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THE FATHERS

The Mitki are lucky. they are not rootless or fatherless. And they are respectful children of their austere "fathers". Yes, those whom they call "fathers" do not particularly care for their children. But who can demand that the Titans be also distinguished for their philoprogenitiveness? Suffice to look at the names: A.Arefyev, R.Vasmi, V.SHagin, S.Schwartz, V.Gromov

What can they have in common-those hard-core uncompromising Romantics who, in the words of their poet Roald Mandelstam, "live gnawing at stone" and the amicable, kind-hearted, relaxed Mitki? What can they have in common, besides the fact that Vladimir Shagin is the father of Dmitri Shagin and that the would-be "model Mitki-man" has been subsequently educated by the whole company? (Later, in the I980's, Dmitri Shagin, to give him his due, accepted the role of a cultural go-between and didn't allow the new generations and the whole unofficial art of Leningrad, [to forget] about their heritage). Yes, I agree, the psychological type of this cultural growth is very different. Yet the Mitki, compliant and seemingly unpretending to any heroism, had found each other long before the beginning of their famous Super-game; and they were united by their efforts in the field of painting in the traditional sense of this word, the kind of art which. in all appearance, doesn't exist anymore. And they continue their efforts, although this business is a guaranteed loser, worthless at the marketplace of art, welcoming no critical attention: this art is not new and at the same time it is too elitist to attract an occasional buyer. But the Mitki will continue their efforts, and if someone of them stops doing it, he will stop being a Mitki-man, no matter what he wears and what slang he uses.

Although the return to old artistic trends is present in the tool-kit of post-Modernism, but only with some irony and estrangement; a Mitki-man is sincere in his art., if in anything. he chuckles neither at his pictures, nor at himself. And it's not a nostalgic matter. He does so simply because traditional painting seems to him the only worthy occupation in visual arts. With all his conservatism he never complains that the avant-garde has destroyed something; he never demands a firing squad for those who hold different opinions.

The Mitki has learned from their "fathers" that there is no need to be afraid of being backward, or trivial. Art is not an express t.rain: if you are late for the train you will never reach the bright future. Everything necessary for art is here, within reach, The "fathers" were not given anything but the ideology prescribed by the state, shabby everyday life of the Stalin times, the underworld as the only available exotic thing, and high-school knowledge of the ancient world. They appeared in the murkiest backwoods, in the very core of the Soviet epoch, at the equal distance between 1917 and the time when somebody was able to escape from the country alive, between 1937 and the beginning of " the than". They were the creations of that reality; and they were, in my opinion, the most powerful achievement of the art, unmistakably Soviet, in spite of their radical denial of any Sovietism. When studying at the Secondary School of Art, they were good pupils, too good for "the state of mediocrities". Sometimes meeting only with the tiniest jets of culture hiding deep under ground they grew up on scanty aesthetic rations; and they learned only too well the foundations of the prescribed esthetic. They learned that the picture should contain an idea, though they never accepted that in the Soviet reality this "idea" always meant a ready-made ideological formula. They learned very well the principle of the unity of form and content; and it seemed that they had heeded the call of Socialist Realism, "To depict reality truthfully and in historical detail". To this they added their own experience of this reality. And this addition exploded everything. The orientation of their minds and feelings on the immediate surroundings so was so strangely intense that the plastic transformation of the object happened as if by itself, without special concentration on the form. This resulted in the art so powerfully plastic that the smallest work seems to rend the space of a huge exhibition hall. Beside this, I think, the work of some Constructivist will, at the same distance, look like a piece of wallpaper. Their work is not a howl, it's mighty music c. It's pain transformed into beauty.

They extracted beauty, turning into artistically significant objects the realities of the only environment given to them; given in such a savage, torn up, esthetically undeveloped way. For them the perception of this reality was not conditioned by some cultural tradition. Their city in no way resembles the city we see on the eighteenth-century etching or the elegant city of the "Mir Iskusstv", filled with literary and historical reminiscences. Their city is experienced directly; it is refracted only through the temper of the artist. The violent city of furious A.Arefyev, the city perceived through its social background; the purified tragic city of regal R.Vasmi; the cozy paradise, filled with gentleness, benevolent towards a pedestrian of V.Shagin. The panoramic city as a fragment of the round planet, seen as if from above by the starry eye of V. Gromov, the city as the stimulating and agitating environment for S.Schwartz... They all are so different, yet they all share the quality of lyrical responsiveness, each in his own way.

The Mitki are faithful to city-scape. It is almost obligatory for everyone of them. Which cannot be said about lyrical responsiveness... But who would demand it, who would reproach them - in these days! But if our city preserves this rare, elitist art - painting, the Mitki contribution will be undeniable.

Lyubov Gurevich


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