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The Arts

Soviet Art at mid 20th Century
Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen

I. Golitsin ”The WallI. Golitsin ”The Wall”

Tahir Salakhov (b.1928) devoted his paintings to the dedicated toiling of the Soviet people and the industrial landscape of his native Azerbaijan. His images are stern and manly. In the portrait of the composer Kara Karayev (1960) he uses sharply contrasting colors in large blots and an expressive linear rhythm to give an image of a man, completely engrossed in his tense creative work.

Portraits also occupy a place of importance in the diversified works of Izzat Klychev (1923-2006), who has greatly contributed to the development of art in Turkmenistan. One of his best paintings is the portrait of a Hero of Socialist Labor, Yazmurad Orazsakhatov (1961), the celebrated team-leader of a collective cotton-growing farm. The figure of this working man is full of restrained strength, calm dignity and confidence. He is shown in close-up against a sunlit landscape where the atmosphere of laboring in the cotton fields is rendered in a few telling details.

Victor Popkov (1932-1974) was invariably drawn to the images of his contemporaries. “The builders of Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station” (1960-1961), which he painted on return from his trip to the construction site of one of the world’s largest electric power stations, may be called a group portrait and a stereotypical image. Popkov’s manner is ascetic and severe to the extreme. The sharply illuminated figures of the builders arranged front-face along the width of the canvas are energetically and rhythmically outlined against the night sky and the river. The austere colors, the brightness of the light and the darkness of the shadows bring out the strength of the images and their physical toughness.

E. Moiseinko ”Esenin and his Grandpa”

Their significance is further underlined by the low horizon. They are hardened people who have acquired their strength in hard toil. The artist portrays the individual features of each one, but essentially he shows the qualities that unite them and give them their stern beauty, along with their human dignity and strength of character.

A keen reaction to the present, a dramatic tenseness and social-mindedness distinguish the work of Geli Korzhev (b. 1925). He tried to find the monumental forms that would suit the philosophical themes he wanted to raise and the most convincing, true-to-life images that would embody his themes. His ‘Artist’ (1960-1961) is a scene in a West European town. By using the film method of close-up and unusual angle, and by rendering with the utmost fidelity the natural feel of the objects portrayed, Korzhev shows the loneliness of this couple in a great city, and the tragedy of an artist who is compelled to sell his talent in this manner just to keep body and soul together.

One of the main themes of Victor Ivanov (b. 1924) is the modern Russian village. The scenes he paints are of everyday life, but his interpretation lends them a beautiful solemnity and signifi cance. His picture ‘Lunch’ (1964-1966) is very human, and yet there is an air of grandeur about it.

Vladimir Stozharov (1926-1973) was devoted to northern Russia. In his landscapes he painted the flaming sunsets and the white nights, and in his still life works he depicted the simple objects of living. One of Stozharov’s best is the still life ‘Bread, Salt, and Bowl’ (1964) painted in the tradition of the Union of Russian Artists with their love of rich, solid colors.

Dmitri Zhilinsky (b.1927) is an original artist with a style and approach entirely his own.

G. Korzhev ” Temptation”

He ponders deeply on life’s spiritual values and the purpose of art and translates his thoughts in images, which he paints from closely studied, concrete and characteristic models. His paintings are distinguished for their clearcut compositional constructions, strongly outlined drawing and meticulous attention to detail. All of the personages in ‘On the Beach, a Family’ (1964) are real people; Moscow painters and their families. The plastic central figures in close-up are sharply contrasted to the groups in the distance rendered with a conventional flatness of decorative form. For all of its seemingly commonplace narrative the picture impresses with its lofty emotional atmosphere.

In Soviet art, the end of the 1950’s and the 1960’s were marked by a vigorous development of poetic forms and deeper probing into the complexities of life, all of which found its refl ection in the historical and revolutionary paintings. The Smolin brothers – Alexander (b. 1927) and Piotr (b. 1930) produced a series of paintings in this historical genre. ‘Strike, 1905’ (1964) illustrates an episode in the First Russian Revolution. The stony, lifeless monotony of the towering factory building is contrasted to the living motion of the red flag, and the passionate determination of the united workers to have their rightful demands satisfied. The Smolins did not go in for individualized psychological characterizations and they convey the dramatic atmosphere by the use of tense colors and rhythms building up a powerful symbolic image.

For Yevsei Moiseyenko (1916-1988), a Leningrad painter, the heroism of the Civil War is an unfailing source of inspiration. In ‘Messengers’ (1967) painted in a free sweeping manner, the urgency of the riders’ movement is stressed by the rhythm of the brush strokes, the splashes and the large masses of color.

V. Stozharov
”Alexander Stozharov. Portrait”

Anatoly Nikich (1918-1994) dedicated his painting “War Correspondents” (1965) to his comrades who were killed in the Great Patriotic War. In the painting, fighting is raging around the railway station and in the foreground we see two war correspondents, one of them killed by a German bullet and the other still valiantly carrying on with his film shooting while handling his camera as if it were a weapon. The fury of the battle and the heroism of the correspondent are communicated by tense means.

The paintings of the Belorussian artist Mikhail Savitsty (b. 1922) carry a profound social message. There is a dramatic intensity of feeling in them and the images tend to be symbolical. Using the experience of Petrov-Vodkin and the Mexican monumentalists, Savitsky painted an impressive and very human image of motherhood in ‘A Partisan Madonna’ (1967).

The period of the late 1950’s and the1960’s was a real golden age of prints. Their excellence, variety and popularity were unprecedented. Guriy Zakharov (1926-1994) and Illarion Golitsin (1928-2007) were the leading Soviet masters in linocuts. In his ‘Ten Minutes Past Midnight’ (1964), Geli Zakharov uses a balanced composition, taut and precise lines and contrast between the silvery light, the coziness of home and the peace that has descended upon the world. Golitsin’s ‘A Morning with Favorsky’ (1965) is flooded with sunlight. The drawing is laconic and clear. By juxtaposing the images of childhood and wise, dignified old age, Golitsin embodies the idea of the continuation and connectedness of the generations and affirms the all-embracing strength and beauty of life.

M. Savitski ” Evacuation”

A freedom and boldness of seeking are also in character with contemporary Soviet sculptures of the period. On display at the Tretyakov Gallery is a model of ‘Mother’ made by Gedeminas Jokubonis (1927-2006), a Lithuanian sculptor, for the memorial to the victims of fascism placed in the village of Pirciupis in 1960. The statue is a stirring image of a mother’s grief and her greatness of spirit.

Juozas Mikenas (1904-1964), a major Lithuanian sculptor of the older generation, believed in strict proportions, a balanced harmony and expressive silhouettes. The image of young pianist (1959) is a poem in bronze of an inspired personality endowed with spiritual beauty and the inner world of a true artist. Lyrical images and decorativeness are characteristic of Oleg Komov (1932 -1994) as witnessed in his “Boy with a Dog” (1965). The romantic portrait made by Yuri Alexandrov (1930) of N. Doinikov, a geologist (1960) speaks eloquently of the man’s strength, energy and integrity.

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