The Uzbek path of cubism

Issue #3 • 3138

In art, it is difficult to overestimate influence of the Past on the Future… The path of art from romanticism up to now appears not clear if to loose in consideration, as a factor of aesthetic pleasure, this negative mood, this aggression and scoff at old art…

Ortega y Gaset

The purpose – not in reproduction of the narrative fact but in performance of the act of painting. The plot is not an object, this is a new integrity.

George Braque

“Roots” and “crown” of cubism
What did cubism proclaim as philosophical course in painting of its first apostles – Picasso, Braque and their followers? “Cubism differs from previous painting – it is not an art based on imitation, but – on a concept and aspires to rise up to creation”, – wrote the art critic Apollinaire. George Braque echoed him. “Avoid to imitate a thing that you are going to create”. Thus, cubism was an appeal directed on destruction of former canons and simultaneously declaring creation of a new art reality. This revolutionary movement of cubism started in 1907 with “Avinion maidens” of Picasso, exerted strong influence on the further destiny of the world art.

In different countries and regions, cubism had its specific features of plastic solutions, but its main impulse to change former concepts of figurative art was perceived and recognized everywhere. In Russia, for example, this received even more radical development in the art of cubofuturists and abstractionists. However, from the end of 1920s in the Soviet region cubism like the other avant-garde art currents faced “the Iron Curtain” set to block them. Only in 1980s, in the connection with liberalization of ideological censorship some avant-garde art currents were reviving, and from 1990s, when on the post Soviet areas occurred a number of sovereign states, a turn of artists to European modernism sometimes met even promotion from the new ideology orienting to wide international contacts. In the art of the West, the 20th century became a century of transformation of cubism – from immanent changes up to its provoking affect on art mentality. In a course of time cubism have been loosing its vanguard role in the world art and is turning to axiomatic plastic method or aesthetic relict.

Meanwhile, its unexpected reminiscences arising today in the art of regions where cubism has been forbidden for almost a century prove survivability of patrimonial laws of this art direction. The Uzbek cubism – a phenomenon that has not been considered yet though in stratigraphy of national art it forms one of significant layers. It is enough just to mention Alexander Volkov, having become a cultic figure, to realize important trace that the concept of cubism had left in the history of national painting in the period of its generating. Cubistic construction of forms and geometrical abstractionism can be seen in the later period in the art of Uzbekistan – in compositions of B.Djalalov, V.Burmakin, J.Umarbekov, A.Nasreddinov and in painting works of the sculptor D.Ruzybaev.

Meanwhile it is to be noted that the Uzbek national aesthetics has own traditions of geometrical analysis and compositions of forms, rather similar by aesthetic results with the concept of cubistic constructivism (a new art reality on not figurative basis). Among them, there are Girich – rich centuries-old experience of geometrical ornamental compositions in a decor of architectural monuments and applied art (this method was repeatedly used in B.Djalalov’s abstract compositions) and Kurak – widespread now, remarkable, by the combinations of color and geometrical forms, applique method of the Uzbek national textile. Big, not figurative textile panels of V.Useinov represent original arrangement of cubistic technique based on Uzbek Kurak. Planarity and certain linear graphics in works of the Uzbek artists, going back to national aesthetics opposes to canons of Picasso’s cubism, which in their own turn go back to traditions of the African sculpture with its accented material appression and third-dimension of forms. Even in A.Volkov’s pictures, the closest to the concept of early cubism is felt own individual arrangement – self-value of plastics of geometrical forms is emphasized by means of shading and gradation of small spectrum of intensive colors, characteristic for local aesthetics and national symbolism (color of pomegranate – a symbol of love and fertility) – from scarlet up to red – claret. (for example, G. Braque has yellow – sand scale). In modern painting of Uzbekistan can be revealed many examples of the turn to stylistics of cut geometrical forms, in which primordial features of classic cubism undergo essential changes touching local traditions, what allows to tell about the national features of the Uzbek cubism enriching a general picture of evolution of cubism within a context of its regional and personal modifications and variants.

From this point of view, it is interesting to consider the art of Khurshid Ziekhanov, last years started effectively and stably to develop cubistic technique in his pictures though his first painting works, as it turned out, were connected with surrealistic experiments.

