Abstract painting
of Vladimir Zagorov

Yekaterina Andreeva Article from a catalogue for the Vladimir Zagorov exhibition in
the Central House of Artists, Moscow, year 1992

Vladimir Zagorov belongs to that generation of our painters for which abstract painting remained "half-legal" for a long time. In 1978 he graduated from the Academy of Arts (The Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture named after Ilya Repin in Leningrad), the faculty of mural painting; this fact, probably, was favourable for development of interest toward abstract forms, but nevertheless could not serve as the basis for system of knowledge about this kind of art.

The history of existence of abstract tendencies in soviet post-war art, especially in that sphere, that till the middle of the eighties was regarded as an "official" one. is notable for its "thread-like pulse", and the vicissitudes of which in full measure have been reflected in the creative work of those artists who, like Zagorov, became abstractionists in accordance with their world outlook.

In the late forties — early fifties only a few painters turned to non-figural art and to "formalism" on the whole. Thus when a painter V. Kubasov asked one day his teacher, producer N. Akimov, to tell him something about cubism and abstractionism, the latter gave rather diplomatic reply: "Why should one study Aztec if nobody speaks it in this city?" The situation changed on the edge of the sixties. To a considerable extent it was a result of a pro-western, though still compromise, policy of so-called "Thaw", that made it possible, for instance, to organize an exhibition of abstract painting in Moscow during the World Youth Festival. At those years articles about abstractionism were sometimes published in art magazines and in 1957 A. Gastev, one of the ideologists of "severe style" in his work named "An Art of Big Forms", dedicated to the problems of soviet monumentalism, put forward radical for those years theses that a rhythm, organizing a work of art, is always a result of abstraction; that is, process of abstracting from certain real motifs, stylization of realistic forms. However, abstract art, as well as modernism in general, owing to its openly individualistic orientation, failed to become self-sufficient phenomenon of modern soviet culture. It caused, as before, not only fierce criticism of Kulturträgers from Kemenov to Lifshits, but also hostile attitude of the onlookers: "Where from, when, and how did abstractionism intrude in genuine art?" — questioned the public through mass-media a reader G. Yarishkin. "It is not the question itself that matters but its intonation – there is hatred in it, and the hatred firmly confident of its triumph". During the sixties and the seventies an official soviet art made no steps whatever towards mastering of modernism and at the monumental studio only some slight elements of abstractionism were permitted, as though for linking geometrical language of modern architecture and design with normative aesthetics of figural painting. That was just the school Zagorov went through in the seventies. His self-dependent creative work got impulses for its progress on the other ways.

In the first half of the eighties Vladimir Zagorov was occupied with figural painting in heavy dark ochre, brick-red gamut. The travelling to Uzbekistan in 1984 appeared to be a powerful incentive to changes in his colour—vision and in perception of plastic rhythm of space. After this journey his first abstract canvases emerged in the middle of the eighties — it was a cycle of ovals.

The smooth shape of oval itself, being similar to irregular outlines of biological cells and a set of geometrical elements, typical to Zagorov's abstract painting: accumulation of dots, resembling symbolic representation of sowed fields as given in archaic or folk art, "ramified" lines, spirals, triangles, and cones with their "surrealistic" tendrils, or, perhaps, sprouts — all these features are very characteristic. They are indicative of natural world or even more — of biological life as "unconscious" feature of Zagorov's abstract painting. There is a distinctive trace of reality in this painting, the trace which has remained in consciousness and perception, but like a lost subject of one's dream, it has only "indirect" signs: contours, impressions from previous touchings, different odours and so forth. One will fail to find here clearly outlined visual forms, but with respect to plastic purpose — to recall "a trace" of wind or light on a canvas — such forms would be mere reconstruction of details. The way of abstract painting which has been chosen by an artist seems to be the only adequate one to the aim of his art, that consists in fixing inner rhythms that have been induced in consciousness by diverse plastic forms of the world.

