THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. 2006
Now, after half a century, one can daringly talk about the phenomenon
of Professor Boris Bori-sovich Kazakov as an extraordinary occurrence
of time. That is not just my personal, emotional assessment of the
artist’s significance. The objectivity of this conclusion reliably
comes forth from the analysis of the interest towards him from the
side of thousands of fine art lovers. More-over, over time this
interest is shown in new forms, materializing in the world as new
achieve-ments of technical progress of modern civilization keep
appearing. Traditionally, an artist’s success is associated with
exhibitions, catalogues, demand for his work from museums and col-lectors
and interest that the mass-media show towards him. Kazakov has all
this in sufficient amounts: he does not lack attention from his
admirers and colleagues, the press and art connais-seurs.
However, outdated methods make it hard to judge the true meaning
of the works, and often those artists are on the foreground, who
impress not by talent but by their close ties to the powers that
be or their exceptional pushing talents. Now, with the appearance
of new interactive technologies in the spheres of publishing and
exhibition, the true interests of people are becom-ing significantly
more visible. The democratic nature of the principles of internet
publishing takes our view upon the world of art to a new level of
objectivity. And in this picture the talent of the successor of
classic traditions Kazakov does not only stand the test, but even
gains a new quality of significance.
A year ago the internet saw the birth
of the gallery Art-Petersburg, a window to art, and, subsequently,
another virtual art gallery on the creative site Kozma.ru. These
galleries represent a collection of more than a thousand works by
dozens of the greatest artists of modern-day Saint-Petersburg and
Moscow, now being joined by masters from Europe, Asia and America
the opin-ion that this is the new Tretyakov Gallery of the twenty-first
century is not unfounded. In any case, here as well, the support
of artists lies at the foundation; not just of well-known artists,
but also of promising ones. And the equal conditions for all participants
even up the starting possib-ilities in their appreciation by art
lovers. It may seem hard to stand out and to give someone priority
in the shining company of renowned artists: here you will find the
founders of modern-day’s avant-garde, starting with historical works,
spread by the unforgettable Nikita Khrushchev, as well as the works
of the academics of Social Realism, and those of the new age’s masters.
And nevertheless, among those shining Pleiades you will find an
obvious champion of spectator interest. And this leading position
of Kazakov’s is continuous and unquestionable. From the very launch
of the web-gallery, his works have enjoyed its visitors’ special
interest. While the viewing of other masters’ works is indisputably
solid and pleasingly shows hundreds of visits per month, the interest
towards Kazakov’s pictures expresses itself in thousands of viewings.
Such an interest could provoke the envy of many a real and well-known
So wherein lies the phenomenon of Boris
Kazakov’s art, seemingly turned to the past, yet agitating a population
living among the novelties of ultra-modern surroundings? In the
ongoing interest in eternal values, in the perpetual strive to understand
the secret of female beauty? Yes, for a major part this holds true.
But there is more. The key lies in the talent which this has been
done with. And it has been done in such a way that even the word
“done” is not really appropri-ate for the artist’s creations, although
they were made by his hands. They give one the impress-ion that
the moment which the master depicted had, so to say, already passed
into the endless line of similar moments and minutes, and, as the
creator, he took it out of the stream of eternity and left it to
us on the mortal Earth.
THE LAST CLASSIC OF THE RENAISSANCE
The titles of many of Boris Kazakov’s pictures alone bring up straight
associations with the Renaissance era and the canvas of its great
representatives. Of course addressing the thematics of old masters
is not new, and eternal creators often inspire our contemporaries
to a dialogue with themselves. That is what makes them eternal.
This timeless communication expresses itself in totally different
forms, from the extremely careful attitude to the plot in the Lord’s
Supper by one of the greatest icon painters of our time, Konstantin
Ivanov, to the overt parody, applied to our society: ‘Night Watch’
by one of the modern avant-garde leaders, Vladimir Ovchinnikov,
creator of the style of the art-parable.
It is amazing that Boris Kazakov’s dialogue
with the classics takes place in both roles, both in the artistic
language of the classics and with a clearly expressed modern creative
dialect. Moreover, these are not separate discrete remarks, but
a continuous stream of communication, which, throughout many years,
led to splendid series of works that seem to exist in different
dimensions of time. One can daringly speak of the creation of the
artist’s own style or even dir-ection which I, analogously to Neoclassicism,
would entitle Neorenaissance. It could as well have been called
Post-Renaissance, had it not carried such a long, ancient echo of
tradition. The prefix “post-“ is dual in this case: the artist at
his post keeping the Renaissance tradition. of course, traditions
are kept by many people. They include the director of the Louvre,
the guard at the Tretyakovskaya Gallery and the author of this essay.
But the artist Kazakov may well have the most active and dynamic
role in this process. For with his share the process itself, holding
within itself the function of keeping perfection, gains important
components of renewal and reassessment of eternal values. It is
this very time-surpassing alloy of these two elements that gives
the master’s art the right to the title of Neo-Renaissance. Thus
the philologist Dr. Arlen Viktorovich Blyum, a refined expert on
word and style who helped his friend the professor of fine arts
with the release of his book, remarks: there was no such style before
Kazakov; now this word has come to be.
But let us return to the thematics of
the artist’s works: the Three Graces, Danae, Venus’s birth, the
sleeping Venus, Mary’s childhood... Immediately the characters from
the great creati-ons of Botticelli, Raphaello, Giorgione, Rembrandt,
Titian, Velasquez come to life in one’s imagination. Involuntarily
they urge you into comparing them, thereby showing the highest criterion
for appreciation in this comparison.
And it is here that a miracle happens.
The paintings of our contemporary easily stand in line with historical
rarities. Even before the prying eyes of authoritative judges of
genuine art, the beautiful heroes of his paintings do not in the
least fear comparison with, let’s say, the famous Phornarina or
Helena Fourment, who became the prototype of grace, a painting model,
an untiring muse, and at the same time Rubens’s wife. Moreover,
in some cases the opportunity to use modern art stylistics gives
our artist the edge over the old masters when it comes to naturalness
Here the respected guardian of conservative
traditions, tested by time, will probably be appalled: how can one
measure the unshakability of the eternal classics using modern measurements?
And he will be right, but only when looking at it from one side:
from the side of the modern witness of the eternal stream of time,
however strange this may seem. The thing is that before standing
the test of time, these very titans of the Renaissance had to face
the trial of the progressiveness of their era, which was no less
complicated than our own. One should not forget that all of these
classics once were contemporaries themselves. In the very same way
two or three dozens of our outstanding contemporaries in fine arts
will be looked upon by our descendants as the basic classics of
our era, who have left eternity a visual sense of its spiritual
face. And those who know their names already should not modestly
shy away and await the arrival of the next century. It is now that
the image of Raphaello has transformed into some sort of art icon.
Yes indeed, time has shown that Raphaello is one of the greatest
artists, if not the very greatest artist of the millennium, who
united in his art all the best of his day and before. Yet he did
all this during his life, in which he already was an acknowledged
classic, but in which he did not at all resemble the figure on the
pedestal. Raphaello liked friends, wine, female beauty, and that
is what made his paintings eternally alive.
I will reveal another dreadful secret
of the practical creation of an idol. The leading artist of his
day, Raphaello Santi, had been a pupil for many long years before
he became first artist of the Holy See, which would, translated
to the terms of our time, more or less equal the rank of Minister
of Culture at a pan-European level. He had studied the depictorial
methods of the monumental Michelangelo after mastering the scientific
method of Leonardo da Vinci, following studies with Perugino in
his youth. Raphael himself also had pupils. They remained after
his passing as well: ever since artists have learned from the paintings
of the great Italian. That is why there is nothing strange in the
fact that, placing the “Three Graces” of the young Raphaello and
a multitude of Graces of other old masters next to the Graces of
their pupil, Professor Kazakov, the latter can succesfully be valued
by their artistic closeness to the old works. Jokingly I’ll point
out that the Graces of the professor even surpass their Raphaellian
colleagues in numbers: Boris Kazakov’s easel cradled the births
of more than ten of them: three on a large pencil picture, the rest
depicted in pastels, and all of them without exception are marvellous.
