About the series of the paintings «The Apostles»

The series of the paintings, that this article is about, is an important milestone of the development of the art of the painter Dmitry Kustanovich and requires a separate thoughtful and unhurried conversation.

«The Apostles» are outstanding artworks of the religious genre depicting the images of the saints. It should be noted at once that these works were created outside the iconographic tradition and not according to the canon. These images of the disciples of Christ do not pretend to be called examples of sacred art and are not icons. They represent the author's interpretation of the images of the saint apostles within the framework of secular art. Kustanovich embodies the images of saints by means of secular painting, expressing his own thoughts and feelings inspired by Christian truth.

The painter does not mention any of the Apostles' names, giving the name only to the series of paintings as a whole. For the painter, this is another way to emphasize that images are his subjective way of expressing the Christian sense. Without binding himself to the framework of the well-established system of depicting these characters, deeply revered by the artist, Kustanovich seems to immediately inform the viewer that these images, by definition, cannot be compared with the examples of art intended for worship. Kustanovich leaves the question «Which of them is which?» open, since otherwise there will certainly be a collision with the traditional iconography of these images. The painter doesn't strive to innovations in this regard, so the generalized «Apostles» become a reasonable solution.

«The Apostles» in the painting of Kustanovich are images inspired by reality, specific impressions of the artist, reflecting his perception of the world. That is why it is logical to assume that they could reflect the features of real people. The painter could act consciously, but it could also happen against the will of the author. Can these images in this case be considered portraits? Definitely, not. The fact is that there is a «superstructure» over the image of a real person is too obvious here. The striving for idealization is certainly predominant over the desire to identify individual traits. However, the presence of characteristic details of the appearance of each of the apostles still allows us to assume the work of the painter with particular types. The profoundness of the images allows you to see the individual traits of certain people, perhaps a long and painstaking work with nature.

Художник Дмитрий Кустанович. «Апостол»

Dmitry Kustanovich «The Apostles»

All of the characters are comely old men who resemble the heroes of the paintings of old masters (first of all, the noble images of Rembrandt, as well as the more» restless», moving images of the Flemings). In the images of the apostles of Kustanovich, one can feel the desire to convey the main, guiding character trait of each of these heroes. It is noteworthy that the painter avoids exaltation, striving to create as honest and truthful images as possible, to which the viewer could experience warm, almost kindred feelings. Despite all the expressiveness, they lack a mystical meaning that would take the viewer away from the primary idea of the artworks – to expose humanity in the images of saints, to demonstrate their connection with the modern viewer. There is such warmth in the eyes of the apostles and such compassion for a person that it is impossible to express in words.

On the other hand, some of the images seem to be in a certain conflict with the viewer. In their focused gazes, sometimes there are notes of reproach to the person, of strict questioning. However, this feeling is transient, it seems that this expression is replaced at once by an expression of light sadness and in their faces the viewer reads only a timid warning. The mood of the pictorial images is constantly changing, living a separate life. The faces of the apostles express a huge palette of emotions, herewith bright emotions are replaced by nuanced ones. There are countless transitional states. The possibilities of interaction that these works demonstrate through the most finely worked facial expressions cannot but have the strongest effect on the viewer.

Художник Дмитрий Кустанович. «Апостол»

Dmitry Kustanovich «The Apostles»

Some of the characters are depicted as if having turned around sharply. This method has been used in portraiture since antiquity, namely, the Fayum portrait. These portraits, made in the encaustic technique on wooden planks, are considered the first examples of easel portraiture (despite the fact that they were inserted into a mummy). They captured the images of the dead, replacing the death masks. The faces of the dead thus seemed very much alive in comparison with the immobility of the mummy. The symbolic meaning of this technique is that the deceased one looks at the living from another world, and his face becomes an evidence of the immortality of the soul. In a similar way (slightly turning around), saints are often depicted on icons. It creates a feeling that the apostles of Kustanovich also look into the faces of people, while staying in a different dimension. The painting style also contributes to the creation of this effect. As if the faces of the old men emerge miraculously on a canvas (is there any likeness to the Savior Not Made By Hands?), their holistic appearance is assembled from the smallest particles that resemble some organic matter. The painter depicts the Apostles without attributes, first of all, emphasizing in them everything human, and not symbolic. These images seem to live in real time, their formation takes place before the eyes of the viewer and in his conscience.

