Sergey Daniel. Glittering Image

Many years ago when I was teaching drawing, painting and composition at a secondary art school there was a student – Natasha Zemlyanaya. She was independent and had a great deal of personality, and she also had a good sense of colour. Then I lost track of her for a long time. But I heard that she was keeping on painting quite successfully. However, painting should be seen.

I saw her again recently and I found her to be a mature artist, having made a great progress. She developed her natural abilities. Apparently, Leningrad Higher Arts and Crafts College she graduated from helped her a lot, special thanks to professors Alexander Zaycev, Ludmila Koutsenko, Valentina Povarova – painters well known in Saint Petersburg art community. Appreciating their contribution in Natasha’s development, I would like to note the importance of getting in the tideway of the tradition dating back to the art of the first decades of the 20th century. (I try to avoid the term “avantguard” due to the ambiguities around the notion.)

An age has passed since “the birthday” of the painting that is commonly referred as “abstract”, “non-objective”, “non-figurative.” Everybody knows the pioneers of the abstract: Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Rober Delaunay…Then their followers came, so the new branch of world painting produced many off-shoots. A language has been formed to describe the phenomena.

Meanwhile we must be aware of the conventionality of the terms. For example, Picasso consistently denied the existence of abstract, or non-figurative, art: “Everything appears to us in the guise as a figure. Even in metaphysics ideas are expression by means of symbolic "figures." See how ridiculous it is then to think of painting without "figuration." A person, an object, a circle are all "figures."

Therefore let us assume the term “abstract” is just a pursuit of the absolute – perpetual pursuit, of course, as it will never reach the desired goal.

Natalia Zemlyanaya joined that pursuit - not only because of some artistic influences, but, to my mind, rather because of the needs to express her view of life in terms of free associations.

Let us take a closer look at the names of her works. Here are random examples: Crystal in Water. Composition with Blue Crosses, Rhombus, Yellow Rhombus, Composition in the Circle, Dark and Light, Blue Oval, Winter Sun, Blue Dot, Birds, White Chrysanthemum, Yellow Square…

Note the permanent references of so called figures of geometrical code. That is unlikely to be caused by a conscious orientation to mythopoetic symbols: a square as a symbol of equality, simplicity, straightforwardness, justice; a circle as a symbol of integrity, infinity, maturity; a cross as a symbol of supreme sacral values, unity of life and death and so on. I suppose that every time these shapes sound special for Zemlyannaya. They are able to express the entire gamut of vivid sensations – sensation of the sun, ground, water, air, warmth, flight, flower… We can recite endlessly. As Kandinsky put it, “they are all absolutely different beings and act in different ways”, beings with their own specific “spiritual scent.”

Interacting with the colour, each shape dramatically expands its expressivity range: red, yellow and blue rhombuses are not the same shape. Furthermore, each colour reveals itself as numerous variations – from dark to light, from warm to cold, and according to the texture, it acquires very special qualities. Power of colour language and shape language is truly boundless, but continuing eye practice is imperative to conceive that. But painting addresses not only eyesight, but also the whole “sensation family”, heart and mind… So, in terms of music, we can say that painting is performed by the whole human being whether it be an artist or a viewer.

Once Osip Mandelstam said: “Is the thing master of the word? The word is Psyche. The living word does not signify a thing: it freely selects as its dwelling-place, so to speak, this or that objective significance, its concreteness, its dear body. And the word wanders about in the vicinity of its thing like a soul around its abandoned but not forgotten body.”

It is the same case for shape and colour in painting, isn’t it? Painting is alive because of some glittering image which may manifest to viewers as this or that synergy of colours and shapes, so to speak, shining through it. This is true for any painting, without distinguishing it into “classical”, “contemporary”, “figurative”, “abstract” etc. After all, you can find something living and dead in any style, movement, school etc. I can repeat that for the umpteenth time, after Mandelstam: “The theory of progress in literary studies is the coarsest, most repulsive façade of academic ignorance.” I would add for myself: in painting and in art in general.

Properly speaking, I have slipped from actual matters to possible ones. I mean the possibilities lurking in Natalia Zemlyanaya’s works.

The most desirable of them is depth. Self-awareness, deepening into her own life, and therefore, into the nature, a part and particle of which the artist is. The nature never changes and the best we can wish to the artist is to follow its example.

World, Nature, Universe's Essence,

With secret trembling, to the end,

I will thy long and moving service.

In tears of happiness attend.

The opposite of this testament is so-called professional activity, joining an artistic group or movement, recognizable art manner etc. I can hardly wish this to the artist. Of course, there is nothing wrong in respecting predecessors, be it Matyushin, Filonov or Sterligov; there have always been “family traditions” in art. However, an artist is not worth as much as he took from the world, but he is worth as much as he gave to the world.

Natalia Zemlyanaya is inherently endowed with the ability of holistic vision. She has mastered the painting language and she is proficient in it.

There is a question – what is it all about? Therefore I mention the possible deepening into the world, up to the base of art as such.

“In order to make a perfect pearl, - an eminent art connoisseur wrote, - a mollusk needs some bearing solid material - a grain of sand or a tiny chip which mother-of-pearl will grow around. Without such a nucleus there will emerge some formless mass only. Similarly, an artist’s gift cannot crystallize as a perfect work unless he has a solid base – a definite task, whose core becomes enfleshed with visual images, generated by his talent.”