Tashkent and Its Artists
The topics "Tashkent as Artist See It" and "Artist of Tashkent in Cultural and Social Life" are difficult to separate from one another; besides, these topics fall into several other themes. We shall try to focus on "Tashkent in the Fine Arts", choosing painting and graphic arts for our story.
Without mentioning famous names of Russian artists of 1860-1910, we can only say that military and scientific expeditions always had artists on board, and their route often went through Tashkent. Take Richard Sommer (1866-1939), for example. He was the one who painted fundamental canvases under a common title "Turkistan". Most of them are associated with Samarqand where the artist worked, but there are some such as "Mazar in Tashkent". As all Sommer's "Turkistan", it is sunlit and architectonic, and the historical reality verges on the author's almost religious adoration.
Old Tashkent was pictured by M. Verboev, I. Golovin, V. Krylova, V. Rozvadovskiy, N. Grechaninov, M. Yantsyn, I. Kazakov, S. Yudin, N. Borovskaya, and O. Morozevich. One could name a few more, yet among officials, teachers, and army doctors were many who painted professionally. Graduates of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev arts schools taught drawing in the commercial and real schools of Tashkent and in the cadet corps. Whereas the art of I. Kazakov and S. Yudin is represented in a fairly complete way, there is only a minimal number of works that belong to the other artists.
It is hard to reject the appeal of the old academic school with its keen attention to the value of the material world. That is why one gets so attracted by the "Summer Works" of N. Grechaninov, "Boz-Su" of M. Yantsyn, and "Self-Portrait with a Lady in a Blossoming Garden" of I. Kazakov. Kazakov's "Tashkent Courtyard" catches one's eye not only by the recreation of the historical originality of one well-known place in Tashkent - Polovtsev's mansion, housing an art studio where Kazakov used to teach, but also by the love of the artist for the urban landscape detail.
Years have gone by, the artists passed away, and their paintings and drawings were moved to museum store-rooms or perished, but they are present and live in the imagery of later development. The city remembers and begs to bring the artists out of oblivion. After decades, getting reshuffled in the deposits of memory and museum card indexes, they are begging to see the light of the day, ready to unfold after their somnolent slumber, ready for the encounter. They live.
Turning to the years now far away is not only about paying homage to the memory of the artists and the profession of an easel painter that was rare at that time. Those years were the onset for the subsequent origination of names and denominations touched upon by the artists, which were to develop into an unbounded mass of artistic imagery of different hues - cognitive aspect, ethnography, realism akin to photographic reproduction, and realism of multicoloured combinations. In the diversity of alternating styles one will find constructivist signs, impressionistic features, elements related to the definitions of Vrubel's mosaic, Cezannism, colour music, elements of cubo-futurism, suprematism and surrealism. All these are the components of the Tashkent figurative.
Matching it are the works of authors who visited Uzbekistan in 1920s-1930s. Some came on the invitation of the Committee for the Conservation of Ancient Monuments and Vsekokhudozhnik, others were driven by personal motivations, beckoned by Orient. The visits of K. Petrov-Vodkin resulted in "A Street in Tashkent" (1921), and Y. Razumovskaya painted "A Museum in Tashkent" (1924).
Among the most important examples of figurative Tashkent are: "The Old Mazar" by A. Volkov; "Street" and "The Craftsmen of Old Tashkent" by M. Kurzin; "A Street in Old Turkistan" by M. Novikov; "Favourite Song" and "A Courtyard with Laudry" by B. Khamdami; "A Street in Tashkent" by H. Rakhimov; "A Tea-house in Sheikhantaur" by L. Nasreddinov; "The First of May Street" and "Takhtapul" by V. Rozhdestvenskiy; "Solar" by U. Tansykbaev; "Blue Poplar Trees" by N. Karakhan; "Ak-Tepe" by G. Shevyakov; "Chor-Su under Construction" by A. Chitkauskas; "Chor-Su Market" by G. Chernukhin; "Walking to the Toi Feast" by K. Cheprakov; "Abu-Kefal-Shashi Mausoleum" by B. Kotlov; "The Bridges of Tashkent" by A. Mirzaev; "30 Views of Tashkent" by D. Umarbekov; "Tashkent. The Earthquake" by M. Kagarov; "East of Tashkent" by A. Ponomaryov; "Abadoyot" by A. Nuriddinov; and "Navruz is Tomorrow" and "Before the Earthquake" by A. Turdiev.