The monochrome cold pearl-gray scale of the works becomes a symbolic expression of the idea of depicting the world «on the other side», a world in which the color relationships can be quite different than in this-side world. At the same time, the «foggy» color creates a sense of haze, through which the apostles peer into our world. This color scheme also makes the images look like ancient frescoes, which gives them an additional ideological content. It seems that these are vanishing images of ancient painting full of spiritual energy. The gray haze can also be interpreted in the opposite way, as an image of the world of this world, the image of the dimmed consciousness of modern man, through which the faces of saints can be seen. They are more like shadows, visions, images of incorporeal creatures that embody genuine spiritual energy.

In iconography, images of saints are traditionally worked out with an assist (strokes of gold leaf or silver on the folds of clothing, feathers, wings of angels, on benches, tables, domes, symbolizing the presence of the Divine Light), gold is also present as a background and means divine light. In secular painting on religious subjects, we can also find similar solutions: the idea of holiness will be expressed through yellow, gold or white colors. At the same time, Kustanovich avoids the use of these colors, as he avoids the depiction of halos and other attributes of saints. Probably, the thing is that in the icon each color has a specific symbolism (as well as attributes refer to a specific character of the Gospel myth), so to use this knowledge and not to rely on the canonical system, where everything is extremely interconnected, mutually conditioned and verified, would mean not just not to follow the canon, but to destroy it.

If you look back and study the images of the apostles in the history of religious painting (without considering the icons), you can grasp certain stable features in their image, despite the fact that the artworks generally will be very different from each other. The images of the apostles were used by such Western European artists as El Greco, Caravaggio, Durer, Rembrandt, Rubens and many others. For many, the image of the apostle was associated with people they knew well, and it was in the images of their contemporaries that great painters often searched the spiritual traits of the disciples of Christ. As a rule, they all emphasized the humanity of their characters, filling the artworks with a genuine humanistic meaning.

The image of the apostle is the image of a PERSON who has seen the truth about God and now brings it to people. The apostles are, first of all, mortal people, to whom the truth revealed miraculously that man's existence does not end with his life on earth, but continues in heaven, that repentance atones for the sins of this life, and that through faith in Christ, man receives the path to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the understanding of these truths that brings them closer to Christ, and they must bring this knowledge to people, so that they too will become like Jesus, who voluntarily accepted a painful punishment in the name of delivering people from their sins. Kustanovich portrays not just enlightened people, but confident preachers who persistently appeal to the viewer. In their images, you can read the firmness of character and the steadfastness of faith, while at the same time there is meekness and tranquility in them. The big-eyed faces of the apostles are marked by a strong internal tension. In their views, there is an unfathomable wisdom that is inaccessible to most people, achieved only by real piety and suffering.

It should also be noted that these images have a very solemn character. When depicting the faces (the painter chooses not a waist or even a chest image), the painter encounters a very intricate challenge – to overcome the static character depicted in full face and at the same time so large. Nevertheless, the master manages to convey the dynamics of the images. Focusing on the facial features of the characters, subtle traits of the faces, Kustanovich tells the whole story of the lives of these people. In every wrinkle that marks the face, we read a special meaning, see the authentic story behind this image. However, the dynamics are achieved not only through the elaboration of facial expressions, but also through the manner of painting in general, as well as the construction of the composition, where one of the most important roles is played by the texture.

