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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pavel Filonov

A White Picture (From the Universal Flowering cycle),
 1919, Pavel Filonov
Virtually all serious artists make an attempt, at least, to profit from their work. Most sell it. Sometimes they may seek to profit indirectly in using it to establish a reputation enabling them to obtain a position in some academic institution. Or, barring that, to win enough followers to be able to conduct private classes. Any artist who can't or won't pursue any of these albeit winding roads to success either finds a more traditional line of work or finds his or her waistline thinning continuously. In any case, poverty puts one hell of a crimp in ones lifestyle. The turn of the century Russian painter, Pavel Filonov was all too familiar with that way of life. He hoarded his work rather than selling it.
Peasant Family 1915,
Pavel Filonov
Although Filonov was a dedicated artist, he was even more dedicated to the principles of Analytical Realism, or "anti-Cubism. Filonov defined Cubism as representing objects using elements of their surface geometry; but "Analytical Realism," he insisted, should re-present objects using elements of their inner soul. The first works that foreshadow his analytical method appeared in 1910 a wat-ercolors Peasant Family (below), and an oil painting Heads. The painting at left by the same title was done a few years later. In this painting, differently scaled images are com-bined on canvas, growing from each other and intervening to form a flowing phan-tasmagorical unity. He was faithful to the prin-ciples of analytical realism for his entire life. His single-minded goal in life was to give all his works to the Russian Museum as a gift so as to start a Museum of Analytical Realism.
The type of work that got Filonov kicked out of the Academy.
Pavel Filonov was born in 1883, the sixth and youngest child of a Moscow cabman. His mother was a laundress. When her husband died in 1887. Pavel would have been four years old at the time, but even at that, he contributed to the family survival income by helping his sisters embroider towels and sell them in the marketplace.

A struggling artist from the age of four.
Pavel, who had shown interest in painting as early as age of four, began to study art and crafts at the School of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. As his main trade, he studied house decoration, to become an ornament and stucco molding painter. At the same time he also attending evening drawing classes. Filonov graduated from the school with the diploma of master-painter then tried to enter the Academy of Arts, but failed at the entrance examinations. He turned to the private studio of the academician L. Dmitriev-Kavkazsky, where he studied for five years. During that period he attempted to enroll at the Academy three more times, but never succeeded. In the summers he practiced his art on the Volga, in the Caucasus Mountains, and on a trip to Jerusalem, where he made many drawings and paintings from nature. In 1908 Filonov was admitted to the Academy of Arts. His works attracted the attention of both students and professors in that they were not abstract and depicted their subject with full likeness, but were executed in garish, bright colors--reds, blues, greens and oranges. This manner did not conform to the Academy standards, and Filonov was dismissed “for influencing students with the lewdness of his work”. Filonov protested the decision and was readmitted, only to be expelled again two years later in 1910. 

What one might call Filonov's "postgraduate" work.
After 1910, Filonov’s work was centered around St. Petersburg and the societies, The Union of Youth, and The Union of Artists. To this period belong his famous works West and East, East and West, Men and Woman, and The Feast of Kings (above) all from 1912-1913. These paintings combine elements of symbolism, neo-primitivism and expressionism. In 1912 Filonov traveled for six months in Austria, Italy and France. He travelled most of the way on foot, paying for food and housing with his watercolors and drawings, sometimes sleeping in barns or in the open air.

Analytical Realism--theoretical rather than rational.
Filonov was inclined to a theoretical and rational explanation of his art. His talent as a public speaker and his deep knowledge of the art history of different cultures helped him spread his theory. Among the best works of the period are The Dairy Women, Three People at the Table, Flowers of the Universal Flowering, and The Workers (above). The meanings of Filonov’s works remain a mystery for the spectators because they were ingeniously encrypted. He often depicted man-made things and natural things, synthesizing them with people, and animals. Appearances exchanged meaning with one another, as they intermingling, flowing into another to become something wholly different. His method was to break up the visible world into individual elements and then recreate them into complex images full of hidden symbolic meaning. He enciphered, a mystical picture of the world, so as to extend the possibilities of representational art making the invisible visible.
Revolutionary work after the Revolution.
With the coming of the Great War, Filonov enlisted in the army in 1916. After the war he returned to a city with a new name, Petrograd. Following the October revolution of 1917, like other leaders of the Russian Avant-Garde, Filonov looked forward to the revolutionary changes in society he hoped would help him in spreading his ideas. During this period, Filonov created dozens of works, including the Formula of the Petrograd Proletariat, from 1920-21, Living Head, dating from 1923, Animals, from 1925-26, Formula of Spring, from1928-29, and The Narva Gates, from1929 (all pictured above).  
Lenin's Plan for the
Electrification of Russia,
Pavel Filonov
By the end of the 1920s, the Soviet gov-ernment had begun interfering and dictating its will in all spheres of life. In literature and art, it advanced the movement of so-called social realism. Filonov’s art did not correspond to its principles. He was virtually isolated and left without means. As a result, the painter lived and worked in poverty and hunger, yet doggedly remained faithful to his principles both in his art and in his work with his pupils. Filonov refused to sell his works, looking forward to creating a museum of analytical art. Then came another war, and with it the 1941 siege of Leningrad (by then no longer called Petrograd). Filonov (was fifty-eight years of age) and already destitute. He died of hunger along with some 1.5-million other military and civilian defenders of the city. Pavel Niko-laevich Filonov was one of few defining artists of the 20th-century. He rightfully belongs among such artists as Picasso, Kandinsky, Dali, Klee and others, as a reformer of world art. Filonov's dream was not lost. His works were saved by his sister, Evdokia Glebova, and later given to the Russian State Museum, which is where nearly all of them can now be found today.

A Small House in Moscow, 1894, Pavel Filonov
(eleven years old at the time).

Countenances (Faces on an Icon),
1940, Pavel Filonov, one of his last


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