COVER CLASSIC GRAPHICATURES
Text from Peter Zmiicharov
Interpretations and Interpolations
During the 60s and the 70s many of the authors of rock music were people with classical education. Partial and even addicted to the classical music examples, they draw from it inventions and ready harmonies, which combined with the guitar riffs and electric sound formed some of the most interesting and creative genres - art rock and symphonic rock. The mixing of the characteristic rock sound with acapella choirs, string and big symphonic orchestras gave birth to memorable examples and masterpieces: "Nights in White Satin" by The Moody Blues, "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" by Deep Purple "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, "Little Light Music" by Jethro Tull, the conceptual albums of Genesis - "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" and "Selling England by the Pound" and Yes - "Close to the Edge" , "Tormato", "Drama".
Inspired by the precedent of bands like East of Eden and Procol Harum, Styx, made a tribute in conceptualizing of a bridge aesthetic which reconciled elite with popular; inspire the "prepared" audience and won the less pretentious over. The extreme popularity of such new classical attempts reached huge proportions in a short amount of time and even the phenomenal during those decades Hungarian rock took its share (Gabor Presser and Omega - Bethovenís 5th Simphony and Gula Vikidal with the rock versions of "Faust" by Gounot and Saint-Saensís "Samson and Dalilah").
Popular during the 70s such "quotations" sporadically remind us of those glorious days even today - for example in Nightwishís soprano hysteria, based on the cavatinas of Donicetti and Grieg.
During those strong - in every sense of the word - for the modern culture decades, such processes took part in the spheres of theatre (Peter Bruck, Alan Charles Klein, the famous pantomime group "Tomashevsky"), poster (Milton Glazer and Stephen Campbell) and musical ("Hair", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Quadrophony").
And, seemingly, the only sphere somehow "stuffed" in conservative awe, remain that of classical fine art. After the striking boldness of Marcel Duchamps to adorn Mona Lisa with Richelieu-like moustache and beard, fine art was busy looking for new directions, racing in an ecstatic hitch-hiking on the highways of abstract impressionism and pop art, minimalism and kinetism.
There stood out as an example of elegant chic of interpretative attitude towards "the heights" Picassoís variations on Velasquezís "La Meninas", Poussinís "Panís Triumph" and El Grecoís "Portrait of Jorge Manuel".
Although more popular, Salvador Daliís lame and boringly enigmatic attempts with Miletís "Evening Prayer" also remained isolated. The same happened later when David Hockney quoted in a series of etchings Hoggardís "The Rapeís Progress".
In most cases the critique used the term "interpretations of classic" for the examples mentioned above.
Which was, in most cases, an inaccuracy although not fatal.
Because interpretation is a question of "reading". It is appropriate when while we talk about an actorís reading of Hamletís monologue, about the reading of a masterly piano player of Chopinís "Impromptu", Op. 23 or about Belinskiís classical reading of Gogolís prose.
Because in its most popular sense interpretation is an explanation which does not cross the boundaries of the original, does not take details out of it and does not add new ones.
This is what interpolation does. This is what John Lord did with Bachís "Tocatta and Fugue in D minor", this is what Keith Emerson did with Musorgsky, Dave Arbas - with Brubek, Picasso - with Velasquez, Hockney with Hoggart.
Today this is done to the classical art masterpieces by man from whom (I personally) have always expected it - Ivan Gazdov.
An unprecedented and unantecedented veteran in the sphere of visual enigmatism, Ivan Gazdov seems predetermined, prepared to bring out a series of plastic interpolations and puns inspired by the classical artworks.
Unconditionally only a man that can reconcile in himself enormous art culture with irony and self-irony, piercing watchfulness and a specific admiring and favourable attitude towards the lessons of the classic can take such a challenge.
In the apathic and bored "today" it is difficult to find an analogy to Gazdovís feat. Without much hesitation, however, I would compare it to the latest Russian phenomenon Boris Akunin and his series of "yellow back" novels about the adventures of Erast Fandorin. What Akunin does there is exactly to interpolate the aesthetic of pulp fiction of the 19th century and to resurrect the cult to the romantic characters from the works of Pitigrili, Lecobra and Eugene Sue. Locally I can only think of one bight dramaturgical precedent - Iuri Dachevís play "A Líanglais", based on a short story by Somerset Maugham.
