Substance of existence. Victoria and Pavel Nikonov. Painting

Main programme
7 June 2021Monday

Exhibition hall on 8, Kirova street

Pavel Nikonov. "A woman with a rooster". 2016

Free admission to the exhibition "Substance of existence. Victoria and Pavel Nikonov. Painting"

Exhibition opening: June 4th

Exhibition opening hours:

During the festival - daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From June 21st - according to the usual schedule of the exhibition hall


Pavel Nikonov (born 1930) is one of those legendary artists who began the post-Stalinist, "thaw period" painting. Yet his diploma painting "October" (1956) draw much attention, and one of his first works was purchased by Alexander Deineka. In 1960, Nikonov exhibited the painting "Our weekdays" and became one of the leaders of a new direction of painting, which later received the title "severe style". It was the reaction of young artists to the shifts in the development of the country and the attempt to set themselves against the conflict-free officialdom of the socialist realism. And although the works of Pavel Nikonov ceased to fit into the framework of this direction very soon, his name was still associated with the "severe style" for quite some time.

In the 1960s, the artist went through various stages, including a period of confusion and a search for landmarks that are close in spirit. Shared creative interests connected him with the participants of the "Exhibition of Nine" (1961): his elder bother M. Nikonov, as well as N. Andronov, B. Birger, V. Weisberg and others. At that time, a number of exhibitions are held, which open to young artists such masters as Pavel Kuznetsov, Alexander Drevin, Aristarkh Lentulov, Robert Falk, Alexander Osmerkin, who significantly influenced the "niners". In 1962, an exhibition dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Moscow Union of Artists, in which Nikonov's painting "Geologists" participated, was criticised by Khrushchev. After that, the artist was blacklisted for many years.

In the mid-1970s, Pavel Nikonov found a new topic - "peasant", which he has been developing up to this day. He often lives and works in the village of Aleksino, Kalyazinsky District, despite the fact that he himself is a native Moscow resident and has no nostalgic memories of the village. He "recognizes himself as a witness to the tragic end of the historical path of the Russian peasantry," - this is how an art critic Elena Murina explains this interest. "The fact that both the village culture and the village itself were disappearing was evident in the 1970s. After Khrushchev returned the passports to the collective farmers, a general exodus from the countryside began. Life there became absolutely unbearable... Of course, the plastic, colour conflict was also important for me. Only the background to this conflict was still social," - says the artist himself. He is not interested in modern subjects, but in archetypal and universal ones, and in this sense his works come close to icons or frescoes. They reflect the cosmism of the peasant world, they are inseparable from the everyday and the sacred. "Here a person finds himself between heaven and earth, in this outer space he both exists and disappears in. It is in the village that the real life is exposed, which is hidden and disguised in the city," says Pavel Nikonov.

Elena Murina compares the artist's attitude to canvas with the attitude of a plowman to the land: he enters into a struggle with it, plows and fertilises, and the more labor he puts in, the more fertile the soil turns out to be. Pavel Nikonov's works, which seem to be created quickly and with inspiration, were in fact created for a very long time and were subject to repeated changes. As a rule, a painted picture was also impulsively washed off, painted over and then washed off again. The stage of washing off and stripping off the painting was no less important than the stage of applying paints. These torments over the canvas put the work of the artist on a par with the work of a peasant, "about which" the artist paints. And let it be then that this painting can scare away the lovers of "beauty", "aesthetic" and everything "pleasing" to the eye. "The colour of his paintings, built on combinations of earthy colours, ochre, cobalt and his beloved burnt bone, forever ingrained in his hands with its blackness, possesses what beauty actually is - the obligation and irrefutability of its figurative content. The connection between Nikonov's painting and life material, revealing each other, has the highest degree of harmony," - the art critic believes.

Later in the new Russia, Pavel Nikonov received the titles of the People's Artist and the Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts, became the laureate of the State Prize of the Russian Federation. For more than 60 years he has been an active participant in the contemporary art process. The exposition of the exhibition includes his works created in the period from 2003 to 2020.

Victoria Nikonova (1968 – 2008), a Pavel Nikonov’s daughter, revealed her outstanding skills from her very childhood. Some of her father's paintings (including the famous "Fire") were inspired by her childhood works. Just like her father, she was a true votary of painting, there was no concept of fashion for both of them. Like him, she had a special relationship with the canvas, repeatedly scraping and repainting layer by layer. But, having experienced the influence of her father's work, she managed to overcome it and find her own way in painting. "Next to her father's art, so full of civic pathos and explosiveness, something neutral could not appear," wrote an artist Yuri Zlotnikov. - "The art of confession and introspection is put forward in contrast to the art of "storm and stress". And in this passionate immersion in oneself, the difference of generational views is read markedly."

Victoria Nikonova never joined any associations, she always stood apart. The only period when she worked in a circle of the like-minded people fell on the early 1990s. At that time Pavel Popov, Andrey Dubov, Maria Kulagina, Vladimir Manokhin, Ivan Polienko and she shared one workroom on the Arbat. They were all united by a master of the older generation, the monumentalist Andrey Vasnetsov, who influenced the young artists. Victoria Nikonova's paintings of those years, known today only from photographs (she destroyed them, as, incidentally, destroyed, altered or hid many of her other works from prying eyes), were created under the impression of Vasnetsov's painting. Soon Victoria split with thelike-minded people and the "Vasnetsov" style, went to work in Gurzuf, and completely different painting began upon returning to Moscow.

Her paintings are peopleless (with the exception of self-portraits), ethereal and ghostly. But at the same time, they cannot be called serene: they are inherent in both internal conflict and tension - hard lines cut through or outline the space. Referring to simple familiar objects (windows, roofs, interior items), the artist revealed in them the full depth of emotional experience due to being a subtle colorist and sensitive observer. Her works are close to abstraction, but there is a figurative source behind each pictorial motif. Occupying a large part of a picture with the image of the foreground, she seems to take the viewer into the inner space of the canvas ("Windows" series). And if in the gleams of the early "Windows" you can see a warm, light city, then in the early 2000s the style changes and the painting becomes gloomy, brown and gray-brown tones dominate in it. In 2008, in the last year of the artist's life, the colour scheme becomes light again, but much less warm than before. In last works, there are no longer motives reminiscent of real objects, they are more contrasting, but harmony and balance still reign in them.

Victoria Nikonova participated in many group exhibitions; also, three of her solo exhibitions were held. Last year, the Tretyakov Gallery organised an exhibition featuring works by Pavel Nikonov, his brother Mikhail and Victoria.

Victoria Nikonova. «White City»