Pink Acrobat by Oleg Golovko painting

Northern Russia, primarily St. Petersburg and Novgorod, is home to an exciting and long-standing tradition of innovation in the arts. In an attempt, perhaps, to escape vicariously from the almost interminable winters of Russia’s far north, the painters of this region are noted for their willingness to go beyond the bounds of convention in order to come up with warmer and more exciting uses of color and style.

Novgorod… ancient cradle of Slavic culture… virtually synonymous with the Icon, that treasure of Russian religious life that has inspired Russian artists for a thousand years and is still an important art form in itself. During the last Millennium this ancient city has become an Icon of sorts, serving as a focal point for the deepest longings of the Russian people. It is also, interestingly enough, the home of Russian Realism.

St. Petersburg, au contraire…the Venice of the North and like its namesake a locus of artistic and architectural genius… Russia’s Window on the West, whose mix of the indigenous and the European has given rise to movements that are at once wholly international and uniquely Russian.

In our desire to bring out the eclecticism that defines modern Russian art we have named the collection “The MIX”. Through the works shown here we have conjoined several themes that are widely dissimilar: the traditional and the avant - guard; the symbolic and realistic; the figurative and the abstract. Since the goal of this collection is, above all, to show the captivating diversity of contemporary Russian art, we believe the title of the collection to be an apt one.

Drawing on the buildings and monuments of Novgorod for their inspiration, Dmitry Zhuravlev, Vitaly Stukov, Edward Ivanov, Grigory Shtender (1927-1992) - all members of the Novgorod department of the Union of Russian Artists - have relied on these venerable sites as their primary source of subject matter. And, in doing so, Zhuravlev and Shtender have attained a degree of distinction that has allowed them to stand out even in this distinguished group. Deeply influenced by the exquisite enameled jewelry boxes of old Novgorod, the former’s works are characterized by their intricate use of the color red - a trait shown to maximum effect, perhaps, in St. George’s Battle with the Dragon. (The same word is used for both “red” and “beautiful” in the Russian language.)

The paintings of Mr. Shtender, whose “day job“ is that of professional restorer, tend to glorify Russia’s most notable architectural achievements. Through a careful and muted use of color, they may be said to pay homage to the pale yet subtle cast of a far Northern light while showing the influence of the monumental frescos of the earliest churches of Novgorod (Vyazhische).

The illustrator Boris Nepomnyaschy, however, draws on a wide variety of themes for his subject matter. Winner of the coveted title of National Artist of Russia, he is highly regarded for his mastery of the art of etching after having created a bookplate for former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

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Oleg Golovko, Pink acrobat 1997, oil on canvas, 65.5 x 54 cm
Hermitage Art Center