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Article of Natalia Aksenova "OBJECTS AND ESSENCE"

  • Category: Publications
  • Published: Sunday, 27 December 2015 17:31
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Andrey Dubov. Art.

For an adult happiness consists of brief moments. In childhood it embraces the whole world and seems to be eternal.
On this painting we see a boy in a summer garden. Shadows and sundogs are stirring. The contours of old trees and the high grass are full of mystery for him… Why are we so attracted in childhood not by well-kempt rosaries, but by a nettle-forest, an old shattered shed, delicious stems of rocket-cress, waste grounds and road slopes? A child would count the year rings of logs the house is made of, touch the tree fiber silvered by the wind, sun and biting frost. And little does it matter whether he was born in the capital, as the author of the painting “At the Country-House” Andrey Dubov, or on a far-away farmstead in the Russian middle of nowhere.
Nostalgia is not a Russian offshore disease, it is our eternal longing for a Home, a childhood home, a village home, a home you've dreamt of, a home where your completely unknown great great grandfathers used to live. The orderly sterility of today is empty for the heart. Russian philosophy of beauty almost always has a taste of sadness to it. It is pervaded by the feeling of past or future farewells. This prayerful intercession before this world, before some shabby wall with remains of paint on it predetermines a child’s fate in its time of purity – whether to become a poet or an artist once.

Andrey Dubov's landscapes with an old garden and a country-house are full of the same feeling as the shots of the extraordinary film by Andrey Tarkovskiy “Mirror”. Not yet spoiled, not yet led into doubts by elucidators, only in childhood are we able to accept the world as something very pure and full of mysteries which it will be much more difficult to unravel later in life. As they are intended by God to address not the mind, but feelings, in their complete ingenuousness.
The characters of these landscapes are taciturn observers: a fisherman with a fishing rod, not on a river bank, but next to a village road, a woman at the front porch of a house in an evening garden. Silence is the state of mind conveyed by a landscape outside Moscow, in Plyos, well-loved by the artist, in the Orlov region, in Pereslavl-Zalesskiy and Zaraisk. Silence is not when arguments quiet down. This state is opposite to the petty bustle, fruitless commotion of big cities. I would call silence a manifestation of art, a category of thoughtfulness and wisdom. The artist himself is like that, preferring tulips to all other flowers – for their inner equanimity, a yet unrevealed force.

In the artist's workshop there is one unfinished piece – Sergey Esenin reading his philosophical treatise “Maria’s Keys”. This small piece of prose written by the poet proved to be in tune with the artist’s thoughts – the tree, the village, all objects around us which were taught to pray by the human being, eternity being not the Universe, but one’s very own hearth.
What is and what is not an object for the artist? Andrey Dubov’s art witnesses that nothing in life is not worthy of finding itself in a golden frame. Andrey paints a row of various village sheds and annexes. And, differently from the Old Arbat Moscow landscape, which appears to be a part of set design for a provincial theatre, this poor shanty development becomes, at the instigation of the artist, an agile and interesting phenomenon “in itself”. Can a veranda built in a way “as simple as possible” be an object? It can become a masterpiece of art. Endless vertical lines of the construction cut with great mastery the space filled with warm air, with the evening light of the village summer.

The list of exhibitions in the biography of Andrey Igorevitch Dubov, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Arts, is more than great. They took place in Russia, in the capital and in the regions, in China and Spain, France and Belgium. But when asked about the most important of them, he speaks not about those well-received by the press, not those with commercial success or many followers. Andrey Dubov calls most important his personal exhibition at the Central House of Artists in 1992, where, together with his friend, while establishing how works were to be displayed, they discovered so much – their failures and successes, and, most importantly, landmarks which helped to go forward. This shows the essence of the artist’s attitude to himself and to art.
Andrey Dubov is the painter of the generation brought up by the artistic processes of post-60s and coming to replace the giants of the “rigorous style”, which not only gave a new language to paints, but also added the weight of civic consciousness to art and a faith that the artist can restructure life. The responsibility of creative art – these words sound unusual now, when the aim of the creators of art, which now calls itself “up-to-date”, is to make a “gag”.

Big artist Andrey Vladimirovich Vasnetsov, which by the will of wise fate became Andrey Dubov's teacher from his very childhood, was right to think it is inner interest that leads an artist to be born. Andrey Igorevitch speaks about his calling in this very way: even at a very young age it was interesting to discover how, miraculously, a drawing appears from under the pencil on paper, and it wasn't his parents who took him to study to an art school, he came there by himself.

