MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE
Article: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST
Magazine issue: #3 2016 (52)
* I deliberately put this article's title - derived from the 1970 German film by Harald Reinl, "Erinnerungen an die Zukunft" - in quotation marks: its absurdity fits supremely well with the direction of Moseichuk's artistic epiphany. M.L.
I built my unreal world
a Banquet of Compositions in it
This world is the feast of my soul
And my ace, too,
I possess it
And it possesses me
And feasts have
A start and a “stop”...
In his career as an official Soviet artist, Anatoly Moseichuk (1942-2013) was the creator of architectural landmarks with a prominent decorative element, from stations of the Moscow metro to the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. Such was his creative activity in the real world, his engagement with the realities of life as it was then.
The artist's studio.
As a painter, he was a consummate craftsman. In a few brushstrokes he could depict an ox under a pyramidal poplar or produce a still-life with mysterious objects. The sociable and affable artist would readily present such elegant miniatures as gifts to visitors to his studio: today many keep them as precious souvenirs from a great master.
Each of his paintings is a mystery. If they serve their most immediate purpose of decorating an interior, it is only for viewers who are keen on unriddling puzzles. The paintings' titles are either unrelated to their imagery - this is true only for the those given by the artist himself, not those accorded by exhibition organizers - or related to that content indirectly, vaguely, in full conformity with the uncertainty of the message (uncertainty for the uninitiated, that is, meaning everyone except the artist). The artist has gone, as they say, and has taken his secret with him.
He could have titled his compositions as musicians do - with opus numbers. Analyzing and attempting to decipher the paintings, the viewer would be limited to conjecture and, accordingly, faced with multiple interpretations. The artist's unrhymed verse, in the same manner as his absurdist paintings, does not make the situation any clearer. Thus, any attempt at literary commentary can appear futile, even an act of charlatanism. But, as the commandments of the Young Communist League stated, everyone has the right to a heroic feat, and the present writer has decided to take such a risk.
Moseichuk could have been blessed with Revelations like those of John the Divine on Patmos. Or he could have been guided by fantasies infused with all sorts of old legends. In either case the intonation of any critical commentator should agree with the general metaphoric thrust of Moseichuk's works, otherwise we would be left with a nonsensical pell-mell. Most likely, the genre of fantasy suits best.
Illustration to the Unwritten. 2002
Anatoly Moseichuk penetrated the space of otherness, the realm of dissimulation and wrecks of archetypes, which later formed a logical macrocosm, phantoms, corpuscles of former and future universes, hallucinations, mirages, absurdity, the prototypes of existence, the mirages of reality, as well as fantasies and dreams. All this blended into a single and, according to the artist's concept, surreal world. A native of southern Ukraine, Moseichuk certainly kept somewhere in the margins of his mind - and they must have sunk deep into his heart, too - memories of his ancestors' land that remained from distant childhood and adolescence. Every now and then his paintings feature grotesque log cabins, not quite with thatched roofs - rather, metaphors of such cabins, in each composition in line with its main tonality. Not always kindly cabins ("a little cherry orchard near the cabin...") but sometimes ominously immobile. And pyramidal poplars: one can say that they are a hallmark of Moseichuk's art. The pyramidal poplar (populus piramidalis), which merited Alexander Pushkin's attention ("Leafs of silvery poplars," from "Poltava"), is also imaged in the "portrait" of the lonely towering tree.
A Tree. 2008 By the Rockslide. 2006
Given this, one can suppose that Nikolai Gogol somehow influenced Moseichuk's art. There is evidence of such influence, but a single piece only, and it is difficult to say whether this particular instance is an accident or indeed attests to Gogol's influence. Whatever the case, the composition "Couple II" (1994) features a woman in a white gown with a prod of thorns in her hand, mounted on the back of a man plodding along on tiptoes - she can be easily associated with Pannochka, the famous heroine of Gogol's "Viy". As in all Moseichuk's other compositions, the background is impenetrable darkness. In line with the story of "Viy", the chequered plane at the bottom of the picture can be taken for the church's floor. It is difficult to say whether all these speculations have substance, for Moseichuk is the last figure you would suspect of sensitivity to literary associations. However, the ominous darkness in Moseichuk's strange world has obsessive overtones of Gogolian devilry, too.
The temptation to "read" the Moseichuk epic through the lens of the biblical stories is strong, but there are many indications that these motifs are irrelevant, too. If this is not the devil's kingdom outright, then it is a kingdom of perpetual darkness. Impenetrable darkness is the artist's constant source of inspiration. "The journey under ground prompted strange transformations. <...> with the world beneath the ground creating a spiritual as much as a material presence", wrote the British writer Peter Ackroyd in his "London Under". "The great writers of antiquity - Plato and Homer, Pliny and Herodotus - have described the underground worlds as places of dream and hallucination." In the Ancient Greek myths, the first living creatures emerged from the primordial darkness...
