"Antikvatoria" magazine, #5(16), September - October 2005
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"EGYPT OF ELENA CHETVERTKOVA"
Upper and Lower Kingdoms, a detective story by Agatha Christie, novel "Pharaoh" by Boleslav Prus and its movie version - all these are the early and therefore particularly thrilling touch to the far and mysterious country. What price are the wonderful picturesque sketches by Vasily Polenov - a famous Russian artist who traveled to the East in 1881-1882 and visited Alexandria and Cairo! He floated down the Nile from Assuan to Asuite by a sail-boat (dakhabie) and created marvelous "Egyptian" sketches.
Nowadays everything is different. If twenty years ago papyri depicting traditional images were framed and placed on the walls in the apartments, nowadays they have given place to other ornamentals. The patterns on the presented table-clothes have been effaced; the cotton bags with Egyptian cuneiform have been decayed and the memories of the hotels and of the travel along the Nile have vanished giving place to new impressions. But what's remained? Photos, but they are also not often taken out, as their place on the shelves is occupied by new albums. Being so accessible in our days Egypt will remain a mystery if the memories of the travel are not supported by the knowledge; therefore small sketches by Polenov "The Nile near the Thebes Range", "Temple of Edfu: entrance to the first hypostile hall", "Aswan. Sycamores on the Nile-bank" will find their unsophisticated viewer, as the sophisticated one has always known and loved them…
But there's a quite different, not tourist and not historical way to become acquainted with Egypt and its visual impressions; it's to take a closer look at the creative work of Elena Chertvertkova, an artist, who in 1995 graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Art in St. Petersburg. Elena worked in the puppet theatre, in the House for Teenage Fashion; she worked as an art director in the House for Russian Fashion "Elena Pelevina". She creates jewelry, makes puppets and paints pictures. And this sphere of her creative work is of interest for us now, as Elena paints Egypt. She does not paint modern landscapes and sketches from Egyptian life she paints Ancient Egypt, a peculiar pictorial narrative where the poetry of life, blossom and music confront the cruel prose of death and war.
The depictions of the trip along the Nile should be considered the onset of the artist's Egyptian cyclus. In her canvases the river waters are realized quite conditionally: vertical "waves" perfectly determine the bottom of the picture, the lower part of the canvas.
Long live the Nile emerging from the grounds
Coming to revive Egypt!
Master of fish, leader of birds
Creator of barley and emmer!
"All mighty Father, Nile", as it was called in the ancient times - is in every respect a lifeline of Egypt. In those places where its brown waters stood sprouts appear, grains grow and yield unusually rich harvests. The soil fertility, slow trip along the country - all these is the Nile. The trip may take place in the evening and then the water will be imbued with golden and cherry colors of the sunset, or it may take place at night when the moon's disk becomes nearly three-dimensional and a careful observer can distinguish depressions and terrains and the air gains shining turquoise color.
The central place in the boat during the night trip is occupied by a cat. Directly opposite, but maybe, somehow equivalent to the Russian domestic life she represents goddess Bast . Once she was depicted as a woman with a cat's head, often she had a music instrument in her hands - a sistrum. In the picture the goddess proudly rising above the oarsmen is an essential part of the visual metaphor. Incidentally this narrative image - boat, sail, oarsmen - implies the complex symbolism of the Ancient Egyptian myth-making. The shallop is the very means by which the spirits of dead can be taken from the waters of death to the real world. Just so traveled the Sun - Ra. Besides in the days of military celebrations the Egyptian gods Osiris and Amon were taken from the temple of the mother-goddess by the shallop of resurrection.
In the pictures of the artist the slow trip along the River of life should be always musically illustrated - polyptych of "Harpist". One can't fail to remember "The Harpist's Song":
"… Follow your heart as long as you live
Lay myrth upon your head
Dress yourself in gossamers
Cover yourself with splendid divine ointments
Enrich your delights even more
Don't let your heart mourn
Follow its desire and your blessings
Ruling your earthly deeds as your heart dictates
And don't get upset until comes the day of sorrow for you"
The tenderness and sweetness of the sounds are stressed by the presence of the three-dimensional vase with fruits decorated with the lotus blossom. First the sounds are increasing proportionally to the size of the instrument itself then little by little they are dying down. These sounds make the flowers bloom and among them lotus is the most beautiful and meaningful. The basic and probably the initial meaning of this mythological and poetic symbol is the creative power. The lotus symbolized posterity, fertility, prosperity, longevity, health, abundant life, glory. In the traditions of various nations the lotus is connected with such concepts as life, purity, spirituality, humility, consent, reverie, oblivion, peace, silence, steadfastness and continuity. Being an emblem of Upper Egypt the lotus was opposed to papyrus, a symbol of Lower Egypt. That is why the depiction of the lotus by Elena Chetvertkova is so many-sided and diverse. It can be a flower in blossom, its touching buttons or royally multicolored "Lotus".