Halfway to Dali
Salvador Dali was not among admirers of cubism, and criticizing cubism, he gave disparaging evaluation of its philosophy though in practice he was equally radical. Phantasmagoric “unreal” compositions of Dali are amazing imagination; they caused huge army of his followers. Logically a number of the Uzbek artists, including Kh.Ziekhanov turned to his traditions. By education he is a graphic artist; the first works in oil he created in 1990s. These pictures have lost, there are no their reproductions. Just by a few later works, it is possible to restore stylistics of that first experience. In exhibitions, the artist began to participate from the middle of 1990s. When he worked at publishing houses, he often visited studios of his friends – artists – A.Turdyev, T.Zairov (both live and work in Holland), J.Usmanov and G.Kadyrov. Striving to painting and color affected. In 1990, T.Zairov decided to try himself in oil. Then was created his first painting work “Peacock” – bright, decorative, determining his colour priorities. Later he created a series of still-lives – at first in a realistic manner, and then in more metaphoric variations. The portrait “Apple Old Man” was “composed” from apples. The composition “Torso” given on a celestial-blue background represents a female figure from gentle pink fruits and green leaves. These pantheistic methods have arisen not because of acquaintance with ancient concepts, but because of associations at the moment of contact with of the nature. At the same time, they laid on knowledge and interest to creativity of surrealists.

At the early 1990s and down to 1999 Kh.Ziekhanov had tried in experience of surrealists, but did that in his own manner – without accented plastic extremism, leaving readable a subject and avoiding irrational combinations. Personification of the natural phenomena, their anthropomorphism and a kind of modern pantheism are traced in the art of Uzbek artists at the end of 80s – early 90s. Let’s recollect the works of A.Nur, G.Kadyrov, Z.Usmanov and others. In Kh.Ziekhanov’s pictures “Astral body” and “Wind of civilizations” (both – 1998) it had got a surrealistic shade. However, it did not reach radicalism of Salvador Dali, and the artist limited himself only by intentions to express certain latent.

transcendental impulses, which actually turned out rather distinct and perceived metaphors. In the picture “Wind of civilizations” is evident the interest of the artist to the world cultural heritage, expressed in slightly nostalgic, but well felt intonations. In the composition “Astral body” at all attempts to complicate plastic dramaturgy, it is impossible to trace unreal subconscious combinations. In these pictures smooth passages of color nuances and rather realistic solutions of forms cause no associations in any way with cubistic plastics of the artist that came in the following, 1999 and remains still dominating in his creativity now.

However, a number of pictures the artist specifies as surrealistic can be hardly related to this direction. More likely, they are associations caused by oriental historical, cultic-mythological and folklore themes and motives, rather than by surrealistic traditions. Even the closest to them by plastics picture “Pain” (1998), by its conceptual properties cannot be included in surrealism, leave alone entirely different stylistics and semantics of the pictures “Mysterious melody”, “Ghosts of time” (both – 1997) and “Caravanner” (1999). Probably, a level of expression of these works did not satisfy the author and therefore, the change of style was expected in spite of it arose a little spontaneously.

By rails of cubism to desacralization of values
The picture “Day and night” (1999) opens a series of cubistic works. A technical detail became a cause – a canvas was bent and it was necessary to consider this bend in the structure of painting plastics; a cubistic work became a result. Its creation coincided with the interest, which the artist showed to Picasso’s art. The second work – “Clerk. The old man” (now at a private collection in Holland) was created because of conscious studying and creative refraction of cubistic principles.

For these 3 – 4 years, the plastic manner of the artist has not much changed, except some compositional nuances, and a range of themes has extended and obtained the gradation. Still-lives were followed by single and multi figured compositions. Alongside with national musicians, dervishes, old men and other characters the artist was turning to historical and mythological plots, themes of oriental miniature and national epos. After trips to Holland and France, the European subjects obtained a special place in creativity of the artist. Animals and birds became a subject of independent plastic arrangements.

Own cultural heritage – the history, art, epos, ancient sculpture and painting, oriental miniature logically found reflections in Kh.Ziekhanov’s works. In the picture, a horseman who oversaw the beauty, when she was bathing, and bit his finger in surprise and admiration has got fantastic – folklore character. Here the miniature is used as a source of the widespread plot, rather than a subject of plastic arrangement. Turning to themes of medieval battles and military events, the artist does not focus onto historical pathos of pictures. As Kh.Ziekhanov says: “In pictures I am much more interested in painting plastics and in play of forms”. This bright splendid phantasmagoria of color and contrast plastic volumes forms content of his works on a medieval military theme “Fight” (2000) and “Mounted attack ” (2002), putting his pictures together with pieces of folk art – embroideries, colorful kuraks, palas and carpet making. Historical pathos is obtaining a character of a folklore-epic legend.

The affinity to national aesthetics has especially revealed in a series of the works devoted to musicians, folklore personages, old men and countrymen. So, the stylistics of suzanae have been applied in one of the last works, “Visitor” (2003): on a yellow background of suzanae a figure of an old man looks like a pattern embroidered in cut cubistic forms. The same sensation of organic affinity of his cubistic plastics to the Uzbek folk art caused pictures “Musicians from Khorezm ” and “Dutar musicians” (both – 2003). Interpretation of characters quite often sounds with ironical intonations, good-natured sneer at naivety and simplicity of their character.

The national culture and its representatives – dervishes, folklore personages, costume and national dwelling – all these attributes are becoming important and form-building factor in Kh.Ziekhanov’s pictures what finally determines originality of his cubistic style, in which expressive playing of color and forms quite often obtains the self-sufficient meaning.

