The newest arrival to my collection, The Pink Evening, by Valery Kokurin, an artist from Vladimir (a town 120 miles away from Moscow). It is clickable (and worth clicking!)
I wrote about his loving and ironic view of Russia and Russians here. This is another of his clever works that is more a dialogue of the artist with the people he painted, and Russia, in general, than a landscape/genre painting of rural life.
Rural life in Russia is far from being as rich in colours as the painting makes you assume:
A very traditional Russian landscape painting of the first snow in a village would look like this:
I am not saying it is a bad painting, not at all. It is a very good representation of the grayness and bleakness of life, when the only salvation can be provided by vodka shots, and… well, some more vodka shots.
Not surprisingly, adepts of realism dismiss Kokurin’s paintings as hallucinogenic fantasies. Are they right?
Perhaps, Kokurin is not fantasizing but seeing somewhat deeper than the average guy? I am sure a resident of Amsterdam, where Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has been allegedly classified as a documentary film, would agree.
Let’s remove the colour to understand how the painting is built.
The red lines correspond to the Golden ratio proportions, and split the painting into three parts: spiritual, material, and the populated one. The artist wanted these three parts to represent a bigger world, making the horizon line curved, like in a photo made with the ultra-wide zoom lens:
The observer is given at least two ways to build the story. One way is to read the painting left to right:
Now, the irony is that while the women may want to go to the spiritual part (and the horse is positioned to move in that direction), they are reluctant to do so. Isn’t it a proof that Russians are normal people like everyone else? Another way to read it, is right to left:
People left their homes, then stopped in their tracks, literally, to mull it all over. The Material world doesn’t want to let them go! The harvest of potatoes this year, the cost of coal, or milk: a Russian mind can find a billion valid reasons to procrastinate. One of Russian major folk heroes was procrastinating until the age of 30, but then stood up and kicked some ass of the Enemy of the People. Since then, Russian rulers have been successfully using the tactics of giving Russians a formidable enemy to wake up and get dressed.
We don’t know if the group will ever make it to the spiritual part. The artist leaves us a clue, or rather an idea of what might happen:
All the lines draw attention to the spot that’s hidden by the haystack. Something is going to happen there that will define if the journey from the Material to the Spiritual world is going to be uneventful or taking place at all.
That’s VERY RUSSIAN to obscure meaning to give the observer a way to continue the story.
Remember this post about snow and its meaning in Russia? It is about the hidden meaning of things behind the thickness of seemingly safe snow surfaces.
It is a true painting of the Russian way of life, which the artist loves and does not intend to criticise. Yes, Russians are torn between the ideals of Higher Spirituality and the need to buy a new pair of shoes. Who knows what happens when they are behind the haystack where CCTV cameras can’t see them? The haystack itself is a symbol. Someone put it there, and then left it to rot by the road. You see a lot of that in Russia. You’d say it is a depressing view of an otherwise great country? Gosh, no. It is simply honest, and when we bring the colours back, it becomes cheerfully full of love.
Behind the grayness and bleakness, there’s an under-layer of colour and life that the artist brings up. That’s the trick.
Did I go too far in interpreting this painting? Certainly, each observer has a right to weave his or her own story. This dog, for instance, is absolutely right to believe this is its portrait in an enhanced setting of the village.
Want to read more about Russian art reflecting the depths of the Russian Soul?
The infamous seriousness of Russians (some call it the Russian Gloom); here.
The Russian “types” and the misguided antics of Russian intellectuals: here.