation of the beyond and the initiators of mythologic events, which is equally inherent to an ancient as well as contemporary painter, who conceives time and space from the point of view of natural phenomenon" (Yuri Ozheredov, Tomsk) or “the interpretation of an ancient text and filling it with new personal meanings” (Galina Myslivtseva, Omsk), which text contains “more implications due to the emotional character of the message" (Leonid Elfimov, Omsk). The emotionality envelops not only works, but exhibitions also, as their conception belongs not to a museum research, but to the artists, who is especially interested in mythological thinking. Due to this fact “Trace-1” has its own expression, although it can be blamed for the “slight positional incorrectness” (Irina Reschikova, Novokuznetsk).

It is quite obvious that this diversity of opinions differs in depth and insight. What is important is that they are inspired by one and the same subject – works of art, which topically and artistically refer to the archaic culture of Siberia. Today’s “Trace-3” remains in line with previous exhibitions, provoking different views, which is only natural. The author of this text presents his own view, having no pretences to be the ultimate arbiter. The author is prevented from such position by the rules expression, which remains open to discussion within the guidelines of humanitarian ethics, as well as by a number of rather edifying instances from the scientific practice. The author means two exhibitions in Omsk, accompanied by conferences.  

The first was “POST #1” - an all-Siberian Exhibition Contest of Contemporary Art, accompanied by the Fifth Omsk Artistic Readings titled “Contemporary Siberian Art as an Event”, hosted by “Quadrat" art gallery in March – May of 2005. The topics of neo-archaic were in the center of attention at those events.  According to N.P.Komarova, an art critic, Siberian art was always susceptible to Asian traditions that lived on different sources of cultural life of the past, as well as of today, with the European culture joining in at a certain moment, mixing historically and geographically with the culture of the natives. It is evident, that the author in question distinguishes not only synthetic tendencies in neo-archaic art, but also eclectic manifestations of post-modernism, the fact disputed by academic researches. A.I. Morozov, disagrees with the above author by stating that “a regional feature, most notable today, manifests itself in artists, turning to ethnic, mythological and edaphic roots of Siberian peoples' culture. This phenomenon is defined by various terms and those who treat it with care are right, for there is no adequate term yet. The terms “archeo-avant-garde", "ethno-archaic", “neo-mythology” are perceived rather critically, as archeo and avant-garde in "archeo-avant-garde" hardly correlate.”   

The second was a retrospective exhibition called “The Siberian Myth - the Voices of Territories” accompanied by a discussion panel, hosted by the Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after M.A. Vrubel simultaneously with the above Readings. The exhibition consisted of collections presented by museums of Omsk, Barnaul, Gorno-Altaisk, Novosibirsk, and Tumen, the heterogeneity of which was smoothed somehow only in the exhibition catalogue. The discussion held, as well as published matter prevent a researcher from arriving at ultimate conclusions, making one view the “Siberian archaic” in the process of complex and conflicting development. Concerning this, the “Trace-3” exhibition was a worthy argument and an occasion to have a closer look at the phenomenon of the “Siberian archaic art”.

The exhibition consisted of works of the “pioneers” who tried to provide a more integral representation of the artistic trend in question, presenting it by the works selected based on their semantic content, as well as “more equal” formal properties.   

The works which make “Trace-3” exhibition clearly indicate the importance for the artists in question of two mutually complimenting states, namely that of the “feeling of archaic”, which can be perceived rationally and empirically only in part, the second state being a mighty artistic intuition, required in order to perceive these phenomena. Each of the artists investigating these problems chooses his (her) own way.  

The life in the living environment of the archeological monuments of the Valley of Chests in Khakasia turned for Nikolai Rybakov into an existential fundament, substantiating his art (the artist lives in Sarala village for more than 20 years, and travels all over Asia). His art went a long and winding road from the first graphic series of the seventies, with an ethnographical touch and full of literary associations to the very complicated paintings of the last decade with their metaphysically deep artistic images («Yellow Painting», 2002, «The Universe» (oil on canvas, acrylic 120х90), 2004 «The Universe» (oil on canvas, 200х130), 2004, «White Shore», 2002). Speaking of metaphysics we are guided by the clear meaning of the super-sensual perception of reality – the definition given by Aristotle and Plato. The art and science, philosophy in particular are in perfect agreement here, both implying abstract thinking. Just like a philosopher, who thinks in terms of categories and notions, an artist "imagines" the world in terms of abstractions. Nikolai Rybakov, intuitively attracted to such means of artistic expression from the very beginning, during last decades reached so deep into the artistic existence, that his own taciturn commentary sounds like this: "The plot, as well as its constructive form is but an abstraction of the mood”. Let us read these words and think them over, taking a closer look at the paintings of the artist. The word “mood” means the “inner state”, “somebody’s turn of feelings, thoughts, etc”, "an inclination to do this or that”. Etymologically the word “state” includes two other synonyms and reflects an existential level of the artist’s life, or his standing in the company of images, which at the start are the product of the artist’s abstract imagination, later materialized in the form of a work of art. The abstract standing in the company of images comprises Rybakov’s mood or his abstraction of the mood, which dictates him an adequate form of artistic expression. A quoted definition points to its relative applicability to Rybakov’s painting (and to that of the most participants of the exhibition). Rybakov’s paintings and graphic series are very professional. They are magnificently drawn, composed and painted, even if they seem unfinished (or failed, but this is another question, which can divert us to the issue of the value of painting). One can’t underestimate the role of light in the revelation of the meaning of each of his paintings. So, let us now dwell on painting and light only, or rather on the layer of paints, the texture and the glimmer of light. These are exactly the elements that bear the major load in the Siberian neo-archaic art. Let us put aside the symbolic and denoting character of color, and consider only the emotional and psychologic state, which a spectator acquires while looking at the paintings in question. From the extreme sounds of color (in oil) to subtle tonal manifestations (in acrylic), united in one stream of unique textures pregnant with inner light (emanating from the grounding, the canvas) and joyfully absorbing the stream of outer light (with so many flat and sharp edges under the sun). They give birth to the image of eternity and spirituality, whose beginnings are deep in the past. Is it not the reason why the artist made so many paintings titled “The Universe”?! What makes him do so? Maybe because the artist is grieving over the lack of spirituality in the modern world, crucified by mass culture and it is not an unlikely supposition, for it is the best trait of the Russian art in any of its forms. Just like a poet, an artist in Russia is something more than a man who draws or paints. He is wedded to the beauty and morality forever.

