Thursday, February 21, 2008

Looking Back

I was thinking about art recently – art in general - the art of writing, the art of drawing, the art of self-expression and the art of living. The art of words and images always fascinated me. In my childhood and later on – books, art museums or galleries were my shield against the world, “a highly respectable means of social avoidance”. Experience and traveling the world altered my taste but it was interesting to look back and trace my former obsessions, some of which never left me, just subtly shifted their places in my inner world.

In Moscow during my teen years it was hard to find anything but the art of classical or social realism. I didn't care much for the latter, adoring the ninteenth century artists instead. I was captivated by the paintings of Ivan Ajvazovkij(1817-1900). He was a marinist, and since I always was entranced by the sea, his works spoke to my heart. I don't know if there was anybody equal to him at that time in depicting the sea - its rage and calm, snowy white foam of its wave and its transparent depth, sunrays piercing the water - at his time.

Ivan Ajvaovski, Venice, 1843

Ivan Ajvazovski, The Ninth Wave, 1850

Then there was Isaak Levitan (1860 - 1900) and his landscapes. They are so lyrical, so filled with melancholia; a special term "the landscape of the mood" came to the Russian painting with them. There is quite beauty in them which captures your soul, making you linger in from of the canvases.

Isaak Levitan, Autumn Day, 1879 (Levitan usualy did't add people to his landscapes, and here the woman's figure was painted by Nicolay Chehov, Anton's Chechov's brother.)

Isaak Levitan, March

Isaak Levitan, Evening Bells

Later in the mid eighties I discovered the works of Nicholas Roerich. The colours, the themes blew my mind and started my fascination with Oriental philosophy. I think I read everything that I were able to find (which was not much at that time) about Roerich and his life. And ,of course, my interest in Buddism brought a lot of uncoventional people in our house. My mom, bless her heart, patiently endured an endless string of long haired guests, listened to their music and discussions and quite often stayed with us till dawn making sure that our cups of tea were always full.

Nicholas Roerich, Ancient Pskov

Nicholas Roerich, Remember, 1925

Nicholas Roerich, The Range , 1924

Roerich was an arheologist, an art historian, a teacher, a writer, a philosopher and an artist. His personality and life was so unusual from everything I had encountered before that it was hard to stop digging deeper and deeper.
One of the books about his was concentrated on his attempts to introduce Eastern wisdom to the Western mind. I read it from cover to cover, jotting down the notes on its pages. Several years after leaving Russia I received a letter from one of my former student - he mentioned that he lost his way and didn't really know what he wanted to do. I sent him the book. Last year my student came to visit Beijing and brought the book (after 6 years) back to me. The pages of it was covered with his notes alongside mine.
Talking about influences....

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