The "SAN`AT" Journal has always given a lot of attention to the artistic heritage, and today it is impossible not to mention the names of the old artists, because they form a strong foundation of the Tashkent pictorial annals. Every artist had his favourite corners in the city. For N. Karakhan it was the old Besh-Agach district, which he always remembered with warmth and affection. Still now his works beckon with a colourful landscape with a little bridge and a woman's figure, Karakhan's ever present trees and their green clumps touched with yellow. Karakhan even lived on the Eleven Poplars Street.
The Tashkent of Kurzin, Volkov, and Novikov was emerging… Created by the artists of Tashkent, the city of reality and imagination, the Tashkent of personal attachments and sensitively acute experiences… Venerable artists recalled how Volkov and Kurzin took them, the young students, to the Ankhor canal to do studies and still remembered the tea-houses and smoking shops where there was a chef with hair plaited in the Chinese manner. That was where Volkov painted some of his compositions with "caravans at the tea-house" and "tea-pots in niches" , next to a hookah smoker; deep-blue cubo-futuristic landscapes of Kurzin and his Tashkent blacksmiths with aquiline features.
After classroom studies, the development of art in studios began with Tashkent landscapes. They went "far" - to Solar River, over the Pervushin bridge, to the gardens of Chilanzar. Putting a painter's case over their shoulder they went on a hike and reached places where the city's central districts were to be found not so long after that time. Going out to do studies is directly connected with the streets of Tashkent: the city, a continuous combination of manmade things and nature, contained inexhaustible opportunities for graphic implementation.
Tashkent as a capital city of officialdom and ceremonies, and Tashkent preoccupied with day-to-day business is both different and the same, the city breathing poetry. "The Tashkent Diary" was to be comprised of the works of many artists, and paintings of Maxim Novikov (1886-1982) also constitute its "pages". Novikov's style brings us back to the 19th century Russian landscape painting, of which he was a faithful follower. Recognizable urban motifs resulted in the fact that for many decades Novikov's name was associated with his two renowned works, namely "Winter in Turkistan" and "Spring-time in Tashkent", with the true value of his art overshadowed for a long while. Realistic truthfulness of the motifs and classic painting method were employed by the artist depending on the concept. Ambient light prevails, but "Caravanserai", and "Marketplace Corner with Camels", and "Shoe Factory" were all painted in Tashkent.
Konstantin Chernyshov was the one who went through the schooling of I. S. Kazakov and M. E. Novikov. Chernyshov's well-structured and balanced landscapes picture the workaday Tashkent. Inscribed in the canvas square, like the tiling of oil paints, are the mosque, the donkey-cart wheel, the people… The 1920s - the tranquillity of the painting captures the invariable; he made the content appear as if in slow motion.
Alexander Nikolaev (Usto Mumin, 1897-1957), member of the Tashkent group called "The Masters of New Orient", makes several attempts to uncover the mystery of withered trees that look petrified at the burial place of Sheikh an-Taur, which, according to the legend, have some connection with Alexander of Macedonia. Following poetess E. Vasilyeva whom he introduces to the old part of Tashkent, Usto Mumin calls his compositions (drawings and water-colours) "Alexander's Plane-Trees".
Каким мучительным пожаром / What was the tormenting fire
Vasilyeva, better known under the pen-name of Cherubina de Gobrian, lived in Tashkent in exile for about a year and died in 1928.
Здесь плоть Земли опалена? / That seared the flesh of the Earth?
Скажи, какая власть дана / Pray, tell, what kind of power
Твоим Обугленным чинарам? / Your burned plane-trees possess?
