The desire to capture movement has been a crucial impetus for developments in visual art from earliest times. The cave painters of Lascaux … Read More
The desire to capture movement has been a crucial impetus for developments in visual art from earliest times. The cave painters of Lascaux strove, for reasons we can only guess, to depict the course of the hunt. To project their power, Egyptian and Assyrian rulers asked their artists to create techniques to depict battles, processions and other ceremonial events that unfold in time. Ancient Greek artists, in media as varied as temple friezes and mundane urns, confronted the same issue of how allow the viewer to experience the flow of movement and time in an essentially static medium. Keats famously noted the paradoxical combination of stasis and motion in his ekphrastic “Ode on a Grecian Urn:” “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave/Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;/ Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,/Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;/She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss.” Medieval artists continued to experiment with the presentation of movement, specifically processional and ceremonial movement, as attested in the mosaics at Ravenna, and in icons depicting scenes from the life of a saint surrounding his picture. In the early 20th century, the Futurists, obsessed with the speed of modern life, invented new ways of imparting as sense of motion to two and three-dimensional static objects.
The advent of the motion picture might have been presumed to put an end to the need to employ static images to create the illusion of motion. After all, why should one struggle to force an art form to do what something of which it is manifestly not fully capable? And yet the moving picture image does not solve the problem set so long ago by ancient artists. For the great majority of film images project movement at its “natural speed,” and fail to reproduce the paradoxical mix of movement and stasis provided by painted “narrative” images. They pass by too quickly, just as landscapes do to the automobile traveler, who is not able to appreciate the views in the same way that his forebears on horseback or on foot could.
Our project, “Walkers,” is meant to open a new chapter in the long history of painterly images of motion. We propose to build on a series of works we have been creating over the past 4 years, works that in their painterly technique synthesize many past epochs of artistic achievement in new and compelling ways. In particular, our exploration of the paradoxical relationship of motion and stasis is paralleled by a simultaneous consideration of the relationship between abstract and figurative art and between conventionality and verisimilitude.
As it is fairly unusual for artists to collaborate on their canvases, we would like to say a few words to explain why and how we do so. In Saint Petersburg, we worked in separate design fields. However, in this country we decided that because we possess complementary specialties and interests, it would be artistically fruitful to combine forces. Igor is generally more interested in color, in material, and in abstraction. Marina, by contrast, has an excellent touch for realistic drawing and is capable of creating new images on the basis of the works of older artists, particularly those of the Italian and Dutch Renaissance. Of course, it has taken us a long time to reach our present level of cooperation, and working together is not always easy. Still, this combination has allowed us to develop the work that you see in our portfolio and that forms the basis for our proposed artistic project.
As you can see from our website, much of our recent work plays on the contrast between complex patterns of abstraction in the background and meticulously worked figuration in the foreground. Motion, insofar as it is present in these canvases, is implied by the swirling motifs of the background, while the figures are presented with the static monumentality of Renaissance portraits (see for example “Shadow of the Fresco,” or “Two Heads are Better than One”). These and canvases like them demand a complex technique and a deft sense of composition.
We generally avoid perspective in our paintings because it is important for us to keep our work in the frame of an iconic image. Our figures have, in most of our recent paintings, tended to be quite static and their gestures limited, but these constraints have helped us to create works that make a most dramatic impression. We like to push people to use their imagination and one tool we use to achieve this is the creation of a dark background which each person can fill with his or her own phantoms. Another technique to produce a similar result is to leave part of the painting unfinished, so that the eye of the viewer is does part of the artist’s job, finishing the unfinished image. A third tool is to add some enigma to the artwork: we like to cover eyes in the portraits with turbans and strange hats, or to juxtapose seemingly uncombinable things to create complex visual metaphors. We don’t necessarily have a story for each painting, but it is important for us to create the sense of a story behind each of them.
“The Walkers I,” for example, depicts two volumetric but schematic figures moving from left to right against a background suggestive of hieroglyphs. The strong horizontals of the background create the illusion of a series of parallel roads against which (or along which) the figures are moving. The relationship of the figures is intentionally ambiguous. “Walkers IV” unfolds against a similar background but the figures now mimic one another and the feeling of dynamism is strengthened by the fact that both are clearly in motion. Though there is no story behind the picture, it is not hard to imagine it as a depiction of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In one of our experiment, “Walkers VI” we have begun to approach the technique we propose to employ for the large-scale project. We have toned down the horizontals (though they are still clearly present) and through the swirls in the background we have introduced a sense of cyclical rather than linear motion. The figures are presented in a frieze-like manner but the central figure has been endowed with a face and hands that are more realistic than the schematic heads and hands of the figures in front and behind him (or her—the figures are purposely androgynous). A further sense of dynamism has been introduced through the fact that the forward figure has, apparently, walked part of the way out of the picture.
We decided to create a series of interrelated canvases employing the basic techniques we are refining here. We are still developing this approach so much will undoubtedly change in the course of our work, but we anticipate creating some 15-20 large scale canvases in the nearest years, that would “walk” around a large room. The viewer in the middle would be invited to follow (or even join) the procession, which would be complicated by the relationship of the figures, who would not merely follow one another but also “interact” with those figures opposite to them on the other side of the room. We also imagine that we will create rows of miniature “Walkers” who would process above and below the central band of figures, in a technique analogous to the iconostasis in an Orthodox Church.
Accompanying the exhibition, we expect, would be performances of musical works that capture a similar feeling of motion and development in time—we have in mind obvious pieces such as Ravel’s Bolero, Bach’s Art of the Fugue, but also many examples from folk music ranging from Africa to Eastern Europe. The catalogue for our exhibition would be produced in the form of a fold out “accordion” or a Chinese scroll so that viewers could re-experience the work outside of its exhibition space.
Text by Igor & Marina, translated by Andrew Wachtel Read Less