Ilya Yatsenko at Tsiolovsky Loft

Ilya2

A solo show of the work of Ilya Yatsenko has just closed at the Tsiolovsky Loft Gallery in Kaluga oblast, Russia. After spending many years in Moscow, in 2011 Yatsenko moved to the rural countryside of Kaluga with his family, setting up a new home near the Optina monastery. He and the owner’s of Lazare Gallery were interviewed by the Kaluga-based magazine Жить Хорошо just after the show’s opening in February. A translated excerpt of the full article (in Russian) is below.

Ilya

Ilya believes that the Moscow school of painting, unfortunately, is now dying.

“I am trying to continue the tradition of Realism, which I began studying at the Surikov Institute; I’m working to attain the level of mastery of my teacher Zabelin. Russian Realism didn’t enter the history of art without purpose.”

In Ilya’s opinion, true Realism is much more than the gaudy sparkle of some painters. “Loud, confrontational color is only found indoors.” The artist believes that truth is an end unto itself, which can be found in color. Realism, in it’s profoundest sense, is the idea of the embodiment of the essence of a subject on a canvas. “If we are speaking about nature, if you lie in color or in tone, the whole work will become a falsehood.” […]

John Wurdeman, the owner of Lazare Gallery in America, made a special trip to be at Ilya’s opening. But his road to art was much longer than a flight from the US to Russia. The son of the future gallery owner studied at the Surikov Institute in Moscow, and for his graduation his parents organized a New York show of Russian painting, which was a stunning success. Afterwards, the Wurdemans sold their business in decorative prints at the peak of its popularity and opened Lazare Gallery. Over the past several years, in a beautiful corner of nature near Richmond, Virginia, they have collected approximately 1100 paintings from the Soviet and Russian Realist painters. Their collection takes advantage of a great demand among the collectors of the world who are determined to find the most significant pieces of the Russian school available.

“It’s wonderful to live in the midst of this beautiful collection of art,” says John Wurdeman with heartfelt emotion.

“The people come to visit Lazare Gallery to see the collection and acquire pieces are sincere admirers of Russian painting. We meed them at the airport and put them up in cottages near the gallery. Many of the Russian collectors who collect our paintings in previous years end up collecting a number of canvases.”

It’s possible that soon the Wurdemans’ gallery will collect a new piece by Ilya Yatsenko. A massive canvas depicting two mysterious travelers, made a powerful impression on the collector. […]

We present the work of the best Russian artists of the twenty first century, and we are very discriminating in collecting their work. Nikita Fedosov, Zabelin, Surikov, Levitan – were true professionals. Ilya is an outstanding artist; he has a feeling for form, harmony, and space, explains John Wurdeman. He makes beautiful use of the skill gained from his academic education, and we are happy to present his work.

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Understanding the Russian Academy of Arts

In a recent piece on The Voice of Russia, Dr. Rosalind Polly Blakesley of the University of Cambridge provides a great introduction to the history and principles of the Russian Academy of Arts.*

Dr. Blakesley finds the academy unique for several reasons. Through the modern period when movement after movement declared a total break with art of the past, the Russian Academy has had, “a pretty continuous history.” Blakesley also draws attention to the length and intensity of art education:

“Arguably, the thing that set the Russian Academy apart most is that it had its own boarding school. It was absolutely unique in that respect. […] The idea was you would set up a lot of boarding schools where children, mainly boys, would reside from the ages of 5 to 21. So pretty much most of their life until adulthood. […] They got up at 5 o’clock in the morning, they did separate lessons that went on long into the evening so it was an incredible, very sort of insular, hermetically sealed environment in which to learn to be an artist.”

Through the Soviet period, artists began studying at specialized schools very young. A few years ago I was interviewing artist and friend Ilya Yatsenko about his education, and was shocked to learn that when he entered boarding school for the arts at age 10, he was already a latecomer. Most of the students had begun at age 8. He was allowed to join because of the strength of his work. 

The story of the Russian Academy of Arts draws attention to two significant contrasts between art education in Russia and art education in the West: an emphasis on continuity vs. breaks with the past and an emphasis on training vs. talent. 

“The school believed that great artistry could be taught, passed on from master to student – a far cry from the modern belief that artistic talent is a gift that can be nurtured but not instilled.”