A few words should be said about a less renowned painter, Tashkent representative of the Russian academic school, Boris Pestinskiy (1903-1943). He graduated from the Petersburg Academy of Arts, but had another qualification of zoologist/herpetologist. When fates brought him to Uzbekistan, Pestinskiy found employment as zoologist, gradually coming out of obscurity through exhibitions and teaching at painting studio. Uzbekistan is reflected in a wonderful colour graphics of steppe landscapes and characteristic portraits. The Tashkent landscapes are dominated by river motifs with trees pictured in colours of pure green, which probably reminded the author of his native Petersburg.
The World War II scattered European artists over great distances. Many famous ones found themselves in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan. The front line seemed to have drawn closer to the city perimeter, invoking patriotic feelings and great compassion for the large expanse of that tragic confrontation. "Tashkent - the City of Home Front", "Remember the Legacy of the Ancestors", "Women of Uzbekistan! Let us be worthy of our Leningrad sisters!", "You Are Not an Orphan" - the ideological and artistic orientation of the expositions echoed in the republican and national exhibitions of the best works created during the years of War in different genres. Exquisite etchings of Alexander Postel (b. 1904), Ukrainian artist from Odessa, fit into the poeticised perception of Tashkent. Postel's quiet lyricism - a plane tree and a square - invoke positive emotions; lyricism in the way the city is pictured also contains the bitterness of the war-time years.
Adjustments of time - social transformations, natural calamities, and the dynamics of epochal progress - shaped the brutal tenderness in the approach of painters, sculptors, draftsmen and billboard artists to the imagery evolution, which had dramatic qualitative manifestation in the 1960s.
Tashkent in 1966, Tashkent - the city of contrasts, preserved its remarkable individuality. Architectural transformation of the capital city was shrouded in the mist of homely past. Open grids of balconies, decorative volutes and pylon flutes of provincial art-modern have for a long time co-existed with buildings constructed of new materials. The city seemed to offer little resistance to the pressure, reminding of the intimate sensation of a living organism.
Will its interaction with an artist be disrupted? The city did not subordinate itself, but overpowered. The inseparable duet turned into a muffled dialogue, a search for oneself in a huge city, when one suddenly realizes that it is alive and that this natural creation guides and engages an artist, revealing its appeal to him.
The city was devouring itself. The jaws of excavator were at work, and the foundation pits of future structures opened their gullets. Were those the signs that soon we would step into an unfamiliar city? Nobody gave it much thought. The green leaves of still living branches of uprooted trees over the ditches-wounds spoke the language of the Tashkent streets and courtyards. The city, with the innards of its disappearing residential quarters inside out, was teeming with flea markets exposing the life of their former inhabitants. Such was the city centre, but demolition and construction, like a pandemic, affected the entire city, giving freedom to experiments in architecture and civil engineering.
Unconsciously, the work of the artists reflected this process of resistance and their emphatic experiencing the violation of the established. Their active attention seemed to protect from the advancement of sheer novelty. The motifs of people's everyday life are emphasized. Valentin Fadeev (1912-1990) known as portrait painter submerges into the rhythm of people's life; that period saw no end to his Tashkent bazaars, farmers and craftsmen, donkeys and carts - all put together into genre scene compositions.
Within the city limits Horatio Chernukhin (b. 1931) finds his own garden and fruit-tree groves where he observes the life-giving cycle of nature. The garden is located where a power plant and a metro line are being constructed, and a new building houses a fridge repair shop. He does not see them, he paints the old garden, recreating it fragment by fragment. In the 1940s that place was the backyards of the Artists Union, the garden of Usto Shirin Muradov and country-house of Vadim Ledogorov; the artist may not know about it, but the land keeps the memory. He paints the commonwealth of trees, and Chernukhin's gardens are inscribed into his "Poem of Land". The feast of colours, virtuoso technique, and - a festival! No trace of the garden is left now, but it is present in the graphic Tashkent on the painter's canvases.
