Impressions on a Young Artist

German War (1914-15), Oil on Canvas, 171.5 x 156 cm

Exhibition: Permanent Collection and Pavel Filonov: Seer of the Invisible
Institution: Russian Museum (Russky Muzei), St. Petersburg, Russia
Date Exhibited: July 17th – November 7th 2006
Date Viewed: July 2006

I traveled to St. Petersburg for a second time in the summer following my first year as an art student. That year, I went the Russian Museum where, as promised, there were galleries upon galleries of exclusively Russian artists. Since one tends to see a lot of the same names repeating in many museums, it’s always exciting to view a fresh collection. I had only heard of a handful of the artists from the 20th Century. And though clearly comparable to foreign movements and artistic styles (the Russian Kilmt) the Russian Museum presented a seemingly new, or at least really well-concealed, art history to me.

I was particularly moved by a retrospective, showcasing the of the work of the cubo-futurist painter, Pavel Filonov. The space was small but tightly filled with 40 or so drawings and paintings all done in the beginning of the 20th Century. The atmosphere was commanded by dimmed lights and an eerie soundtrack – created by scanning his works to convert the color tones into a musical score (Made in the mid-20s. Don’t quite understand it. They had the device on display, so I’m going to try and find more information on it…).

Filonov’s aggressive repetition causes his portraits to subtly morph in front of our eyes. With figures both gaunt and unearthly, his work encapsulates the mood of the turbulent decades in which he worked. Based on his experience fighting in WWI, ‘German War’ (shown above) is one of the most wholly engrossing paintings I’ve ever experienced.