A Path to Perfection

Issue #2 • 101

Kamola Akilova, Art Critic

The process of reclamation of the national historical and cultural heritage at present stage open up new possibilities, aspects, and place accents not only in the historical past, but in its interpretation in the modern art, only to the artist, who is able to perceive, to feel, to penetrate the deep layers of authentic spirituality of the East, and, importantly, to breathe life into them, the attitude of a contemporary man, thus reviving the tradition. This is Niyazali Kholmatov. He was born in the village of Kurgantepa of Andijan region. His formation as an artist was typical of many of the Uzbek artists. In the hobby group of fine arts of the Andijan boarding school he got fascinated by the art of the masters of painting. Afterwards he studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute. However, the true vocation N. Kholmatov had found in the Moscow Art and Industrial College, where he, for the first time, acquainted himself with the art of lacquer painting, and with such a unique phenomenon of the world artistic heritage as the Eastern miniature. At first, it was a timid and at the same time inquisitive ingress into the world of the stories and images of Oriental miniature painting, especially into the specifics of the technological process and the material, the stages of its manufacture and preparation. His artistic career became inextricably linked with the miniature art of the East. The thesis of N. Kholmatov, made in the style of Oriental miniatures, was dedicated to the burning subject of those years – ‘Hudjum’ movement. The artist used all plastic components of the miniature: the flatness of space, the conventionality of the figures, the symbolism of the images and colors. Already in his first independent art piece he formed his artistic credo: not to make copies of the works of medieval artists, and try to breathe a new life in their techniques.
After graduating the College, N. Kholmatov worked at the factory of the art prints in Moscow Oblast, painting and engraving. Here he became interested in jewelry art. However, spiritually he was closely connected with the art of the East and the native Uzbekistan. The creative structure of the artist’s thinking has contributed to the emergence of the idea: what if I synthesize the jewelry art with the lacquer miniature? Later in his art, the artist has achieved this synthesis, thereby opening up a whole new direction for a subsequent galaxy of young Uzbek miniaturists.
Thereafter, the artist’s destiny is inseparably relates to the cultural processes that were going on in Uzbekistan in the 1970s. The resolution on the folk crafts of 1974, the establishment of the Association of Craftsmen – “Usto”, meeting with Sharaf Rashidov (Head of Uzbek SSR), return to Uzbekistan, creation of conditions favorable for comprehensive creative work in his homeland, have determined the fate of N. Kholmatov in Tashkent. He is one of the artists who spearheaded the revival of the art of lacquer miniature in Uzbekistan. In the creative team, headed by the well-known Uzbek artist, Chingiz Akhmarov, he and his colleagues, have experienced everything: the quest and the positive results, the doubts and not always successful experiments. The trajectory and the main problem of the process of revival of Uzbek lacquer miniature can be described as follows: creatively mastered the technological experience of Russian lacquer miniatures of Palekh, the Uzbek artists had to find the ways of development of historical Eastern miniatures in this day and age. The creative activity of N. Kholmatov, his creations had determined the possible way of development of the historical traditions of the miniature in the modern art. Refusing to follow a strict canonical system of the local schools of miniature painting, the artist has infused his individuality into both the technological process and in the picturesque design of his works. By virtue of such masters as N. Kholmatov, the miniature in Uzbekistan in the years of independence had become not just a tradition or an art form, but rather a succinct artistic and stylistic trend, including the lacquer miniature, wall painting, and miniature painting on paper, fabric, and leather.
N. Kholmatov is one of the first artists of Uzbekistan, who was able to comprehend both sensually and pragmatically the Sufism – a religious and, in more broad sense, a spiritual experience that had had a great impact on the medieval art as a whole, and on the modern art of Uzbekistan, in particular. The demand for deep spiritual quest, the need to build on the genetic code, coming from the depth of the centuries, defines the appealing to Sufism themes. In this sense, Sufism as a philosophical trend has a universal nature, since it perpetuates the truth which the mankind was seeking for millennia, in the search of harmony and unity with the entire world. The Sufi treatises and the written pieces of Sufi school are metaphorical and symbolic. They are the fruit of intense spiritual quest, high thoughts and puritan lifestyle. The Sufis’ goal is to reach the divine perfection of a human being through love. One of the principal postulates of Sufism is that humans are able to perfect themselves endlessly. And perfection can be achieved by those who are in harmony with all things existing in this world.
