Pirogi with a pinch of Cubism

The Russian idea of a perfect peaceful life is often represented by a log-house within 100 km of the city, featuring a traditional brick stove, comfy chairs for the husband to read his books, cosy space for the kids to play and a lot of pirogi baked by the mom for the comfy settled husband and cosily playing kids. Yes, it is Asian mentality, and a Western feminist may lament the fate of “family’s favourite slave”, but, just like you have Muslim women who willingly cover themselves top to toe, Russian women are often happy to spend their weekend baking and cooking, and then feeding their relatives with PIROGI. For many, baking pirogi is a form of art, the way to self-realisation, and a form of motherly embrace without the pathos of actually embracing anyone.

This Russian dream is visualised (and materialised) in this sparkling painting by Alexandra Ovchinnikova (38). She does not show the woman here, but the results of her efforts are spectacular. I hope you had your meal, because, well, these pirogi make me hungry.

Alexandra Ovchinnikova. Russian Pirogi, 2004

Alexandra’s style is very feminine. Well, she’s not afraid of pink, for one thing (though, perhaps, she should be a bit more wary of it), and she’s very particular about window curtains.

I like it. It is about the celebration of life. It is not something that sends your mind off on a journey of concern for the human condition or anything really serious. These pictures are not likely to make you go out and join a Feminist/Antiwar/Homophobic/Antihomophobic protest rally. By today’s standards, this is not the “museum kind of art”.

But it is the kind of art I like to have in my personal gallery.

A hundred years before, there was an artist in Russia who worked in a similar style, Aristarkh Lentulov. He was one of those naive lads who believed art could really change people and set them on the way towards common and shared happiness of a communist society. Most of those “believers” who had not reformed into adepts of social realism were executed by Stalin’s NKVD, but Lentulov had managed to live through the cleansing of the 1930s, while more or less sticking to his style.

To understand why I call this a “celebration of life”, look at the photograph of St.Basil at night:

And then at Lentulov’s view of it. He turned this cathedral into a flaming monument of joy, change, the multi-facetedness of Russian culture. Not just an architectural wonder of the mid 16th century.

A.Lentulov. St.Basil Cathedral 1913

For those of my readers who’ve been with me for some time: there’s a colour conflict in Lentulov’s painting of 1913, the last happy year in Russia before the WWI. Where is the contrapunto?

If you haven’t read the contrapunto posts about the focus of conflict in a painting, you may want to entertain your intellect by clicking here (Van Gogh Portraits) and here (Still life). 


  1. The red and the green right next to each other on the bottom right. But also, I feel there is a conflict between the joyous and celebratory colors near the top of the cathedral, as compared to the green and more murky green shades at the entrance. The cheerful colors near the top are framed by dark, more somber colors. Those same dark and somber shades of the cathedral near the bottom are framed by more “happy ” colors. And then there is the neutral blocks at the bottom.

    1. Yes, you are right. The main conflict here occurs between the joyful and happy facade of the cathedral and the darkness that lurks inside it and tries to squash it from the outside. It is the inherent conflict of Russia, it is the kind of conflict Dostoeyvsky made his trademark. Lentulov seems to want to resolve the conflict in favour of the joy of life, but he stops short of showing us who is the winner. Maybe, there can’t be any winner at all? Thank you for thinking and sharing!

      1. Thank you for presenting material with substance to chew on. I was one of those kids with a passion for art, but my parents didn’t see how “chasing art” could be a venture with any financial gain. So, breaking away from the sins of the Father, my love and fascination has been renewed, and I am always eager to learn. I look forward to upcoming material.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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