However, no such thing has happened in the sphere of fine art.
This alone is a sufficient reason for me to accept that Gazdovís new graphic series has the character of a phenomenon and an exhibition of these works would be a huge event.
Essentially, every interpolation counts on the above mentioned "prepared audience".
Essentially, any such attempt is a playful wing to a society of adherents. In this respect it is related to the visual quotation, but broadens it. Figuratively speaking it turns several words closed in inverted commas into several sentences complete with a comment by the author.
The most natural thing in the boldness of such an enterprise is the free choice of the examples.
It would be ridiculous to expect the author to have a chronological program following art history from antiquity to contemporary times.
At least because inspiration is obviously a child of partiality. Thus Gazdovís preference to some authors in their masterpieces in this series of cover versions is also obvious. Which, however, disturbs neither the quantitative nor the qualitative balance.
One of the essential qualities of this collection is the fact that it entertains. And, I hope, not only the experts but everyone - even the mere fans of painting. This quality is a natural function of the authorís attitude. Several years ago, when I commented on one of his previous albums I dared write that Ivan Gazdov is "groovy", that he who is "groovy" never simply works, he does what he loves doing.
Once again, Gazdov remains true to himself. He does not startle in a convulsion of awe in front of the "quitting" genius of Breugel or Velasquez but examines them; amazes while doing it and having fun. He measures his strength with them but not with manic self-adoration but in a playful mode. He does not parody THEM, but ironizes himself - convinced of the inviolable perfection of the originals in their supreme greatness.
And simply invites us to take part in the game. Which is thus composed that we are not simply audience but players in it. To be more exact - accomplices.
The temptation is great. And itís worth it.
Each look suggests new reading.
So letís follow his lead.
Leonardo Da Vinci "Mona Lisa"
Obviously, the original is not conductive to compositional "versions".
The deliberately static posture Leonardo chose is animated only by the playful expression and that famous smile that has been so much speculated with. Anyway this work that became on of the emblems of High Renaissance puts Gazdov to a serious test. It even seems that the usual graphicature means of expression he uses here remain inapplicable. It seems nothing can be added or taken out.
Thatís why Gazdov made a simple decision and turned Leonardoís means of expression upside down. The original sfumato background with the wearily mystical impression of the landscape here is stripped to loquacious concreteness - hills and ramparts, a broadly meandering river and pinnacles that crawl in Gioccondaís lap to depict a kind of ECG of her heart rate. And as if in an upside down mirror world over this landscape sfumatically hangs the famous smile. But this time - even more ambiguous. Just like the smile of the Cheshire cat from "Alice" which remains in the air even after heís gone.
Gazdovís irony is obvious - for the majority of snobs and dilettantes from the four corners of the world "Mona Lisa" is Mona Lisaís smile.
For the knowing, however, it isnít.
Fragonard -"The Swing"
In Fragonardís original - one of the masterpieces of the Rococo aesthetics - erotic is not implied but obvious. Thatís why Gazdov - himself author of many erotic graphicatures - did not hesitate much in his choice.
One of the most amazing achievements of his is the marvelous effect of the light, so masterly enticing of the original.
The bright and shadowy parts of the painting match almost perfectly in the original and the graphicature. Thus the composition accentuates the most important - what Fragonard kindly left to be seen only by the gallant cavalier. Gazdov is more benevolent to us and the loverís fortunate chance is so obvious that it literally melts his limbs at the expense of other things and freezes in terrified grimaces. The faces of the cupids present at the frivolous scene.
Pieter Breugel -"The Fall of Icarus"
Breugel himself is ironic enough toward the ancient story. In his famous picture Icarus is in fact already missing - in the background of a pastoral landscape full of spring optimism what we see of the intoxicated with his striving towards the heights son of Dedalus is only a foot.
Breugel deliberately belittles the pathos of the myth. Ivan Gazdov does the same once again.