Andrey always realised what a serious vocation he had chosen. This is what the painter valued in his student. He wrote that the young artist wasn't tempted by two corrupt pathways in art – light-hearted fashion-following and naturalistic copying. He chose the “hard way of experiencing the nature of art”, fascinated by the search for spatial and colour-spatial solutions, which is now quite a rare approach.
His teacher was assertive in formulating his position: the approach to a painting is similar to solving a mathematical equation, where X’s and Y’s are the form, composition, space, layout and the artist has to deal with this task every time anew. He was convinced that romantic liberty in art is primitive negligence, he hated stylization and considered stylizers to be killers of true art. You can only find your style in your own self, having full trust in nature and life itself – this is what the student speaks about as well, having absorbed all lessons of the master with gratitude. Can art be checked with mathematics? In his search for spatial logic the artist should unmistakably guess at the final sensual wholeness of the painting. As “paints wrongly laid equal a moral wrongdoing”.
I think that when somebody speaks about understatement in the works of the painter, he is not truly right. The artist speaks out always. The concentration of the author standing behind an easel or a sketch-block must reach a degree of “super-feeling”, when what he is painting manifests itself not in the details. On the contrary, the object seems to dissolve in space, losing shape. Yet at the same time the before-hidden mystery of its essence comes to the fore, and will be perceived by the spectator not with his mind, but with his emotions. Of course, subject to a proviso that his contact with the work is not transient. Andrey Dubov’s works won’t open themselves up to a hurrying person, but they will make a thoughtful and cordial person the painter’s faithful follower.

The artist doesn’t paint an object “against a background”. The space around the painter’s point of interest lives by itself. And it (although mere emptiness seemingly!) appears to probe, attract and at the same time repel the object, creating power lines, leading the look of the spectator along the surface of the canvas. Dubov’s art is not a parallel world. It modestly and unnoticeably tunes, brings into harmony the natural chaos of the surrounding world, and by doing this ultimately helps a person live. This is probably the main aim of art, which now, unfortunately, is not accepted by everyone.

When the artist depicts a shelf hanging in a workshop, i.e. his artistic kitchen, or maybe in a real kitchen, and when he lovingly goes through objects of different forms, indiscriminate for us, with the help of brushes and paints, it is more of a meditation, a prayer, than a statement. And however these things argue with each other, this small world, super-temporal, fleeing from direct light is unavoidably brought by the author to harmony – with nothing but colour, almost monochrome.

Why does the topic “interior of a workshop” remain of immediate interest to the artist? It cannot be just because his paints and canvases are always here, waiting. This interest is everlasting by definition, and not only for Andrey. As every creator in all times, he tries to understand himself. An artist’s workshop is his close universe, the place for the peaks of his success and the depths of his failures, the territory of God’s gift, of miracles. It has its own life, its laws and its heroes. The main character of the painting can be an old armchair with adamant will and tsar-like stature, or a wide chair disposing for a long friendly tea. And you seem to hear these endless philosophical discussions of painters about art, and funny anecdotes by masters of the brush. And sometimes Maitre Easel himself comes on stage, contemplating only the great things, always aiming skyward, to the mountain peaks.
There can be no failures in this genre. The artist seems to work at professional tasks: composition, tone, colour. The disposition can be changed very slightly, yet there will be morning light, or evening light, or electric lamps under the high ceiling. And the flowers in the vase are now fresh, and the next moment – withered. Every time we will be surprised by the newness of the space. And – eternal magic of art! – we have the gift of grasping slightly what is remembered by the artist, what he thinks about at the easel. The wordless dialogue of the author and his admirer is endless and never boring.

