Contemporary artists of Kuban

The indispensable catalog was issued for the exhibition “Contemporary Artists of the Kuban” shown in St. Petersburg “Manezh”. The organizers of the exposition placed the picture of Sergei Vorzhev “Kuban angels” on its cover. The picture was among the works of eighty artists of two generations, list in the catalog. There was a certain predeterminacy in it: recognition of the author’s professional skills and special hit into the sociocultural situation of recent years, having become the basis for the formation of an outstanding “artistic phenomenon”, whose name is Kuban art.

Sergey Vorzhev was born on February 21, 1950 in stanitsa Varenikovskaya. Cossacks – immigrants brought sacral significance to the name of a new “habitat” – dumplings with cottage cheese or cherry. A kind of a symbol of simple epicureanism – a sustainable prosperity in each family, in addition there remained a toponymic memory of the stanitsa Cossack Varenik, famous speechmaker and gambler – the Kuban Cossack Demosthenes. However, lingering childhood impression, tenacious like puzzles, that make the creative personality of the artist, consisted not only of indolent contiguity. They consider a more significant meaning: legends of free Zaporozhye ancestors – knights who were not afraid of evil Tatars or puffed Poles or “the long sovereign hand” of Moscow. Becoming later sentry cordons along the banks of the Kuban, Eey and Taman the Cossacks, dissolving in the bed of rushes like ninjas, were unmatched in stratagem and valor like legendary Circassian abrek.

A smart young cadet goes to university Krasnodar. In 1972 Sergey Vorzhev graduates from the art and graphic faculty of the Kuban State University. The gained knowledge and skills in art seems insufficient to him, the simplicity of school teaching is perceived with depressing mundanity. The beginning artist goesto the Leningrad Hermitage to learn professionalsecrets of the old masters. Hisfather,successful fisherman and a spontaneous philosopher who understood “human nature”, provided his son with an unmistakable “strategic stockpile ” – a hefty owl with Kuban dried fish. Next half a year, drinking beer and eating fish, the best Hermitage restorers were generously unlocking secrets of the “Dutch manner of painting”, forgotten formulations of ground-colors and ways of multi-layered glazes. The resulting skills after a long rethinkin became the basis of the Vorzhev`s method of working with paints, stylistically recognizable and technologically perfect.

The creative formation of the young painter coincided with the second moment in the development of the Kuban art. The “severe style” with its chanting of heroic everyday life was replaced by a hedonistic ecstasy of life, the use of a wide range of retrospective associations in the creative work. Including passion for moody -mocking theme – the author’s interpretation of world history, amazingly sensitively transmitted through an endless chain of transformations of human flesh, embodied in ambitious cycles of Evgeny Tsey, the single-parent of Krasnodar underground. The Vorzhev`s style assert itself, a kind of a folk surrealism in the depiction of Krasnodar’s antiquity. Interest to its past “grew up to enthusiasm” after the publication of the novel by V. Likhonosov “Unwritten memories. Our Little Paris.” On canvases and graphic works of artists appear miraculously preserved or recreated by the power of their imagination urban constructions. Sergey Vorzhev’s first painting series “Ekaterinodar” was created in such an atmosphere. “The House of Tolstopyat” remained in its original form only in his painting. The real decor was later cut off, the wrought-iron balcony was demolished, and the walls, in favour of the busy city-planning fashion, were clad in plastic siding. Vorzhev’s landscapes “Rendezvous”, “The Antiquarian’s House”, “The Golden Evening” and “The Old House” more look like the buffoonish “architectural portraits” – paroemias. The ethnographic hyperbole hides the charm of town antiquity named the “genius of the place” – it`s living and original soul. Color of the hot sunset strengthens the sense of the aching loss, acquiring the features of a depressingly dark gloomy requiem. Vorzhev`s style was followed by many Krasnodar artists.

