Дата публикации: 10 сентября 2018
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Номер публикации: №1536599876

Author: by Svetlana KHROMCHENKO, Senior Researcher, State Museum of Oriental Arts


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In 1999 the Moscow Museum of Oriental Arts has featured an exciting art exhibition, Desert and Garden Images, representing artists of different schools and generations. In some works the imagery of Desert or, conversely, Garden is the leitmotif, while in others this motif comes up at random, as an episode seemingly at the periphery of artistic interests. And yet these motifs and these images conceal some inner urge and motivation. That is why the canvases may furnish a revealing insight, be it the time when they were painted, or the locale. And, of course, they tell us quite a bit about the authors too...

Desert and Garden are the antipodes of the East, a land where the disciples of Moses, Christ and Mohammed used to live and roam. It takes in Asia Minor, Arabia, a portion of northeastern Africa and Central Asia-a territory bordering on Russia and closely bound up with her historical destiny. Desert and Garden not only impact the way of life for many peoples but also acquire sense and meaning going far beyond place names. These two poles were magnets attracting philosophical, religious and aesthetic thought. Our age, which has wrought dramatic changes both in the culture of the most peoples and in the very countenance of the earth, has scrambled the traditional values in a most paradoxical way; and the same holds true for Desert and Garden alike. In the past, true-to-life or symbolic images of garden always connoted paradise; they decorated the walls of temples and palaces, haunted icon- and easel- paintings, miniatures and works of applied art. The blissful beauty of a scienic garden with its flowers and riot of color pleased every palate and was the cynosure for a painter's brush.

But it was quite different with desertland depicted in works of fiction rather than in pictorial arts, even though it was a scene of many a sacral event of the past. The magic appeal of barren open spaces inspired the Uzbekistan-born maitre Alexander Volkov (1886-1957), one of the eminent artists of the brush in the twentieth century.(*)

The desert motif was intimate to Volkov, particularly at the start of his artistic career, and had a close link with another symbol of the East, the caravan. The plastic geometry of his vivid idiom materialized in a gallery of monumental images that people his canvases of the early 1920s: the camels in outline, the faces of cameleers, the sand-hills and all; his demiur-gic brush infuses a sense of cosmic grandeur into the desertscape.

* More about Volkov and other orientalist artists, in: S. Khromchenko, "An Alien World-No Longer Alien", Science in Russia, No. 6, WS.-Ed.

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Desert is palpably present in Volkov's works of that time. Its presence is material in the proper sense of the word-the painter added real grains of sand to his palette for a touch of picturesque rough.

Like many avant-garde artists of his age, Volkov embraced in good faith the idea of a social remarking of the world. One popular allegory of that idea was this: turn the desolate arid wilderness into a flowering paradisian garden. Yet in the totalitarian cultural milieu of that period this allegory carried yet another and deeper implication than a mere remodeling of nature. Desert is bad because it leads a human individual astray, out of society, beyond the confines of stern reality, into the realm of spirituality and intellectual beauty-a heavenly sphere elevated above the visible and obvious, open to the inner eye only and leading to God. (Hence those avid for truth would seek solitude in the wilderness, or desert). Such soul searchings were alien and even dangerous to an ideology purposing to cast man into "nuts and screws" for the state machine.

Incidentally, Volkov's art heritage gives us real examples of deserts turned into blossoming gardens. One of the Volkov canvases, Storming Impassable Lands, (1932) addresses an actual episode, the building of a road to the Chirchik Canal, dug up to bring water to the desert and make a land-tiller's age-old dream come true. We see golden sand and vivid colors of the people's clothes on it-this bright palette invokes the blooms and blossoms to be. And yet the landscape lacks the vim and elan of his earlier paintings-somehow the artist betrays his disillusionment of the Bolshevik dream to remodel life.

The picture Digging for Sand by Pyotr Shchegolev of Uzbekistan (1933) was also meant as a symbol of the endeavor to build a new radiant future; however, peering into this monumental canvas, we discern that its space is virtually a hand-wrought desert crammed with dug-up sandhills like so many dunes. In this way Shchegolev, a pupil and follower of Volkov's, strips the desertscape of its sacral halo.

