Simon Kojin's visible images
A Moscow lane, a shadowy yard, poplar fluff is rushing on the asphalt, clogging the holes and flying into windows. Here, not far away from the Belorusskaya metro station, the studio where the artist Simon Kojin works is situated.
Committed to the Russian realistic school, graduate of the Russian Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, he aspires for absolute fidelity in reproducing the reality.
The artist’s range of interests is wide: historical picture, still life, landscape, illustration. Unusual is his approach to solution of each new canvas, no formulas, nothing typical. Some canvases appeal at once – by the consummate craft, fullness of colour and light, and feel. Others require focused attention, contemplation, rational approach.
Crimean Landscape is full with freshness, sunny, airy, compositionally adjusted. The picture captivates by its multi-colourness, yet this garishness is unimposing, all colours in harmony. The drawing of clouds is interesting. Staring into it, we can make out the contour of an elephant. In the pencil sketch to this picture the clouds develop into patterns: two human profiles, a squirrel, a bird, a mouse. According to the author, he was aiming at reproducing the enchantment with which a human endowed with imagination is stuck1.
In the picture Rainbow the artist is engaged not so much with the flash-like state of nature, as with the psychological correspondence of the environment’s changeability to the inner feelings of the self. In this picture, where a dialogue between the young artist and the German Romanticists, such as Caspar David Friedrich, or the English Pre-Raphaelites, takes place, a tribute is given to the old romantic tradition and at the same time something new, something own is brought in. Something dreamlike is trembling, is living in this standing instance. Isn’t that Rip van Winkle coming down the hill?
View from a hotel’s window. Malta – a water colour landscape. This is Simon’s first water colour for many years. “I haven’t been doing water colours since MSKhSh2”, Semyon Kozhin says, “It was when I made illustrations for the English publishing house Tales that I first took it up. Then, on my next visit to England I was to the exhibition of William Hunt’s water colours, the Poetry of Truth in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. An unforgettable impression. The craft of the water colours is striking. So rich the tints and the glazing, so deep the thought behind, so integral the sheets. I had a cultural shock. These water colours seemed like precious stones. On coming back to Moscow, I tried to do something like that.
The Malta water colour is made lightly and airily. The architectural motifs are needlepointed in the distance: here, the vallums of La Valetta, capital of the Malthusian Order, are rising; there, the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral, which keeps paintings by the magnificent Caravaggio, is circling above the city. Ahead, the small picturesque boats are scurrying, the crafts are going away. This is a swallow of life, in all its beauty, this is a radiant joy of summertime. Masterly, lively, rhythmically. The philosophy borrowed from Hunt is not merely a sketch, an essay, or a sheet from album, it’s an integral, complete composition.
The painter works a lot with landscapes. His series of Moscow views, produced in 2003 for Bank Petrokommerz, deserves special attention3.
“Considering all the different topics relevant for the artist – the one of capital city is the main”, V. Burov, scholar, writes on these works, “Kodzhin’s Moscow – let me use, as a curtsy, the term lyrical, thoughtful. The fine grisaille, the half-forgotten but effective panting fashion plunges the spectator into baffled surprise. Yes, we’ve seen it, but why did we ignore it, why didn’t we wonder? Why did we take no notice, what prevented us from enjoying this charm?”4
Among the master’s canvases are documentary images tracing some architectural motifs (Church of Basil the Blessed, Church on Polyanka, Kamargersky Pereulok, London series), as well as lively, airy, harmonic views of nature (River Reach, Aurora, On the Top of Jur-Jur Mountain, Apple-Tree Colour), and philosophical, deeply thoughtful compositions (White Sea, Dead Tree).
With all their variety, these landscapes have one common feature: Kojin seeks not only to reproduce the impression of what he saw, but to experience it, find and reflect the knowledge of nature, to create its intellectual portrait. His landscapes are analytical, to perceive them one needs the intent look and serious contemplation.
The portraits reveal love to puzzles, and the scholarly interest of a psychologist.
Portrait of Grandmother is almost symbolic. The laughing corners of the old woman’s eyes, a slight half-smile… This portrait conveys the liveliness of natural wit of a common yet remarkably wise woman. But whom does she laugh at? At the bemused spectator, for from her multi-couloured kerchief the leaves grow – like burdocks. What’s this? Shadows? Or a small strawberry-granny?
The portrait of the wife («A Midsummer Night’s Dream») is also symbolically drawn. Again, the devotion to English painting shows through – Pre-Raphaelites, but though the prism of the bygone XX century, the works of Soviet artists (D. Zhilinsky, I. Lubennikov).
The picture has an allegorical meaning: the sleeping young woman, the cat, the butterfly, the thistle, the flowers. Life is little day, same as with dream and with butterfly… But nearby, we can see the shell. In the ancient world the shell symbolized the female nature, which in its turn means the birth, thus the life itself.