Nikolai Karakhan (1900-1970) takes with him small sheets of paper, felt-pens and a fountain-pen when he goes for his daily morning walk. He draws what he always does - the golden autumn - in two colours - blue and yellow. Often at exhibition committee meetings and art councils people suggested that he changed the identical titles of his works. Yet he resisted: "But why? It's the Golden Fall!" Now again he keeps his refrain and in the Tashkent of construction boom he makes his drawings of charming tree foliage, which pile up into think folders with the graphic art of the last years of his life.
The ritual march in search for their own motifs did not mean that artists turned away from the city; it was one of the manifestations of their attachment to it.
Halt No.54 was within city limits - a terminal station beyond which buses did not run. Open foundation pits and concrete frames of slow-progress development were sad scenery for artists now residing in prefabricated concrete blocks and triggered a new perception of things they once saw and experienced. Where an artist sources his inspiration from is a mystery that can only be understood by those who choose the thorny path of artistic creation. Drama translates into carefully presented subjects about fragility of all living things. A girl with a seagull, an attic window with the vision of a young couple, and Don Quixote in the engravings of Kamil Gubaidullin (b. 1949) - the exited graphics of a keen contemporary.
The city grew, acquiring new suburbs, and even today artists from the Tashkent Province are not distinguished as a separate phenomenon and fit well into the expositional array of the Tashkent team: Bakhtiyor Obidov (Zengi-ata), Kuchkar Akbarov (Yangi-Yul), Boris Lim (Kibrai), Amir Khalimov (Charvak). Seiran Kurtjemil (b. 1967), now the resident of Tashkent, paints Yangi-Yul in his "Rain in the Town of My Childhood" in such a way that the image well relates to the corners of Tashkent. They constitute a series: another rain, November in another composition, and humans-birds and humans-dragonflies in still another. The city of dreams and the city of losses… Blues invoked by the city are absorbed by the pining for the city. Kurtjemil's rare colouristic gift, his vivid imagination and temperament bring elation to a myth, to a fabulous metamorphosis.
Starting from the late 1960s, the evolution of fine arts yields many artistic solutions of a personal kind, in which the exposed author's individuality prevails, excitingly transforming historical events. With the extraordinary plurality in the ways our city is pictured, the "Tashkent of the Artists" theme is highlighted. It encompasses urban landscapes, genre scenes, urban fantasies, still-life paintings and interiors, faces of familiar and strange people, studio models… Self-portraits are quite significant. Usually they are extremely serious, filled with the breath of a big city. Some excitedly ceremonious spirit is present in the works of this genre: "Self-portrait with Van Gogh" by E. Melnikov, "Time" by V. Burmakin, "Self-portrait with Even Star" by Y. Strelnikov, "The Two on the Doorstep" by Sh. Abdurashidov, "Ecological Self-portrait" by A. Ponomaryov, "Self-portrait on Horseback" by G. Gromova; in the works of O. Senina, M. Tokhtaev, and in the self-portrait of I. Rubin who left the country and painted it to say farewell.
The suspense of artistic content is loquacious: concentration on a distant sublime idea, the motif of responsible existence and the motif of goodbye, the motif of personal loneliness in a big city and making and entry into the world. Javlon Umarbekov (b. 1946) in his self-portrait "Reflection" synthesizes urbanistic particulars into one whole, refracted in the artist's mind. He employs the technique of reflection in the glass windows of recognizable high-rise buildings of Tashkent. The Publishing House, the Television Centre tower and other reflections concentrate around an ancient sculpture from the south of Uzbekistan, the head of a Kushan Prince, communicating the idea about interconnection of epochs and cultures, about origins and specificity of the contemporary artist's perceptions.
Graphic arts are presented in big diversity of styles. At play was the flexibility of technical implementation of linocut and lithography. Historical retrospections and contemporary life scenes, from day-to-day situations to global events, unfold in the engravings by Vil Parshin, Medat Kagarov, Victor Apukhtin, Marat Sadykov, and Larissa Davatz. Graphic arts sounded in unison with pulsating reality. "Reporting from Tashkent", "Tashkent. The Earthquake", "Autobiography", "Earth - Space" - the series of artistic images carried an optimistic note. A series by L. Davatz (b. 1937) "Man" inspired by Walt Whitman's poetry is distinguished in its essential call for unity:
Earth, is this not enough?..
