The first participation of the student of Art College alongside with experienced artists in republican exhibition of 1964 showed that the art of Uzbekistan obtained a new and original creative person. At the end of the 1960s, being a student of VGIC (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography), Javlon Umarbekov was got high on aesthetics of Russian icon painting and oriental miniatures. He created stylistically new pictures of “Hussain Baiqara and Alisher Navoi young”, “Song”, “My friend” and “Mulberry picking” which in many respects predetermined new principles of painting of that period. All these early works played an important role in new understanding of tasks standing before the artist himself and before national painting in general. Intimate intonation and philosophy aiming to exploration of person’s inward became alternative to pragmatic style and collectivized consciousness that characterized painting of previous years.
Personal and artistic becoming of Umarbekov was running in the 1960s-70s which were between so-called “thaw” and coming stagnation. VGIC gave him the opportunity to enter wide spaces of art knowledge. At the same time, canons of socialist realism “hoppled” the young artist. He tried to keep creative and ethic freedom maximally. To speak language of standards accessible to spectators was normal in that period. Exclusive were cases when the artistic rules could be broken, and independent thinking in art was often equated to heresy. Even allegory was classified as attempt to destruct the formula “art must be clear to people”. Freedom of individual creative self-expression was realized within certain thematic circle and stylistic forms determined by official criteria. To differ from others was difficult in such conditions. Collectivism of thinking generated collectivism of behavior and some unified style. J. Umarbekov’s first works could be related to rather decent formula of national romanticism or chamber lyricism – tendencies which were not so welcomed by ideology of socialist realism, but at the same time were not pursued as rebellious. However, they looked as a form of protest or, more likely, as self-affirmation which deliberately separated from hardened rules and canons. It was arising aspiration to declare values of natural painting plastics.
In the mid-1970s, when social painting had reached the apogee, J. Umarbekov was preaching “quiet painting”. His pictures of “Eclipse”, “For water” and “Summer” brought a spectator to the space of out-social experiences and pacifying quietness. Even addressing to social theme, he mythologized it so that poetics and image appeared in the foreground instead of ideological pathos. It is clearly seen in “Big water. 1930″ (1977) and triptych “Beginning” (1985).
Force of transforming element is especially accented in his series of mystified landscapes of the 1980s – “City of fire-worshippers” and “Salt Valley” from series “Surkhandarya”, “To Issyk Kul”, “Last yurt”, “Evening in steppe” and “Road to Pungan”. More likely, these are fantastic visions of author’s unconscious, perfectly recreated and materialized in canvases. We again see hidden opposition to standard rules and individual searches for own style in traditional and the most typified genre.
Umarbekov had survived perestroika in his own way from the mid-1980s to the beginning of the 1990s. Art was coming to crash of positivism aesthetics, caused by growing idea that social ideals and concepts which were basic for state and life of Soviet people were just utopia. In painting, nihilism went from Moscow art underground and, it seemed, reached our region. However, here the situation differed. Oppositional moods were not so widespread and fundamental in Central Asia, unlike Moscow or Baltic countries. Therefore, local works, having negatively critical sight at the recent past and nostalgia on medieval time, were caused more by some kind of fashion on social critic in painting than by internal ideological pathos of artists. It is small wonder that Uzbek artists apprehended and reflected this tendency and then left it easily and quickly at the beginning of the 1990s. Ideological crisis of pre-perestroika epoch and perestroika in pictures by Umarbekov sounded differently from many other artists. He refused painting of estimations and remained faithful to painting of feelings and became able to express his pain adequately, without vanity. This pain is felt in his composition of “Zilzilya” (“Earthquake”), close to “Guernica” by Picasso in plastics and tragic intonation. The same fragile plastics and hidden dramatics characterizes the works of 1988 – “Midday dream”, “Swing at aryk”, “Diptych”, “Women at aryk” and “Melodies of old city”. Feeling of collapsing universe and mood of spiritual apocalypse are transferred in works which light names contrast to their semantic intonation. Color palette corresponds to this dramatic condition – it keeps to cold mossy, gray-green, black and brown tones. Only exception is the picture of “Blue musicians” in red-yellow-blue color as if a light song foretells coming morning. This work marks sources of genesis and as if explains paradoxical creation of sparkling series of the early 1990s. The artist pointed out traditional Uzbek music as a factor causing this series.
