Andrei Tolstoy. Dmitriy Ikonnikov. Parts of his way in the art: “close circle” and “distant vision”. Catalogue 2001
The current Dmitriy Ikonnikov’s exhibition is a jubilee event. It opens when the artist celebrates his fiftieth anniversary. But the aim of this exhibition is far from being a report on the artist’s achievments. On the contrary this famous artist is showing most of his latest pictures painted during last two years. And these pictures are in many ways different from what he has done before. The following is the summary of the pictures illustrating the artist’s search of a new creative development. These works by Ikonnikov are united by a theme that we may determine as his “close circle”. The artist depicts mainly his own environment, his world. It is his home, his next of kin including his beloved cat. The space in his pictures is more often a close one too: flat interiors, the inside space of a house on the Black Sea where he spends his summer holidays. In this set of pictures there are some landscapes. They are from the close environment too: a view to the outer world from his balcony, a very usual but again very important for him neighbouring courtyard. Some of Ikonnikov’s landscapes in this collection are standing apart. These are some illustrations of the artist’s imaginary travels. Some of the city views remind us of Venice with its canals and humpback bridges, some — of France with its lofty gothic cathedrals over bridges and water torrents. But all these views are born in the artist’s fantasy or may be in his dreams. In any case they are the fruits of very personal feelings and associations fixed by the artist who might have been inspired just by his very personal perception of Moscow, which is also a part of his own world. Actually we are speaking about pictures that look like chamber works from subject and genre point of view: still lifes, interiors, intimate landscapes, and imagination sceneries. The technique used is also a chamber one. True to his education of a graphic artist Ikonnikov keeps working on paper. But we can’t call his compositions true chamber graphic works. Firstly because he paints on big size paper sheets fixed on a plane board. Secondly his preferred gouache on big surfaces looks like losing its characteristics. Instead of coating layers in his pictures we see the transparency, almost glazed surfaces. More to it the diversified texture in these pictures looks like breathing, and reminds of rough plastered walls, as if we see fragments of paintings. Now it’s time to speak about the most important quality of pictures by Ikonnikov, which would prevent us from envisaging his latest pictures as chamber works. It is his ability to conform the solution to the united composition task what guarantees the integrity and therefore makes the composition monumental. This monumentalism most probably comes from the artist’s work experience at a monumental shop of a big arts production center. Ikonnikov’s experience of work for a printing house as a poster artist and a book illustrator is of great importance too. All his previous experience contributes to his specific distant “broad angled” vision. But either didactic bombast or epic scope is alien to this artist. The above mentioned qualities place his works into the dignified row of monumental pictures by such bright masters as Andre Matisse and Maurice Denis. The resemblance to those masters isn’t big though. The point is that being self sufficiently monumental from the point of view of composition almost all his works are very much controlled in details. We may even say that he is a master of the detail. Thanks to his keen attention and especially intense meticulousness to every single detail, this talent feature puts him closer to the old masters that could furnish any prosaic and ordinary object the function of a token, turn it into a secret symbol without breaking its specific aura. This was most typical of “small Dutch” and J.-B. Chardin. These usual associations make us assume that most composition elements in Ikonnikov’s pictures are equally important and each of them carries a part of a truth, which in it completeness is understood by a few initiated. In the XVII–XVIII centuries though the secret meaning of the painted objects and their combinations summarized at the time by editions like “Symbols and Emblems” were quite clear to public. Nowadays we can’t say so. From the one side there is nothing extraordinary or exotic in Ikonnikov’s compositions objects. But it is quite clear that the artist gives these simple objects his very personal symbolism, and the number of those initiated is again as small as his “close circle”. Ikonnikov’s works are not a stylization. In his pictures we can see that the artist assimilated the contemporary search and interest of the art period where creative traditions of different times combine. It usually happens at crisis eras awaiting new discoveries. The end of the XXth and the beginning of the XXIst centuries are exactly such an era. Ikonnikov’s environment is lived-in and hospitable. First of all it is such for himself who has built it. Does it mean that the master’s pictures world is esoteric and closed for strangers? Let’s have a closer look at his filling the pictures by objects. Different in shapes pipes, tobacco tins and boxes, ashtrays, cognac and liqueur bottles some paunchy, some slender, roundish vases, different glasses, mugs with lids, pot-pitchers, coffee pots and kettles travel from one picture to another. They are put on the tables as if arranged in a showcase or just placed in a sentimentally chaotic way. This assortment of objects might be such to tell us about the artist himself. He may be a gourmet, a connoisseur of pipes and tobacco — hence the artist is a person who enjoys heart-to-heart unhurried talk with his friends from the “close circle”. It isn’t that simple however. Besides their meaningful role the objects in Ikonnikov’s pictures organize the structure and stabilize the composition. To compensate the previous role the objects vary several times from the point of view of correlation of volumes and texture. The consistency of one object may be modified by the incorporeality of the other. In any case the real weight of Ikonnikov’s picture objects and more precisely of their proto-types has no importance for the artist because he builds his own world, which has nothing in common with the world that was given to us in form of sensations and reflexes. The artist provokes the viewer to see some tokens of things in general through his usual and ordinary objects. The feeling of a duality (as if the object is plain and simple, but it is painted as a token) awakens layers of one’s cultural memory, and in spite of himself one is forced to behold the world of archetypical meanings and associations. (I believe that the artist despite himself has the same feelings). The most obvious duality in arts is the image of fish. It has been the symbol of the Savior since the time when Christian art traditions were born. The fish is often pictured in the Ikonnikov’s still lifes next to his beloved set of objects. If we accept this approach to value all his objects we can’t give up the idea that Ikonnikov’s Pipes, Bottles, Glasses, and Vases in interiors are pure symbols and tokens, some witnesses of the material and which is more importantof the spiritual culture of the Civilization. In some cases the objects’ symbolic function is in the background giving way in the forefront to the usual every-day one, but the symbolic function of objects is always present in Ikonnikov’s pictures. A friendly festive meal is fraught with sacrament, a usual model of behavior — with a ritual. One senses a comprehensive duality of objects world, of the environment, and of the atmosphere itself in Ikonnikov’s works. The duality of the most of his compositions is the strongest feature of Ikonnikov’s art. His simultaneous address to the inside and outer world of things is apparent in another feature. Ikonnikov has a bifocal vision of his world. This quality is a very rare capacity to unite his micro- and macro- vision. Thanks to the monumental features of the artist’s works, he is great at uniting the mentioned above maximum proximity to every detail included into his associative contacts with the breadth, large scale of space scope beyond the “close circle”. Pictures with such features painted during last two years are mainly presented in this exposition. They com
pel us to regard the artist as a bright master of the specific easel painting monumentalism, a master who paints not separate still lifes, interiors or landscapes but fragments of a scale if not of the universal Whole. May be this Whole exists only virtually in the artist’s subconsciousness, but without doubt this Whole synthesizes important characteristics of the art language of the late XXth century. …In most of Ikonnikov’s pictures there are no human beings either in still lifes or landscapes and interiors. The tables are laid in expectation of a few but very close friends. The pipes, bottles, and glasses are ready, but there is nobody at the tables yet. The pipes are not made draw, the cognac is not poured out, the coffee hasn’t been sipped as if the artist is inviting the spectators to join in the getting ready festive meal or an unhurried conversation and through that enter his “close circle”. No one can resist such an invitation.
Professor of Art History