Which, by the way, goes for all the female figures coming from the
artist’s pencil or brush. This mystery of the eternalization of
beauty takes place literally right before our eyes. Not out there,
somewhere in the grey-haired fifteenth century, keeping the faces
of madonnas that have long since turned to dust on aged canvas without
our witnessing participation. Right here, where time mercilessly
turns the beauties, whom the master captured in the early stages
of his work, into stately ladies and consequently into grandmothers
going grey, yet at the same time keeping all their original and
unwithering gracefulness on their portraits.
A PORTRAITIST OF BEAUTY
This goes without questioning: Boris Kazakov is a portraitist of
beauty, both seen by him and romanticized by him. Thereby romanticized
with such great talent that it stays unclear to whom its credits
go: to the model or the artist. This beauty multiplies around the
viewer not by the number of graces and models, although their sheer
amount also deserves respect, but rather by the characteristic diversity
of human nature, which keeps focusing his allseeing eyes at the
artist’s paintings, noticing details in the whole and the whole
both within the details and in their totality.
Ever since the days of the great Bunelleschi
and Masaccio, artistic illusionism has allowed our threedimensional
space to completely fit on a flat surface and on this surface, throughout
the centuries, it has overcome a multitude of fantastic boundaries.
With Kazakov it has reached a not easily explainable quality of
experience, perhaps up to the nervuos interlacings on a molecular
level. I may be understood here by someone who has experienced love
in such a manifestation when it is unclear whether you are hearing
your own heartbeat or that of your chosen one. With artistic mastery
conventions and a certain affectedness of Kazakov’s artistic techniques,
purposefully distant from photographic realism, which he completely
mastered when he was still a student, the truth of his works is
so strong, that, looking at them, you are not sure whether you are
feeling shivers running down his painting’s exposed heroine’s skin
or your own. Yet such an effect becomes possible when between the
drawer Kazakov’s virtuous lines and underneath the laconic yet impeccable
colour of his pictures there is something extra, something imperceptive,
without which the works of many artists who have professionally
mastered depictive techniques, are nothing more than just good-looking
paintings. And this imperceptible thing is easily named: his paintings
have a soul. The soul of their characters and the fulfilling soul
of their maker.
Yes, the painter mysteriously penetrates
into the very essence of those who find themselves in front of his
easel and, from their unrevealed depths, brings out their happiness,
sadness, turmoil, amazement, hope into this world. Living through
them in his own way, he embodies them on the canvas, rendering them
understandable to the grateful spectator, who within himself senses
feelings melting, close to those he has just seen. And this hitting
of the spectator is absolute, because the artist’s knowledge of
human nature is immensely deep. Absolutely nothing alien is added.
From half a century of conscious creativity there is not a single
work fitting into the traditional canons of the now collapsed, but
not long ago still seemingly unshakable, era. Neither the jewels
among the buildings of the century, nor iconisation of leaders,
nor ideology on demand. Only the human essence, so different yet
so similar at all times.
THE PATH OF GRACE IN OUR TIME
From this very ancient depth of human essence, shaped into biblical
and classical strata by the Titans of the Renaissance, an era that
has passed into history long ago as well, Professor Kazakov brings
up and shows golden grains of eternal values to our rushingly progressive
age. They remind us of their immortal essence, dressing up their
legendary carriers in fashionable clothing or, on the contrary,
taking the modern shroud off their passing beauty. The artist and
his model form a theme that is both eternal and modern in all times.
Of cuorse, these are we — thus one of the painter’s many works on
this theme is actually called — creating not only our own fate,
but also the fate of the new generation. And they are us, created
to the well-known image and likeness. Now, attentive spectator,
is the very time to look into the picture more deeply. Yes, of course,
how come we did not notice this right away?! We, that is simply
Adam and Eve right after the first wedding night, finding ourselves
on the sinful Earth of our time.
But even that is not all yet. With the
panphilosophical heights of the art of the humanists, the historical
perspective on modern art in the artist’s view is refracted into
many aesthetic and meaningful layers, shining onto the public the
whole visible and imperceptible spectral range for the perception
of art from ultra to infra. That is why, independently of the ideological
lantern, lighting our way into the future (be this the red traffic
light of the bright path to communism, or the light of green from
behind the mound of capitalist paradise, or even the gloom of obscurantism
in years of war), paintings of this level are light bearers. And
as such they are not just visible to people by any degree of waning
of the light in the corridors of power, hidden from the people,
where the fates of the world are decided upon, but they also help
us see an exit from the dead ends in which we often find ourselves.
The paintings of Boris Kazakov are condemned to be eternal. There
is not even anything to compare them to in our era, thus this is
where continuous references to the old masters appear.
Of course, many avant-garde creations
will as well be granted admission into the future, many already
have. However, the criteria for this selection are still conditional
and unclear even to great masters that have come to be in our time.
Mikhail Shemyakin was surprised to find that, looking at a display
case of a New York art auction, he could not tell whether it contained
a lot that would go under the hammer for nearly a million dollars
the next day, or the workmen had left one of their sacks behind.
The waste dumps of the future will contain many thrown-away millions
in the shape of today’s works of art, prematurely dubbed masterpieces.
And on the ancient museum walls a lot less will remain: eternity
will give up on many of today’s eminent artists.
If to anyone my logic seems strained
or the thought, that Kazakov is already a captive of Eternity and
trying to free him from this captivity would be a senseless and
hopeless effort, seems insufficiently understandable or convincing;
I will conclude my logical outlinings with a last, clearer example.
I doubt that anyone will disagree that eternity has two directions:
into the future and into the pase, and these directions have existed
in all times, as have eternal truths. Looking into the future is
impossible: there are no Nostradamuses among us. But slightly extrapolating
new truths just a little bit into the depths of this ever fruitfully
inspiring lady, immortal throughout the ages, is very revealing
indeed. It is easy to imagine how the creations of the masters of
all possible kinds of the newest visual trends of the last century
would be met, if we were to send them off into that same age of
the Renaissance, in which the scales of history were swung not only
by humanism but also by the inquisition. About the only artist about
whose artistic fate I’d have peace of mind, meaning that he would
not be burnt at the stake, would be Kazakov. No Torquemada would
dare to question the divinity of his earthly Graces and Madonnas.
DANAE AS AN ETERNAL SYMBOL OF THE RENAISSANCE
Unlike it is the case with the Graces and other classical and mythological
characters, Kazakov only has one Danae, but her lonely individuality
within the walls of his sudio is not lonely at all in the endless
space of art and gently falls in line with her namesakes by several
old masters, first of all Titian and Rembrandt. And her being in
this company is not at all far-fetched, for with her movements there
she logically concludes the psychological development of the ancient
mythol-ogical plot. Its heroine, as we know, has been locked inside
a dungeon by her royal father, who fears the tragic outcome of a
prophecy, according to which he will die by the hands of his own
grandson, born of Danae. According to the legend the birth of Perseus,
condemned to unwillingly become the culprit of the dreadful emperor’s
death, takes place nevertheless. This happens after the divine inhabitant
of heaven, who in those slumbering times was known as Zeus, has
been captured by the recluse’s beauty and pours out his passion
onto the beautiful woman’s loins as a golden rain.
