Artist’s statement: what I am doing and why

I am an artist and iconographer. I define myself by this awkward double term because although an iconographer is an artist, s/he is not merely an artist and because I wish to highlight the fact that I paint not only icons. At the same time, I do not treat making icons and making other kinds of artworks as unrelated activities and this is why I do not have separate websites for them. I refuse to split.

If modern art is defined as “challenging and thought-provoking” for its own sake then I do not make modern art. If modern art means the art made by a modern person then I make modern art. In my work I follow the directions given by Anna Golubkina
“Just work, work your own ideas and eventually you will get your style” and Irina Zaharova “If you have something to say you will find how to say”.

It means that my work has content. If it happened to look “challenging and thought-provoking” then it is only because challenging and thought-provoking content dictated a suitable shape. By content I mean an image which is formed in my mind as a result of my experiences and impressions. It is reasonable to state that such an image is a visual outcome of my intense involvement with certain aspects of life. My purpose as an artist is to transfer it on paper or a board with maximal sincerity. If the artwork looks formally very good but does not convey what I felt I consider it to be untrue and it does not have any value in my eyes.

While icon painting has its unique aspects I apply to it the same simple principals of truthfulness and primacy of the purpose over the form. An icon is made for prayer, private or communal; it is given that a new icon must be canonical, i.e. it must be the organic expression of Orthodox tradition (art is the expression of theology here). At the same time, I am convinced that an icon should not just bear the mark of tradition but also of a personal spiritual experience of the iconographer, even if it is minimal – otherwise an icon is theoretical. I understand my work as telling others about the reality of Jesus Christ, witnessing. Witnessing cannot be impersonal.

Because of my understanding of the purpose of Christian art as a messenger of the eternally fresh Good News into the world I do not make richly decorated, overloaded with gold icons. I do not stylize my work or follow any historical style because my consciousness is different from ancient iconographers’; their styles (which we now perceive as historical) were a natural expression of their consciousness but not mine and I cannot see the need to pretend that it is not so. My compass is the least stylized earliest examples of icons and frescos together with the later works of several key iconographers (Theophanes the Greek and Sister Ioanna Reitlinger to name two). I also feel a particular affinity with the Moscow school of icon painting.

It occurred to me recently that the expectations from artists to produce “challenging and thought-provoking” works and from iconographers – to make stylized, preferably Byzantine-like, richly gilded and meticulously copied examples of older icons express the same modern tendency to wish not so much for an artwork but for its certified ghost. Knowing (and demanding) in advance that certain artwork is “challenging and thought-provoking” (or anything else) means that a spectator is not interested in a personal relationship with the work and in his own discovery of its qualities. A buyer of an icon briefly checks it for rich gilding, stylization and usage of natural pigments omitting the only thing which matters – the actual image of the saint thus refusing to enter into a personal relationship with the depicted saint. In both cases the preconceptions and criteria received from a third party (art critics and those ignorant of the purpose of Christian art) ensure that the spectator will never see the artwork and icon as they are. Both cases betray the modern avoidance of engagement with anything real. Therefore my work fits with neither the expectations of the modern art market nor with the expectations of the modern icon market.