Night in Venice
The art of Elena Komarova
Artists who nowadays turn to a genre painting, cityscape or still life may strategize their searches in different ways, stating in their works traditional boundaries “prescribed” to these genres or significantly expanding them in a complex multidimensional representation. As often as not they come to a complex and expressive metaphor or capacious symbol proceeding from the natural interpretation of the chosen motive. There is a place for desire to create a recognizable “portrait” of a particular city or still life production, and the discovery by means of art of a tense, sometimes dramatic dialogue of civilization and the world of wildlife. The author's approach to the plastic interpretation of the representation object may also be different - from factually correct capture of a favorite motif to its free poetic transformation, where an artist sometimes enters the boundaries of pure abstraction.
Having chosen City and Nature as “permanent values” of her art, Elena Komarova sees these worlds through the “crystal ball” of a spiritualized pictorial space. It presents itself in powerful color chords or sounds sort of “with muted strings”, in a monochrome range, where sometimes shadows of the past and faces of those who once made leisurely walks through the streets of Venice or ancient French cities may come to life. Perhaps we will be able to better understand the content of her pictorial images, considering each work not as a self-sufficient unit, but as an integral part of the author's search, which can be described as her “super task”. It is noteworthy that even the first glimpse at the cycle of Venetian landscapes by Elena Komarova immediately draws attention to the symbolic reading of the image. Here it is especially important for the artist to see and make visible the presence in the space of the city of those who once endowed the world of painting, literature, music with vivid discoveries. Diptych «Venice. The Grand Canal» unfolds the panorama of the city in front of us, as if inviting to travel through its squares and channels - and through the pages of its glorious history. Venice has a special power of attraction even for those who have never been to San Marco Square and have not admired the glorified cathedrals and palazzos. And who did not walk through channels that have long become the true calling card of this beautiful city - a point of attraction for many artists and travelers - but finds his “promised land” right in this Italian city. A quite tangible reality in one of the paintings by Elena Komarova is the image of Igor Stravinsky, inviting us to sail along well-trodden waterways of Venice - and along the river of time, continuing its unhurried and unstoppable flow even after the completion of earthly journey of a man who honored the great city with his presence. However, in the works of the Venetian series we will meet those who are destined for “life in centuries”, and who, like the characters of the painting “Observer”, were lucky enough to be captured in marble and stone. Shadows of the past, peering into the space shrouded in wet air, perhaps continue to recall their creators and their contemporaries - doges and artists, merchants and adventurers who created the story of the Most Serene. The story that has become the legend, where even now remains an amazing aura of incomprehensible mystery, which Thomas Mann, Joseph Brodsky tried to learn with many other creators, without whom the “Venetian myth” might lose its nostalgic fleur, the acute modernity of this unabated feeling. Perhaps it is especially important for the artist to discover this sinking feeling of pulsating and permanently slipping time in her pictorial Venice. It is not by chance that sculptures here do not want to remain constrained by a stone shell - they rather watch every new group of tourists, enthusiastically contemplating the beauty of architectural masterpieces, with a faint smile.
The theme of the dramatic dialogue of transient and eternal, finitude of human being and eternity of art is to some extent a guiding light for Elena Komarova. This theme emerges in her other works not related to the Venetian series. Moreover, it comes to life both in natural (“Time stood motionless…”) and in purely abstract motifs (polyptych “Gate of Time”). Sometimes the sacrament of the transformation of observations directly derived from the natural world literally takes place before our eyes - for example, in one of the works the field of flowers during full moon is perceived as a truly cosmic landscape.
On the other hand, the development of the same theme, still life or landscape motif in such different, even opposite, “polar” plastic versions of a certain motif may confuse those who strive to draw a rigid and impenetrable line between substantive and abstract art. And moreover, find the organic coexistence of these approaches in the work of the same artist impossible. In fact, the experience of the ХХ century has shown that the development of symbolism as a certain form of perception of the content of human life and the world surrounding it required reflection both through a plot, a recognizable image rooted in antiquity and Christian iconography, and through free plastic improvisation. In this case, the complexity and multidimensional nature of the task set by the author seemed to blow up the "image object" from the inside, turning it into a vague shimmering pictorial environment or a rather rigid adhesion of shapes losing substantive shapes. At Elena Komarova we will see a number of abstract works already developed into fully fledged series and cycles. Here particularly important is another facet of the gift of the artist, who in recent years is actively working in the field of art therapy. Regular master classes allow her to discover something important even in her own art both for her wards and for herself.
Here the reasons determining the choice by Elena Komarova of a special approach to the execution of abstract artworks should be specified a little deeper. Recalling the bold experiments of the masters of avant-garde and abstract expressionism of the 1950s she finds what seemed closest to her in this vast and multidimensional legacy. She seems to try various pictorial materials for weight and density, attracting her with their capabilities in revealing the emotional component of the creative process. It’s important to highlight that Elena is a professional art therapist who received the necessary knowledge and skills in this field in St. Petersburg from Professor A. Kopytin and a number of other leading specialists. This was followed by an internship and training in Vienna, the first acquaintance with the “living paintings” by Gerhart Richter and with the theory proposed by Sigmund Freud, according to which art has therapeutic functions. In many ways right here you can see the origins of the concept of creating and perceiving an abstract artwork in the independent artistic practice of Elena Komarova. Here appears the possibility of penetration of the master and the viewer into a kind of “looking glass” of art, where the unconscious, bypassing the “censorship” of consciousness, discovers its great creative, therapeutic possibilities. And thus switches, seamlessly flows into the artistic process. That is how art helps the author in the process of conducting a master class or individual work to penetrate into the depths of each person's soul, to identify its hidden reserves. Scientific theories, even seemingly reasonably and logically describing this process, usually appear later and are hardly able to explain its course and result from top to bottom.
For example, Elena Komarova lets “float freely” a course of applying paint to the surface of paper or canvas, which can give very interesting unpredictable effects. The title of the work “Unmanageable Process” more than eloquently reveals the character of many other works of the artist, where she prefers abstraction, which allowing kind of balancing on the border of conventionality (disclosed in influxes, stains or clots of paint) and fully tangible reality. Right here the author not only hints at the proximity of accidentally found forms to the details of the autumn landscape with a tremulous reflection of the blue sky and gold foliage on the smooth water surface, but also finds the key to revealing the complex symbolic content of Time. This content, again, can be quite adequately revealed in the image of a lonely cypress in the courtyard of the southern city, where the author generally follows the realistic concept of the landscape. And in the same breath Time viably assert itself again in another work, already conditional by the nature of the plastic solution. Just like the brush of an archaeologist clearing a newly discovered artifact from sand or dust, in the diptych "Scythian Gold" she extracts images from the “cultural layer” of pure matter in the stains, clots and bizarre formations where the conditional silhouettes of horsemen are guessed. So, Elena Komarova’s image of the City opens the way to a more complex and multidimensional concept of Time, where nevertheless the “measure of all things” remains Human Being.
It is not by chance that lyrical painting revelations can be firmly associated with the impressionistic vision of urban space. Here we can discern a joyful sense of the discovery of the world that we experience in a bright sunny morning or at a moment of spiritual elevation. And the artworks of the Moscow series themselves, made in the technique of oil painting or pastels (“Moscow Morning”, “From the Window on Pyatnitskaya (Evening)”, “Moscow. Hotel “Ukraine””) are endowed with special nostalgic fleur. But this for a remarkable degree is not a nostalgia for other, Venetian shores, but for very recent times already becoming history. For the author the Thaw Era is concluded rather in the special vision and experience of the space of a large modern city inherent to youth. This experience, brilliantly revealed in the cinema of the turn of the fifties and sixties, is now available for implementation in more chamber forms of painting and graphics. Swifts over the capital in some happy vision connect Thaw Era and modern Moscow with its high-altitude dominants, represented in the post-war neoclassical and XXI century high-tech forms… A wide panorama of the capital, seen from a bird's view, seems to come to life in the name of the picture, colored with the romance of free flight.
This contemplation of beauty, allowing the soul to harmonize, might find the most interesting and profound embodiment in the picture “Girl in White”. The compositional motif - a female figure facing the boundless world of nature - is well known to us from the works of the German romanticism classic Caspar David Friedrich. The same plot and composition motive, but in the situation of dialogue between a woman and an old Italian city, can be found in a work painted by Tatyana Yablonskaya in the 1970s. For Elena Komarova a girl in white is an image of slipping beauty, a romantic experience of moments of happy and anxious comprehension of the beauty of an Italian city. This is rather not Venice or Florence, to which the mentioned painting of Yablonskaya is dedicated, but the image of the space where antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque replaced each other, and where everything turns out to be hidden by the gentle bearing of memory or patina of time, which forever hid the faces and fates of the former inhabitants of ancient stone buildings.
And the author again finds an extent of conventionality which allows to translate memories and emotions into the language of concise compositional relations and “texture noise”, where the rustle of ripe field or autumn foliage is heard (“Golden Fields”, “Konstantinovsky Palace. Autumn colors of the park”). Again, as in some works of the Moscow series, there appear profound elegies, built on soft, gentle, often subtle consonants (“White lilac in the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent”), freely painted lily pads as if ready to dissolve in a foggy milk-and-white mist, or more loud and vivid colorful chords (“Poppy valley”). Again in this case, as in the “Full Moon”, Elena Komarova often finds the necessary dramatic touch in the nature of organizing a regular garden landscape, in the ascending staircase of Pavlovsky Park or in the sudden discovery of the charming beauty of the south after long wanderings among the sun-hot walls of narrow streets (“Wisteria at sea”). The techniques of pictorial art here may actively vary from appeal to the realistic landscape traditions or scenes and the close texture of the tapestry style of painting (distinct for Borisov-Musatov canvases) to greater sharpness in the interpretation of the picturesque rhythmic system.
Balancing on the border, beyond which the “forms of life itself” pass into a complex mix of colors and shades, into the expressive energy of the colorful layer texture, allows to create an image full of an expressive emotion of experience. This happens in the picture “Avignon. Mistral”, where picturesque matter comes into motion at the moment of a stormy gust of wind. Maybe these experiments with composition and space just allow to create intrigue in terms of a landscape motif. There is something mysterious and even surreal in the “exit” of the Venetian gondola to the territory belonging not to the urban, yet already to the natural landscape. And this moment of intrigue, understatement, mystery becomes the content of one of the works of the Venetian series, where the girl's figure seems to be enclosed in an exquisite carnival costume as in a precious icon-setting (here you can once again recall the glorified Klimt images). And in the picture “Eyes of the East” the image is taken close-up. The artist resorts to the technique characteristic of the fashionable hyperrealism of 1970s and 80s, which has become popular again in the practice of modern actual art. However, the ultimate reliability and even the well-known dispassionate objectivity in the depiction of the trope paradoxically allows the author to distance herself from the visual information overload and find an energy of direct visual influence bringing the image out of a purely everyday dimension. The eyes of the girl of the East aimed at us and the silent prayer scene seen in the opened window create a real space of silence, where the mystery of the world of the human soul comes to life again.
The name of the series “Change”, recently completed by Elena Komarova, is related not only to the works developed into a series of abstract improvisations. Not least it provides the key to understanding the content of all her art. The author, who got a traditional art education and remains faithful to the understanding of nature as the main source of images of her works, has a need to make the boundaries of the genre painting, landscape and still life more mobile, able to accommodate a complex idea of the world and the human. This task seems even more relevant in the twenty-first century when non-objective art at some point becomes a necessary haven for a master realizing the impossibility to embody a complex range of his observations and thoughts. They may be connected with the past and present of great cities, with the theme of nostalgia, with the concept of Time and with the world of nature, but are united by profound picturesque intonation that can affect our innermost experiences and emotions.
Scientific Coordination Specialist of The State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
Ph.D. in Art History, Associate Professor, Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design,
Member of the Artists' Union of Russia.