Ural Tansykbaev in the Mirror of Time

Issue #4 • 1449

Nigora Akhmedova,
Art Critic

A lot has been written on creative work of Ural Tansykbaev, the “Head of Uzbek Colorists,” as he used to be called in the 1930s, and as “a singer of steppes and mountains”, “a master of landscape-painting” in the following years. However, his anniversary – 110 years since the birth of the outstanding master – is causing again a lot of reflections, which confirm the value of art of the real classics both now and always. 

6In the mirror of time, certain pages of the artist’s creations, search for solutions, and achievements are seen and read in a new context. If we turn to his landscapes heritage, it is undoubtedly relevant to the rise of realistic tendencies in Uzbek painting. Although, while alive, Ural Tansykbaev did not have formal apprentices, new generations of landscape painters continue his traditions up to present. The artist, who was a master of painting from life, used to say: “A sketch is painted with a clear objective, as well as it requires the ability to accurately determine the landscape motif, which selection takes long time and which is not painted at once.” Images of nature, created by the artist, are conquering by their variety – now the nature reveals itself in its full epic power, then it transmits the sharpness of the artist’s personal feelings. Fresh breeze of nature, a special lyrical contact with it is present even in small sketches – “blotches.”
From a historical perspective it is also topical to consider some aspects of the formation of the young Ural Tansykbaev through new optics, outlining the originality of genesis, incredible rapidity and responsiveness of the first “national” artist in Uzbekistan’s painting, as though whose apparition has outrun a usual course of time. Likewise the development of the national painting school, Tansykbaev’s development went on by an independent logic: starting straight from the plastic vanguard solutions, and not by traditional way – “from a timid apprentice to the masterpieces”. Turbulent reality of those years, by no means, has influenced his formation: transformation of the old Muslim world and the pathos of creation of a new Orient. Such unbelievable combinations and accelerated development have reverberated in creative work and life of the artist. The aforesaid and the poverty, associated with that difficult historical period, the burden of taking care of a large family, the work at Tashkent Winery after graduation from seven-year “indigenous” school. However, his destiny had a drastic twist, when Ural Tansykbaev begun to passionately draw in the Winery’s club, where the working youngsters have been taught a new culture. He was twenty years of age, when he committed himself to the art. Nevertheless, Tansykbaev studied shortly and intermittently: in 1927 – in the Art Studio of N.V. Rozanov; in 1928-1929 – in Penza Arts School. Essentially, formation of Tansykbaev as an artist has begun in Tashkent among the creative vanguard Russian masters. He has tempered himself in the ambience of fierce debates regarding the ways of the artistic school’s evolution.
Interestingly, the logic of landscape evolution of Tansykbaev within a period of 1940s – 1970s had conventionally evolved out of his early creative work, which had naturally brought this artist to the realistic landscape painting. Such an approach, which is generally permitted, however, alleviates a critical issue of “knocking down” vanguard position, and “rectifying” the evolutionary line confirming inevitable nature of Tansykbaev’s transformation into a landscape painter. Meanwhile, it is important to note that formation of Ural Tansykbaev in the 1930s was more diverse and unpredictable. In particular, it is evidenced by his monumental sketches, as well as the portrait genre, which has not drawn yet attention of the researches of the foremost artist’s creations. According to the existing sources, more than ten creations of Ural Tansykbaev, which are kept in the collections of the State Museum of Fine Arts of Uzbekistan, in the V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in the Oriental Museum in Moscow, could be categorized as portraits and self-portraits of pre-World War II period. As it happens, the artist has experimented a lot with the images and techniques applied in this genre. Some of his pieces of art are created using oil and gouache paints, others are samples of a high-class black and white graphics drawn by pencil, sauce, and ink.
7The first famous painting of the artist dating to 1925 is a graphical portrait – “Girl’s side-face” (V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan), followed by “Uzbek Girl” (1928, V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan), and a widely known impressionist “Portrait of an Uzbek Man” in the Moscow Oriental Museum (1927), which depicts the artist’s friend – A. Tashkentbaev, from the artistic studio of N. Rozanov.
Starting from the impressionism, Ural Tansykbaev quickly acquires the essential principles and moves to the plastique of P. Cezanne and A. Derain in a large charcoal drawing “Self-Portrait” (V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, 1931), which represents a strong-built young man with nude torso (this was exactly in vein of that epoch promoting ideals of vivacity and good health), on the background are jostling small faceted forms that plastically convey an emotional tension. The artist’s face with high cheekbones is thoughtful; his gaze turned to the onlooker is expressive and highly attentive. This self-portrait has both soft dimension and bold simplification of forms that is characteristic of an experience artist. With intrinsic energy of youth, evolution of Ural Tansykbaev in those years was going at an accelerated and uneven pace. He either comes back to impressionistic variations in his creativity in 1934, or masters the experience of post-impressionism and cubism for the purpose of which he has visited the Museum of New Western Art in Moscow in 1929. The portraits of 1930s are interesting not only by traces of influence that the artist had experienced, but also by his attempts to use various methods and styles. They give impression that in such a rapidly evolving epoch, when the language of art was trying to “catch up” with the history, young artist was also in constant search of new language adequate to modern times. Above all, he was not afraid to lose his individuality: in all of his creations his uniqueness is apparent, his natural intuition and imagination were overwhelming.
