"Art If into Life", the ambitious title slogan of a recent exhibition in America of the art of the Russian Avant-Garde, summons the deepest Utopian ideals of that historical moment. The circumstances of the Russian Revolution took a group of artists on the margins of society and gave them, for at least a brief time, official titles and central positions to try to carry out their artistic-social experiment on a grand scale. Of course, the ambiguous results of the Revolution and its artistic legacy only help to underscore the complexity of the fragile relationship between art and life.
Alyona Kirtsova's mostly abstract paintings owe very little directly to the Modern artistic heritage of her Moscow home. One of the complicated results of the Revolution was that Alyona Kirtsova's course to becoming a painter, unlike her contemporaries in Europe or America, was little influenced by an academic training in the principles of Modernism. She knew and loved the idiosyncrasies of turn-of-the-century Russian master Michael Vrubel. And through poor reproductions in a single volume printed in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, she became enamored of the more Modern figure Pavel Filonov. But, in the case of Filonov, it was as much the spirit of his life and writings that captured Kirtsova's attention, as an artist herself who had made a transition between poetry and painting.*
In the literary beginnings of her thinking, and her final choice of painting as a necessary course of activity [rather than any specific painterly precedent], is the clearest insight to her own conception of the delicate relationship between art and life: "During previous years I was writing poetry a lot, with agonizing doubts showing if to almost no one. It didn't satisfy my requirements. Much later, thanks to Plato, I understood why. I sang like a bird, like a medium of oneself, fixing with word and images what already existed In me.
But while becoming more mature as it grows in subtleness and complexity, the written word, no matter in what delicate image it sparkles, is fixed firmly.
There Is an old saying In Russia: " What is written with a feather couldn't be chopped out with an axe." That is: what I wrote, which was already in me, had no chance for development, became nothing new; it was not like thinking; it was only reminiscence. So most of me was missing from my writing.
It turned out to be different with painting. Playing with colors,
forms, shapes, textures, tones, space, etc. no matter how thoroughly if was planned resulted always in something different and unknown. In thinking and painting thoughts grow and ripen, often changing In unrecognizable ways. The oil paints change enough with time, and the thought, finally caught with them, miraculously continues to develop. Sometimes a painting left for a month or two ripens by itself.
While beginning with figure painting - "onions and jugs, background and shadows, complexly colored personages in space," as the artist describes them - Kirtsova eventually moved toward abstraction, noting thai it was not a large step from heavily textured clouds in her old landscapes to entirely abstract painting. Her interest in both the rendering of clouds and of the surface of her abstractions is the same light-capturing effect of finely-ground colors. She describes the agony and uncertainty of the process of watching forms develop on canvas ("as well as in my life", as she notes), to then again fall apart into a myriad of tiny colored pieces (presumably also as in life). She describes the way in which light passes through textured and untextured, or mat and gloss, surfaces, and how, for a moment, the light doesn't seem anymore as a white or black hole like an abyss - but rather becomes a volumetric luminescence, textures becoming heavy again, strengthening the psychological surface of the canvas and life, thickening my "second skin!"
One of Kirtsova's earlier works is a small white canvas with painted shadows of cups and pots on a table so subtle that propped up from a table against a wall, as I first encountered ii, it might be mistaken for the shadows ii depicts. Only in the space between the recognition of the shadows and then the absent objects they imply - neither of which are any more substantive than the ephemeral reflection of light that allows us to see at all - is the rare discovery of our being conscious of ourselves in the world. This abstract luminescent effect of Kirtsova's oil paintings, sculptures of prismatically arranged chards of old glass, and meticulously rendered drawings is important not only for the pure visual pleasure it inspires, bui also, in metaphorical terms, for the fleeting sense of life it allows. Like the instantaneous flash of a photograph which distrupts all time before and after it by the grip it holds on the moment, Kirtsova's art imparts to the viewer in its experience the same transitory coherence of cognition, of thinking, that unexpectedly and momentarily transforms our perception of simple paint into ART, or the organic continuity of experience into LIFE.