Numerous trips abroad influenced J. Umarbekov’s creativity. In the 1970s-80s he visited Poland, Algeria, Georgia, Germany, Japan and Finland. Any trip, each meeting with a new country, culture and people was a big event for the artist, discovering a new world and different civilization which promoted new painting challenges.
The trip to Algeria in 1978-1979 became one of the most impressing. There he created the pictures becoming staging in his work. Algeria started a new interpretation of landscape painting. Original silhouettes of Arab traditional houses in the form of faceted white rectangles with flat roofs caused the artist to turn to cubistic interpretations. Anyway, from that time the academic manner of landscape, typical of pictures in the 1960s, changed greatly. Growing from student years aspiration to percept the world around as a powerful impulse, but not just an object of copying splashed out on canvas. Formation of this new philosophy was important not only for understanding of landscape, but for J. Umarbekov’s aesthetics in general. Pictures from the Algerian series have deeply individual arrangement and sometimes keep only internal intonation connected them with a prototype.
The artist estimated his trips differently. Strange as it may seem, advanced countries such as USA, Germany, Finland, Japan and Kuwait, often much impressing many tourists, have not left a significant trace in creativity of the artist. Meanwhile, trips to Algeria, Issyk Kul and Surkhandarya, which environment has not been strongly affected by intervention of technical progress, appeared extremely fruitful for the artist. That proves his affinity to deep original traditions of folk culture and its philosophy.
In the 1980s, interest to national history and outstanding persons, shown in his early works, was reflected in monumental pictures “Homo Sapiens” (1979-1980), “I am a man” (1983) and the picture of the mid-1990s devoted to Amir Temur which was similar to the first in idea but differed in plastics. These works are often related to historical genre. Meanwhile, history after landscapes of Algerian or Surkhandarya series represents just material for development of universal philosophic and ethic formulas.
Pathos of intonation, composition and color of the pictures devoted to anniversary of great medieval philosophers Ibn Sino and Al Khorezmi are so close, that sometimes they seem some kind of diptych though were created in different years. Allegorical embodiment of ethic categories – good, evil, love, truth and others in historical personages is an old method, but each time demanding original plastic solution and hard preparatory researches. Truth and Mind in combination with pure thoughts and humanistic ideals form important semantic and figurative context of the canvases. At the same time, they embodied essentially new approach to historical theme, which J. Umarbekov developed in wide historical and cultural context of the problem “East – West”. That was unexpected and rather topical angle for painting of the 1980s. Due to archeological finds, works of historians and orientalists, contribution of Central Asian peoples in the world civilization was reassessed. Former Europe-centric approaches to genesis of world culture began to give up the place to objective recognition of equal, and sometimes more significant contribution of peoples of our region to treasury of universal values. For the first time in fine arts of Uzbekistan, this theme was interpreted so fundamentally and expressively. The same idea sounds in smaller pictures, such as “Moon still-life”, “Still-life with Kushan prince” and others which accent important concept of recognition and objective estimation of Oriental culture.
J. Umarbekov felt ethic cataclysms which usually occurred in society in epochs of great historical changes. In the 1990s, he turned to history, which was closer and not connected with outstanding heroes. Personages and episodes from childhood and youth came to canvases. Grinders, musicians, sellers, markets, streets, water mills and other attributes of old city became personages of his pictures. They have another plastic accent and semantic intonations. Plots from memory are also historical – street grinders disappeared, there are no water-carriers and old mills, we do not hear calling shouts of ragmen driving wooden araba. Not so much historical and ethnographic attributes excite J. Umarbekov – his personages are valuable as original criterion of human properties – sincerity and kindness. High pathos and didactics of historical-philosophic pictures “I am a man” and “Homo sapiens” gives up the place to nostalgic intonations on leaving ethic values. Motifs connected with devaluation of such ethic properties as kindness, love and sympathy, are given in allegoric form.
