Flesh on Canvas
A Thousand Words about the Artist Simon Kozhin
What artists say, workers say too:
“Our truth is the same, truly the same!”
A single spirit lives in carpenter
And in poet-drinker-of-holy-wine!
Simon’s paintings are corporeal. They are bodily. They are fleshly. But it’s not life yet.
On the wall you can see the Temple of Hadrian, but it is not yet ancient ruins, it is just oil, a canvas and a strong frame. Bodrum Castle, the Temple of Artemis, Gumbet – all are dead. It’s a blank for life, which lacks the essential – the soul. A picture is to be spiritualized by a human being - through his eyes, through his senses. Simon has made the main thing – the flesh. It can be put up on the wall, lighted softly, and then the colours and forms will awake in the eyes of a spectator. And the sun reflected in Roman ruins will splash out into the room, and the splash of Bodrum Castle will freshen up the face, and the locusts will start humming from beneath the castle stones. There will be no life here for a bored and fed up eye. Simon’s paintings will be no more than flesh for such spectator – he can say something about the stroke’s precision, the true light and shade, or praise the pattern, but he will enjoy little.
It is from his life that the artist tears out a fruity slice – and spreads it on canvas. It’s not done in the twinkling of an eye, in the flicker of a second, by photographing. Much more is compressed here – a day, a week, a month. These are condensed into a single surface, therefore the eye can wander here long. Tower Bridge, View of the City from the Thames, Washington Arch – they all are about weary greyness and nasty twilight. These pictures smell humid. Water in lights streams obstinately. London stands against darkness, visored with electric light. It is distorted and sick, but beautiful.
Kozhin’s paintings of London are not protocols. There are no details, no trivia in them. There is an overall tone and feeling. Condensed images ready to burst with a dense story. Yet Simon is capable of detailed precision – jars, melons, grapes, shells and leaves laid out on the table are drawn carefully in Lobster Still-Life. Moscow View from a High-Riser unfolds gently. Sometimes, with some details being accurately drawn, others are yielded to Pointillism and drawn in large watery ripples. Such are St. Moritz, La Valetta, Malta, Polo Playing.
There is no sorrow, no emotional zest, no thought here. Reflection is up to the spectator. What Kozhin gives is an envelope to be filled. There is a Rainbow above the hill, rising to the clouds; the trees are bent by the wind; there is a haystack in the twilight; a fence ranges monotonously. And the curve of a road is illuminated by a silent clearing – the sun’s last ray. The storm is about to begin. It’s going to roar. To wail. The rain is going to beat the meadow… Here one can only find his own thoughts – resounding them for oneself. You will get no new ideas, no insights from Simon’s works. They are but blanks, mere flesh. Ninety five percent of real life; five percent is in the spectator.
Isaac Levitan appealed to Russian artists to “look in the simplest and ordinary subjects for those intimate and profoundly touching features that are felt so much in our native landscape and have such a compelling effect on the soul. There is a whole world of sublime poetry in this simplicity!” Valaam. Hot afternoon, Suzdal. Walk, and Ferapontov Monastery can be viewed as a response to this appeal.
To paint the human belly so that you can feel the guts in it. This is what Michelangelo Buonarroti wanted. Tons of food went down into it. There were sicknesses, mulligrubs; it was kissed and caressed. All this should be felt from the picture. To paint temples, churches, so that history be felt in them. This is what Simon Kozhin wants. Thousands of people lived within these walls. People suffered, prayed and sinned here; bitter wakes and wedding kisses sounded here. It smelled Rus and Russian relics. No, Ferapontov Monastery is not yet Levitan’s Above the Eternal Tranquility, nor Old Oak-Tree in Kolomeskoe is the classic Savvinskaya Sloboda in Zvenigorod. Yet there is in them – a feeling of the common soil and common sky; a feeling of Russian history.
To work out a book in order to draw a sketch; three books to make a study; five to finish the picture. Kozhin’s historical canvases are as compressed as contemporary ones. Studying the history of Pokrovsky Monastery and the Trinity Lavra of St. Segius is equal to dissecting a human being and feeling out its viscera by hand (as Michelangelo used to do). And Denis Davydov will cross his Rubicon with a hussar’s joke. And Russian Hunting will tell about amusements of the past – in detail, as a workbook. And Tuchkov’s Funeral Service at the Borodino battlefield will have an aura of putridity; and Bryusov’s verses will be heard: “Thin little candles, glimmering, timidly. Children’s little voices answering the basso. A voice is heard above the bowing crowd: “Pax Tibi Cum Sanctis””.
Christmas Fortunetelling and Kupala Night are no less detailed. Paganism, rites, rosebay, Rus-sian sarafans. Girls in shawls and wreaths – all similar, as if painted in one and the same design (yet beautiful, like Serebryakova’s women). A feeling of mystery; at night in the Russian countryside. All this can be awoken by the spectator’s eye. All this will breathe in red colours of a flame. Kozhin’s unique colours. In Christmas Fortunetelling, in Tuchkov’s Funeral Service, in evening headlights un-derneath Big Ben. It is his red. It is his technique.
The shades of the same red can also be seen in the View of Hotel Metropole and in Kamergersky Alley. Kozhin’s Moscow is special. To some extent it is the same old London (in tones and moods). In some degree - Soviet, faded, grey and forgotten. In a way – fictional (in blurred, as though unfinished studies). Yet more often – contemporary and familiar. Simon chooses ordinary subjects – Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Bolshoy Theatre, Pushkin Square. It is the angle that is exotic. He paints a church in Yakimansky Alley, but leaves it behind the autumn-colourful trees. He paints Davydov’s manor in Prechistenka Street, but looks at it either from below or from the side. The Bolshoy Theatre is far off, behind the lights, behind the fountain (and the dustbin is above the illuminated chariot). Such can be photographs - amateur shots. This is how an ordinary flaneur sees it. These angles may be debated, yet they have their own genuine charm.
Simon’s works are imperfect. He looks for forms, tries out different motifs. Takes up illustra-tions – for Grimm brothers’ tales, Shakespeare, Luciano Pavarotti’s biography. Walks from Odessa’s black sky to Kusadasi’s immaterial faded Dawn. From yellow Turkish Twilight to the heliotropic sky in Malta. A constant search. Yesterday he found Karmanovo, today – a Morning in the Alps. The artist must search, challenge, fight, and be imperfect. The artist must work. Rembrandt (according to Gladys Schmitt) exclaimed: “For me to have a free moment from the easel at least for an hour means always to bear a loss. What I failed to paint today, I won’t be able to paint tomorrow. What I haven’t grasped today, I may never grasp again”.
If the artist does not search, he dies. If the artist does not make mistakes, he is dead.
Much has been written on Kozhin. Academic Artistic Lyceum, Ilya Glazunov Academy. Exhibitions in Ukraine, Switzerland, Ireland, UK, Russia, USA, China. Many awards. Works in collections, museums, foundations, galleries. He is published in albums, books. He paints portraits. Included into private collections… But all this is accomplishment, a cover for sale. Beyond the cover there is sweat, work, broken brushes and canvas-stretchers, torn canvases. Much is accomplished, but Simon is thirty three, which means, a whole way is before him. A long way to the perfection of flesh – on canvas. And maybe, more than a thousand words will be said about him in future.