It was graphic arts, such as engraving and drawing, with its exhaustive documentary-ness and synchronism with the media style of today, that has brought closer the phase of generalization of the image of Tashkent. The proposed thesis is "My Tashkent" that was often used in the titles. Triptych "My Tashkent" (1983) by Alexander Lee (b. 1941) still has not lost its graphic power. Sheets titled "Childhood", "Landscape" and "Grief" made with lithographic technique were solved with the instrument of two paints - white and black. Inflexional variation of tonal capabilities of graphic arts gave tempo to every artist's personal contribution to the picture of unity with their native city.
Allons! Whoever you are, come out, and we shall walk together!..
Allons! Through revolts and wars!..
Camerado, I give you my hand!..
Works "on the given subject" are of different level. Many of them belong to the kind of art that is distinguished by a subtle, unobtrusive taste and excellent workmanship. Others are educational, of a documentary character. Others retained the spirit of being made to an official order. Still all of them share a genuine interest in the subject and productive search for intonation solutions. Naturally, the fine arts of Uzbekistan responded to the universal interest in the global and European culture, but the images of Tashkent have contributed to the progress of arts.
The "Home and World" line was steadily maintained and clearly identified. It constituted, and still does, an important part of the city image, city that changed its appearance, and, in many instances it helped the evolution of artistic consciousness.
Ak-tepe - Kyazim Eminov, Gennadiy Moiseev, Konstantin Bogodukhov, Georgiy Tkachyov, Boris Tokmin, Nadezhda Kim, Rimma Gagloeva… Somebody exclaimed, jokingly, "Is not the centre of arts shifting to Ak-tepe area?!" Meanwhile, there increased the number of apartment blocks where artists resided, forming sectors and hives of labourers with easels, ovens for baking ceramics, and sculptors' picks. Many compositions that can be mistaken for plein air ones were actually created inside the new artists' Houses They paint flowers and blossoming courtyards - windowsills and tables covered with bunches of flowers.
"Coppices" by Inna Vasilieva (b. 1939) was created by the observant and sensitive artist. Well familiar with the Eurasian geography, the author unites her personal contemplation with her emotional involvement with the Tashkent streets, courtyards and interiors. "What if there is a Bush on the Way?", and "Where Shall the Hoopoe Live?" are filled with anxiousness, and still-lives with orb-like bouquets resemble a flower planet, when in a small thing, "in the flower's bell", one can see global problems reflected.
Anvar Mirsagatov (b. 1939) paints from one single point of view - the one that is open to him from the corner of the courtyard in the morning. He paints tirelessly, and there is no importunity in the repetitiveness of a composition with a rosebush and vine in the usually snow-covered garden, and the repetition is akin to the recital of a morning prayer. Mirsagatov's landscapes form a multi-tier exposition: where does one's Homeland begin? The landscapes of his own courtyard are linked to monumental mountain landscapes, which could be united under the title of one of his paintings: "A Day of Peace in My Homeland".
In terms of constancy of a motif and means of interpreting the high feeling of fidelity Iskandar Vokhidov (b. 1940) belongs to the same category of artists. Still his technique is something like an obverse to reverse. He employs a long-distance perspective, the sight-span is large, and structures drown in tree foliage that forms a blanket cover ("Our Chilanzar"). The author keeps his overt excitement in check. Structured linearity of the quarter-block planning goes into the straightness of drawing and curls in the shapes of branches and leaves. Sometimes on paper he uses light-coloured backs - pink, light-blue, and ochre - in combination with brown and black slips. In terms of performance, most of his drawings come close to a rare technique of silver pencil (due to its deficit). Some compositions have been transformed into lithography…
(to be continued)