Tamara Chudinovskaya Natalia Zemlyanaya’s creation of the world

…those strange beings we call colours, alive in themselves, autonomous,

endowed with all the qualities needed for their future autonomous life and ready at

any moment to submit to a new combination, to intermingle with one another and

create an infinity of new worlds…

—Wassily Kandinsky

The artistic biography of Natalia Zemlyanaya clearly bears witness to her

complete disinterest in a realist method of painting. Her teachers were adherents of

the second wave of avant-garde, who took the system of colour and form as a

language of expression, allowing them to transform the visible and to depict the

invisible. Among them were such varied personages as Children’s Art School teacher

Sergei Daniel, and the Vera Mukhina Higher School of Art and Industrial Design

(now the Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, St Petersburg) instructors

Valentina Povarova, Lyudmila Ku-tsenko, Alexander Zaitsev, and Stanislav

Mosevich. Povarova and Kutsenko, who exhibited in the Russian Museum in the early

2000s, had studied in the classical academic manner, but their inspiration for

individual creativity came while in the circle of Pavel Kondratyev, Vladimir Sterligov

and his wife Tatyana Glebova, and Evgenia Magaril, who had all been students of

artists of the first wave of avant-garde – Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Matiushin, and

Pavel Filonov. The art of Alexander Zaitsev and Stanislav Mosevich developed in a

similar manner and was connected with the so-called “Hermitage School” of Grigory

Dlugach, who was heavily influenced by Pavel Filonov and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.

On this line of succession, Natalia Zemlyanaya comes in at the fourth generation of

artists working in this new image-based language spawned by the first avant-garde


It’s likely that Natalia Zemlyanaya would wholeheartedly agree with Tatyana

Glebova’s assertion that she listens only to her inner voice, which dictates “what

colour to use where”. 1 At the same time, Zemlyanaya’s method of intuitive “colour

painting” is based on a deep knowledge of the laws of colour, whose secrets have

been explored for centuries by world-class minds the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and

Johann Goethe. The work of Natalia Zemlyanaya, as a contemporary artist with

pronounced abstract thinking, has absorbed all the artistic developments of the 20th

century. The artist is fluent in the language of colour and form, which allows her to

give body even to rather complicated abstract ideas (The Creation of the World,

Angel) and impressions from nature (Blooming Bushes, Autumn Lines). Combining

multiple plastic layers with minimalist elements, in her art she also calls upon the

archetypical images of the square, circle, oval, and labyrinth, and blends lines and

waves going in different directions, using colour to create gesture within the spatial

movement of shapes. Simple Shapes, Lines, Structures, Squares, Circles, Labyrinths,

Angels, Birds, Flowers, Portraits – these are the relatively provisional names of series

on which Zemlyanaya has worked since the mid-1980s, having experienced the

complete loss of many of these in the “wild” 1990s, when an entire exhibition was

stolen from a gallery at 10 Pushkinskaya Street.

Natalia Zemlyanaya’s image-based language can be compared to poetry that is

built on intuitive cognition of the world, on internal melodic attunement. If we

examine her paintings Yellow Rose and White Rose, we find their common structural

roots with The Creation of the World. And Rose with its spiral-like mobility and

refined harmony of colour acts as a fractal metaphor for a grandiose ultimate

beginning. One that “rhymes” with the macrocosm and microcosm.

With its plastic and colour relationships and complexly structured space, the

artist’s creative concept does not ask questions, but instead draws the viewer into its

world, proposing that it be read as poetry – in the mind’s eye, or heard as music – as

an internal whisper. The music manifests in the rhythmic alternation of the graphic

elements, the colour accents and splashes, and even the titles of certain works (Music,

Swing Rhombus, Blue Pause). No wonder research has been done into the correlation

of letters to colours and sounds. Of a metaphysical nature, they urge us to see the

world as one vast entity, the parts of which are all interconnected. This problem – or

more precisely, this idea – was one of the fixtures of the art of the first avant-gardists.

It’s no coincidence that, for some artists who followed a path of abstract or semi-

abstract art, one of the principal characteristics of their picture surfaces was their total

population with graphic elements, as if fragments selected from some bigger space.

The object of their artistic manifestations was nothing less than the idea of materiality

itself, endless in its sweep, elusive in its fluidity, from which everything is created.

The world of Zemlyanaya’s art is never complete, whether that comes through

in the viewer’s contemplation of the names Bowl and White Birds, or in the artist’s

constant return to her works, adding details, or even completely repainting them. “The

artist always paints his internal state; it is never stagnant, and changes all the time…

When the artist artificially forces himself to depict a unity of time and space, even

then he cannot defy or avoid the ephemerality of his internal life, and that life is

reflected in the work.” 2 Thus the inner life flows into materiality, and material (or,

taking from philosopher Jacques Derrida, we can label this phenomenon “the text”)

flows into the internal life and reflects in the artist’s work as a captured moment of



1The Colour Music of Tatyana Glebova. For the 115th Anniversary of the

Artist’s Birth. Museum of Organic Culture, Kolomna, 2015, p. 102.

2Ibid, p. 47.
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