In his version Icarus drowns not in the harbour but in the plough manís furrows. As if the artist reminds us that it is exactly the everyday-life, trivial layers that can definitely kill, drown even the highest dreams and the boldest impulse.
And if Breugelís 16th century irony is directed towards the pompous "elevation" and the fanciful pathos which he apposes to the idyllic simplicity of happiness on earth, Gazdovís irony now aims at our own voluntary slavery to the everyday life. It aims at the trivial illness of our times that astounds even a blind mole.
The meek sheep and the meek shepherd are complimented by a fishermanís silhouette. He in his turn seems tenser by his wish to catch then speculatively dreaming.
Calm, smooth scene, soft and supple furrows - thatís how we plough the field of our days similar to beasts in our attempt to earn a living in which we drown our dreams.
Or... maybe we sow them.
Peter Paul Rubens - "The Graces"
Here Gazdovís aim is to openly ironize the already byword concept "Rubensí erotic".
It is true that even today Rubens embarrasses the eroto-maniacs with his preference for emphatically full female forms. His women are often so intrusive that they can deviate us from our enthusiasm for their pure artistic virtues.
The composition which essentially is not original even in the original, here is unchanged - excluding the gestures of the main figure which Gazdov projects in their development.
The touch Rubens simply marked in Gazdov becomes a straightforward caress which changes the faces of the other two muses in ecstatic grimaces.
Cleared of floral-mythical motives and pastoral background, the event is stripped to its essence - an erotic apotheosis.
Here Agliah, Ephrosina and Thalia are by no means symbols of Chastity, Beauty and Love... but rather of Attraction, Desire and Satisfaction.
By the way, such an "amendment" of their natures was close to the Italian humanists of the 15th century and the educated Rubens obviously shared it.
Gazdov does too.
Francois Millet - "Evening Prayer"
With all its simplicity and modesty of the plot, Milletís picture is one of the most inducing works of European realism.
With simple means the author achieved the perfection of an icon.
Standing before it, we miss the secular appearance of the characters and are overcome by speculativeness that develops into a sensory illusion. We seem to hear the chime for the vespers and this anagogic atmosphere turns into - as Goethe successfully put it - "evocative magic".
Even today I canít (or simply refuse to) understand Daliís impulse to work on this subject with quasi-surreal means. In Gazdovís hands, however, the subject arrives at its natural, expected continuation.
The anagogic (uplifting) emotion of the characters becomes their over-physical ability. And they - exalted for being humble - fly together with the evening chime.
And on the ground - in the furrows of their labour - remain the shadows of their own corporality - "ashes to ashes, dust to dust"...
Pietro De La Francesca - "Saint Jerome"
Saint Jerome (Eusebius Jeronimo Sophronius) is one of the four fathers of the Western Church. He is usually portrait in icons as a bearded old man with grizzled hair in three main plots:
As a repenting sinner in the desert; as a scholar busy in his study; and as a Doctor of the church - standing to his full height in a cardinalís vestment.
He is considered the translator of the Bible and on the books that are his attribute we usually read "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".
Pietro De La Francesca depicts Jerome as a repenting sinner - a popular Renaissance iconography which illustrates the saints four-year-long period of asceticism in the Halkida desert. His attribute here is the lion - according to the legend the saint eased his toothache and it became his faithful companion.
In Gazdovís reading the lion is redundant.
He replaces it with one of the longest lasting and most popular Christian symbols - the fish. Yet the fish here bears its ancient meaning of a phallic symbol - an allusion to the asceticís torturing sexual hallucinations.
The stone that Saint Jerome carries to tear his breast with, turns into an abstract circle in Gazdovís drawing. To make up for it the saints dragged down gown changes its fault and petrifies turning into masonry. Thus the ascetic and his feat is monumentalized and becomes a memorial - statuary and over-personal. With its head in the afterlife, detached from the body high in the treesí branches.
Antonio De Pollaiolo - "A Portrait of a Girl"
At first you would think that what attracted Gazdov in this portrait is its decorative, almost symbolic clarity.
But I think he was attracted by the unusual appeal of the young lady.
