Dmitri Krasnopevtsev

8 June 1925, Moscow—28 February 1995, Moscow

The Charm of Neglect

 “Looking around, we see only ruins.”

A very barbaric view, but accurate.

                            Joseph Brodsky

Death (in every non-heroic variant), collapse, and destruction—the constant fellow travelers of citizens of a country that lived through revolution, terror, and war—were forcibly excluded from the official rhetoric. Distanced from contemporary subjects and fashionable trends, the hermit Krasnopevtsev had a much more accurate reaction to the dreary Soviet reality than many of his colleagues who were considered to be “correct” realists. Even though he painted nothing but old broken pitchers, bottles, and vases, dry branches, empty flacons and shells, pebbles, and dried fish.

Juxtaposing himself to official art and all the important trends of the unofficial art, Krasnopevtsev realized an individual strategy, elaborated his own language, and invented his own cults and rituals. In harmonizing existential drama and using garbage as allegorical figures, Krasnopevtsev turned banality into poetry, imposed asceticism into self-limitation, and life’s chaos into a still life, into hopeless and completely dead nature. One of his most important works is his studio, a fragment of which was moved into the State Pushkin Museum. Filled with pitchers, bottles, and dried bouquets and fish, everything we see in his paintings, it turned out to be not a collection of models, especially since the artist did not paint from life, but an installation, a work like all his others.

Intended for meditative, concentrated contemplation, his paintings were incredibly popular among the Soviet intelligentsia, corresponding ideally to many people’s perception of the stifling, dull, and monotonous reality in which time had stopped, the years undifferentiated, and each new shard just like the last one.

In the monotonous, repetitive listing of objects—similar and different—the only true, persistent constant is death, for they all belong to the past. Krasnopevtsev’s still lifes are truly nature morte, dead nature, they have not been part of life for a long time but instead are silent, wounded witnesses of real time and of human ideas about it—all powerful, destroying even the proudest order, and preserving only ruined shards for the edification of descendants.

“He seems to be obstinately telling us that death, shards, remains, the shell of life is the main, decisive, and absolute theme. The absolute is the shell, ruins, the end, and death. … Shell, skin, some empty volume from which life has run away, vanished. … Krasnopevtsev has death next to death. A seashell is depicted next to an empty box, on which stands an empty jar. A tree with one dead leaf and chopped off branches sticks out of the box. The colors are the same, deadly colors: dull bluish green dusty color, which has no light and no air. These are all small-format paintings. Where, as in the universal mathematical formula, one death multiplied by another, gives a new death, and not even in mathematical but in geometric progression.”

Unlike most of his fellow citizens, he does not idealize the past. His past is not marked by ideology, it has no sorrow, no pride, no hope—only the persistent affirmation of the irreversible nature of change and the inevitability of the end. In the space of the paintings, deprived of air, light, and weight, time stops, colors fade, flowers contort and dry out. Fear, the constant companion of the era, cools off the Surrealistic dark that flies in from unknown parts. Heir to the metaphysical works of Morandi and de Chirico, Krasnopevtsev is a principled anti-modernist. Believing himself to be continuing the classic traditions of high art, he rejects all categories of the fashionable and trendy. The only true discovery for him in the works of his Western contemporaries was the interest in unneeded, ordinary things. But pipes, sheets of iron, and vessels are not just cast-off rubbish in his works, nor did they become ordinary protagonists of Pop Art. On the contrary, overcoming their own impoverished nature, they took on symbolic significance, embodying in numerous ways the sense of the irreplaceable loss of eternal beauty.

Faina Balakhovskaya