In solution of the problem “East – West” – Kh. Ziekhanov is obvious East-centrist. Compositionally similar are works “Bukhara woman” (1999) and “Amsterdam” (2000), which center is given to stylized human figure split into mosaic fragments. In the first case, this is an eastern woman full of secrets and riddles, and in the second – a personage from the European circle. The artist is composing a corresponding rhythm of colours and lines – in “Amsterdam” this is a vertical grey -orange-green houses, on which background is drawn schematically the figure with a black-and-white mask instead of the face. An image of the city of “red lights” appears a little comical and uncomfortable. At the same time, the Bukhara woman, thanks to fine, almost ornamented texture of fragments is getting a certain mystical character, which is not deprived of philosophical attractiveness. The same latent author’s sympathy belongs to the old men in the picture “Trinity” (2000) – an ironic and original collage from the stylized historical motives and symbols of the East.

It should be noted especially, that Kh. Ziekhanov does not suffer West-phobia. His attachment to the European art is obvious. From the classics of the Renaissance, he is especially fond of Botticelli, whose picture “Spring” became a subject of his own arrangement. Nevertheless in a series of pictures “Dedication to Botticelli. Dialogue”, “Dedication to Botticelli. Three graces”, “Dedication to Botticelli. Spring” (all – 2001) – grotesquely sculptural forms of female figures are hardly probable seemed a plastic ideal, more likely it is a parody on classical samples than a subject for imitation. The same desacralization of personages from the European repertoire is seen in the picture “Relay” (2000) – a figure of a woman lying before the TV set is solved in embossed style of Picasso’s cubistic pictures. In the picture is sounding the irony, mixed with feeling of nostalgia on romantic epoch of cubism and at the same time, it is a caricature on a modern life in megapolis.

In the work “Saint-Denis” (2002) on the results of his trip to Paris, a line of desacralization of universal values on the European material has been continued. On a background of “cut” Venus from Melos is seen the figure of half-naked prostitute – such is a sad metaphor of author’s comparison. Then, on Paris motives appeared the work “Person – orchestra” (2002) on a theme of street musicians. Rigidly embossed, exposing the essence of phenomenon. Plastics of cubism in these works serves for original dethronement of cultural values, which once generated cubism itself.

In Kh.Ziekhanov’s pictures as well as in the works of many other Uzbek artists, estimating comparison of the East and the West is obviously not for the benefit of the western civilization. So reveals east-centrist feature of the Uzbek artists, which demonstrates aspiration to self-affirmation, including regional, within development of modern world art practice.

Various animals and birds occupy a special layer in the art works of Kh.Ziehanov. Images of animals are disassembled in separate fragments, which are merging, mixing up with fragments of mountains, trees, sky and meadows. All this appears in a mosaic colourful picture. The opposition “evil-good” corresponds to colour symbols. So, in the pictures of physiologically similar “Bitch wolf” (1999) and “Dog” (2001) are used the similar silhouettes, but a shadow of the dog is blue-light and blue, and of the bitch wolf – black Desacralization of the cow playing an important role in the life and cult concepts of the peoples is done by means of irony close to national humour and folklore. The udder of the cow is solved in a shape of the arrowy Gothic triangles painted in dark blue, red and green colors; the muzzle – in a shape of extended black – brown triangle, the wool is given in texture of a brick wall (“Cow”, 2000). The leopard (“Snow leopard”, 2000) is nobler, but again we feel the ironical context – in schematic forms it is difficult to catch a grace and plastics of this mountain animal.

In Kh.Ziekhanov’s art, not only western but also own values as well survive a certain dethronement. Here it is quite in place to remind one remark said by Ortega y Gasset at the middle of the 20th century concerning tendencies, characteristic for modern to him western modernistic art, among which he marks (3) aspiration to make the art works only works of art; (4) aspiration to understand the art as a game and only, (5) gravitation to deep irony…, which alongside with other properties promote general desacralization of arts (2, p. 237). These features are typical of the works of Khurshid Ziekhanov as well, and in this context, he can be considered an artist aspiring to desacralization of standard values, but he does it not with the European sarcasm of culture-trigger, but with light irony and folklore-mild intonation of eastern wiser.

At the same time, the originality of his plastic techniques is connected with refusal of principles of the early cubism of Picasso, with his orientation to appression of forms, sculptural and material tangibility of volumes. His style also differs from A.Volkov’s cubism by the greater adherence to graphic fragmentation of forms and filling them with bright contrast colors (influence of artist’s graphic education). The manner of Khurshid Ziekhanov is consummate and filigreed; it is based on bright colourful aesthetics of folk art and generated due to own searches for plastic expression. He is tolerant to foreign national experience, but insistent in attempts to preserve the individual style and semantic originality.

Author: Akbar Khakimov

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