By the way Pollaiolo made two portraits - in 1469 and 1470. One of them is more often reproduced. In it the lady has a necklace, a pearl tiara and a transparent vale over her hair. In the second the figure is more distant and has a high collar, a trim turban and her dress is exuberantly embroidered.
Gazdovís interpolation is in fact a compilation of both originals. He examines and reproduces the lines of the embroidery meticulously, but in fact canvases mainly the face.
The evasive movement of the lips and eyebrows that reveals an advance from absorbed peacockery to innocent girlish outburst of laughter is perceptible only if we carefully compare both originals. Gazdov achieved it in a single black and white frame.
Giotto - "Saint Anne and the Angel"
The plot in this work of Giottoís is metaphorically burdened by its chronological development. The figure of the spinner "prepares" the spectator for the future annunciation. For future encounter of another heavenly messenger this time with Maria.
Unlike Giotto Ivan Gazdov encodes the figure of the spinner much more diligently and with a jagged rhythm enveloping Saint Anneís head and halo - like a thunderbolt - depicts her uncertain emotional state.
He also consciously neglects the symbolic objects scattered by Giotto in the interior and introduces new ones. Like for example the duck slipping out of the composition that puts our capability of semantic analysis to a serious test. Further more, according to the Golden Legend Saint Anaby kneeling before the Angel should be depicted in a garden of bay-trees on the branches of which sparrows nest. "Poor I, childless, for even the heavenly birds have offspring."
Sparrow or duck - itís obviously all the same for Gazdov - "the heavenly bird" seems to fly off a sealed chest - probably a symbol of the "locked" uterus. And in fact unlocks it.
Giotto - "The Kiss of Judas"
This is one of the clearest, perfectly stylized attempts of Gazdovís.
The multi-figured composition of the original fresco is reduced to its symbolic essence.
But the plotís violent mood is kept unimpaired.
The traitorís kiss now resembles the vulturous suck of a lamprey that seems to suck up Jesusí face.
The dramatic figure of Peter cutting off the sentinelís ear is dropped out. In its place the silhouette of a calling horn appears, shifted by Gazdov from the other end of the composition.
The most striking part is that despite all that poetic license of interpolation the composition not only keeps its dramatism but accumulates it in the carefully put diagonals and verticals.
Gazdovís "Kiss of Judas" is an example of a perfect pictogram, an example of turning a whole story into a sign with icon might or even into a symbol of something familiar.
Masaccio - "The Adoration of the Magi"
I admit that some of the pictures Gazdov chose perplex me a bit and I have to ponder seriously on what determined his choice. That is the case with "The Adoration of the Magi". Simply because itís neither one of Masaccioís most often reproduced paintings, nor one of his most emblematic. So I tend to accept that Gazdov did not address this towards the "broad audience" but made an attempt "pro domo sua" (for himself).
Gazdov strongly reduced the composition, limiting himself to retelling only the essence of the story and the few figures that perform it. The authorís wish to be as close to the prototype as possible is obvious.
Simplified and stylized, the picture is yet THE SAME. I would say STRIKINGLY THE SAME.
The search for visual identity, however, is much more a creative "paidia" than a secondary analysis, irony or a different point of view over the meaning.
I see nothing wrong in it, of course. Such "playful" scrutinies are a constant and maybe essential part of the artistís nature.
"... that only can be rightly judged by the standard of pleasure, which makes or furnishes no utility or truth or likeness, nor on the other hand is productive of any truthful quality, but exists solely for the sake of the accompanying charm; and the term "pleasure" (paidia) is most appropriately applied to it when these other qualities are absent." (Plato, "Laws", Book II)
Aristotle defines such activities as "conducing relaxation" and "supplementing knowledge". His term "diagoge" should not be understood literally as "a waste of time" but as "a fill of time". Especially if we keep in mind his concept that opposes work to pastime.
In fact, I mentioned in the very beginning that a GROOVY never works but does what he loves doing.
Georges Seurat - "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"
Seurat had not yet turned 30 when he created his masterpiece of pointillism that took up two years to complete. In addition, he made 38 sketches and 23 full exploitations of this huge composition.