Quite different is the Portrait of Oksana Schwarz, the artist’s fellow student. There is not an echo of symbolics here, but the talent of a psychologist comes out instead.
The dark background, the figure of a woman – predacious, beautiful, witty - almost fading into it. How old is she? At first sight, she’s not young, there’s something heavy in her look, she’s piercing, almost stabbing you. In the fracture of her arms there is tragedy, the black, sharp lines rupture the canvas’ space. But only a step forward, right towards the picture, and a quite different feeling arises. All doubts are passing away – the woman is altogether young, she’s pretty, and her eyes radiate the ineffable warmth. The face is changing, it’s getting gentler and smoother.
Is this an accidental metamorphosis? Or has the artist guessed, beyond the stiff image, beyond the model’s desire to look powerful and confident, the actual kindness and vulnerability, femininity and embarrassment?
In the Portrait of Jana and Masha, Two Girls, the setting is conventional, the portrait’s layout is made on the closed circle principle, the lines drawing the look away from the left-hand margin of the composition, covering the whole picture and, finally, brings the spectator back to the canvas’ starting point. Like a carpet, a hedgerow, it represents two silhouettes cut from the reduced background in the stand-still time, no events, and no disturbances. Childish yet charming, the girls are plunged into obscure dreams. What’s the point of looking for the riddle in a juvenile soul, the images are closed, manneristically estranged? Achieving the iconic likeness, the painter pursues some decorative aims, too.
In the artwork series one can find this ornamentality, as well as the curiosity, commitment, and inclination for symbolism.
In early 2003 the Tales magazine (UK) dedicated to young artists announced the competition of works of art after the Brothers Grimm tale Rapunzel. The magazine publishers appealed to young photographers, graphic artists, painters and literary men for the creation of works associated with the text of the tale, giving them full freedom of fantasy.
The most interesting collages, drawings, stories and poems comprised the second issue of the magazine5.
Among them was Semen Kozhin’s composition. Inspired by an unusual project, the artist created a series of illustrations to the Brothers Grimm text. The whole series was later published by Russkaya Mysl’ publishing house6. Under the impression from Pre-Raphaelites’ water colours seen during visits to London, Simon attempted to convey the idea of the tale that was embedded in his memories of childhood.
He took due concern of reproducing the characters: the witch – dark, scary, with the wrinkled face, resembles both Velazquez’ portraits of beggars, and Beardsley’s gloomy engravings.
The images of main characters are traditional, but the artist seeks to make them deeper, referring to the mythologized basis of a tale7.
He tries to unriddle the allegory contained in the fairy tale, revealing the covert symbolics of narrative, juxtaposes the explicit male strength of the prince to the female image of Rapunzel, highlighting the allegorical nature of the tale. It is not by accident that the Tales magazine published the final illustration to Rapunzel, which depicts the lovers against interlacing rose bushes (the motif borrowed from the legend of Tristan and Iseult)8.
The master’s reference to the medieval source is determined by his long-standing interest to antiquity. That’s why you can trace the links to historical paintings of the artist in illustrations to the tale. There is the same thorough approach to details and the same epic scope.
Keen on history since childhood, the painter devoted much time to reading the antique authors, he was infatuated by Suetonius, Plutarchus, Seneca, Euripides.
His mother, Irina Mikhailovna Kojina (Dayshutova), film director and historian by education, was very keen on cinema, she acted herself in episodical roles of films, and crowd scenes, attracting the child to it.
“I still delightfully recollect the costumes, sham accoutrements, empty models of houses. It captivated me, stirred my imagination, I was imagining people who lived once, one or two centuries ago, and I wanted to learn more about them. I was especially shocked by the visit to Borodinskoye pole, where my mother was in charge of the festivities in 1986”, Simon Kojin recollects.
The first work of art directly connected to history was for Simon Kojin the MSKhSh graduation paper. The topic was illustrations to the History of the Russian State by N.M. Karamzin. This was a series of minutely drafted, detailed graphic sheets. Love for architecture, the costume, the appearance of the past still dominates here. The sheet Princess Olga Visit to the Temple of Sophia of Constantinople is actually the detailed depiction of the interior, Embracing Christianity - a documented draftsmanship of old Russian idols, Establishment of Patriarchate in Moscow is interesting primarily by the thorough study into clergy vestments, Napoleon precisely reproduces the wall-paintings of Moscow chambers of the 15 century.
There is no special depth in the series of illustrations to Karamzin, but you can find works distinguished by aesthetic affection, ornamentality, fineness. Such is the laconic Smuta, made in the modern era manner, the bright, dynamic, tense and almost comical Dispute on Belief, or the courteous-like genre sheet Catherine II.