Pictures of old city series reflect relation of the artist to today’s social and ethic problems. To express such delicate theme of human relations in painting is a difficult task. Negative estimation of today’s ethic metamorphoses sounds indirectly by means of color and forms. The picture “Two and dogs” (1992) gives didactic story interpreted in bright carnival plastics. Later, stylistically rough “Among dogs” (1996) gives the image of naked man sitting among dogs. Rather strong social and ethic content was reached by means of original grotesque and deliberate deformation of bodies. Allegorically expressive yellow-black color, broken forms and lines strengthen social underground of the plot, calling spectators to independent thinking and interpretation. “Seller of old copper utensils” (1996) reflects artist’s thinking on proportion of transitory material and eternal cultural values and solves it in yellow – black color, cubistic texture and sad figure of the seller. Copper utensils have a certain sacral sense as a symbol of traditional values which has been lost to please pragmatic tasks and requirements of modern civilization. Technocracy and breaking of links with the nature result in alienation, isolation, disharmony in life and lead to formation of consumer society.
At the beginning of the 1990s, in 1992, cardinal changes touched approach to plastic tasks, philosophical relation to art and its role in society. Artistic association of “Caravan” was founded. Alongside with J. Umarbekov, Saidolim Sharipov, Mukhtar Isanov and Khurshid Ziehanov it united young talented artists of the new wave, such as Jamal Usmanov, Akhmadali Faizullaev, Bahtier Mahkamov and Lekim Ibraghimov. The first exhibition of “Caravan” group was held the same year in the exhibition hall of Culture and Information Centre of Uzbektourism in Tashkent. J. Umarbekov represented the first works of old city cycle, such as “Road to market”, “Ritual”, “Fortunetellers”, “Seller of old copper utensils”, “Saman bazaar” and “Street grinder”. Though feeling of creative freedom came much earlier, the decision to create something plastically and conceptually new was made by Javlon when he was preparing to this exhibition.
A number of pictures on themes of recollections grew after 1993. They were more festive than nostalgic. Hence carnival-like solutions of color spectrum and general atmosphere of pictures.
Many pictures from the new folklore cycle are a result of creative inspiration and subconscious impulse, which source was sometimes not clear to artist himself. This passionate and inexplicable aspiration to express truth suddenly unveiled, when the artist was surviving moments of inspiration, calls up a phenomenon of prophetical – Koran and Bible revelations.
In two variants of “For water” (1997 and 1999) J. Umarbekov uses irony as graceful solution of folklore poetics. The dog bears a copper vase with two pomegranates on the head. On the yellow background, as if in suzane, there are images of a girl and child, whose silhouettes are hardly guessed within phantasmagoric turbulence of colors and lines. Fantastic bird with long feathers sits on the head of the beauty. The dog, girl’s face, dress and jug are covered with greenish pattern. In the variant of 1999, the background became bright yellow instead of dark brown. Fine pattern on the body of dog and the face of girl gives up the place to more integral decorative spots, and the girl obviously looks younger with ironical face, instead of languishing beauty in the picture of 1997. More plastic is blue-emerald band of aryk flowing behind the backs of characters going for water. This line cements work, gives constructive integrity and symbolically expresses the river of time. Snipy dogs, five or four-fingered boneless palms and feet, play with anatomic parts of body – all that amazing plastic is organic to poetics of fairy tales with their surrealistic motifs, metaphorical exaggerations and specific folklore irrationality. J. Umarbekov reaches plastic freedom and freedom of self-expression, showing original artistic drive and improvisation.
J. Umarbekov’s repertoire of motifs in folklore-city series flows from one picture to another, becoming original archetypes or plastic signs strengthening poetic uniqueness of his painting. They are some kind of metaphors-idioms identifying the style of artist. They make works by Javlon recognized and unique. They are not so numerous, but have extremely important semantic-poetic and rhythmic value – moon, tumor, kumgan, knives, araba, pomegranates and pattern of trefoil. This folklore poetics is not only but important feature of old city cycle. Works from this cycle are interesting metaphorically and aesthetically. At the same time they are important as preservation of memory and continuity of spiritual traditions consecrated by skills of the artist.
J. Umarbekov’s creativity has been fed by rich cultural and historical tradition, heritage of his people and charged by world art. It was inspired by creativity of his great predecessors – founders of national painting of Uzbekistan – А. Volkov, A. Nikolaev (Usto-Mumin), N. Karakhan, U. Tansykbaev, Ch. Akhmarov, A. Abdullaev and R. Akhmedov. It may be said without exaggeration that National Artist of Uzbekistan, Academician Javlon Umarbekov occupies his place in this galaxy of artistic talents.