At the same time lack of interest towards an open expressive artistic gesture is a peculiarity of Zagorov's painting. In contrast to impressionists or abstract expressionists, who by pictorial texture itself, by layers of strokes or stains of paint demonstrated momentary impressions, speed of associative flow, the nature of creative art as a result of a sudden inspiration, Vladimir Zagorov, as a rule, leaves a surface of a canvas relatively smooth (one can recollect adherence of a painter to even manner of execution so characteristic of pastel technique). He usually works for a long period of time over every composition, sometimes turning to it again and again in the course of years. The master is interested not in "momentary" fragments of reality, not in "snap-shots" of flashing "mental-forms" but in sensation of duration of life which is incarnated in everlasting variations of its continuous rhythms. It is this constantly existing in Zagorov's works biological "background" that influences the choice of means of execution: Vladimir Zagorov works with the help of the brushes, not using any mechanical appliances, such as aerograph, for example. It is important for him to touch a canvas with a brush while working, calling forth delicate changes in the paint-coating, but not to cover areas with colours, thus simulating anonymous preoccupation with technical aspect of painting, making it somewhat absolute.

In this respect direction of Zagorov’s attention toward pre-war abstract art is very natural. He considers traditions of P. Klee to be the most topical. This is quite explainable from the point of view of evolution of abstract painting in Leningrad. Although Zagorov stands aloof from the abstractionists of Leningrad, the general situation in this sphere of culture organically includes his creative work as well.

In the twenties there were distinguished two main tendencies in conception of abstractionism: on the one hand it was a school of Malevitch, on the other hand it was a school of Matushin and Filonov. While suprematisrn of Malevich found its application mainly at the design, conception of "broadened field of vision" and analytical method bore fruit just in the sphere of fine arts. As it is known, this second. "biomorphic" tendency was for the first time re-comprehended and transformed by V. Sterligov and T. Glebova with their followers. And though Zagorov has never belonged to "Sterligov’s group" and never shared their doctrine, rather strict in the seventies and eighties, his method of working in its principle goes back to the same root — that is, the idea of "broadened field of vision", which is oriented toward fixation in the abstract works plastic and colour rhythms of space. Visionism of Matushin and especially that of Sterligov in many respects in congenial to what was the main purpose of Klee: an attempt to combine graphic structural discipline with "biomorphic" refinement of imagination, ability to "dramatize", that is, to make any simple natural motif form — molding and then "spreading" its field all over conceivable metaphysical space.

Zagorov’s adherence to abstract painting during the years of 1985—90 is deserving attention since at that time the late degenerating socialist art becomes the most wide spread phenomenon of soviet art. In this context -— or, to be more precise, — among a great deal of works of art, being, in fact, parody texts, like not long ago among the socialist slogans, the pictorial abstractions of Zagorov represent peculiar sphere of concentrated, self-absorbed silence; they give an example of alternative to pierced with politics mass-art of "perestroyka". It is necessary to notice that, strictly speaking, none of his compositions can be called "non-figural", as far as every one is, so to say, "fraught" with vital associations, and is directly connected with pictorial experience of a real world.

Zagorov’s abstract pictures are supplemented with "objects", having been gathered amongst different utilitarian things that have served their time; it can be even their fragments: pieces of iron, small planks, metal discs, and similar debris. This rubbish, having lost its utilitarian qualities, doesn't belong to industrial civilization any longer, but again to nature or culture as modern "second nature". The master is attracted not only by "abstract" variety of texture of these objects as it was in "material selections" of Tatlin, but by possibility of combining ready forms. Lack of concept and at the same time principle of play being placed at the basis for selection of the elements for these "objects", makes them, as a matter of fact, works of decorative art. All these features permit to connect the "objects" with a great amount of works of DPI faculty (decorative and applied arts) in the period from the end of seventies and through the eighties. An influence of this tradition upon the art of "left" wing of LOSH (Leningrad Department of Painter’s Union) can be easily explained by its intellectual prestige: indeed, during the previous ten years it was the sphere of DPI that proved to be a kind of testing area for different plastic experiments at official culture, thanks to its much more independent character as compared with ideologically overloaded painting, sculpture and drawing.

Decorative gift of Zagorov makes itself, obvious not only in his "objects" but in his painting as well. Combination of plastic culture and visual harmony, so characteristic of Zagorov's works, makes them a decoration of expositions of modern art.