The above is also true of the creations of Ural Tansykbaev associated with the concept of neo-primitivism, which had captivated A. Volkov, V. Ufimtsev and M. Kurzin as well. The “Portrait of an Uzbek on Yellow Background” (V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, 1934) is painted using open, fauvishly “wild” colors, where the national character type is depicted from a side view and in a strongly representative manner. We may see a young man of dark complexion and strong physique on the vividly yellow background with schematic outlines of semiabstract trees, as if drawn by an inapt hand. 8Along the edges of his creation the artist has painted an ornamental border. In the same light and unelaborated way are interpreted the red flowery patterns on light-blue robe (chapan) and the skull-cap of the character, richly and decoratively standing out on yellow background that reminds of suzani. This art piece is certainly can hardly be categorized as a portrait in its conventional interpretation. Its main idea is symbolic images that come out of the depths of traditional conscious. Primitivist principle is fully implemented in the background, plants, masklike face. Playful and provocative nature of this creatively different painting of Ural Tansykbaev can be felt. That is why such a “primitivism” is declared as something originally ethnical not only by its style, but by perception of straightforward demonstration of simplicity and strength of this “schematic person”, as well as by its certain “Scaramouch” origin, which opens up in him. M. Bakhtin wrote: “The masque relates to a joy of change and impersonation, merry relativity, joyful negation of the sameness and clear definition, rejection of dull correspondence to oneself” (1, p. 49). In this case it correlates with downplaying, archaic representation of a character. The art of avant-gardism had brought back to a mask its primal nature, playful aspects, which can be seen in numerous portraits of the masters of fauvism, cubism, and expressionism. It is well known that Ural Tansykbaev was fond of folk frescos, which is evidenced by the recently discovered panel “Oriental Elegy” (1927). Accordingly, in his works of 1930s, related to primitivism trends, one can see both the elements of the folk esthetics that through transformation were forming a basis of his vanguard search, which were reflected in the paintings of those years such as “Kazakh Man and Kazakh Woman”, “Kazakh Woman”, “Samarqand. Uzbek Man” (all of them are in collection of the V. Savitskiy State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan). Even though the maestro comes back to impressionist variations in the portrait of A. Podkovyrov (1935), his self-portraits of 1935 are still more interesting – they are sharp evidences of the tensed emotional state of the artist’s creative process. Thus, a small self-portrait of U. Tansykbaev (the State Museum of Arts of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 1935) has been painted at plein air among the green foliage of the trees. An ingenious face of a young Kazakh man is sunlit, on his face are broad energetic brushstrokes – flecks of sunlight and shades. On another self-portrait of the same year (the State Museum of Arts of the Republic of Uzbekistan) one can see the artist once again against the abstractly painted green background. Yet, in this portrait the artist himself looks more interestingly – as though he is immersed in his thoughts. The third self-portrait (V. Savitskiy SMA of the Republic of Karakalpakstan) is painted expressively on the dark background, where U. Tansykbaev has an air of a mysterious artistic person with unusual fringe covering his forehead, in the elegant black suit and shirt with high collar and bow-tie. His gaze is interrogative and at the same time it is defiantly daring. It is hard to recognize in this young man a recent worker, in front of us is a complicated artistic nature. In the vanguard art the role of an artist always had a specific strategy, which supposed an open dialogue, publicity, challenge; an artist used to be perceived as an exceptional personality and creator.
Self-portraits of Tansykbaev reflect his constant tensed transformations of art, he was at the height of his search. Sensing in him a combination of different origins, the artist was positioning himself as a person of New Age, who has acquired the cultures of the West and the East. Therefore, resorting of Ural Tansykbaev to the genre of portrait is a unique phenomenon not only in terms of original search of plasticity, it is testimony of exposure and adaptation to European cultural tradition, which key meaning is contemplation on Human Being. That is why vanguard intentions of Ural Tansykbaev were not limited only to the mastering of the modernist techniques, he implied the conceptual basis of the new contemporary outlook. A son of Asia that precipitated into the modernist revolutionary project, the artist himself was a model and object of powerful convergence. At the same time, and this is distinctive, Tansykbaev always was materializing his thoughts into clear, accurately found forms, which “simplicity”, however reflected both modernistic experience and mentality of the carrier of the traditional culture of the Central Asia. In all of the above mentioned pieces of his art, one can see his temperament, profound sincerity, and true emotions, while the energy of the innate ability of the painter is making up for his lack of knowledge of complex analysis systems of the forms and colors. In reality, he was a vigorous person without cautious moderation and pettiness. L. Rempel wrote: “Now the narrow squint of his eyes drills a stranger, then it opens wide and Ural bursts into a joyful laughter. Squat and heavily-built, as though he had just jumped out of a saddle, he has perceived the best features of the advanced cultures of Europe and Asia” (2, p. 273).
Ural Tansykbaev has shared a difficult destiny of the vanguard artists of Uzbekistan. His remoteness from the centre of the country has postponed a pressing against “bourgeois formalism” only to few years. That pressing has turned into a tough fight with the harmful theory” of B. Chepelev, described in his first book on development of panting in the Uzbek Republic (3). With time, U. Tansykbaev – a master, who has been acknowledged as the “Head of Uzbek Colorists” at triumphant exhibition of Uzbek art in Moscow in 1934, will be criticized as “pseudo-theorist of decorativism” and will be requested to “get reeducated” (4, p. 37). Subsequently, the artist has abandoned the portrait genre in his work at all. From that moment on, the face of Ural Tansykbaev could be learned solely by his photos, which, certainly, do not reflect the “drama of ideas” that such a prominent master have experienced at the time.

1. Бахтин М. Творчество Франсуа Рабле и народная культура Средневековья и Ренессанса. М., 1990.
2. Ремпель Л. Мои современники. Ташкент, 1992.
3. Чепелев В. Искусство Советского Узбекистана. Л., Изд. Ленинградского областного союза художников, 1935.
4. Из выступления Л. Барханова. Гос. Архив РУз, ф. 2320, арх 76, оп. 1. Стенограмма диспута Союза художников Узбекистана по Отчетной выставке. 24 декабря 1938 г.

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