"The music and the ideas both come out of obscurity, darkness. Not out of shadow: out of obscurity, obfuscation, darkness.<...> All human evils have to come out of obscurity and darkness, where there is nothing to dog man constantly with the shape of his own deformity." (William Faulkner, "The Mansion")
The composition "Chant" (2006), featuring ten figures, seems almost an illustration to Ackroyd's words. The Devil's ball as described by Mikhail Bulgakov is probably the only place where you can imagine such a chorus. The fact of the matter is that Moseichuk either depicts real historical figures from different historical eras or creates their look-alikes. Each member of the group sings with abandon and, judging by their faces, the song is solemn and stern. The man in a long overcoat conducts the singers, next to him stands another figure - in an entirely different costume from a different era. Some of the chanters have haloes like broad-brim hats over their heads, while the people sing to a tune played on a clavier by a lady in a red dress (in Moseichuk's nearly achromatic pictures from this series pure colours feature very rarely). Her head is topped with a strange two-horned, diadem-shaped contraption from which her hair streams down her back, along with a long white mantle. The chanting takes place in some cluttered room reminiscent of an attic, turned into a place of storage for all sorts of old items, in an old house in a city. The foreground even features a part of a lion's figure, which seems to have been transported just this minute from the gatepost of the English Club in Moscow.
The composition "Age" (1991), featuring two winged figures, can mislead you (Christianity being the subject here). One should keep in mind only that the angels of light are not the only creatures with wings: demons, as is well known, fly too. The figures depicted have no attributes of the heavenly host: the standing figure definitely has the breast of a woman, while the lying figure has a hint of a man's crotch. These wings, lacking any explanation as they do, may contain an allusion to some sacred myths. The legend about Amour and Psyche apparently is not a good clue, especially since the composition features an ordinary human situation. The man is either sleeping or despatched to his final sleep. "The female creature" (?), covered up to her waist with some curtain, looks at the lying figure either in admiration or in grief.
The entire construction of Moseichuk's "otherworldly" epic is based on the absence of the logic of existence: this is a painter who used the means of figurative art to express that which is not at all typical for it. Moseichuk is close to Surrealism but the forms in his art are not in the slightest sense twisted or deformed. He is demonstratively decent in his adherence to the canons of figurativism, attempting to picture the swarming demons of his unconscious, which are evasive creatures for any artist to capture. Herein lies the edge of his artistic statements, which beat by a mile any work of contemporary art with claims to a similar direction.
"We crawl about... still thinking that we are getting deep inside, unable to understand that there, deep inside, there is a reality not at all ours, not one given to us, not at all the one given us in our sensations. that the organization of our life also has its own organization, which is not at all located inside our life," Andrei Bitov wrote in "The Catechumen". Now the critic, too, wants to penetrate Moseichuk's phantasmagorias, unclear, however, of what the final result may be. There is yet another narrative, "situated outside our life": the composition "The Crossroad" (1992). As in the double-figured composition discussed above, here two bare-footed figures are linked together by an action proceeding towards completion - an action as absurd as all other actions in Moseichuk's epic. Their shapeless costumes, like those that ordinary people used to wear, certainly contain allusions to antiquity or the Middle Ages, and Charon's boat evokes such mythical motifs. The oarsman, a tree tied to his back, sailing away into the darkness, and the frustrated figure left "on the shore", clinging to a little tree, could be mistaken for ordinary gardeners of old, if it was not for the perpetual semi-darkness of Dante's purgatory, where they stay forever. The plants, too, rather resemble those imitations to be found in hotel lobbies.
Moseichuk's composition "Zealots" (1995) is one of the earliest pieces in the series, and its title to some degree matches its content (in later works this connection becomes ever more obscure). The "meaning" of the painting is expressed as a philosophical parable, the painter creating a picture of a nude model hovering over a crowd, which supposedly indicates the elevated nature of the creative process in general. The bare feet and torn canvas symbolize the essence of the artist's existence. The same is implied by his clothes - a very plain jacket and trousers, seemingly an unimportant detail, the kind of costume worn by everyday people over the centuries, and yet it manifests the "out of time" nature of the relationship between the artist and the crowd. The crowd is a group of five naked figures, barely covered in some kind of rugs, which perhaps signal not so much their physical nakedness as their spiritual essence. Their backs turned to the viewers, they stand in a semicircle near the artist's feet, stretching their hands towards him, either in admiration or as a sign of disparagement - Moseichuk does not explain this completely either, leaving it to the viewer to decide what is really going on.
A Story from a Film Script. 2008 Offering to a Cloud. 2009
The painting "A Story from a Film Script" features a sky with clouds and pale blue breaks in them - an image rare in Moseichuk's art. The daylight imagery features glimpses of reddish, greenish and bluish hues, also rare in the artist's work. If this script was indeed written at some point in the past, it was not destined for any ordinary production. The "props" are too unusual and enigmatic: there is something non-human about them, as if these megaliths were at some time created by proverbial aliens; the column to the right even evokes Lot's wife turned into a pillar.