Here it is worthwhile tostand still
and take a closer look at the mythological archetype in the eternal
evolutionary artistic process, which makes the artist of his era
not only its observer, but sometimes also the creator of the process
And so, she was called Danae, this keeper of the image of earthly
beauty, however acknowledged as divine beauty and by the highest
instance, the only one able to grant her such legitimate acknowledgement.
For two thousand years the captive of the eternal plot of the great
ancient creator of myths, agitating the imagination of many generations
taking in the legend, had been bodiless in the real visual world,
until she lay down onto the canvas of the great Titian, after first
visiting the studios of Gossart and Correggio. Having playfully
posed to them, the legendary captive unveiled herself only from
underneath Titian’s brush. The Venetian master managed to merge
into a whole the sublime and the earthly, the spiritual and carnal
sides of love. One has to say that with such power, with which Titian
expressed this divine-earthly unison of passion by brush, the only
one who managed to express it by feather was Alexander Sergeyevich
And you, lord! experienced her excitement,
And you burned, oh god, just like we did.
The nakedness of feelings and bodies
in modern art that has seen its sights can now roughly be divided
into three categories: erotica, sex and porn. But here, apart from
the terminology, we have nothing new compared to earlier centuries.
Porn used to be a natural element ni heathen antiquity and knows
a manifold reflection in sculptures, mosaics and frescoes from those
times, but was cast aside by the High style of the Renaissance,
which left future success in the field of pornography to our age
of innovation. Of course, in medieval Italy no one called Titian’s
Danae an allegory of sex — in those days Dante’s language reigned
in the homeland of humanism and the frivolity of Bocaccio had not
yet been decorated with the peculiarities from across the pond of
our current cultural lexicon. But in essence, Titian’s canvas is
one of the most overt creations of the eternal theme in the epic
of the old masters. This exemplary overtness has found its imitators,
among whom Titian himself can be found as well, repeating the succesful
image twice more, each time adding passion. Thereby he turned to
the later interpretation of the legend by the great Ovid, who wrote
under the patronage of Jupiter. Thus the great Titian blessed future
illustrators of the eternal theme, showing its inexhaustability.
In the next century Rembrandt found
his vision of the image, which didn’t work out right away. The original
version with the golden rain was reinterpreted and recreated by
the master, who thus laid new psychological depth into the sensual
image. The erotic prelude froze on the canvas, holding the inavertible
back through a gesture by the hand of his Danae. It would seem that
this gesture also held the masters of the following centuries off
from the temptation to perfect perfection. In any case those few
significant, technically impeccable works on this theme came out
at a perpendicular psychological angle in relation to Rembrandt’s.
With Tiepolo, on the painting with Jupiter riding a cloud and pouring
out a sack of gold, Danae sleeping through this triumphant entry
became a controverse: a glorious parody to baroque pseudo-mythology.
Girode’s painting, on the other hand, provided a great opportunity
to eternalize the unquestionable charms of Mademoiselle Langue,
exhibited in Danae’s name, i.e. under a popular brand, if we apply
the terminology of nowadays’ PR-technologists.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AGAIN. 1970
Now it is time to return from our thematical excursus into history
with the thought about how hard it is for an artist to end up there.
Out there, so many great people have done so many things, that mastery
and persistence in the search for novelty alone are not enough.
Apart from these things true depth in the understanding of the human
being is needed, and underlying one’s search, awareness of the depth
of the cultural stratum, strengthened by each generation and thus
complicating one’s own penitration. One has to be a great and daring
master in order to move forward, continuously creating between the
past and the present under the prying eyes of both, not easily impressed
at the same time.
Boris Kazakov’s Danae saw the light
in the now already distant year 1970 and can daringly be looked
at in a historical context. This painting, like much more made by
the then fresh graduate of the Arts Academy, did not at all resemble
the mostly cheerful works of our contemporaries of those years.
It was unlikely to be understood in a time when we were making a
genuine effort to “turn a faerie tale into reality”. Although only
very few looked upon the Soviet art epic as serious art, there still
was enough to be extolled, and many, if not the majority, considered
this important and necessary. According to the census conducted
in January of the same year 1970, there were 242 million of us;
socially protected people, optimistically marching into a bright
future, regardless of the continual errors of our leaders, ever
unmentioned yet known to all. The stalinist repressions had by then
already become history and the crumbling of the Mighty Soviet Union
with the following massive downfall of its people, driven into the
chaos of the free market, was something no one could foresee even
in their worst nightmare.
I remind the reader that in this now
faraway year of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Great Victory
of our fathers and grandfathers, West-Germany signed an agreement
on the acknowledgement and integrity of the European opst-war boundaries
in Moscow. The same year saw the birth of a unified power system
for the European part of the USSR, without the participation of
Chubays and other future oligarchs who later pocketed the main knife
switch of a country that had been created by those same generations
that had held victory over fascism. Still in the same year, the
Human Rights Committee was founded, and the famous “Moon Tractor”
was taken to the moon, rehabilitating our unquestionable priority
in space. And even Stalin’s bust, then placed on the terrible leader’s
grave, did not scare anyone.
In our cultural scene in that same year,
Tarkovski’s “Andrey Rublyev”, which had already earned a prize at
Cannes and worldwide acknowledgement, served up its five year term
on the forbidden cinema shelf, awaiting its release into Soviet
society in a seriously cut version. And the “White Sun of the Desert”
with Katerina Matveevna’s half-bare legs, shamefully covered by
censorship, which had been hidden on that shelf for a while as well,
had been released to the big screen by our dearest Leonid Brezhnev
after it had ended up in his home cinema by chance; this turned
out to lead to world fame. Apart from this the monumental sculptor
Yevgeni Vuchetich received the Lenin Award for his monument-ensemble
at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) with the grandiose
eighty-two metres high statue of Mother Russia, compared to which
the Statue of Liberty, taken off its pedestal, would come not much
higher than the navel. Finally, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded
the Nobel Prize.
Back then few felt the instability under
the unprecedented building, taking up one sixth of all dry land.
Boris Kazakov never was a dissident, just like he was not a maker
of hymns to the past era. And to this day his artistic gift serves
true art, like it did when he was young, and in the distant year
1970 when Danae appeared — one of the hundreds of his marvellous
works, among which some had already been recognized by the public
and the Arts Academy.
Kazakov’s Danae can hardly be called bright. On the contrary, in
the gallery of his brilliant paintings that set the senses alight
immediately, there are works — and quite a few they are — that do
not call for sharp interest right away. And that is understandable.
We have not come to see a beauty contest, in Kazakov’s studio characters
come to life that have been painted from nature, people from real
life in all its diversity: there are cheerful and happy ones, as
well as silent and shy ones. And it is from the latter category
that this herine of our artist’s has come forward. Unlike her famous
predecessors, Danae Kazakova does not occupy a luxurious bed in
the centre of the canvas, she is huddled at the edge. She even lacks
space there. She is cut in two by the frame and more than half of
her body simply is not there. This fragmentation of her young but
ripened body, including the part that is essential to the continuation
of the legend along with her family; virtually it is somewhere out
there, outside the frame, where, along the way, it meets another
folk tale. The captive of the legend, ancient like the world itself,
has turned out to be a hostage of the myth about the bright future
of humanity into the bargain. She is a double captive, and therefore
in both captivities we find total hopelessness.
Within this cut-off beauty, acceptable
for showing, standing before the realization of perpetual predestination,
everything that is outside the frame, obsolete to the modern storytellers,
seems to be concentrated inside. Everything, including the bashfulness
from the land of faithful female citizens, where “there is no sex”,
blushing on the cheek of the pale apostate of calico ideas who dared
to look into a dream with lowered eyes. The dramatism of what is
happening is reinforced by the mythical landscape, entrapped inside
the frame of the window which in turn is totally annexed from three
sides by the black emptiness of the interior of a modern dungeon.