Their works reconstruct a special “microcosm” of Krasnodar houses, grotesque like the scenery of Kusturica’s films. They seem to be covered by a thick glass of memories that humble human passions. Krasnodar patios were inhabited not only by indeterminate, in ethnic sense, population and characters of the Lichonosov prose. There lived a woman of a rare beauty, the silent-film actress Irina Volodko Kuleshova, who played a part of Pushkin’s wife, and the first Russian general of aviation Vyacheslav Tkachev. The opera “diva” Anna Netrebko was also grown up in such a patio.

Accession into the professional Union of Russian Artists in 1983 coincided with the start of Sergey Vorzhev`s grand series “Marapatsutsa”, “Unidentified flying objects”, “Flown away bird Kuban” and “Kuban angels” – delicate sense bearing provocations – relaxing and entertaining artistic The Glass Bead Game. His characters are far cry from social utopias promoted with gloomy enthusiasm. They live in their own perfect world, which can appear in dreams during the afternoon light sleep. As if on a secret island – the invented “happy Belovodie” – there live winged people, their airships are made from scratch, God’s commandments are drunkenly carried out, because the drunken potion is not among the deadly sins in Cossacks` opinion, and the Biblical drinker Noah constitutes the evidence.

Another series “Signs of the Sea” was the embodiment of the fantastic beauty of “sea reptiles”, exotic shells, aesthetically not less perfect than a naked female body, and “Rabelaisian extravagance” in the images of various giant fishes. The plastic embodiment of the marine theme is continued in “The Beach of Aphrodite” and “The Graphics of Sergei Vorzhev” series. The large-size drawings present the daughter of the part of ancient east that stretches from the Amazons motherland – the Black Sea coast – to the Georgian south, where Medea once lived and to Alexandria of Cleopatra. At the center of this giant path, that looked like the shadow of a bow, there once was Ionia – “The Coast of Aphrodite”, where the beautiful Trojans and the Mytilene poetess Sappho lived. That is the geographic implied sense of the series, linear drawings of nub figures, supplemented by precise accessories, are transformed into a kind of historical reconstruction. Erotic in the images makes a cult of female body admiring – the most harmonious thing created by nature. A Kuban rooster as a “chairman of a small harem” turns into a humorous, archetypal personification of a fundamental nature of male civilization.

Showing the elements of a folk life, the artist finds a vivid style, close to “friendly caricature” – always tonally diverse mild smile. The way of life, that looks like toil in a real life, transforms into an enviable for any modern ecologist microcosm of a peasant dwelling, often created “from the dust of the ground” – clay, straw and cane, organically fitting the surrounding landscape. Characters are clearly fitted into the annual life cycle: where rare peasant autumn holidays are “selflessly merry” and where unrestrained spring floods leave people a small island for existence, necessary “humanized”. It seems that Vorzhev`s easy outgoing balloonists on taboo Parapatsutsas can fly to a distant country of the goddess Amaterasu, where their own knowledge of the world surprisingly coincides with panoramic landscapes, like a route map. This Zen Buddhism understanding of existence can be a native thing to the Cossack fatalism comon for every military class.

Teaching time became a natural result for the Distinguished Artist of the Russian Federation Sergei Vorzhev. In 1997 he set up the school of painting. Against the backdrop of vain postmodern innovations and universal striving for success by all means, for a refined and selfsufficient beauty backed up by plastic surgery, for the oversaturated tired, reflexive culture of big cities, the art of Sergei Vorzhev and his school have an extraordinary preventive and psychiatric effect. Having established himself on the comfortable for life forty-fifth Krasnodar parallel, the artist defines clear and acceptable conditions for creative self-identification, where his personal mentality stays in a rare and happy combination with adequate means of artistic expression.

Sergei Vorzhev`s pictures and graphics were spread around the world, they were taken away by descendants of emigrants and collectors. They were on the posters of the most prestigious exhibitions. They were acquired by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Krasnodar Art Museum named after F. Kovalenko, Maikop Museum of Oriental Art. They are in the collections of France, Italy, Austria, Germany, USA, Japan, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and Turkey. The nostalgic theme “Flown away bird Kuban” has become a significant phenomenon of contemporary art in the South of Russia.

Expert in artistic values Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Honorary Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts

Ivan Vashchenko

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