Artchronika № 1, 2002.

Vladimir Salnikov. Oleg Nefedkin: Return as a Master

Oleg Nefedkin first studied book illustration with Boris Degtyaryov, permanent chief designer of the “Children’s Literature” publishing house; then he designed some books; then studied with Zenon, famous archaic-innovating icon painter, lived in a monastery; then he studied in the studios of the Academy of Fine Arts, became a successful commercial painter often traveling abroad, his career was complete. Then he gave up art and went into business. And eight years later he picked up his brush again, but in a quite new way. Where is the academic school of Degtyaryov and Gritsay, the 19 century realism, or icon painting?! Where is what they call “spiritual” – that euphemism for all that’s timid and compliant? His new works don’t look at all like Vasiliev and Soroka; nor even like Klee and Miro who once interested him so much.

No tradition or school stands behind them. Just an oblong canvas and pigments – pure painting, purer than with the fanatic modernist painters. Such art is indifferent to all formalism. It doesn’t “work with the form”, goes for no conceptual ideas. Its source is the artist himself. Such turns in creativity when the past is burnt up and all boils down to one single point – the present – may be described as a revelation. Nothing dominates it – that mode of painting has a great potential of openness. Each picture is a trace of an action which is self-sufficient, absolute. Craft – in which the master is so well-trained, which for centuries remained the basis of art – becomes irrelevant.

That’s how it is seen from the author’s point of view. But we can’t ignore another angle: creativity in the perspective of art history always implying some sources. And the artist, as a master respecting the tradition, points them out himself. They are in the works of Willem de Kooning, partly of Richard Diebenkorn. Abstractionism, which is ever-young in the USA and which radically influenced Europe, only slightly touched Russian unofficial art.

Narrativeness inoculated by socialist realism in its suppression of “the visual” has also got the upper hand in our contemporary art. That explains the fact that our visual arts, architecture, design, and cinema are deficient in formal experience that the West gained from abstractionism. In that context the initiative of Oleg Nefedkin compensates for the shortage of “the visual” in Russian “high” culture and generally helps to restore that basic visual tradition.

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