«There exist many painterly manners. However, it is not the manner that matters, but the ability to see beauty» (Alexei Savrasov, the painter)



Articles (About painters):

Both Sensible and Sensitive (about art of Alexei Sukhovetsky)
Viktor KALASHNIKOV
13.03.2007

Everybody will agree, I believe, that evolution of art presupposes challenging the forms which have existed earlier. So at times it occurs that what acts as the challenger coexists in the cultural environment next to the challenged. The liberties introduced in art by the thaw of the 1960s quickly found their champions. As a result, a kind of classical two-party system came in existence: on the one hand, there were those who represented more conservative traditionalists, opposed by the adherents of new trends oriented to the liberal values, on the other. The latter were joined by some radical groups who saw demolition of the old edifice as an end in itself and, more, as a self-sufficient end. The life guidelines changed: those who were in opposition just yesterday came to power; for a few years, or decades, a new revolutionary situation grew ripe. The world of art is no politics, though, but its force of inertia is more powerful than that of the social and economic relations. Consequently, the old Soviet rule was still here when the recently 'denounced' were already plumping with honorary titles and awards. And as soon as the skeleton of the former system disappeared in the waves of the new economic relations the stereotypes of the forty-year-old ideology, but of a new creed, came to life again: every phenomenon based on tradition should be viewed with suspicion; everything that asserts novelty should be encouraged. Today even progressive America and Europe sometimes cast a hopeful glance back at the classical principles of art, but Russia, stubbornly following the dogmas of the 1960s-1970s, which happened to be supported by the Soviet authorities, continues to brandish the revolutionary slogan of a quest of new forms.

One may have fallen in despair but the Russian land is used to bringing forth talents, powerful, capable of giving a paradoxical, unexpected response to the challenge of the time. Aleksei Sukhovetsky belongs to such original artistic breed, to the generation of the 1980s. The latter was termed but did not fall into common use among art historians because of the likely inconvenience of mentioning those artists in association with the established stereotypes. Those art historians, by the way, try to assure that something alive and original in art used to be produced only in the two preceding decades, which were followed by a period of some pretentious, untalented tinkering, replication of post-modernistic paintings, juggling with ready-made schemes or perfunctory copying of what had been long known or discarded.

Without entering into a senseless argument with such theories, it should be noted, though, that traditional art, in particular, was given the most miserable role; it was dismissed as fully impotent, unable to produce anything new and bright. In a word, that what is destitute of sense should be deprived of its name.

In reality, the generation of the 1980s, if they are to be blamed for anything, that will be the lack of pathos. That might have been positively enthusiastic pathos, or elevated and tragic pathos, or castigatory one. Quite often their pathos might have been a little simulated. Lost was the former generation's ambition to broaden their associatively meaningful level through pasticcio of a model artist of the past, no matter who was that model artist - 'our' Korovin or 'their' Hodler, any of 'our' revolutionary Association of Easel Painting or 'their' Puvis de Chavannes, 'our' Shukhaev or their Rousseau.

Naturally taking over from the experience of the previous generations rather took the form and character of free conceptualization, sharing artistic ideas in their independent sense without introducing any ideas from the outside, alien context.

The generation that was just finishing polishing their mentality, their artistic 'egos' in the 1980s was absolutely destitute of any desire to copy anyone or to poach, for they were less interested in experimenting with the form and more in synthesis of various means of painting. The art started to show more of its reserved and contemplative nature turning the purely professional matter of plasticity, space, palette and light into the categories of Weltanschauung. The more so, any perspective phenomenon in art does not, as a rule, address 'the fathers', but 'the great grandfathers' who knew the symbolic meaning of the composition, palette or plasticity of a painting.

The above is true about the work of Aleksei Sukhovetsky. His every painting is always a story. What it narrates about, and with what degree of subtlety, can be concluded from different things. It can be a story about the unchanging character of things, or about the flow of life, or about the longing of a human heart. Simultaneously, one cannot help admitting that sometimes his paintings tend to avoid being narrative, which does not mean that their figurative context becomes empty or the painterly language gets gibberish. That may happen spontaneously or intentionally. Actually, the cause of it is different. Sukhovetsky's paintings do not treat their images unidimensionally and, consequently, they cannot be interpreted in such a way. The process of interpretation takes a more difficult route alluring the viewer to the side-paths of associations, reminiscences and fantasies. Sometimes the artist himself sets 'direction signs' at the crossroads of meanings. Sometimes he leaves it for the viewer to decide which turn the story should take. To put it short, the viewer should be clever to understand Sukhovetsky's fables.

Mutual expectations of the artist of the generation of the 1980s and his viewers are quite high. The artist working in the twenty-first century should obtain, beside such essentials as talent for figurative thinking and good sense of colour, an exquisite taste, special intellectualism and erudition. One might call that conceptualism but the term has been coined for a different thing and fixed to denote a certain trend in art. Do not consider my words highbrow aestheticism but in the contemporary language this term is rather associated with something superficial, albeit, spectacular. So, leaving the task of coining the appropriate term to a more sophisticated time, we had better pass on to the multiple quality of the imagery components, the broad spectrum of the painterly and figurative means typical of the work of Aleksei Sukhovetsky.

Take, for example, landscape. The genre that has long occupied a special place in Russian painting acquires, under the brush of Sukhovetsky, either intimate, or epic meaning. Moscow is one of his favourite subjects. Here the range of images is enormous: from small lyrical scenes in the old, but cosy and romantic yards and alleys of the ancient capital to the monumental panoramas of one of the major cities of the world. The sky over Moscow is crossed either by Apollo driving his chariot from the frontispiece of the Bolshoi Theatre, or by the heavenly hosts whose silhouettes made by clouds resemble the Empire-style decorations of the buildings.

Those images of heaven do not only emphasize the powerful character of a megalopolis, they are also meant to demonstrate a contradiction to their majesty in the beehive of the huge modern city. That is why the sculptural decoration of old buildings looks no less vivid than the hurrying figures of the passers-by. Such is the quality of his painting: it is a kind of language, and a well-developed one, that enables every well-worded idea to express the antithesis of it.

Ability to combine the heterogeneous without losing the individual in style is characteristic of Sukhovetsky's work. Thus, his still-lifes, the most 'laboratory-like' genre that shows to its advantage, or disadvantage, the creative will and preferences of an artist, present objects in all their complexity that grows out of the artist's careful examination of them. His detailed study of the form results from the realistic perception of those objects, which, nevertheless, does not prevent the artist from some subtle distortions.

His manner does not suggest any denial of the traditional figurativeness or any desire to intrigue the viewer. But there is a feeling that equally important for the artist are both idols of art - nature and creation. That quality is demonstrated at all levels of figurative structure. For instance, Sukhovetsky tends to emphasize reflections, using a full rich palette, and in this way to stress the interaction and mutual influence of the objects, which helps the artist to revise his impressions. True is the idea that in art natura naturans and natura noturata are the one. At the same time his every still-life is truly an intentionally staged scene where relations between the components are elaborate and the cultural associations are purposefully well-developed.

The palette, the form, the tectonics of the composition, some specific painterly tasks similar to plein-air conditions - everything in Aleksei Sukhovetsky's paintings is aimed at deep and thorough generalization nourished by a live emotion and because of that brings up images fully concise and multifaceted, which are, albeit, open to the imagination of the viewer. His work is an alternative to those branches of contemporary art which lead nowhere. His is not the only one, of course, but still very important. It shows a way to the live silver springs of the art culture.