Imperceptibly, this prominent master has approached the point of maturity – his 60th anniversary. In outward appearance, this has not told on him: he is as mobile and young as ever – perhaps the result of a moderate, almost ascetic lifestyle. Content with the little, Abdumannon has preserved himself and his soul for painting that has become the meaning of his life.
Painting is an element that cannot be made better or worse by words. It does not yield to words; one has to be able to see and admire it, learning its language, getting spiritual and aesthetic joy. Like infrared light, invisibly and beneficially it influences our life. The life-path of a true artist is always exciting; one wants to be part of it somehow and to help people see his inner world, the laboratory of his spirit.
Yunusov’s canvases, with all their drawing-like and story-telling quality, subordinate to the laws of painting. I believe he learned the magical language of colour and the power of its impact. This, apparently, was built into him genetically; yet the art path this undoubtedly gifted man followed was guided and fostered by one of his teachers, Yevgeniy Melnikov – an outstanding painter, poet and pedagogue of Uzbekistan. The friendship between the student and the teacher, and eventually between senior and junior colleagues has continued for 45 years. Yunusov’s teacher is an extraordinary personality, an artist who combines in him almost incompatible things: heightened emotionality and profound philosophical insight into it. The master of huge energy potential, during the time when Abdumannon was his student, he carried the line of painting in the art of Uzbekistan that originated from the work of great French impressionists and post-impressionists. Melnikov is the artist of high painting culture that was taken in by Yunusov.
In an article written more than 15 years ago I referred to Yunusov as a “gem”, and while student, this gem was cut not only by the hands of a first-class master, but also by the entire artistic environment that prevailed in the Republican Art School named after P. Benkov, which he graduated from in 1967. The school attracted gifted young men and women and the best pedagogue painters of Uzbekistan. The school developed an intensive and content-rich curriculum, and the teaching of painting continued for five years. This time enabled the students’ knowledge to become deeper and stronger, and, most importantly, sustainable. As an outcome, Yunusov has become a first-class master.
Recently I saw a display of installations in one of the city’s shops that was organized by indefatigable and talented Elena Kambina and her students. In the shop window there was an astonishing white dress and in front of it a grid resembling barbed wire, implying the inaccessibility of the dress price-wise. It crossed my mid that one may as well put oil paints behind the barbed wire of inaccessibility. It is difficult to enter school studios as they are filled with the smell of cheap house paints and solvents students have to use. Because of poor quality materials and home-made whites it won’t be long before these paintings “wilt”, fade and flake; canvases painted by gifted young men and women and the zeal and heat of their hearts will cease to exist. These things come to my mind, for perhaps the finest museum works of Yunusov, Umarbekov and other famous artists of our country were painted during their student years.
My memory still retains as a striking experience the canvases by Timur Jamolitdinov, which he painted while being a student, and I cannot say with confidence that anything he created later on is better than those canvases.
The great Henri Matisse, at a certain stage during his sojourn in Algeria and Morocco, created a couple of dozens of paintings that provided a clue to many a problem in painting in the oriental art. Revelation paintings, they opened new paths for the oriental artists to be. In that was the genius of Matisse. I am thinking of his “Moroccan Triptych” (1913) and other canvases. It was Matisse who said “Revelation always comes to me from the East” (1, p. 87).
Looking at Yunusov’s canvases that belong to the heyday of his creative work, particularly the “Summer Courtyard”, one can feel that Matisse’s lessons have begun to bear fruit on Uzbek land. The “Summer Courtyard” (1978) is one of Yunusov’s masterpieces. It was painted during a period when the artist’s preferences and ideals were highlighted and exposed in a more distinct way. This can be seen from the overall colour organization of the canvas, which is built on fine and clear contrast between deep blue and red, and this contrast is so convincing and apt that one cannot help wondering whether it was Herat masters or Matisse who prompted Abdumannon to create the piece. But most likely, it was the master’s love for that wonderful and shining little world that absorbed all the colours of the universe and enchanted him that made him create this amazing picture. Apparently, everything started with the red shoes at the threshold that caught his eye. Like a black crow on a white snow in Surikov’s painting “Boyarynia Morozova”, the shoes provided Yunusov with a compositional clue to the painting.