Later on, the artist would be realizing the impact of the historical process on the present, understanding the indissoluble link between the past and the present9.
The historical compositions created in the Academy of Painting (“Spell on the Ham”, “Nicolay Mirlikiysky Puts a Stop to Execution of Three Guiltlessly Condemned”, “Fortune-Telling”) are distinguished by watchfulness and anxious prophecy.
The interest to psychology of images is strengthening, as well as the aim to distinguish key characters compositionally, rhythmically and emotionally, and to stress the sense and meaning of the plot.
The picture Shrovetide, produced at nearly the same time, represents the rave of colour and the pagan joy. But the philosophical aspect of the plot is of main importance. In the moment of burning down the Shrovetide scarecrow the author finds both the duality of the human soul, and the topic of life and death.
The raging of the corporeal during Shrovetide is stopped by burning down the winter scarecrow, the repentance takes place, the transition to the spriritual”, Simon says, “In fact this is what we all look for in life, it’s the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness. That’s what I sought for when I was making the pictures from the 1812 series – Russia, regaining its spirit: how can Russia be helped, how can its spirituality be awaken, how can we abandon the irrelevant and superficial, preserve the patriotic spirit of the country?
The Patriotic War of 1812 is not simply one of the main events in 19 century. It’s an example of national patriotic enthusiasm, and that is why the deeds of its heroes were described and praised by numerous historians, writers, painters and composers. The essential is to find in oneself a faith in the Russian State, its holiness, power and firmness.
I came to the topic of the 1812 war after doing my practical work as a student in 2001. It was hot summer, end of June, I was on my way back to Moscow in a stuffy open-plan carriage and I happened to get into conversation with a contract soldier from Chechnya. It was a man with a shifted consciousness. Should the people keep their former faith in the Motherland and loyalty, there would be less broken fates. Right upon return I made a picture Funeral Notice (Pokhoronka) from Chechnya, and then began the Requiem for General A.A. Tuchkov at Borodinskoye pole.
This canvas - tense, gloomy and overstrung – accurately conveys the intonation you find with S.V. Glinka in his book From Notes on 181210. The widow of Major-General A.A. Tuchkov (1778-1812) heroically perished in the Battle of Borodino near Semenovskiye Fleyshi, found his corpse three months after, recognized it by the finger-ring, and on selling all the property, built the temple of Christ the Savior on the place of her beloved’s death, as well as the monastery, where she became a nun.
The dismal, thickening clouds against the dark sky are cutting the composition through by a ragged rhythm, like a whirl pointing at the mundane madness. Everything in a mess: human bodies, horse corpses, abandoned military weapons… The dead tree is towering above the battlefield, stretching up its dry branches and highlighting the sacred requiem action. The priest is sprinkling the bodies of the dead by holy water, the wives mourning, having lost their husbands in the battle, and on the ground, stretching down, Margarita Tuchkova is bemoaning the body of her spouse. A fire is burning nearby – the personification of living love and memory. The main sense-group is shifted towards the left-hand margin of the composition. Thus, the artist stresses the universality of tragedy, the endless and boundless sorrow.
The author avoids naturalism, by outlining the dead bodies in a reserved manner, in several touches. He noted in a talk that he was seeking, as far as possible, for an aesthetics in depicting death. According to him, reminiscences of the Great Patriotic War of 1812, and even more so of the war in Chechnya, are far too fresh. The 1812 war has almost become a myth in the modern consciousness. The very existence of Life of Margarita Tuchkova speaks about attitude to those events.
That is why in the historical composition Requiem for General Tuchkov, the artist managed to embody the idea of war, love and faithfulness.
While working on the picture Execution of the Russian Patriot by the French, the artist sought for the same denial of war to the absolute maximum. He created several sketches, without ever finishing them.
Of special interest is the sketch for the composition Execution of the Russian Patriot… No. 2. Looking at this sheet painted in gouache, one cannot but remember the Goya’s ingenious picture (Execution of Rebels on the night of 3 May 1808).
A similar solution of the composition (as if in the mirrored reflection), the same monochromatism, the same protest against military actions in general, irrespective of who is in charge of them.
But whereas in Goya’s composition the main intonation is fear and loathing towards wars, in Kojin’s ones an admiration for people who do not pity their own lives for the defense of the Motherland, for driving away the intruders, for those who are in strong opposition to the enemy’s intrusion, prevails.
Napoleon in Burning Moscow, Rubicon and Execution of the Russian Patriot by the French all in fact convey one main idea: there should be no place for war, but if there is, victory should be gained by all means. Napoleon could not understand what was happening, when the partisan parties began to be formed all over Russia. On 2 August, 1812, under the order of M.B. Barclay-de-Tolly, the Major-General F.F. Winzengenrode formed the first such party as part of the Dragoon and Cossack regiments. A month later, on 3 September, under the order of M.I. Kutuzov, the renowned squadron of D.V. Davydov was formed 11.