In terms of attainment of Sufism, the works of contemporary Uzbek artists can be divided into those in which the very spirit of Sufi teachings is expressed, and those that illustrate the specific Sufi motifs, themes, and postulates unconsciously. The artworks of N. Kholmatov reflect a deep, conscious comprehension of Sufi teachings. For example, in the work of the artist – “The Mortal World”, the Sufi symbolism is evident in the depicted ship with travelers, the artist’s comprehension of its ritualistic and mythological archetype. The meaning of the painting conveys an esoteric mindset towards the union with a Supreme Truth, the symbol of which is the sea. It is possible to attain unity with the ultimate Truth only being drowned in this sea, while a ship becomes the obstacle. According to the writing of Jalaliddin Rumi, the one who seeks to attain (the Truth), has to stop “floating”, for only death of the ship leads to unification (with Creator). This same idea can be found with Turkish Sufi – Yunus Emre (XIV century): “The one who drowned in the sea of love needs no ship” (1, p. 125).
In the same vein is designed the work by N. Kholmatov, “Majnun in the Valley of Semurg”, which is also a Sufi interpretation of the theme of love. In the artist’s creative work there are pieces full of philosophical meaning and appealing to Evangelical and Biblical stories which have become the universal mythology. These are, for example, “The History of David”, “The Ship of Life”, “The Dream of Yusuf”, “Saint Noah”, “Duel”, etc. It is well known that many Biblical and Evangelical saints are canonized in Islam as well. The artist’s life and creative experience allow him to come to a peculiar interpretation of these themes and subjects. These art works, the artist makes also in the style of Oriental miniature, playing with typical Oriental character types, costumes, and specific details.
N. Kholmatov, in his pieces, made in the tradition of Oriental miniature, appears as the artist of the East, pivoting in the poetics, traditions, and canons of the Eastern art. In many ways, the study of the Aruz system has greatly contributed to this. This system constitutes the essence of the medieval Eastern art: poetry, miniature, calligraphy, ornamental art. At the same time, the artist is trying to revitalize the traditions, to give new impetus to the traditional miniature, not letting “petrification” of this unique art form.
The works by N. Kholmatov, made in the miniature painting genre (with exception of mythological subjects), in the thematic context can be divided into two groups: the pieces on historical subjects, and the pieces where the modern themes prevail. By this the artist already alters the conventional boundaries of the miniature painting.
Among the works by N. Kholmatov on historical themes, a significant place is occupied by the image of the great historical figure, the founder of the dynasty of Grand Moguls – Babur: these include “Babur”, “Babur in Badakhshan”, whose character is presented by the artist from various angles. Moreover, Babur was also a poet, who continued the traditions of Nizami, Khosrov Dehlavi, Lutfi, and Navoi. He has developed a new script – “Hatti Baburi”, made a well known contribution to the study of the Aruz system, rhymes, music, and martial arts (2, p. 15-16). If Babur in the painting by N. Kholmatov, “Babur”, is a poet and a scholar, according to its composition, in the painting, “Babur in Badakhshan” the artist depicted one of the difficult moments in the destiny of the ruler, who was forced to leave his native land. These works, executed in the style of miniature painting, at the same time, in compositional terms represent the unconventional solutions. The artist used the method of combining different composite planes, at the same time highlighting the central part through contouring, where his character is located, who in “Babur” is framed by the pages of the handwritten book with poetic sayings, excerpts of calligraphic inscriptions, floral and zoomorphic images, which traditionally framed the medieval manuscripts.
The same compositional techniques the artist uses in his paintings on contemporary themes: “Autumn”, “My mother and granddaughters”, “Childhood Courtyard”, “Julia in the Alps” and others. Each of them is emotionally and psychologically charged, which transmits the imaginative world of the represented characters. The imagery sound of his works communicates a state of peace and tranquility, slowly passing by time that was characteristic of the medieval miniatures.