Art and life, driven together into the black square of an artificial
existence. Yet there is a way out. It is in the centre of the blackness,
in the window, which apparently seems to serve only this purpose.
In an absurd society with camped doorsteps at the closed doors of
the main entraince, the exit is through this strange window without
smoking factory chimneys and banners, sending everyone out into
a bright but illusory faraway land.
Kazakov’s painting is amazing because
of its genric universality. This is both a portrait and an interior,
as well as a landscape and a still life; it is a genre of its own,
both everyday and mythological at the same time. And each of the
listed is not restricted to a separate corner of the picture but
is taking up nearly all of its space, as if that were consisting
of several pictures laid on top of each other, each possessing its
own texture yet transparent for the sake of tis doubles’ visibility.
The heroine’s figure takes up a little space to the right. Yet if
you cover up the left part of the painting the portrait disappears.
The figure remains, but the portrait, the psychological image, is
gone. The thoughts, taking up space, have disappeared from her bright
head along with the complex of her own dispensability, her reproach
to someone unnamed and who knows what more. The interior also is
the whole picture, including our Danae, her being the bright end
of a gloomy wall. The still life, starting with the roses in the
cut-glass on the windowsill replacing the vase by the logic of fake
reality, takes up not only the flat bounds of the dungeon with the
also cut swaying of the curtain and the edges of the window frame
under it, but breaks out into the landscape behind the window as
well. It does not merely break out, it turns that space into a landscapic
still life. Reflecting in it, the cut-glass refracts the landscape
in the window frame and cuts it to its own resemblance. Not only
the landscape has been cut, but also the image of the highest being,
intricately created by the artist out of the contours of the hills,
the forest tracts, the sunrays, the literal streams of sunlight
pouring out over the landscape from the sky and even out of the
branches and leaves of the still ife bouquet, carried off by the
wind. The old party animal Zeus, lost in the eternal heavens over
the atheist realm and wishing to lead astray the Soviet komsomolka*
from the true path of building heaven on earth, has also been cut.
And indeed, what place can there be
for a diety in times when public catering rules? How many faithful
subjects of that cut-glass, timesake and symbol of Soviet Modernism,
bowed before it, at the same time drowning on its bottom the triumph
of the dawn of history in the darkness of its inavertible results.
Practically everybody, from porter to General Secretary, including
artists, the hagiographers of modernity and annalists of this triumph,
as well as those portrayed by them. Perhaps the heroine of the picture
will get the opportunity to take in the 100 gramms, indicated on
the glass by the artist, when she will have gotten to the fulfilment
of the prophecy in the crude prozaic form of our reality. What for?
Oh, just for some courage...
Precisely this vessel used to be the
main criterion for the hardest currency of our society, stronger
than gold, not only mythological gold but also the real thing: vodka.
Admittedly, by the time this picture was painted, the glass had
undergone evolutionary changes and, on equal footing with the traditional
form, had a more elegant as well. And this is the one cheering up
the heroine’s living cell. But the essence remains unchanged: it
saved us, real characters of the main faerie tale of the Twentieth
Century, in the illusory dark alleys of our subconscious. Its magical
ability to double and even triple the visual surroundings has as
well been reflected on the painting. Within the bounds of the landscape
behind the window the mythical image appears to take on new intricate
and blurred reflections that are perceived subjectively. To think
of all which my acquaintances have spotted on the digital reproduction
of the painting, both from old and new myth creators, starting with
the most ancient Egyptian sun god’s shimmering countenance, via
Dante’s shadow down to the bright baldness of a typical Kremlin
elder’s bust. What idol is appearing to our heroine, is it the mythical
Jupiter flashing within the heavenly rays or is another image coming
up to her heart in the theatrical Jupiter’s floodlight rays from
Melpomene’s stage? Which gold is flowing towards her dream? The
wealth of our infinite cultural heritage? Or the mythical gold of
the Party, but from real Regional Committees’ hiding places? And
“But the Komsomol goddess...
No, that, my brothers, is another story...”
Admittedly, this motive of Bulat Okudzhava’s**
is not exactly about the same “other story”, but that is alright...
* Translator’s note: Komsomolka = a
member of the Communist Youth Committee.
** Muscovian bard, 1924 — 1997
JUPITER’S GOLD AND THE ANCIENT MYTH’S PROPHECY
However, the time has indeed come to move from Okudzhava to the
clinking of gold. Those expecting the ever present critic to discover
a gold mine or dig up a gold storage in the depths of the landscape
I have to disappoint. That was in the wondrous ages of alchemists’
quests and the visual revival of mythical heroes on canvas, when
the Ttans of the Renaissance were generously throwing down from
the heavens symbols of higher passion like sacks of gold to the
feet of admiring monarchial retinues. And the power of those bringing
gold to life on the walls of their palaces was judged by their merits.
It is said that once, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, what
was his name again... picked up a brush, dropped by Titian himself.
But the then prevailing philosophical paradigm has long since changed.
The symbolics of essences, grasped by art in the modern world. are
more intuitive, transcendent and vague. In the era of credit cards
and armoured tanks neither mortal nor god will go hunting for love
with Cupid’s arrow or a chest of gold, if not just for making fun.
That is why for an artist who comprehends the cultural heritage
of human civilization, yet finds himself within the framework of
current day’s symbolics, it is extremely difficult to be harmonious.
Standing on modern soil with one foot, and with the other no, let
us say, the ground of ancient Hellas, long since hidden under the
dust of history, and thereby keeping balance and moving forward,
is very hard.
I suspect that exactly this titanic
harmony, whithin reach of but a few ever since the days of the old
masters, pushes the majority of modern artists off the difficult
path onto the well-travelled roads of new artistic movements in
the search of the newest cultural values that lie beyond. However,
they will not find them there because beyond tehre are not any cultural
values and there will not be, as long as no one is going to put
them there from the past and present. That is why the solitude of
the painter Kazakov’s Danae has also absorbed the anxiety of hercreator,
the Anteus of modernity, carrying the artistic wealth of past ages
on his shoulders into the future. His load includes the mythical
gold of the ancient legend as well.
Indeed, the new telling of the old parable
did not deceive us. Here we find no coins, no bars of gold, and
there is no need for them since the picture holds other gold. Let
us have a closer look at it. But not from that prosaic side of our
existence, from which we entered the frame of this picture the first
time to take sympathy on the unfortunate captive. But from the side
of the legend, coming to life behind the window frame. Earlier the
artistic idea in general as a light bearer had already been mentioned,
as well as the exit seen in this very concrete window. It is worth
noticing that a window glass has two sides and both are meant for
observation through it. What if we were to try to have a glance
at the picture from that other side, from behind the window? Let
us try to detach from the already seen interior with the glass,
rejecting the ascension of thoughts on the theological canons of
the atheistic beliefs. Let us on the contrary penetrate into the
plot from above along with the golden sunrays. Then the highest
being is perceived differently painted in golden streams, and the
heathen God shows himself in the image of nature, brought to life
by the skilful artist. Indeed, if, as the legend has it, God created
man to his own image, then why should man not create God to the
image of his thoughts? And in this creative sense God and the artist
are colleagues: both are creators.
And the golden streams of sunlight move
onward, and, through the shining leaves and twigs of the bouquet,
flow down into that very same glass and cast a golden light over
the window frame and sill. The curtain of the dungeon, despondent
little sister of the Iron Curtain from the great common dungeon
of our hopes, is sagging in the wind of mythical changes. This curtain,
too, is already dissolving its carefully smoothened steel yielding
to the light of the golden stream.
