Contrapunto in a still life

Previously, we were looking for the centerpoint, the focus of conflict in Van Gogh portraits. Today, we’ll think of the conflict in a still life by Sevostianov, a Russian artist I introduced here.

“Black Apples”, oil on board

Centerpoint does not have to be a point, actually. Here, the conflict is spread across the whole picture.

You may note that this painting is square, a format liked by Instagram, but often rejected by artists. A rectangle shape, be it vertical or horizontal, itself gives dynamics to a painting, as it sets your eyes in motion (vertically or horizontally) simply because of its own shape and a promise that there is something beyond the boundaries of the picture. A square paintings basically tells you that all you need to know, all you need to see – is in there.

So, those who’ve been with this blog before, know that the first step is to carefully look into the painting and list what you see:

  • A red chair with a pattern of crosses on the upholstery
  • Another worn-out chair on this the objects are placed
  • Black, obviously rotten apples and some “healthy” ones
  • A red flower pot
  • A plant, mostly green but with a few lower leaves picking up brown colors
  • The blue rectangle against the greenish wall on the right – perhaps, a drying up work featuring blue skies.

Now, once the square format told us that we need not look any further, let’s try to make sense of what we see inside it.

Simply put, this still life’s conflict is about  life and death, their balance and eternal co-existence.

Death: Apples, that fell from the tree,  i.e. lost their connection with nature and are rotting. There are a few of them looking relatively well, but the blackness is spreading like a disease among them. They soon would be dead too.

Life: The read pot, again the colour of the blood, with the green plant in it stands out as a symbol of life (the green of the plant as if feeding on the red of the pot). The plant may one day grow into a tree that will be producing its own apples. There is a tint of death on it though (those two yellowing and blackening leaves on the lower branch) as a symbol of life not being eternal and all rosy.

Life and Death Cycle: The read, blood coloured chair, with curvy, oval,  almost natural lines (painted with the same browns as dead apples) stands out as a symbol of life and death cycle, revolving around the three crosses.

And now, the hope. Well, it is the blue colour, the colour of the sky. Without it, we won’t know that there is a whole world out there, for which this still life poem is intended.

Let me know your thoughts, for I look forward to your build-ups.


  1. You’re teaching me many things with the articles you write, thank you. I think though you and I have very different art credentials we intuit the underlying vivera (life) in these paintings – an esoteric ley of currents of manipulating human physiology and insights into form. Following your notes I see the green window frame and red chair in rear and fore respectively counterpoint the vertical red pot and green plant, as if indicating breadth of time vertically and horizontally, or eternity, perennial cycle of death – plus the red chair is marked with crosses, while the open window offers a blue expanse, escape, heaven. If you look at the very centre apple, you can see it is in fact, cubic – visually emphasizing the subtle xyz dimensions of time and space.

    1. Thank you for saying this. My approach to interpretation is rather scientific, though it may seem subjective at first. I talk to the artist I am going to interpret, using a lot of psychotherapeutic techniques and projective exercises to fish out information, or study the artist’s life, letters, works, progress, context, etc. and only then offer my conclusions. I actually spoke to this artist who’s very much alive, and who is one of the artists I collect. It is great that this painting is making you think of things personally relevant and important. I can see you building up a network of associations from the stimulus that this painting offers. A good painting is like a book that motivates the reader to interpret it according to his or her personal life experiences. I just read the book aloud, in fact, offering a minimum of interpretation ))

    2. Therein I am at a disadvantage, commenting merely on the static billboard I see out of my window as the train passes, not equipped with the depth and knowledge and additional holistic information about theses artists intentions, other works, etc.

      1. I can hardly say this is a disadvantage, for the primary objective of any good artist is to stimulate imagination of the observer. If your mind reacts to an artwork and keeps building up personal associations with it, leading to new thoughts, feelings, and experiences, it is an excellent result. When you share your thinking with others, you start stimulating them as well, thus enhancing their own thinking. It is difficult to separate personal associations from the artist’s real intention, and this is what I try to do by talking to artists or studying artists’ heritage, My task is to offer an interpretation that will help readers ask their own questions about the artwork, give their own answers, and build their own story. You’ve built your own story from this simple still-life, and this is an excellent result of the artist’s and, I dare say, my efforts ))

        So, I am happy to read this artwork launched you on a trajectory of innovative thinking which can never be a disadvantage.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this painting and your insights are wonderful. I love this painting. Sevostianov’s brush strokes are expressive and his color choices invigorating. But your life- death interpretation of his color usage really made me stop and think about the painting’s deeper meaning. Again Thanks!

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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