Obviously, Ivan Gazdovís efforts in this direction were reduced to their minimum.
Out of the deliberately monumental static composition he drew a sheer plastic anecdote.
The stiff postures of the many marginal "dramatis personae" (in fact there are no main characters) made them look like tailorís dummies.
Using irony, similar to Degasís ("This is much harder than painting") Gazdov does remind us of Seuratís mania to punctually examine the fashion magazines of his time in order to achieve reliability. This implication is at the expense of some of Seuratís implications.
For instance, he leaves out the monkey-Capuchin that is used in the original as a symbol of the loose morals and the presence of which deciphers as a visual cause the lady that leads it as being... a prostitute.
The stylization is flawless and with its well measured irony "Grande Jatte" approximates the best examples from Gazdovís well-known graphicature series "Something surplus, something missing".
Sandro Boticcelli - "The Bird of Venus"
Peter Ustinov ones said that if Boticcelli lived he would probably work for "Vogue" today.
What would he say, if he lived, in front of Ivan Gazdovís Venus?
I ask myself this question because Gazdovís refined stylization approximates really the best "decoratively-applied" examples of Heinz Edelman and Milton Glaserís who during the 70s were graphic designers not only for "Vogue" but also for its alternatives - "OZ" and "Underground".
Gazdovís Venus now emits sheer erotic lust. It is enough to justify the figures of Florence bon-vivants that are a kind of screen in the background which replaces the original "landscape details".
Konrad Witz -"The Miraculous Fish Draught"
In the Late Middle Ages this iconographic scene was called "naviccena" and was based on Saint Matthewís Gospel. In the course of time it became a compilation of two stories - the second one "The Miraculous Fish Draught" was taken from Saint Luceís Gospel.
An example of such compilation is Konrad Witzís painting from 1444 - the best known work of one of the best known Swiss painters.
Showing good knowledge of both stories, Gazdov intensifies exactly the impression of compilation from the original by filling his graphicature with... schools of fish. Some of them (in the foreground) seem to have an almost family conversation with the anointed one they symbolize.
Yet Christís hesitant movement shows that his more benevolent towards them than towards the cowardly Peter who sinks by the boat before even hearing the reprove
"You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Some of the details in Gazdovís composition are so clearly and so concisely drown that they can be perfect graphic symbols even outside the context. Such a symbol is for example the hands stretched above the boat that "lock" a stylized fish inside their palms.
Pieter Breugel - "The Blind Leading The Blind"
Breugel paints "The Blind" in 1568 - near the end of his life - as a kind of sad balance of his times. Thatís why the metaphor of the original is of the kind "mirror metaphors". An undeciphered figurative thought with a vivid message.
"The Universum spreads like a vast entity of symbols." wrote Johan Huizinga. And Rosalina Pepelanova defined Breugelís pathos as "war-like humanism".
However, we tend to see Breugel as a more cheerful author, especially compared to the macabre moralizing aesthetic of Jeronimus Bosch.
Despite being overtly didactic, "The Blind" has also features of a tragic comic story. It is not boring in its messages thanks to a great doze of self-irony.
Gazdov scrupulously follows the swinging rhythm of the original (even intensifies it), and along with it - the impression that we will all fall down the abyss. That no one is anointed with the privilege of being an impartial spectator.
Gazdov has the amazing ability with minimal, and whatís more - simplified drawing techniques, to reproduce the atmosphere and the expressions of the characters in detail. The blindness as a summary of delusion, deception, pretence, and illusion (among which is art itself) is enhanced in Gazdovís version with a couple more didactic symbols - a snake with a rabbit between its teeth and a skeleton - appropriately "borrowed" from Northern Renaissance aestheticís workshops.
Rubens - "The Rape of the Daughters of Leucip"
I think what mainly attracted Gazdov in Rubensís original is examining the peculiar composition knot.
2 horses, 2 riders, 2 nude female bodies and one cupid form a complex configuration of clear and vivid accents. Gazdov took joy in the task to simplify... and at the same time entangle even more the complicated scheme.