The light gild covers the captive’s
body as well. But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the wondrous
continuation of the old plot. Inside the room it still is as gloomily
dark as before. This means that the gentle golden shine is coming
from Danae herself! And the most genuine gold of all must be her
marvellous hair. The weight of her golden curls can be felt almost
physically.. The wind, blowing about the steelish angularity of
the curtain with ease, is unable to make them budge. And that is
understandable, after all, the metal, craved by those perishing
for it, gold, is known to be nearly thrice as heavy as iron.
And now, after this new look at what
we had already seen, it is worthwhile to have a glance at the heroine’s
face once more. And whatever happened to those complexes: the sickly
blush has made way for a blush of excitement without changing colour
in the process. The tears have dried in her eyes, seemingly turned
down in shame and now averted from her breasts with the elasticity
of overripe pomegranates at the realization of her own irresistibility.
Our great classic is indeed proven right: “Long lasting sorrow does
not lie in human nature, especially female human nature.”
And what about the prophecy? Well, it
is all crystal clear already. Some young man will be lucky, worshipped
by our heroine. A new Perseus will be born. Remember, the one who
accidentally hit his grandpa with his discus? He will not miss!
How can we know? Well that is how the prophecy was fulfilled! The
old man called Socialist Realism, who mistreated his children, is
no more. He was accidentally nailed by the still awkward heirs of
his former captives. Nailed, motionless, forever history.
THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. MODERNITY
Thank you, modern patient spectator, bearing with this tale. Thank
you, modern reader, for your new patience; you will not have to
hold on for much longer. Although? Thoughts just keep coming up.
About just some painter or painting one does not even put two words
together. Seen and forgotten. But in this case… Something just keeps
carrying on… But after all it is not up to an artist to explain
what he has painted. His trade is silence. He is not a writer, nor
a singer. His language is the line, his music is made up by his
colours. He paints and then lays aside his brushes. Wait, silent
hero of his, until you get your answer. But will that be today,
tomorrow, in a few years’ time? A good master does not care; if
time is patient, then all the more so is eternity!
By the way, about sound. A three-chord
hit becomes dull after the third chord — we’ve heard and got it
all already. Good music is usually not immediately comprehended,
not the first time it is heard, since we can only connect each new
sound of the melody or orchestration to what came before; we cannot
hear the whole before we have reached the coda. Only at renewed
performances one’s hearing roams through the whole composition.
Boris Kazakov’s artwork sounds like
good music. It has many layers and is not immediately perceived
in total, with all the austerity of its depiction means, which,
by the way, shows this master of modernity’s greatness. After all
the level of an artist of our time’s style is established precisely
by his talent at showing as much as possible, using as small a variety
of technical means as possible.
It is worth paying attention to the fact that in music and painting
there are two identical close terms: tone and gamma. Their meaning
is absolutely parallel in both auditive and visual perception. In
Kazakov’s work the colour gamma of every picture and it’s every
tone have been ultimately fine-tuned. Nothing is superfluous, not
a single colour dissonance. All this also goes for the colour solution
of Danae. But not al has yet been said concerning the depth of this
Taking into account the aforementioned
layeredness of the artist’s creative approach to his work, we are
forced to keep returning to Kazakov’s Danae and look at her from
a new angle each time. Just now, while analyzing the style characteristics
of the master’s colour and technical means, we acknowledged this
work as modern. And that is the truth. But not all of it. Where
did this goldish-brown gamma come from, so pleasing our modern eye?
Well, on the very same gamma Rembrandt’s Danae has lain down, with
the difference that the square black hole has not yet sucked in
the old art and the beauty is locked inside a soft brown rectangle.
But after all Rembrandt did not take
his colours out of this air either. In fact, the invention of the
warmth of this gamma of gold dissolved in chocolate belongs to Titian.
It was he who, having taken the art of pure clear colours to perfection,
dipped his last works into this mixture of subtle gradations of
those two colours, thereby erasing the bounds between the objects
that he took in there. Not understood by his contemporaries, by
the end of his life, precisely he was to pave the way for our modern
art. He divided all the world’s art into two parts: before him and
after him. His Danae, painted before this great experiment, turned
out to fall before. And Rembrandt’s Danae was painted already with
the Venetian’s very means and colours, yet on top of this immersed
in the new depths of light and shade and human feelings, discovered
by the great Dutchman. In our modern master’s Danae we sense the
hidden presence of both old masters. It lies in the depth of Kazakov’s
penetration into their priceless heritage, yet not in imitation.
On the contrary, it is hard to find a painting, made to a well-known
plot at any point in time, that bears less resemblance to its predecessors.
The philosophical depths of the grasp on the perpetual are yet immersed
in the psychological abyss of new social collisions and with a new
style solution. Here it is, the penetration of the eternal cultural
heritage in our time’s version, understandable and simple.
Returning to the author of our epigraph,
who in his main creation overthinks the liveliness of ancient parables,
told in simple words, we are bound to agree that his thoughts are
applicable to any creator who realizes the link of all times, when
he clarifies the old “truth with the light of everyday life”. These
author’s words totally hold true for both Borises as well — for
Pasternak himself and for Kazakov.
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. MODERNITY AGAIN
Returning to the ancient beauty’s eternal captivity, upheld by the
world’s art, I will say, no longer in justification but, on the
contrary, in appraisal, not so much of myself as, again, of the
artist, that such a long wandering around a simple painting is in
itself a sign that both the picture and the process itself belong
to our cultural heritage. This tradition disappeared very recently
with the rise of television and video. Before the technical wonders
of the twentieth century pictures used to serve man as cinema, television
show and photo documentary al in one. In front of a significant
sheet of canvas conveying a historical, mythological or biblical
theme people could discuss the plot they were all well familiar
with for hours, anticipating on or continuing its culmination, promulgated
by the artist. The latter himself represented the role of producer-director,
giving the dramatic development its impulse in one single shot.
At this point we have to recall the
artist who, probably incomparably with anyone else, exercised and
exercises influence on Boris Kazakov. His name was and is Leonardo
da Vinci. In the same way as it is easy to number professor Kazakov
among the painters of the Renaissance, Leonardo can daringly be
considered our contemporary. The author of scientific ideas, drafts
and developments, such as his flying machine, tank, parachute and
other fantasies, realized centuries later, is the Internet’s most
popular artist throughout the years of its so far short, ultramodern
But here it will be about the old master’s
hidden participation in practically all art of the last five centuries.
The long since well known proportion, which he namded the “golden
cut”, attained the status of principle of beauty construction in
Leonardo’s scientific method. This proportion is present and undeniably
active in just about all great works of art, starting from Leonardo’s
own mural painting The Lord’s Supper, which captures real space
through its composition. It reigns, not only in depictions, but
also in architecture, music, drama; in everything that arises in
space and time.
The knowledge of this principle and
its skilful application by the artist’s hand give him an additional
opportunity to affect the spectator on a subconscious and a verbal
level. The ambiguous perception of Kazakov’s Danae can be explained
by the artist’s superb control of these very compositional techniques
creating the special structure of the painting. The mastery of the
old masters’ secrets and those concerning the perceptional peculiarities
of European cultural tradition, as well as a creative approach to
the application of this sacramental knowledge, allow the artist
to skillfully control the elements of the space he creates.
Here the artist is a playwright, and
the objects and characters he has created continue their development
in the plot he has described after his wonderful pastels have finished
their work. This is why his picture is seen in a new light each
time, initially depending on the spectator’s mood but in the end
by the mood, laid into it by the artist’s hand. Actually not even
laid, but wound, at least from the four-level multi-axis golden
cut, characterizing Post-Modernism, and wound up like Hoggart’s
spiral, the line of ideal beauty of the Classicist era.