Link to the full article at Voice of Russia

*Disclaimer: The article seems to confuse the Russian Academy of Arts with one of the four schools it has long presided over – the Repin Institute in St. Petersburg. The academy is in control of Russia’s two most prestigious secondary art schools – the Repin Institute in St. Petersburg, the Surikov Institute in Moscow, and the preparatory schools that they draw from.

Moscow River School in the Moscow Times

The Moscow Times has done an excellent write-up on the Moscow River School’s current exhibition in Moscow. The organization of Realist painters often takes a backseat to more flashy and controversial groups in the Moscow art scene. Journalist Joy Neumeyer takes note, however, of the uniqueness of plein air painting, “where rustic landscape painting competes with newer forms of digital, urban-influenced art.”

The article only falls short in its failure to grasp just how unusual the Moscow River School’s approach and history are in 21st century art. There are not many centuries old traditions of “rustic landscape painting” competing with newer forms of “digital, urban influenced art.” The word “competition” represents a gross overestimation of the strength of academic traditions like Russian Realism. There is no Barbizon school still meeting in the countryside of modern France; there is no Ashcan School still struggling along in New York City. There is, however, against all the odds still a group of realist painters working in the Russian countryside who can trace their teachers and their teachers’ teachers back to the 19th century in a few long steps. What is more, the Academic Dacha where they meet today was founded by Ilya Repin, perhaps the most famous artist of the 19th century Realist school. I was there over the summer and it is not the bustling hive of activity we can see depicted in Repin’s At the Academic Dacha.It is still alive, however, and that makes the Moscow River School much more than “somewhat unique.”

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“A floor below the sprawling Soviet-themed exhibits at the State Museum of Contemporary History, a group of landscape painters is offering glimpses of a Russia seemingly untouched by the 20th century. With loose brushstrokes and brilliant colors, the Moscow River collective presents paintings that eschew cities’ steel and smoke for the soft light and open expanses of the countryside.

“Moscow is a chaotic city,” said artist Ilya Yatsenko, whose view of Moscow’s Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa is the exhibition’s sole urban scene. “Nature, on the other hand, is closer to a person.” ”

You can read the full article here.

“Moscow River” is on display through Feb. 20 at the State Central Museum of the Contemporary History of Russia, 21 Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Russian Winter Landscapes

“Church of John the Theologian” – Nikolay Solomin 1992

A selection of landscapes by Russian artist Nikolay Solomin will be on display at the Capital Repertory Theater in Albany, New York as a part of New Russia Cultural Center’s second annual Russian Winter Festival. Solomin’s exhibition began on January 15th and will run through February 7th. According to the festival’s website, Solomin is a People’s Artist of Russia, a National Prize winner, a member of the Academy of Fine arts, and a professor of historical and battle painting at the Surikov Institute in Moscow. His work has been displayed in the Surikov Museum in Moscow, and in museums across Europe and the United States. The festival’s website provides some images of his work here.

Visiting Russia – Ilya Yatsenko

Since June 16th Collecting Russian Art has been in Russia – visiting museums and brushing up on Russian. In Moscow, we met up with one of Lazare Gallery’s most talented young artists, Ilya Yatsenko. (Below, you can see Ilya in front of his church in Moscow.)

Ilya Yatsenko

In 1990, Ilya started attending at the Surikov institute in Moscow. There, he studied under Nikolai Kozlov, Alexanderliech Fomkin, Alexander Danilichev, and Vyacheslav Zabelin. He graduated in 1999 with rarely given perfect grades.

Ilya is a profoundly gifted painter. His ability to create solid, deep, harmonious space in his landscapes is incredible. At his home in Moscow, I was able to see some of his most recent landscapes from this summer. He has been making frequent trips to his dacha in the country and has finished several beautiful paintings of the lilacs that are so prevalent across Russia.

Later, I was lucky enough to spend a day touring the Tretyakov Gallery with him; he is able to bring paintings to life with his observations. Talking over the importance of harmony in painting, Ilya made a point that struck me – that harmony in painting is simply the result of a strong connection to nature. If a painter is willing to look humbly and carefully into nature harmony will come naturally. Painting that is dissonant, on the other hand, stems from a broken and fragmented relationship with nature. Much of the art in our world today indulges in this broken connection to nature, using it to comment on the unhealthy structure and pace of the modern world. In painters like Ilya, however, I take heart that it is still possible, with care, to maintain this relationship with nature. His work attests to this.

You can see some of his most recent works here, and a more complete gallery of his work here.