Yunusov, as a true genre painter, makes the space in the picture appear compacted. In the “Summer Courtyard” the chord of red hues is compressed by the steel spiral of blue squares of doors and apertures; the space of the courtyard is constructed in tiers going deeply in, building a harmonious ensemble of blue verticals and warm green planes, which gives the impression of a wholesome pictorial organism. The beautiful synthesis of colour and shape… The space of the painting, growing more complex, is expanded by the introduction of a mirror into the doorway – a particular keen eye for the details of everyday life and measure, a great deal of measure rather than an intrusive stringing of these details. The master combined this apparent draft-like structure of the painting with vivid and clear colour. The outcome is an elegant symphony of paints where the colour centre is red shoes left outside in haste. The master’s mental perception of the world and his high colour culture of a twentieth century artist come together in a fusion.
The “Summer Courtyard” is echoed in the painting titled “Wintry Window” (1974) that – much to my amazement – resembles the canvases of an outstanding French colourist Pierre Bonnard who created a series of still-lives painted in the openings of large windows with an exit into exterior. I am absolutely confident though that Abdumannon have never seen those paintings and simply discerned all that in his native neighbourhood. Both canvases, though dating to different time periods, are related in terms of similarity of their pictorial objectives and the brilliant achievement thereof. Perhaps, simply due to the great deal of relaxedness, Bonnard is more emancipated in composition and is more impulsive. Yunusov constructs the plastic backbone of the canvas in a more austere and rational way. And, naturally, he can be recognized by the portrayal of a particular oriental life-style and by the set of specific objects that constitute a still-life.
In all Abdumannon’s pictures one can feel the unseen presence of a human being, but in his “Summer Kitchen” this feeling becomes particularly tangible. Whereas for Matisse oriental miniature and nature are the reason for complex colour and compositional experiments and there is a certain distance between him and the object that inspired him, for Yunusov it is like with the Minor Dutch – everything is happening inside his own world, within his domain that he lovingly surveys and admires every moment of his life.
For Abdumannon 1980s were the years of conciliation and tranquillity of the soul. At that time “Rassom” Centre provided artists with enough orders for paintings for the country, and Yunusov painted his courtyards during daytime, rather than in the middle of the night as in the days of his youth. The compositional arrangement of the landscapes is traditional, like in the heyday of Barbizon School when the genre thrived. Abdumannon’s brush became fragmented and anxious; he weaves a carpet like a diligent craftsman, with fine silver-purple strokes and beautiful white midday light. His canvases reflect serenity and idyll; light and harmony run through every single thing. Pointillism of his canvases has reached its apogee. Tiny figures on the aivan are submerged into a thin green pictorial environment.
Here is the chronicle of one of my visits to Yunusov’s studio in December 2006:
1.“Dull Day” (1972). The colouring is very good. Painted on plywood (due to the lack of materials). In the centre there is a portrait of his wife. Gloom. Carpet on the left. Plane solution for the woman’s red dress makes the painting two-dimensional. The canvas boils up with the artist’s youth and his talent. There is a striking receptivity of the soul and a wonderful sense of thick saturated colour. The painting is filled with tragic unsettledness in everyday life.
2. “A Road to the Village” (2005). It is the old city, essentially. A pit in the direction of Ak-tepa. In the landscape the cars are ignored. Bullock-carts. People engaged in conversation, scenes of everyday life, canals without water… Boundless organics. Maturity. Live’s energy is preserved. Perhaps, the peer shoulder is missing, or, perhaps, things done are things measured. But this is all love, all is songs in colours.
3. “Springtime Rain” (2003). A pink umbrella supports the entire canvas. The nature is in a very special state. Sleety, rainy, sad, Levitan-like… The city is getting bare – one can see that some rows of old houses are thinning out, leading nowhere. One fears that in the future the artist may unwittingly become the story-teller of disappearing old Tashkent. A tree on the right maintains the core of the painting; it is strewn with cold rain drops.