The picture is alive. The illusion ov
movement it contains is multidimensional and its effects take several
geometrical and temporal directions at once. The complicated dislocation
of the meaningful centre drives the chaos and instability of the
scene, within the plane of the picture as well as perpendicularly
to it, both into the depth of the composition and towards the approaching
spectator, who is taken aback by his view losing its focus due to
the accents being spread out. All this together is in turn sucked
into the funnel of the backward turn of the supporting axes of the
At the same time the spectator’s eye,
ever since the time when the Western world’s most ancient text were
written and read involuntarily heeding to the motoric instinct directed
from left to right, bumps into the inner picture of divinized nature,
running off into this past. But the flight of the mythological ruler
is unsuccessful. Dug into the hard rib of the window’s aperture
he is taken forward along with the aperture, yielding to the artist’s
will. And so he combines his peaceful ascent to the heroine with
the gustiness of the incoming wind, swaying the curtain of this
Hey, who opened that studio window there?
Please close it, Danae is freezing.
THREE DANAES UNDER ONE WINDOW. THE TWENTY-FIRST
Perhaps the time has arrived to sum up our comparing
analysis of the harmony of modern and classical components of the
artist’s work, carried out mainly within the framework of but one
of his hundreds of paintings. Enough words have been said, and in
the end, our sum calls for an action, performed in a manner that
is especially characteristic for fine art. This would be an exhibition.
The gallery of one piece of artwork. More precisely: of one character
in the work of several artists. To this end it is not at all necessary
to request academician Piotrowski to bring a Titianian Danae from
the Prado, Naples or Vienna to the Rembrandt Hall and then add professor
Kazakov’s Danae, who finds herself — oh terrible thought — two blocks
away from the Hermitage. It will suffice to just take a look at
a double-page in a book or, on the Internet, at a gallery of the
artist’s pictures. Here, this improvised exhibition already exists.
One plot by masters, spread throughout the ages.
In this row of striking psychologism,
chronology sorts the canvas with absolute precision and logic. Rembrandt’s
Danae, having appeared nearly a century after Titian’s, comes immediately
to her right — here we remembered the ancient Western cultural traditions
of reading the visual range. With appreciation she looks at her
slightly — not even by a full century — older reflection in eternity.
From the right, and from nowhere else. And even more to the right,
in the distance, our modern master’s Danae watches over both her
predecessors. Time ideally arranged such a spontaneous composition
of painters of different epochs of this eternal existence. And if
anyone here is now going to rearrange anything and then claim this
to be a good thing, then this person has been reading the previous
pages in vain.
These three Danaes are like the Three
Graces of an illusory mythical canvas, scattered about the universe,
and Boris Kazakov;s Danae completes the creation of a new virtual
multipicture: a triptych of three earthly graces, born in different
countries, by now already whiling away that feeble old woman named
Eternity throughout the same centuries.
THE MASTER’S ARTISTIC HERITAGE IN THREE DIMENSIONS
I have had the opportunity
to meet many people involved in modern arts, and not only fine arts,
but also musicians, literary people, actors, directors… I have also
had to thoroughly dig into thousands of historical fates while working
on biographical encyclopedias. Whether an individual makes it into
the basic volumes first of all depends on the extraordinary nature
of his doings in any of the spheres of human activity: culture,
art, science, industry, politics. However, throughout all the substantial
variety of people who have added a noticeable contribution to the
development of all possible lines of progress of our dynamic civilization,
there always is one essential component: talent.
Analyzing the direct or indirect relations
with many significant people projects their exceptional creative
manifestations in three figurative dimensions. To put it more simply:
talent can be bright, broad and deep, whereby the degree of a single
talent is usually determined by one of these criteria. The possessor
of a bright entertaining talent is noticed without deeply going
into the essence and, on the other hand, someone who penetrates
into the very essence of truth at one particular point where common
interests meet is not obliged to seek depth throughout the whole
sphere of human curiosity. A visible breadth of intensive creative
activity, on the contrary, often does not allow deepening into the
heart of the single phenomena in their array.
Such a long observation of but one picture
of Kazakov’s as conducted above became possible thanks to precisely
this most significant depth making up his creative method. And this
thorough vision of his subject, characterizing the artist, is present
in practically each of his works.
However, no book could suffice to verbally
describe his hundreds of pictures in-depth. That is why we had now
better go into the other dimensions of his artistic gift, so rarely
and luckily going together in one master. There is no point in even
starting to write a monography here on his outstanding individuality,
and one has to be blind in order not to see his shining mastery.
But possessing the faculty of sight
one still should be very careful. The stream of light coming off
certain paintings blinds the spectator. It is difficult not to screw
up one’s eyes while looking at his Nymph. It is hard to find a picture
with such a concentration of light, it is every-where: the sky and
the water form one continuous stream of light around the heroine,
performing a role close to that of the sun’s heavenly body. Here
we could immerse ourselves into the bottomless historical-philosophical
depths of this heroine’s depiction: the Nymph, divine matron of
nature, is of the same mythological age as the long-lived inhabitant
of museum expositions, commented above in such detail. But we will
leave this pleasant pursuit to the spectators’ minds, accompanying
them but by a distant trans-temporal parallel.
The most famous artist of antiquity,
Apelles, active in the glorious epoch of Alexander the Great, depicted
the great commander mounted with a lightning bolt in his hand. But
in the memory of his contemporaries he is better known as the creator
of another epoch-making picture: Aphrodite of Anadiomene, coming
out of the water. We know that this patriarch of painting required
five models for the accomplishment of divine perfection in the earthly
inhabitant of the heavens’ appearance: to one he painted the face,
to the next the chest, etc. This was the first picture exhibited
to the public eye, and thus opening the era of galleries. Our master
got by with one model, but one worth five. And the happy gallery
tale of this new painting began before its birth: it was exhibited
in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Artists’ Union, still unfinished.
Now it is complete and decorating the master’s virtual galleries.
As such it is waiting for a museum, prepared to keep its monumental
light bearing forms for our descendants. More so, as this would
become a token of respect to two artists at once, and in some way
a sign of repentance of cultural humanity for the loss of the masterpieces
of antiquity, as not a single picture of the ancient Greek master,
who became the skilful creator of light and shade, remains.
Leaving the aspect of Kazakov’s creative
brightness to the subsequent spectator’s contemplation of his monography
by the readers of these pages, we should now move on towards yet
another most significant component of the artist’s talent: the breadth
of his creative nature.
IN THE ARTIST’S CIRCUMSPECTION
Looking more closely at the
artist’s work in the dimension of the breadth of his creative interests,
it becomes clear that this measure of artistic giftedness is multi-layered,
both thematically and in descriptive and technical means. And all
this variety multiplies over several stages of his work, each in
itself taking up many years. Usually, talking about an artist, we
say: this-or-that painter, or this-or-that illustrator. Kazakov
cannot be designated like this with just one word and pushed into
the bounds of one type of art. Boris Kazakov is both a painter and
a graphic artist, as well as a sculptor, and he is a teacher in
all these fields. However, on top of this, his so immensely broad,
active, artistic circumspection does not know limits within the
royally sized circle it describes. The painter and graphic artist
Kazakov is a subtle landscape painter, a master of the still life,
a virtuoso drawer of sketches and a deep psychological portraitist.
He is a diverse stylist of a unique thematical range, stretching
from alluringly modern nudes into the mythological depths of history.
And mastery is omnipresent, accomplished
with all sorts of technical and descriptive means: sketch and pencil
picture, engraving on cardboard, etching, tempera, oils on canvas,
monumental painting. In the field of the pastel painting, worked
out not just on the traditional paper basis but also on metal, to
which he dedicated the latest stages of his work, the master reached
heights which are unlikely conquered by anyone in our modern art
scene, flattened by cheap fashion. I doubt that over the last few
decades anything was created in pastels, more significant than the
pictures of his portrait series, such as Rendezvous, The Stranger,
the monumental Three Graces and Venus’s Birth.