As to Volkov, he soon came to realize that his path was a dead end and, taking a second lease of life toward the late 1930s, he

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turned to live nature and started painting "serene" sketches, well-nigh in the plein air style. Those were no longer symbols or make-believe images of a world to be- we see true-to-life scenes breathing of harmony and quiet. The master found the sense of his life and work in the cool shade of trees where he, captivated by the "precious" little spangles of sunlight and a fascinating gamut of light and shade, gave himself up to the hedonistic perception of life as it was. In fact, his works like At a Pond and At an Aryk Irrigation Ditch feature garden settings.

The garden image is conspicuous in the works of the Turkmen master Byashim Nurali (1900-1965), an artist whose brush has much intimacy with the ethnic tradition and its roots, in spite of his predilection for a "foreign" technique. Since his active years concurred with an age when religiosity in art was a taboo, his canvases were relegated to primitive and scoffed at as daubs produced by a drudge who could not invent himself as a real artist. However, Nurali was a man of great erudition with multifarious interests, he wrote songs and poems, and performed his compositions on musical instruments of his own making. His mode of life conformed to Sufism and its canons.(*) Some of his canvases- for one. Vintage (1929)- are overtly consonant with oriental poetry motifs. This is a felicitous attempts to give a pictorial interpretation of traditional Islamic values, for the image of a "radiant future" chimed in with the perfectionist Muslim vision of the universe. Despite its grand, monumental scope and conception, this canvas lacks the turgidity of many other landscapes owing to its sublime lyrical tenor.

One of the sequels to the all-out drive of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to combat deserts nationwide was that the very motif of desert was banished from pictorial art as an evil. This is why the desertscape is so hostile in the Qara Qums by the Turkmen painter Mamed Mamedov (1971): nothing but the burnished dunes done virtually in a single dull color, black, dun and ocher- the very name, Qara Qum (Kara Kum), denotes "Black Sands". and yet-for the first time in many years-this image of desert- land carries a touch of self-sufficiency.

Totalitarian rule ousts traditional cultural values or else substitutes false ones, and what we get instead is a "spiritual wasteland". This bitter truth permeates many drawings by Gariff Basyrov of Moscow. Factory chimneys

* A mystical movement in Islam opposing the Moslem ceremonial and preaching extreme self-denial.-Ed.

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belching puffs of smoke replace garden trees, while a flower-bed with its florid blooms is actually lifeless. An urban wilderness, the "desert", is the proper habitat for his personages, the typecast Homines sovietici (Soviet people); but in the same breath it is also a synonym of eternity, the leveler of all human efforts and "achievements" of civilization. The desert image kind of epitomizes with Basyrov the tragic upshot of the century.

Post-urbanist motifs are also present in the landscapes of Mamut Churlu who, an exile and longtime denizen of Uzbekistan, is now back to the homeland of his forefathers, the Crimea. His paintings revert to the Central Asian locale- kushlak villages, irrigation ditches, mulberry trees, apricots in bloom... And yet the East, usually associated with sunlight and bright colors, is depicted torpid, dull, sluggish, devoid of the life-giving sap-it is but a barren waste. This is an allegory-what a man, exiled from his native land, feels like.

Another master of the brush, Alexander Bobkin, who lived in Turkmenia late in the 1980s, deconsecrates the desert image quite deliberately. To him the desert is just a wasteland where one dumps every sort of trash and rubbish, the backyard of an aul village, not an enigmatic, awe-inspiring space. The artist pictures the historical rootlessness of people on "the ruins of great history" as a given, as an ineluctable doom ordained by the onward march of civilization. Irony and self-irony infuses the Sic Transit Gloria Mundi ("Thus Passes Away the Glory of the World"), a canvas eloquent in its candor.

At about the same time Vladimir Nasedkin, a Siberian-born master, created his series of drawings- Desert... Vineyard. This is a concise, terse image of the wilderness meaningful in its connotations. In the constructionist rigidity of line and plane we make out the visions of sand dunes, irrigation ditches and canals. The rough surface of the sheets, coated with many patinas of sanguine, charcoal and chalk and then worked with stylus, is meant to epitomize the shifting sands of the desertland.