Such megalithic anthropomorphic structures also feature in "The Supplication" (2004). But this picture is centred around a huge "all-seeing Eye" with a light halo surrounding it, glowing in perpetual semi-darkness; in this case it is beyond any modern religious context, the Eye of an ancient, distant divinity unfamiliar to us. This seems to have the strongest connections with some occult beliefs, magic rites and, in general, with civilizations unknown to us.
Character Type I. 2007 In a Pose. 2008
With the absurdity of his art distilled to an extreme degree of unreality, Moseichuk pointed to the necessity of destroying stereotypical ideas about the structure of the universe and tried to build quite different causal relations, different principles of the structure of matter. Overall, in his paintings, philosophy dominates art, or blends with it to form a philosopher's stone (lapis philosophorum) of sorts, by using which Moseichuk tries to penetrate that which is unknown to everyone, about which Kant wrote: "In order to learn something, this 'something' first ought to be thought about, one ought to gain a general idea about it, to mentally construct it. In the process of mental construction, imagination" - as something outside the confines of possible experience - "plays an important role." Moseichuk attempted to think up this unknown. All this, of course, fed on the artist's rich imagination, but was everything really so simple? Surely his imagination should have had a small window through which it was stimulated, and unknown channels through which information flew into his unconscious? Evidence of this is the process of the artist's work itself, based as it was only on intuition and the absence of any pre-set programme.
Some compositions feature strange mechanical devices - from another planet? - among them "Young Maidens and an Old Man" (1995). This picture has no biblical allusions either: on the contrary, the stooped old man has his back turned to the semi-naked young women. One of the maidens, clutching at a fantastic flying contraption ablaze with lights, is yearning to ascend to the sky. If we can use the word "sky" to describe that which forms Moseichuk's other world, because this different world, as it is easy to guess, has neither sun, nor stars nor moon.
The Installed. 2009 Bouquet. 2009
One should write about Moseichuk's absurdity with a dose of the absurd. The unreality of human existence drives Moseichuk's brush in each of his works, so that quite different, sometimes conflicting maxims collide. Odd groups, unaware of each other, move around the boundless and deserted black space, each of them in no way related to the other. They are doomed to remain perpetually lonely in their un-being. In Moseichuk's world the laws of physics do not function, because it does not have physical quantities: it is a world of shadows, prototypes and spectres. Apparently, the Creator has not yet separated light from darkness and is playing a game of puzzles, in which the archetypes of future real creations, Plato's immaterial ideas, roam around in the space of chaos. Or, somewhere out there beginnings and ends have met, time has "imploded" like a black star, and the spectres and phantoms of past millennia roam around what used to be the Earth.
In some sense, persuasive evidence in favour of this interpretation is the painting-cum-manifesto "Presence" (2002). One should not look for analogies with the biblical "Exodus" in the disorderly group of about 30 people trudging through the clouds. "Exodus" is the story of a single nation, whereas this relatively small group includes representatives of different eras, women and men. It is led by a guide in a snow-white chiton, while the clothes of those in the procession - this is important - are very varied: there are contemporary costumes, and there is even a rabbi in a characteristic rabbinical hat. The group also includes several figures from other compositions - for instance, the lady in a two-horned diadem from "Chant". The goal of this procession, led as always by demagogues, is obviously unreachable. Perhaps this is evidenced by an apparition that suddenly appears before the group and stops them - a grandiose phantom, frozen in space, covered from head to toe with a white cloak, with a hood. Its blank stare (if there is one) is directed above the crowd in front of it, far away and high up. The leaders of the group demonstrate a different reaction: the guide, with a face almost like Trotsky - it is unlikely that any such similarity was intended by the artist - reacts to the apparition aggressively, whereas the man by his side calms him down with the gesture of his hand. The rest of the people are silent, as usual.
A Glass of Wine. 2008 Bouquet. 2006
Moseichuk is consistently eclectic in his artistic-philosophical formulae. His compositions are imagined structures without any real-life prototypes, seemingly addressed instead at all natural and unnatural phenomena. The artist appears to have penetrated the mystery: his art features obscure visions of some historical narratives, dreams, hallucinations. His atmosphere-free world is dominated by eternal silence. Images usually appear from the darkness in the form of a weak stream of light like that which emanates from a night marsh. Moseichuk for the most part uses in his art an "un-artistic" brown colour, one that most painters avoid. Nobody knows what this really was, "supra-rational" knowledge, whether the painter was a conductor of ideas adrift in the noosphere, or experienced a mystical revelation. Even the artist himself, it seems, could have never fully explained the content and meaning of his images. He was the creator of a "spirit world", with a very particular sense indeed of the word "spirit".
The original article has taken from the magazine "Tretyakov Gallery" #3 2016 (52)