The flowers by the artist are not part of the landscape; they are always depicted as a still life in which they are accompanied by the vases. Vases as chalices and jugs, vases with or without ansas, long-necked and narrow-necked, little and high vases - all they are an integral part in the pictures by Elena.
But the peaceful trip along the Nile in the company of music and flowers is interrupted by "Herald". In the ecstasy flies the horse above the earth and the rider bending down to the horse's mane and apprehending the chase is protecting himself with a shield. The air is penetrated with the uproar of the rushing "Chariot" and of the clank of shields in "Duel". Then long and hard "Siege" begins. The assailants and defenders are nearly indistinguishable from each other, as all they are mortal … When everything is over splendid bouquet of leaves and flowers becomes the monument to the victory and sorrow: "Lotus flowers".
Thus having passed the life-long way reviewing works by Elena Chetvertkova we should peer in them as these paintings are not traditional. In these pictures there's no usual light and shadow, tints and semi-tints, blinks and patterns, but there's only plane and decorative solution of the subject. In fact nowadays it's the only possible way to make not copies of the past but its sensible stylization. It is far not easy to find a theme, to depict it, to make a formalized ornamental frame, and above all to create, to invent the original painting technique in order to make a work of art look like a pictorial projection.
During the development of this complicated technique Elena had a worthy teacher - her husband, the artist Igor Chetvertkov. That was he, also a former theatre artist and a person in love with Ancient Egypt, who suggested the method for stylization and the route for search of new technique. Hence an expressive play of texture on her canvases, where the smooth surface comes together with roughened one, flatness with embossment, and numerous cambered vases and cups are furrowed with craquelures like an old man's face is furrowed with wrinkles… This unique pattern of crackles ages the numerous vases on her canvases. Being made either from silver or from bronze, or from some other mysterious alloy they bear traces of decorative verve.
The coloration of the canvases is the same original. Here's no problem of color convention: in the world of these paintings color should be only such and no other. Having chosen the perished world of Ancient Egypt for her painting the artist had to subordinate all the components of any piece of art to this world: drawing, painting, composition, and using these components she had to look for the harmony between line and color, color and light, between the depiction itself and the background. All these images had to be imbued with reserved ornamentality, adding rich ornament to the depiction.
That's so: reserved ornamentality, but abundant patterns. In the above mentioned "Lotus" the ochroid and blue flower is framed by the ornamental pattern which will blend with the custom-tailored frame.
To ornament her painting frames Elena chooses the same floral motifs: flower, petal, flower bud. Sometimes it's a combination of floral and geometrical principles, sometimes one can even see a Greek meander which looks quite restrictedly in the context of her paintings.
It is worthy of note that Chetvertkova does not copy familiar or little known fables. In her pictures we will see neither chirographist image nor a well-known image of a floating girl, nor a pharaoh with people. Though being limited with not numerous images this world belongs only to her. But no matter what, it contains life and death, movement and quietude, living and inanimate worlds. It only seems that it belongs to the antiquity where time faded. Actually the artist's works are highly up-to-date, as nowadays not "a story", "a narration" is of interest but a vivid visual metaphor which Elena has successfully found.
The remarkable fact is that in Chetvertkova's paintings one can distinguish a small fine monogram which at thorough consideration turns into initials "×Å" - Chetvertkova Elena. These historiated initials comment a lot: the author's delicacy, absence of fussy ambitions, and in the meantime existence of moral certainty of the fact that she will not fail but support the relevancy of her husband's name - of the famous artist Igor Chetvertkov.
VALENTINA BYALIK, the Art-critic of the State Tretyakov Gallery
1 - Or Asyut
2 - The paintings are in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery
3 - "Hymn to the Nile"// G.Maspero. Hymne au Nil. Biblioth?que d'?tudes, v.5, Le Caire, 1912. Cited from M.Matye "Arts of Ancient Egypt". M., 1958, p.58
4 - Bastet. A goddess of goy amusement.
5 - "Harpist's Song"//Papyrus Harris, 500. W.Max Muller, Die Liebespoesie der alten Aegypter, Leipzig, 18-99. Cited from M.Matye "Arts of Ancient Egypt". M., 1958, pp.79-80
"Neoclassicism in Elena and Igor Chetvertkovyh's creativity", "Moscow Union of Artists of News" newspaper, #11 2010
"Dolls as we",
"Studio D’Entourage" magazine, #26, 2011
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