Tatyana Badanina's make-believe voyages to the East are reproduced in a suite of pictorial and graphic fantasies. Both the flowers and trees of her White Gardens (1998), brooding on the lip of living and nonliving matter, put us in mind of the murals of the Shah's palace at Khiva

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(which the artist had never seen before) and, in a way, of carved ganch.(*) In her fancy images of the East Badanina draws inspiration in the refined intellectual beauty and metaphor of Islam so dear to her heart. Badanina's cycle of pictures The Garden of Islam (1998) is a far cry from the pat visions of the "Eastern garden full of roses" and, on the other hand, it is not a stylized imitation of oriental motifs. This is a conceptual embodiment of the idea of gardens-a perfect universe drawn by the clear- cut geometry of line and, simultaneously, ... a desert void by virtue of intrinsic asceticism.

In fact, the wilderness happens to be more important to many of the modern artists. Making real or vicarious journeys to the East, they seek desert as a means of purification so as to get their bearings in the vanity and vexation of the daily treadmill. Garden as a symbol of paradise or a token of human-friendly nature and the other positive images somehow estrange many a brush of the 1980s and 1990s: the old ideals are too devalued, too great is the risk of lapsing into slush sentimentality to silly exhilaration-tight is the grip of post-moderne... The garden image of the 1980s and 1990s has many new meanings injected into it. A garden still it is, nonetheless, not its opposite. For instance, Alexander Akylov of Tajikistan portrays a garden in his canvas White Day (1981) as an "enclosed place" (which is the literal sense of "paradisical") and as a labyrinth simultaneously. It is like a dim mirage where fleshless phantoms flit about. This and subsequent works, though rich in color and down-to-earth, instill an anxiety and fear-something not proper to the canonical image of a garden. Thus, Georgi Totibadze visualizes

* A mix of calcined (burnt) gypsum and clay, ground to powder and dissolved in water. Plastic and solidifying fast, it is an excellent material for carving and sculpting.-Ed.

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it as a city park, a patch of living nature encircled by tall buildings, and banishes it from the present as a childish vision ("when the trees were big") or as an old men's memories of his green youth. It is the accuracy of the palette that stirs a viewer's visual experience and correlates the imagery to this day and age.

Masters of the older generation, too, had their fling in the 1980s and 1990s. The veterans could draw upon their rich life experience and, now and then, on inherited tradition. The Volkov brothers, Alexander and Valery, who have spent most of their life in Uzbekistan, are carrying on the artistic tradition of their famous father, Alexander Volkov. Asia to them is not an exotic land, it is a world they have known since childhood- a world with its signs and symbols apprehended as a whole, in a totality of phenomena and objects. Hence, deserts and gardens as part and parcel of the

East. The habit of "rearing the eye by nature", which the two mattres have inherited from their father, allows them to run a broad gamut of color in arousing our memories-be it the invigorating freshness of a stream or the searing air of the desert, a dazzling sun or a benign cool in the shade of trees; all these sentiments, fragrances and hues evoking the image of the East, both real and imaginary, are perceived in their fullness and harmony. The Volkovs achieve this effect in their decorative, often semi-abstract compositions, without copying the material reality true-to-life, they do this by bold dabs and strokes of the brush.

For Yevgeny Kravchenko, a follower of Volkov Sr., desert is perhaps the sole fount of inspiration. Born in Turkmenia, the artist knows what sand-hills are like at dawn and at sunset, before the simoon, or sandstorm. He has a subtle touch in depicting their harmonizing impact and august serenity-Kravchenko will reveal ever new facets of the desertcape. His palette runs a wealth of colors, both the resounding concords and the soft silvery chimes of hue and shade. The natural majestic beauty of the desert settings is as meaningful as the imported symbols and mystic images. And it is here that he regains his paradise. Maybe this vision is behind the Arab parable: "Desert is Allah's garden from which the Lord of true believers has removed whatever is superfluous to human and beastly life so as to have at least one place on earth where he could walk in perfect solitude."


Опубликовано на Порталусе 10 сентября 2018 года

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