4. Still-life “Old Things” (1974). A pearl among Abdumannon’s canvases. The still-life was displayed at the all-Union exhibition in Moscow in 1974 and was presented to Melnikov (the teacher) as the most precious thing. High culture of canvas treatment. Exquisite colouring. The level of the Great Ones. Melnikov returned the canvas so that Abdumannon could have a benchmark for all his painting – present and future. A thing for museum.
The artist’s still-lives are a separate topic, for he is one of the few who introduced explicit ornamental and decorative qualities into the genre without loosing their ability to convince (“Pears” (1972), “Pumpkins” (1972)).
Looking into Yunusov’s canvases with painter’s eye, one may wonder what he is better at – painting or drawing. In his recent canvases, seeing how he, completely absorbed by the process, for hours traces the intricate play of branches with a thin brush, creating a “portrait” of a tree and watching its every wrinkle, one can sense the priority of the drawing that, in fine and powerful steel line, covers compositional semicircles in Yunusov’s recent paintings “A Road to the Village” and “Samarqand Darvaza” (2003).
Trees in Abdumannon’s canvases are living creatures rather than compositional stuffage. Many of his paintings are dedicated to trees that prompted him to create quite a number of recent pictures. The canvas “A Road to the Village” is quite remarkable in this respect. It depicts a street of Tashkent, but is essentially the portrait of one mighty tree, the crown of which takes up the entire upper part of the painting. Powerful and dense volume of the tree crown is balanced by the juxtaposed light spot of the entire street and sky, and only the flexible line of dark roofs of earthen housed repeats the outline of the tree and is compositionally completed by the vertical of a poplar tree that locks the space of the street and the painting. There is tranquillity and colours are restrained; more accurately, it is rather a subtle subordination of inner poise and great painting mastery of tonal orchestration of the canvas. Blissful is the one who contemplates it at length, for the canvas appeases and makes the soul serene.
Although Yunusov’s recent works do not contain any innovative potential, they retain the high level of mastery, which the artist has pursued during all his life. These require prolonged contemplation and attract by their subtlety, spirituality and colouring. One gets an impression as if Levitan visited Asia and left these paintings behind.
Abdumannon Yunusov is a keen-eyed master; he surveys the old city with care and attention. In the paintings dedicated to a small Karatash street (“While the Street is There”, Abdumannon sadly remarks) we can see that there are no more houses on the right side of the street, canals are littered and waterless, and the buildings are on the verge of collapse as if there were no future for them.
Yunusov’s paintings of recent years confirm another thought that crossed my mind when I watched the evolution of Melnikov’s art: with age, the canvases of the masters show less exploration, less experimenting with form, and more dilution in nature, submersion into it and more of its caring portrayal. It was like this even before Melnikov. We can observe the same in the works by N. Karakhan and U. Tansykbaev. The artists explain this by the evolution of the perception of the world, by their creative development and growth, but apparently this is their self-protection instinct at work here, and the truth is that their creative potential becomes weaker and they are affected by social transformations. Having discovered a kind of “realistic” language, an artist increases the number of his admirers and, obviously, buyers. Yet, there is no doubt that the art of mature masters requires more thoughtful analysis and profound insight.
But even at this stage in his creative work Yunusov retains the qualities of a true artist, and his canvases are worthy of becoming the object of careful study and admiration due to their high culture. It would be appropriate to recall the words of Fernanda Olivier (the wife of Pablo Picasso) concerning the purchase and keeping the great Paul Cezanne’s canvas “Bathing Women” by the Matisse family: “As an example I refer only to Matisse, who, in the times of great need, reverently kept the unique Cezanne painting, with the help of his wife, thus cultivating the taste and love for art in his children”.
It is hard to overestimate educational significance of painting for the growing generation. It appears that Abdumannon Yunusov’s canvases can teach young people a lot.
One day, coming back from the old city where he did his plein air studies, warmed by the attention and admiration of his chance viewers – the inhabitants of his beloved courtyards, he said to me, “People like us, painters. And this is what brings happiness to us”.