The painter does not accidentally bring the faces of the apostles closer so that the oval of the face dissolves, its borders become blurry, and the viewer first of all pays attention to the eyes of these people. They are painted in a slightly different manner, deliberately highlighted by the author. They are characterized by some extraordinary brightness and, at the same time, transparency, clarity. They really become the visual embodiment of the metaphor «mirror of the soul». These images speak to the viewer through their gaze, it seems that they are really able to stop the passing person and embark on a silent dialogue with him.

The lips of some of them are slightly open, as if they are preparing to tell the world about its fate, it seems that a prophecy is about to fall from their lips, their expressions are full of disquiet and anxiety, and, at the same time, care and paternal tenderness.

Others closed their mouths in centred thought, as if in doubt about the possibility of telling the viewer the whole truth.

No less important in these images is the poetics of hair. The apostles were always depicted with rather long, often curly hair, nobly framing the face. Fluttering strands create the effect of «spraying» the image. It is as if it is present simultaneously in two worlds, and the space of its being is not limited to the frame of the painting.

The expressions of the apostles are difficult to describe and characterize with the help of epithets. They express a whole gamut of feelings that can only be understood by those who understand the greatness of their experience, can see the arduous path to salvation that lies behind each of them, and feel the inseparable bond of these heroes with their own personality. These images are more versatile and complex than portrait images, because there are both individual traits and the striving to generalize, typify, create an image endowed with a universal meaning.

Художник Дмитрий Кустанович. «Апостол»

Dmitry Kustanovich «The Apostles»

The paintings from «The Apostles» series naturally and organically fit into the framework of imagery of Kustanovich's art. In a pathetic and expressive form, they embody the meanings that are reflected in the landscapes and in the authors's plot compositions. In «The Apostles», Kustanovich's worldview is most openly and vividly manifested. Through the images of these characters of the gospel story, the painter utters his own thoughts, expresses personal experiences. The figurative meaning of these artworks lies not only in the translation of Christian values, they contain many universal, as well as exclusively artistic meanings. These images are the embodiment of absolute beauty and goodness, which in the philosophy of Christianity are categories inseparable from each other.

In many ways this is also an artistic experiment for Kustanovich. Atypical for the painter as the choice of genre, and the manner of painting, composition, color scheme.

The «Apostles» are very holistic and mature artworks, they embody everything that was accumulated in the master's mind for several years and had to find its artistic embodiment. The depth of the concept and the skill of its expression can be compared with this series of the series «Old Plodders» and «Russian». In these works of the painter, the idea is expressed in its purest form, just such a form is found, which becomes the absolute embodiment of the primary meaning of the work.

There is a fairly widespread opinion that any work of the painter, whether it is a landscape, still life or a portrait of a person, is always partly a self-portrait, that is, it carries a part of the « I » of the artist himself. This means that the artwork expresses not only what the master consciously placed in it, but also what entered into the work by itself, regardless of the will of the artist. Self-portraiture is more characteristic of some artists and less so of other artists. Kustanovich probably refers to those painters in whose works the traits of their personality are reflected quite clearly. Most of the themes, images and subjects are chosen by the painter on intuition or because they relate to his own life, to his being. The images of the apostles are no exception. This is a kind of shrift of the artist, his way of deep and frank conversation with the viewer and with himself. They contain everything that is inexpressible through words, but resides in the soul of the author. It would be wrong to try to find in the apostles features of the face or character traits of the painter himself, self-portrait is not in this. Through the images of the apostles, the artist expresses his own aspirations and hopes, allowing the viewer to observe this dialogue of the artist with himself.