After studying the poetics of the Islamic art, N. Kholmatov develops such an important principle as ornamentality. Some of his pictorial compositions, the artist builds on the principle of the repeating ornament, moreover he calls them so: “the Ornament” (3).
Artistic principles of the traditional arts of the East are reflected in monumental painting by N. Kholmatov. Carpet-like, flat representation of the figurative forms, the symbolism of colors and images, the rejection of occasional and passing subjects are characteristic of his wall paintings made by him in the Gulistan Theater of Musical Drama, in Turkiston Palace in Tashkent, in the Indian and Turkish embassies in Tashkent, in Bukhara Tourist Complex, in the “Uzbek Silk” Association, etc. The monumental paintings of the artist are harmoniously connected with architectural buildings, they are convincing in their compositional structure and perfection of depicted images. The painting of the artist are similar to the myths and epics, they are read as historical sources – hence their monumental sounding. As if they embodied the characteristic of the Orient pace of time and designation of space: the blooming garden, where there is a dominion of kindness and justice, happiness and prosperity.
I would especially like to note the jewelry pieces made by the artist. At first glance, they are in tune with contemporary European jewelry plastic, however, they are distinguished by the elegance of style, freedom of the artist’s thinking. However, as you scrutinize them and understand them better, you are beginning to realize that here the artist plays with traditional Oriental ornamental motifs, like girikh and rosetta. The artist manages to seamlessly incorporate the Islamic ornaments in the system of Western European avant-garde art, thereby revealing its new facets and possibilities for interpretation.
For instance, in the set of a brooch and the earrings, the artist plastically includes in design the motif of the abyr fabrics. This set is distinctive by its subtle color combination of light grey and a brighter shade of gray with inclusion of blue inlaid stones and yellow stains on the jewelry pieces. The particular originality of this set lays in somewhat archaic indistinct outline of the jewelry, creating the illusion of vagueness and antiquity of their shape. Interestingly, that the usual abyr pattern in the works by N. Kholmatov appears in a completely different, modern interpretation, acquiring different figurative and inflexion nuances.
Recently the artist is interested in such piece of jewelry as a brooch. Our attention was drawn to his “Coral brooch” in which the artist repeats the previously discovered compositional technique of the abyr fabric motifs. Against the background of the abyr surface there is a small inlay of the coral which acts as a dominant visual motif. Interestingly, in this jewelry piece the background dominates over the image that is more peculiar to the culture of nomadic people. It is this holistic reflection of the artistic traditions of the Central Asian culture, as well as the mastering of the material and knowledge that allow N. Kholmatov to experiment and create the one-of-a-kind pieces. This is the “Emerald brooch”, where the artist, using the same principle and the primary visual motif, puts a metal mesh imitating the fabric in the middle of the jewelry piece. As a result, the brooch attains the avant-garde and extremely unusual sounding.
Another work of the artist is the brooch “Angel”, where he compositionally reproduces the silhouette of the angel. The artist managed to portray what, perhaps, the majority of artists fail to do: to represent a Saint, not depicting it literally, through the geometric forms, verticals and horizontals, by means of the special color palette of an angel!
The artist’s pieces can have both utilitarian nature, and to express the serious philosophical quest, thereby erasing the line between the fine and the decorative art that was already disappearing between these arts in the middle ages.
Niyazali Kholmatov is the artist, whose creative style cannot be confused with the styles of other of artists of Uzbekistan. And the point is, probably, not only in his artistic style, ideological, philosophical content of his works. Moreover, despite the diversity of his creative work: lacquered miniature, jewelry, murals, book illustrations, easel painting, – his art pieces are distinguished by their integrity, richness and a special attitude to historical tradition. The member of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, the Popular Artist of Uzbekistan, Niyazali Kholmatov is still full of creative ideas and yet unrealized plans. Today he is working on a series of painting dedicated to the Biblical stories, continues to write his theoretical papers on compositional and coloristic structure of the medieval miniatures of the East. Relying on the unique traditions of historical and cultural heritage, the artist continues to seek, to create, to find something new, bringing modernity in the tradition.

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