If there is anything more beautiful
than those, it must be Sulameth, also by his hand. This picture
took two years of the maestro’s blood, sweat, tears and untiring
inspiration to come into existence and many authoritative critics
consider it his masterpiece. Recently this work aroused a huge interest
at the artist’s personal exhibition at the Urals’ largest art gallery
in Chelyabinsk. Kazakov was saddled with invitations to give master-classes,
at which so many turned up, wishing to get in tough with the secret
of creating perfection, that the professor got to lead many classes
with a constant amount of nearly fifty pupils.
The portrait leads the artist’s preferences,
and that has its effect on all the rest of his diverse painting.
In his still lives, extremely important in his teaching method,
the artist breathes life into motionless objects: The Altar of Pergamon,
Still life with plaster head, Still life with vase in window.
The Birth of a Form on his painting
bearing the same name calls out to Dali’s plasticity of time in
his soft surrealistic clock. Only here the plasticity is attained
by the space itself, its parts in search of the whole. The old masters
were having an easier time: Botticelli for instance just went and
opened the shell, and Venus’s birth had taken place. Constructivism,
creating modernity, requires more complicated projective solutions.
And even though part of the forms flowing off the desk are already
on their way of attaining the softness of a dynamic flow, bestowing
liveliness on the rest, the space itself has frozen in anticipation.
In the emptiness lies the master’s hidden presence; he himself may
have sneaked out for a smoke. Or perhaps he noticed the lack of
a detail, very important in modern art, in which case his path leads
well beyond the boundaries of our urban world, to return with Adam’s
rib, unforeseen by our day’s engineers of human souls.
Parallel to pastels the artist works
with oils a lot. Whereas pastel painting has its limitations in
size, on the canvas Kazakov the monumentalist manifests himself
on the full scale of a literally major artist. However, the works
created with this technique, such as Midday through the Eyes of
an Adolescent, or Sleeping Venus and the already mentioned daughter
of Zeus, Nymph, are significant, in the first place, not due to
the size of the canvas but to that of the talent.
The landscape in different techniques
— pastels, oils, tempera, pencil, watercolours — also occupies a
significant place among the artist’s works and manifests itself
in them twofold. Merely depicting nature is not enough for the artist,
thus often the characters of his portraits are found inside his
The painter mastered the secrets of
the traditional landscape genre way back in his years as a student.
And this can be seen, looking at his Landscape with marble vase,
represented in his monography. It is hard to believe that this masterly
impressionist work was painted by a first-grade student in 1954.
take a look at the leading Socialist Realist works of that time
and feel the difference! Sadly, more than a hundred works from this
cycle are lost forever. The watercolours, brought back from the
personal exhibition in Kharkov, were negligently left in the college
courtyard and wiped out by the rain. But that makes the little that
is left from those long-gone days look all the more valuable.
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT AS THE DIALECTICS OF MASTERY
It is unlikely that the student
Boris Kazakov would have thought half a century ago that somewhen
in the distant future a researcher of the artist’s work would call
his student period his first creative stage. Still this has happened.
These were the interesting years of his search for himself, his
artistic style, and this search did not go without the necessary
luck with his teachers. The gratitude to his first teacher, Boris
Mikhaylovich Dunayev, Kazakov has carried with him for all his life,
and this becomes clear by a single glance at the old teacher’s portrait.
The master pupil painted it thirty years after finishing college
with a warmth that had not at all cooled down over time.
Another fundamental stage in the artist’s
biography is the Academy, the Repin Institute and his acquaintance
with the excellent artist and teacher Alexey Fyodorovich Pakhomov.
He was the one who recognized a universal aptitude for exceptional
portraying in his student. Admittedly, this did not happen immediately;
after all, in spite of the already masterly portrait work for his
entrance exam, Kazakov searched for himself in different genres.
Only after the third grade he ended up in Pakhomov’s class. The
latter proved able to concentrate his best student’s talents on
his doubtless vocation, pointing his successes in his search out
to him. “Paint it like a nose with lips on a summer portrait!” the
maitre kept repeating to his pupil, who at first objected: “But
that is totally unfashionable!” Pakhomov’s persistence remained
untiring throughout the year and the result, the graduation lithography
The Auxiliary, anticipating the artist’s ripened creative style,
became the Academy’s best graduation work in two years. It expressed
the young painter’s realization of the true meaning of classical
art and his passionate love for education.
And it was just this most important
science that the age-old artistic high college’s art dedicated himself
to. First he taught at a children’s art school for two years, then
he started teaching at the Mukhina college, which later became the
Saint-Petersburg Academy of Art Industry. This academic teaching
stage has lasted since 1967, for nearly forty years by now, parallel
to his endless stages of new creative searches and experiments.
The early seventies are characterized
by series of engravings and etchings, some of which are represented
in this book, graphic pencil and gouache sheets (The Doll). During
the next period Boris Kazakov works with tempera. The sincere autobiographical
pictures in this technique, The Dream and The Meeting take him to
an ultimately frank perception of sensuality, and lead his search
for depictive means to pastel painting.
This most significant stage in his artwork
is accompanied by the presence of immeasurable depth of conveyed
feelings and revelations which the master brought up from the bottom
of eternal classical sources. The artist copies Leonardo da Vinci,
Michelangelo and Rubens a lot and, penetrating into the secrets
of the Renaissance masters, creates his own exclusive works on a
new modern level of the well-forgotten old. Surbaran’s Memories,
Torso, The Duo, The Artist and his Model, Sulameth and Two Skies
are pictures of different genres from the early eighties and belong
to unique series in the world’s art. The pastels in the master’s
hand are capable of anything from the most subtle gradations of
light and feeling to the turbulence of passions and shadows. Often
a landscape, a nearly monochrome misty pastel sfumato, is subjugated
to the depth of the disclosure of the portrait image. This new discovery
of the artist’s of an ancient technique moves along from the paintings
of those years (Cinquecento) to the huge works of the thus far latest,
monumental, stage in the painter’s art. Here the graces and Venuses
have grown to their full size, standing tall, sometimes even taller
than their actual height. It needs to be said that the irony that
can now and then be read in the tale about the artist characterizes
him personally as well. On one of his paintings the portraitist
captured himself in the company of two graces; the artist’s little
dog is also present in the same picture, strikingly resembling Titian’s
Danae’s dog, which is of the same breed as both animals from Tiepolo’s
painted burlesque and barking at Jupiter himself. This is how casually
the picture lane from cultural tradition straight into modernity
is realized. And this lane finds its fulfilment in Kazakov’s studio,
lighted up not only by the light from the windows, but also by his
light-bearing colours and ideas.
As we know, a picture is a window to
the world. The artist’s hundreds of pictures are the hundreds of
windows of his studio, which he turned into a palace of art with
magnificent views upon the world in all its beauty.
THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. IT IS NOT MIDDAY YET
Epochs are crushed. With
great losses of nerves and moral disruptions we were all shifted
from the Soviet Union into its scattered fragments on the still
unfamiliar and shaky foundation of a new social formation. And much
of what seemed significant among the artistic successes of the past
era will disappear, much has already withered away among its ruins.
I do not think that Kazakov’s artwork is subject
to withering, it is not passing along with the disappearance of
temporary landmarks, in the same way that beauty is eternal, as
are the aesthetic values of Humanism.
Because of the very fact that his art was founded on hard eternal
truths, his fragile heroines stood their ground while the loose
soil fell away from under the epoch, crumbling into oblivion, and
swallowed the pseudo-art it carried along with it. It is due to
this that the artist’s work is still standing on the ancient foundation
of humanism, even if that is not where the structure of the new
society is moving from the two still withering ash piles of the
twentieth century, 1917 and 1991. Not only does it stand tall, it
also supports those believing in the unwithering beauty of man.