These interiors are painted from life, but the rectangles of big and small canvas stretchers and canvases standing at the walls are always turned with their back to the spectator in such an attractive order-chaos that it must give the artist an irresistible desire to work, and give us, simple humans, an equally irresistible desire to turn every masterpiece and make it face us. Look at it, make it out.
You shouldn't get an impression that we have a recluse, a workshop stylit in front of us. Andrey Dubov is happy to have the opportunity to visit the big world museums, something which was completely impossible in his student years. He travels a lot, bringing home marvelous landscapes with palm-trees, Southern seas, mountain tops and foreign cities.
A few trips to Stockholm were the artist's greatest sucess. There he made not drafts or sketches, but big canvases, keeping the strained impulse of fast, absorbing work, the joy of new impressions and at the same time – the thoughtful reserve characteristic of the author. Piers of the old town, yachts, boats, ships and cold Northern waters are painted in such a way that you cannot help being drawn into faraway travels. It is as if you physically feel the weight of the water displaced by the ship, dancing on the water, the сreak of sail yards and the cries of seagulls. But not today, not now. Time becomes one, and somewhere close Vikings and Dutch merchants find themselves side by side, and every boat has Noah’s Ark in its genes.

This painting is not just a landscape. In any office or home space it can do a lot – it can change the mood, it can make you feel the sweetness of fresh wind in business sails. In Dubov’s works man is not behind the scene. His presence becomes active right at the moment when we, exhibition visitors, are drawn into the space created by the artist.
If you go through the book about the author or the catalogue from the end, starting with the illustrations list, you will notice the overt similarity of names: still life with a coffee pot, landscape with trees, interior of a workshop. But when you shift canvases in this very workshop one by one, you find yourself in an enchanted land which you cannot explain even to yourself at first. For the artist all objects – dishes, statues, boxes placed in a very thought-out way, without false scenic carelessness, are as if seen with some kind of main vision, which allows the artist to see in a way impossible for us.
No, Andrey Dubov’s still lifes are not a parade of bright fruit and luxurious antiques. Poor in colour, shadowless, tastily molded forms of objects in a still life talk to you not in a festive language, but in the language of ordinary reality – just as it is. Having taken some time, you unexpectedly find yourself in the state of “the boy in the garden”, in a prayerful intercession where you realize that the objects in our everyday life are finite, but the space is eternal, the space which is all around and close to us, and which is the essence of life – spirit, thought, feeling.

When working, the author doesn’t go from general tinting into details. He doesn’t pay attention to naturalistic specifics. This makes his interior portraits more than portraits: “Grandmother”, “Boy with a Dog”, “Self-portrait in a Workshop”. One of Andrey Dubov’s most powerful paintings with not a very meaningful name (just as always) – “At the Window” – is a real revelation. Nothing is happening here. They are sitting in counter light at an empty table, a woman and a child. Fleeing time and young time are different worlds, separated by the shadow of the window frame. The boy is trustingly and carelessly holding out his thin hands towards something. And the woman in front of him is life itself. Hence so much anxiety in her figure, the exorbitant burden of prophecies pulling her shoulders down, her hand on the cheek in such a bitter, womanly way. The author is not interested in photographic details. Only what is around and in-between is important – the air of emotions.
You won’t find in the workshop of this painter a bright rainbow of the full palette. These excessively broad opportunities don’t allow the artist to speak for himself. Self-limitation in colours allows him to build the space in an almost graphic manner, however classical monochromaticism is not a threat to him. Looking closer, you find an incredible richness of fine colours working at the strict orders of the author, despite the seeming spontaneity of the pseudo sketch-like manner.
If you know how to look, you will see that nothing is static here. Like Tarkovskiy's glass with water which is moved to the edge of the table by the gaze of a child. Characters of still lifes, living on the table or in an old cupboard are self-sufficient, full of hidden meanings which we can anticipate. And old coffee pot, which, when everyone is asleep, surely can travel around the flat. It is alive. And porcelain statues in a painting seem to be much more significant than we ourselves – small monuments on the round square of the table.

Flora's colourful richness is not tempting for the author. He sees other things in flowers. In this respect “Bouquet” by Andrey Dubov is quite extraordinary, wrapped flowers on an old table. The strict geometry of the paper сrape, tender vulnerability of tiny flowers reminding of star deposits in the sky is not a literary piece with an intriguing plot. It is a guess at life and death, where the most important thing is Love.
The artist is interested in the texture of objects, the way they exist in space, sculptural dialogues of forms. And “conversations” on canvases are different, so these scenes of “nature morte” life are never boring. One of the characters of these pictorial performances – a roll, paper or canvas rolled up in a spiral. And this spiral, this spring is a sign of tension and expectation for the spectator and for the author. As an empty canvas for an artist is forever attractive.


Natalia Aksenova

Member of the Union of Artists of Russia
Member of the International Journalists Federation

Галерея работ Андрея Игоревича Дубова: