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MITKI IN RUSSIAN ART

The Mitki is a group of Petersburg artists well-known in wide and diverse circles. It this good? I'm not very sure about it because in all centuries the number of those who could appreciate genuine art has been rather small, and the Mitki art is genuine. However, the active popularization of the Mitki movement is their own deed. In a certain period of time it looked quite natural. The creator of the Mitki mythology, Vladimir Shinkaryov, by no means belongs to the fighters for loud glory or for market demand . The thing is that everything he does is inevitably talented. His "collective image of a Mitki-man" is also talented; and because of its simplicity and accessibility (at least, on the superficial level) it became idolized by the crowd pretty soon. The excessively loud noise and laughter around the Mitki has attracted hosts of entertainment seekers and scared away many serious spectators used to silent communication with art, to contemplation. It took years for the truth to triumph. By their life and work the Mitki has proved that they are not artistic time-servers. If we follow the logic of "stardom" the Mitki should have perpetuated the obtained popularity by drifting along with public demand, by contriving newer and newer sensations (the likely examples can be found in contemporary Petersburg art), The Mitki remained true to art. Although they have been undoubtedly pushed aside by frisky "innovators" and thrown off the bright and gaudy stage, they were thrown to where everything real in Petersburg art is being collected.

They were thrown into the center. Today is not the best of times for genuine culture. Its voice is soft; it does not promise saucy pleasures; moreover, it demands concentrated mental efforts and spiritual response. Nevertheless, it is this culture that maintains and and determines the value of our times both for the contemporaries and for the future generations.

The mythological Mitki are the product of the 1980's. The real mitki are the product of culture, the roots of which go deep into Petersburg soil, and even deeper to the soil of Russia. The Mitki 's genuine fame is in their continuation of the traditions of Russian painting, preserving the best features inherent to its sincerity, kindness, humanity. In its emotional richness, spiritual warmth and trusting appeal to each person the Mitki painting is in the channel of the highest embodiment of national culture - Russian medieval icon-painting. Probably it was only due to the obvious lack of convergence of formal artistic techniques that neither the Mitki nor their critics could speak about this connection.

If we speak about the direct, "fresh" roots, then we should mention the wonderful painters of Leningrad "underground" A.Arefyev, R.Vasmi, S.Schwartz, V.Shagin. The art of the Arefyev group is low-voiced but really precious. The contents of their pictures or drawings are infinitely wider than the subjects themselves due to internal emotional tension high spirituality.

From their immediate teachers the Mitki inherited the inclination to thoughtful and quiet admiration of the world around them. The most ordinary subject causes tenderness and rapture in a Mitki artist, thus transcending itself and acquiring significance and beauty. The Mitki are often referred to as candid and simplistic artists, devoid of any refinement. Such understanding of the Mitki is a misunderstanding. The Mitki simplicity is superior to any affected mannerisms bred on the soil of under-education. Their simplicity is not naive. It is wise.

Like the Arefyev group before them, the Mitki as a cultural phenomenon do not confine themselves to visual arts exclusively. Their circle was quite naturally entered by poets, prose writers, musicians. Besides, the talents of the Mitki themselves are diverse. Vladimir Shinkaryov owes his glory mostly to his literary works. (Although, with all my deep respect to the writer Shinkaryov, I set a far greater value on his paintings. I think that even in our town, rich in gifted people, you can count painters of such powerful talent "by the fingers of one hand"). Victor Tikhomirov's prose and his debut in film-directing ("The Grass and The Water") display considerable abilities. The writer and the film-maker wonderfully coexist in his theatrical paintings. Alexander Florensky, "a pure painter with an amazing sense of color, is at the same time a wonderful graphic artist, whose black-and-white drawings thanks to their juicy plastic qualities have absorbed the expressiveness of painting and sculpture. Florensky's appearance in a new genre of animation ("Mitkimeyer") is by no means incidental. In this cartoon he has shown his worth as an independent and original master. Olga Florenskaya the author of famous collages with their perfect artistry, is a very interesting graphic artist and a sensitive lyrical poet. Dmitri Shagin is an outstanding painter and a gifted actor, to say nothing of the fact that he is a Personality; his literary and mythological image, with all its charm, is still considerably inferior to the charm of real Dmitri.

The Mitki's gifts are versatile. Yet, above all, they are artists. Their bright and life-asserting genius spreads into other creative fields, always coming back, to the canvass, enriching the palette with new untested shades. This, actually, is the main quality of the phenomenon called "the Mitki culture" incorporating all the internal heat, abundantly generated by the culture of Russia.


LARISA SKOBKINA
art critic, Chief of Research,
Central Exhibition Hall


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