         This is also true when speaking of Sergei Lazarev. When I mentioned above the falling in trance I meant exactly Sergei Lazarev and his miraculous tale. Once he had a chance to touch the mystic world by imagining himself as a deer to be sacrificed. A man who turned into a deer in a mystic world runs through vast spaces at a great speed to become sacrificed and to watch one's own death on the altar of the Nenets' gods. The wish to feel the other world makes one go into a trance, turning the cosmos into an integral space with no up or down. An artist absorbed in myth comprehends a bigger space and the manifestation of this bigger space in the spiritual and bodily organization of every human is typical for the mythology of various Siberian peoples. So, an artist can only acquire this experience through his own senses and knowledge (according to the article by Yu. Ozheredov). I got to know Sergei Lazarev and his works closer at the time when there was no up or down in his paintings, but that was not the point that intrigued me most of all. What attracted my attention was the manner of painting itself, which instantly combined the spontaneous natural sense of color and rational "designer style” composition. The architectonics of colour and graphical elements (signs) in his paintings is so dense that one can't help feeling the masculine erection of the painting ("Tomsk Votives", 2004). The term “masculine erection" is used here to stress the male nature of Lazarev’s painting, full of thoughts and jubilation in the face of the Nature’s virgin beauty and peoples’ notions of it, reflected in oral and applied folklore, in which Sergei Lazarev is by all means an expert. His art of painting is based on a fine intellectual, as well as sensual perception of the ancient archetype and its visual manifestation.

Alexander Suslov, a painter, poet, and an esoteric philosopher was among the founders of the Trace project, together with Sergei Lazarev. But he is different not only from Lazarev, but from the rest members of the team. As opposed to the fine and emotional artistry of his works of the nineties (“Murdered in the Mountains" diptych, 1994), his recent water colours seem to be so verified, rational and professionally made, that one could make a pause in contemplation, if not for one thing, which luckily marks one more direction in Siberian neo-archaic art. What I mean here is the planar manifestation of space, the symbolism of color and graphic sign, which semantically is more typical for Eastern cultures than for Russia and Europe. His full scale series “Plateau" (2003), “Last Traces” (2004), “Letters from Central Asia About Myself” (2005) are full of picturesque emptiness, flanked by intricate ornamental carpet-like textures, the color complexities of which form an image of the Universe, an endless cosmic home – a home of human existence ruled not by chaos, but by order, harmony and ever present thirst for cognition. It seems to me that this somehow Utopian perception is adequate to today’s works of Alexander Suslov.

But A. Suslov is not the only idealist in the team. There is also Daniil Menshikov, a wonderful man and artist. He is hardly one of the founders of the project, but he certainly is one of those happy positively disposed artists, who will use any possibility to realize their gift of painting or graphic improvisation. Menshikov’s “Hunters”, “Runaway Deer” and other works are nothing else but sublime improvisations on a given topic. But this topic is given to Daniil Menshikov, and also to Larissa Pastushkova, Valery Sysoev, Sergei Anufriev, Tatiana Koltochikhina and the rest of the group not by a strange world, but by an ancient, attractive and charming world they live in, translating it to the world of today, where true beauty and feeling are in deficit.  

The feeling of the lack of harmony in the world of today is common for all sensitive people. So, an artist has every right to reflect the sentiment in a form, optimal for him (her). A global view of "Civilizations” by Eugene Dorokhov presents suprematic and constructive “fragments” of objects, intriguing in their cold rhythmical beauty of decorative surfaces, but the beauty is not welcoming. It is possibly due to this dreary beauty the artist makes a piece of genuinely archaic ceramics the center of attention, fixing (translating) it to the painting and achieving a surprising effect of co-existence of historical and contemporary within the work.         

The art of Siberian neo-archaic painting is only a number of decades old. Its value lies in the fact that it emerged not as a response to some social order, but as a need of artists to turn to ancient cultures, which keep the spiritual values of our forefathers intact. I’d like to emphasize the fact that each of the artists of the group of Siberian neo-archaists has an inborn talent, professionalism and education, demonstrating a type of artist which requires a researcher by all means. This type is not new somehow, as striving for universality in art is known since the Italian Renaissance. But here in Siberia this generation of personalities, who are artists and researches at the same time is something quite new. The names of artists listed above, as well as the names of their predecessors N.Ya. Tretjakov and V.F. Kapelko will always be associated with pioneering movement, revealing the ancient cultures of Siberia to our mind and contemporary art. The objects of material culture and oral folklore are mentally and genetically stable. They are capable of waking up just at the right time and in the right place, yielding brilliant fruit. The phenomenon of Siberian neo-archaic art proves this brightly.   


Vladimir Chirkov.