A visitor of the painter's personal gallery or a virtual viewer may wonder how the paintings from the «Apostles» series will exist in a real interior, how appropriate it is to place these images in the space of a person's daily life and how to accommodate them in this space. Indeed, a painting is not only a decorative object, but an almost living creation that should be able to open up and live in the space in which it is located. However, first of all, it should be consonant, congenial to the worldview of its owner. A pragmatic approach is inapplicable here. These artworks require, if not daily obsequious standing in front, then an exceptionally attentive and respectful attitude. The images of the apostles really sound grandiloquent and majestic. They will be able to unfold in a space where there is an intention to bring a sense of peace to the environment, where the owner is perplexed not only by the decorative solution of the space, but also by the ideological content that almost all material objects have. These artworks can become a real gem of the collection and interior. However, if we still raise the question of the proper placement of these artworks, it would not be superfluous to say that they could best be unfold in a spacious and bright room, not overloaded with details. Due to the peculiarities of the composition - the striving to go beyond the plane of the canvas, perhaps these works could exist without a frame, because in this case, the border of the fictional world and the real world actually disappears, the image interacts with the viewer more actively. The question of choosing a frame is very complex, but these works are unlikely to fit the types of baguettes, deepened inside, accentuating the perspective reduction. In this case, the painter does not utilize the laws of direct linear perspective, so in conjunction with the above frame, these works will feel uncomfortable. Of course, these works should not coexist with other pictorial compositions, otherwise the ideological content of these images and their key sense will dissolve.

We must not forget that at all times people decorated their homes with images, including religious ones. Art and cult have long been inseparable, so the echo of the sacred image can often be present in artworks of a secular nature. Can these works serve as a decoration of the room? Definitely. Beauty is a key category in the art of Kustanovich. Beauty, understood as morality, the embodiment of goodness and truth, should be present in every work of art, the artist believes.

There is an image of time in these artworks. They seem to live their own life, enter into a dialogue with the space around them and the person. This is a very valuable quality for the painting, which, among other things, pretends to be in the interior and to be interesting to its owner for a long time. This is something immeasurably greater and more valuable than decorativeness.

Художник Дмитрий Кустанович. «Апостол»

Dmitry Kustanovich «The Apostles»

It should be noted that the works of the series «The Apostles» by Dmitry Kustanovich express through their images the native Russian values (spiritual, cultural, aesthetic). «Russian theme» is one of the main themes in the painter's work.

It really can be called comprehensive. Within the framework of this theme, the painter creates his own landscapes, including urban ones, with views of the Northern Capital (St.Peterburg), plot compositions and many other works. In some works, this theme sounds majestic (for example, «Domes» from the series «The Triumph of Orthodoxy»), in others – quietly and calmly. «Russian» is not only epically interpreted images, but also a quiet landscape, an unsophisticated scene from everyday life and everyday life. Today, Kustanovich develops the theme of Orthodox Russia in his work. This theme also includes the images of the «Apostles», since they are also very «Russian» in their sound. The painter creates these images with props on the knowledge of the Russian soul, Russian character accurately and precisely by means of painting subtle, but intrinsic of the Russian people emotional characteristics. This is how they are integrated into the formula of the image of Russia in the painter's work.

No less important is the fact that the artworks of this series (as well as all the works of the painter related to the theme of «Orthodox Russia») are included in the context of modernity. They do not just address the eternal theme, but implement it in such a way, through the form that is relevant today, and therefore understandable, accessible to the modern viewer. This allows you to influence him, convey important ideas and encourage him to take certain actions. Today, in the era of globalization, total unification and universalization, the idea of promoting national traditions and values is certainly very timely.

The art market of today is a serious tool for updating and integrating certain ideas into the public consciousness. What can and should a contemporary artist offer? What ideas should I convey to the modern audience? Everyone resolves this issue himself. One thing is obvious: there is a global experiment in art, a search for new ideas and means. However, there are meanings and truths that have already passed the test of time and will never exhaust their relevance. «The Apostles» re-actualize absolute values, raise eternal questions that concern the average person today less and less. «The Apostles» belong to those artworks that form a new context of our reality, becoming a fulcrum, a value reference point for the viewer. It is in such works that the transformative power of art is born.

Art critic Maya Stoltz