Moscow’s surrender was a shock for the French – no key passing, no Alexander coming up, no formal agreements made. The fire of Moscow was still a greater surprise. It was beyond understanding: the Roman Rubicon, the dead line12. Bewilderment is written on the French emperor’s face in the picture Napoleon in Burning Moscow. This is bewilderment in front of bold decisions, consolidated actions due to which the drive of Napoleon’s forces became possible. It’s no coincidence that the picture Rubicon is dedicated to an episode from Denis Davydov’s memories of how the fleeing Bonaparte was close to be taken prisoner by partisans. The same line is continued in the picture Napoleon’s Escape. Confronting the French invasion, the Russian people identified itself as an independent and decisive force, and “since the outlanders came with a sword to trample down the Russian land, it rose for defense of the motherland and began a fair war of independence with the invaders”13.
The artist enthusiastically develops the topic of the 1812 war in numerous sketches. In his archive, the six sketches are kept to the unaccomplished picture Kutuzov in Tsarevo Zaymishche, according to which we can trace the evolution of the artist’s thought, the aim to integrity, to the balanced composition.
All sketches are made by brisk, dynamic strokes. You can see how in each of the drawings the artist is contemplating the scene, highlighting the key points by confident lines.
The treatment of the topic changes crucially from sheet to sheet. The artist deliberately abandons details, seeking for all-human features in the motif of Russian history. The poetry of narrative rhythm likens the works of the young author with canvases of Surikov, Vereshchagin, Serov and many other historical painters.
These artists looked intently into the past, sought the themes of their canvases in the bygone times, referring to breakpoints in history.
Some of them told about past life, hoping to resuscitate the national spirit, some used historical examples to show the contemporaries how to act, others simply was nostalgic about traditions of antiquity.
In the picture Hunting, produced in early 2007, the interest of a documentarian artist was primarily embodied. He studied in depth the smallest nuances of hunting of late XIX – early XX centuries, carefully selected the costumes, searched how each stage of this beautiful activity was performed.
The picture was made on the motifs of a panel customized by the painter for a billiards club in Moscow. It was Simon who offered the theme of the panel to the customer; originally, it was planned to place on one of the walls of the central hall a composition dedicated to the history of playing billiards. The panel’s sketch was created with the help of advanced computer technologies, in the Photoshop programme. It is a photo collage, compositionally prolonged, like a frieze. For the billiards club’s interior decoration this sketch was expanded to the scale of a four-metre banner and was painted in oil over the printed image to achieve an effect of fine and detailed oil painting. This technique, approved by the customer after a slight hesitancy, speeded up the process of the panel creation considerably, the duration of work being only two weeks, which is no doubt a pioneering achievement for a decorating artist.
On completing the work for the club decoration, the author decided to develop its sketch in a painting piece. The choice of the topic is explained by the artist’s long-standing interest to the theme of hunting in the history of arts. Already since the prehistoric times the depiction of hunting was associated in the human consciousness with a mindset for success. The shamans’ magical drawings on the walls of the Altamir cave guaranteed success in the real chase. Rooted on a genetic level, the memory of this has been preserved up to the present. Like a talisman, Hunting, due to bring success, decorated the halls of palaces, study rooms, living rooms; now it is, too, one of the popular topics of contemporary painting.
The composition represents hunting for the wild boar, popular in Russia in late XIX century. The artist depicted the moment when the boar is already brought to bay by specially trained hounds, which besiege its black body. Enthusiastically and anatomically accurately he outlines the figures of horses, from five sides directing them to the central scene. The major decorative element here is rhythm, iridescent by the harmonious refrains of colour spots, highlighting the main compositional groups, as well as directing the look from the margins of the prolonged canvas to its middle. All elements have a special meaning: the choice of the subject of hunting is not accidental, the wild boar at all times reminded the harsh, unruly force of nature, which cannot be subdued by everyone, and the mountain ash, framing the scene with heavy bunches reminds wealth and abundance.
According to Simon, in his work he was trying to get closer to Paolo Uccello’s14 and Meissonier’s masterpieces. But the picture appeared to be so original that this interest can only be guessed.
At the same time, both in this picture and in the 1812 series, and in the intellectual landscape, one can feel the aspiration for harmony in a compact, visible image, for grace in the Renaissance sense, for eternal and unachievable ideal, which is common to the young generation of artists of the Russian realistic school.
The artist’s progress, numerous exhibitions in Russia and abroad, publications in various issues evidence the creative popularity, genuine talent, and uncommon industriousness and gits.
Probably, it is due to this rare combination that Semion Kojin will manage to transform the outworld, make it brighter, and bring it a little bit nearer to perfection.