And his graces, his Danae and Venus, who was born of Boris Kazakov’s
talent five centuries after Botticelli’s famous Venus’s Birth, indisputably
arrived in the world of art right on time, like all the artist’s
art. Because the time of the nation’s rebirth from social cataclysms
and economic ruins must first of all be supported by the revival
of cultural and historical traditions of civilization.
Looking at Boris Kazakov the artist’s canvas, one involuntarily
thinks of a new wave of the Renaissance. And looking at Kazakov
the teacher’s work, one becomes convinced that this wave will grow
into a strong but pure stream. With the appearance of talented pupils
and followers and with his school gaining international significance,
this personal Neo-Renaissance style of the artist’s, word of which
was spoken at the beginning of this narrative, is now turning into
a full-grown direction in art, carrying a two-sided impulse, the
school of Neo-Renaissance. To convince oneself of this, one needs
but take a glance into the artist’s and teacher’s studio.
PROFESSOR KAZAKOV’S SCHOOL
Remember Boris Pasternak’s
verses, quoted at the beginning of this article and dedicated to
an unknown artist? These remarkable words are so immersed in the
poet’s talent that they would seem to call out to all, and at the
same time speak of anyone creating beauty at that moment. However,
the same poem contains verses which most incomprehensibly through
time are directed at no one else but today’s artist Boris Kazakov.
Here they are:
Someone cannot catch his sleep
In a wonderful faraway
High up in an age-old attic
Covered with tiles of clay
If we disregard the social accent in
the epithet “wonderful”, all that remains is in total prophetic
accordance. The professor’s studio, at the same time making up his
classroom and on top of this his home, can indeed be found in an
age-old house dated back to the days following Peter the Great’s
reign, located on the embankment of the Fontanka opposite the Summer
Garden, inhabited by the ancient characters of his paintings, captured
in marble. It is indeed in the house’s attic, which has indeed,
by now for about fifteen years already, been covered with tiles.
He himself covered the roof above the attic which he himself put
together and equipped to serve as an academy auditorium.
Not long ago attempts were made to take
this attic away from him. At the time when all could privatize their
own, our creator was not up for paperwork. That fired back on him.
Thank God however, the people didn’t give in! well, and the Artists’
Union stood up, and the authorities helped. The attempts were withdrawn.
And actually the beautiful faraway also exists. No, the genius poet
was not mistaken. It is just that this universal faraway has not
come yet. But it certainly will. It will surely wander off around
the world, coming out of the artist’s beautiful pictures, from the
wonderful intentions of his pupils, just as maximalist as their
professor used to be at their fragile age, when, however, the wise
poet Pasternak who blessed him was of the exact same age as today’s
professor Kazakov and his old friend. They too are professors now,
carrying their beautiful gifts on to their pupils — artists, philologists,
Professor Boris Kazakov’s teaching gift
may well originate from that distant time when he, during the hard
years after the war, became a pupil himself. He always lovingly
remembers his first teachers at the Penza art college, Boris Mikhaylovich
Dunayev and Nikita Karpovich Krasnov. The creative impulse he received
there was so swift that right after the first grade he got his first
personal exhibition! And, of all places, right in the ancient Ukrainian
After college he went to the country’s
oldest high art education institute, the Repin Institute Art Academy.
This book contains Kazakov’s entrance exam watercolour and his first
works as a student. What can we say? Only this: in the Northern
capital the carefully kept continuous thread of the Russian classicist
age’s golden heritage, passed on from generation to generation for
centuries, ended up in the trusted hands of a young self-made genius
from the Urals. From him, the invisible link of time will be able
to reach out further.
His student authority as best pupil
was reinforced by his graduation work, which became the Academy’s
best in two years and coincided with its 200-year anniversary. This
graduation lithography with the simple name Tamarka***, understandable
to the compassionate heart, was for some vague reasons renamed The
Auxiliary in the press. Oh well, we will forgive the careful censors
— after all, they did not know they were improving the classic’s
future — and reply to them in the same way: “No matter how you call
a rose… — Tamarka will be Tamarka.” And we will add another classic,
the founder of a whole stratum of aesthetics and philosophy of modern
art, Kozma Prutkov: “Seek out the beginning of everything and you
will understand much!” But we will not go and correct him, he is
perfectly capable of correcting anyone you like.
It was Tamarka who had laid the psychological
foundation for those philosophical depths in the master’s style,
which have now made it possible for him to relate to the acknowledged
creators of cultural heritage. By now, one is spoilt for choice
by the beauty beckoning from everywhere in the huge gallery of the
master’s bright works. This beauty will undoubtedly save the world.
The old lithography could get lost in this gallery, if it were not
for its old age: the young Tamarka has entered her fifth decade.
Looking at this work one realizes how important it is to value even
the cultural heritage of the close past, still fresh in our remembrance,
as its closely interlinked fragmental memories and those close to
it keep the whole priceless experience of our shared dramatic history.
It is worth mentioning that the leading
person during the process of the formation of the artist’s talent,
his permanent teacher at the Art Academy, academician Alexey Fyodorov
Pakhomov, at one time graduated from the Stiglitz College, and his
best pupil, Boris Kazakov, having graduated from the Academy, bound
his whole pedagogical fate to this educational establishment. Nowadays
it is called the Saint-Petersburg Academy of Art Industry and waiting
for the return of the name of its founder, Baron Von Stiglitz.
For nearly forty years the professor
has passed the secrets of his memory on to this academy’s students.
These secrets had in turn been passed on to him by his teachers
and of course by academician Pakhomov, who gave his pupils not only
knowledge but also the life’s experience of a person who had still
known the life of the pre-soviet era, which seemed like an unreal
and fabricated legend.
In our time professor Kazakov has become
legendary; after all a person about whom legends are alive has a
full right to that status. Moreover, these legends are at times
so phantasmagorical that they seem fabricated, however their truthfulness
has been confirmed by the maestro himself. Here is one of them:
The wave of the Perestroika brought a German to Saint-Petersburg,
who bought his canvas cheaply for 100-150 marks per picture and
took them to Europe for sale. Having sold a dozen of the master’s
works for a hundred thousand he came back to receive the artist’s
unexpected reply: “Thank you, my dear, for making me aware of my
painting’s value. You may now buy them for this price!”
The professor’s artistic heritage is
valuable indeed, but its price is in the first place measured not
in money but as a unique contribution to the preservation of cultural
heritage, its re-interpretation, its renewal and passing on to the
future in a new, more important quality. Over forty years of devotion
to teaching he created a universal school of mastery in art: drawing
and painting. Moreover, in pastel painting and graphics he passes
on the secrets of art at a height which may have been reached only
by himself. His school rose to a European level. At first, pupils
from Finland appeared. After that the master’s fame moved on, further
into Europe. Only to think that now students and artists come to
him from Denmark, which once upon a time taught skill lessons to
half of Europe. The talented discoverers of this new enlightening
path from Danes to Vikings even opened a school in their old centre
of European culture, teaching their students fine arts, based on
the creative methodology and philosophical conception of the Russian
teacher Boris Kazakov.
By the way, the professor himself also
still studies. His pupils teach him youthful enthusiasm, while mastery
the last classic of the Renaissance can learn from only one artist,
our contemporary Leonardo da Vinci.
Last Summer Boris Kazakov was in London.
In the National Art Gallery he spent nearly three days standing
in front of the only large pastel painting of the genius Leonardo
that is left to us. What it was that the distant old master told
him, we might find out soon…
***“Little Tamara”, after a girl from
the artist’s youth. There is a Russian folk song in which a Tamarka
appears, who is an auxiliary (“sanitarka”).
Internet-version of the article for the sites www.artpetersburg.ru
Copyright © 2006
Translation by Marius W. de Pijper