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Andrei Kolkoutine

Andrei Kolkoutine ( _ru. Андрей Колкутин born 1957 in Smolyaninovo, Primorsk) is a Russian artist. In 1982 Kolkoutine graduated from the Repin Academy of Arts in Leningrad. Currently he lives in south western Russia near Turkey. The medium is usually oil on canvas, but Kolkoutine has also made sculptures and graphic works. Besides Russia, Kolkoutine has made exhibitions in Denmark, Germany, France and other European countries as well as the United States.

Style

Kolkoutine settled into his current characteristic style by the end of the 1980’s in which he mixes traditions from the Russian icons with suprematism from Malevich, cubism and naïve art. Kolkoutine states that he sought the special tones of colours which are seen in the old Russian icons, and he developed a method for making these tones by pasting a layer of neutral grey paint on the canvas before painting the colours. Suprematist elements are combined with figurative elements. Distorted buildings and playing cards may appear at the bottom of the paintings as well as Cyrillic letters. Frames in different colours surrounding the motifs are often oblique.

Motifs

Often the motifs are either stylized biblical or simple working people from the Russian province; according to Kolkoutine the biblical characters are in principle the same kind as the provincial people (Bjørnager, 2006). The biblical motifs are also a reflection of his origin; they are distinctly orthodox. Jekatarina Seleznjova states that in her opinion the fundamental question asks in his paintings is ”Why are we here?” (Seleznjova, 2007), and thus despite the culturally characteristic motifs Kolkoutine's paintings are supposed to touch something universally human. Kolkoutines paintings are both simple and complicated it is said.

Postmodern Icon

On visiting Andrei Kolkutin's first Moscow exhibition in 1989, the French critic Helene Lassalle promptly declared what she saw as being "in a totally new style." In fact, the paintings of Kolkutin -- who worked then in much the same way he does now -- don't exactly follow their own aesthetic path. Instead, they bring together two well-known strains of Russian art: icons and the avant-garde.

Now, for the first time in six years, Muscovites have the chance to see some of Kolkutin's unique genre-combining designs. This week, around 30 of his latest canvases, mixed in with pieces from the past, went on display at Kino Gallery's recently opened downtown space, in an exhibition simply titled "Selected Works" (Izbranniye).

The selection includes plenty of works executed in Kolkutin's classic trademark technique, in which he reworks the age-old motifs of traditional icon painting in the brash, geometric manner of an early 20th-century abstract pioneer.

Many of the pieces on display take a particularly modernist outlook on Orthodox culture. In his 1996 reworking of the theme "Boris and Gleb" -- a pair of saints often seen in Russian iconography -- Kolkutin duly pits the pair shoulder-to-shoulder. Instead of the usual gilded halos and studied expressions, however, the artist gives his figures black semicircles for heads and simple arcs of ochre and yellow for cloaks.

In a traditional icon of Boris and Gleb, the border might be filled with small narrative scenes from the duo's saintly lives. But Kolkutin depicts happenings with nothing more complex than the odd grouping of rectangles against a crackling, white-washed background.

The painter's stylistic traits hark back in particular to Russia's father of modern art, Kazimir Malevich. With their stark patterns of primary colors, Kolkutin's triptychs and altarpieces at times recall Malevich's agitprop posters from the period of the Bolshevik revolution. Standing figures like those in "Boris and Gleb," meanwhile, are direct quotes from the pictures of peasants that Malevich produced in the early 1930s, during the last period of his life.

Of course, Kolkutin's borrowings from Malevich are not the first of their kind in Russian art. And they certainly aren't likely be the last. From the straightforward homages of minimalist painters such as Moscow-based Eduard Steinberg to the comic actions of the Kazimir Passion group -- who staged performances satirically lauding the Soviet regime from the safe haven of New York in the 1980s -- it sometimes seems as though there have been as many interpretations of Malevich's legacy as there have been national artists.

One reason for this widespread obsession may be that Malevich's works are instantly recognizable. "A lot of people, if you ask them about Russian art, will pronounce the name of Malevich," Natalya Volkova, director of Kino Gallery, said just before the show's Wednesday opening.

Volkova doesn't believe that Kolkutin chooses to quote Malevich for commercial reasons; instead, she singled out his "new view of the traditional religious art of Russia" for praise. What she did admit, however, was that such a combination is popular with viewers and collectors alike. "Foreigners like it very much," she said.

The idea of Malevich as a national brand is nothing new. As far back as 1989, Kazimir Passion group member Alexander Kosolapov produced Pop art-inspired paintings that replaced the famous red and white logo of Marlboro cigarettes with the words "Malevich sold here."

Kolkutin, 44, made his name from humble beginnings. He started out painting portraits of tourists for five rubles apiece in his hometown of Nalchik. After graduating from Leningrad's prestigious Repin Academy of Art in 1982, and following a brief early period depicting rural babushki, he dabbled for a time in naive painting.

By the end of the 1980s, once he had settled into his current style, the artist was already the subject of regular exhibitions around Europe; he became a collected artist both at home and abroad, with pieces to his name in places like the State Tretyakov Gallery. The Kino Gallery exhibition is his first showing in the Russian capital since a retrospective at Novy Manezh in 1999.

Whether Kolkutin has managed to come up with a totally new style is still up for debate. More likely, his works offer an attractive summary of the most famous elements of Russian art in a neat, often comical, package -- and success seems to have followed him.

Volkova, for one, believes her signing to be a truly original talent, one who is certainly not going to change course anytime soon. "This came to be his own style. He couldn't do anything else," she said. "He will be Kolkutin forever."

Or is that Malevich?

"Selected Works" (Izbranniye) runs to April 8 at Kino Gallery, located at 8 Bolshoi Rzhevsky Pereulok. Metro Arbatskaya. Tel. 291-9115.

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