In his vision the shift and rhythm of the black and white parts resembles scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that can be put together if you look more carefully.
"The Rape" is closest to the graphicature enigmas that we know from Gazdovís previous series.
After all, the dexterous tangle leads to the fusion of the two female bodies into one, a fusion that moves the action into an almost cinematographic sequence and emphasizes the kinetic illusion.
This is serious enough ground to dispose the composition of the background details - themselves as exuberant as the female figures.
Vermeer van Delft - "The Glass of Wine"
Even to this day Vermeer is considered "the greatest of the little Dutch". That whole amazing pleiad of everyday-life portrayers, honest interpreters of whatís banal has been tempting experts and dilettantes to explain the Dutch "phenomenon" for quite some time.
Their astounding punctuality, their reliability, bordering on verism, the stunning cogency of the textures has been explained in many ways by many people - from Ipolit Ten to Heinrich Wolflin. The reasons included peculiarities of the nation, piety, phlegmatic temper, Cartesian rationality, amateur scrupulosity...
One way or another, thereís one obvious thing with the "little Dutch" and respectively with Vermeer - the story makes the painting.
With Vermeer the plot is not an occasion but a reason to create a painting. The colours, the light, the composition, the characters are now functions of the plot. Thatís why the atmosphere itself of any of his works is the ground for "restoration" of stories for novels and films (cf. "Girl With a Pearl Earring", Tracy Chevalier).
So Ivan Gazdov means no more than simply "translating" some of the emblematic works of the "little Dutch" into the graphic language.
Although he had to (even because of the different taste today) reduce details, he amazingly well managed to keep the overall atmosphere of charming loquacity. And the particular typology of the characters.
"The Glass of Wine" is among the most persuasive, convincing graphicature translations in this album. Ivan Gazdov had fun doing it and while having fun, examined the original. Here once again we touch (lightly) that honest dialogic "fill of time", rationalization of the pastime as an opposition to the stupefying efforts of everyday work. Thereís no point in searching for non-existent intellectual provocation and notional references here.
In other words
"Nonesuch as the little Dutch".
The same "conjuration" can be applied to Gazdovís editing of Rembrandtís "Suzanna and the Elders" and Vermeerís "The Procures" and "Girl Reading a Letter".
They are all characterized by synthesized composition, emphasizing on the characteristic gestures; by concise but exact representation of the characters; by crystalline graphic decorativeness; by a vivid plastic anecdotes is and expertise that resemble an overture by Rossini.
George de La Tour - "Saint Sebastian Attended By Saint Irene"
One of the most competent interpreters of George de La Tourís works - Francois-George Pariset - said about him:
"Life seen only on the outside - thatís La Tourís biography..."
Benedetto Crocce, however, advised us not to be tempted to put a sign of equation between the artist and the person. The facts about La Tourís life are, to put it mildly, not very pleasant - unscrupulous, selfish, stingy, torpid and even cruel towards those "beneath" him; dazzled by the parvenu extravagances... Yet he remains one of the most original and modern painters of the 17th century. One of the great "painters of the night", a follower of Caravagio who raised his aesthetic to the superlative degree.
His paintings of stories from Saint Sebastianís life are on the occasion of the plague epidemics from 1644 and 1649 (the saint is known as the patron of the pestilentious). There are two versions of the painting - the vertical composition "Saint Sebastian Attended by Saint Irene" and the horizontal one "Saint Irene healing Saint Sebastian".
Ivan Gazdov chose the more popular and the more constitutional of the two. Characteristic of "the painters of the night" is to introduce artificial light (a candle, a lamp, a float light) that dramatically emphasizes the light and shades and from a function of the story turns them almost into its cause.
In "Saint Sebastian" La Tour reaches the perfection in this technique. The painting is compositionally structured with almost mathematical precision and suggests graveyard chill. The step-like rhythm of the womanís handsí gestures creates a kind of chain of locking and unlocking messages that vary from hesitation and hope to terror and resignation.
I think for Gazdov La Tour became one of the greatest challenges towards interpolation. But on the other hand - one of the clearest artistic pleasures of realization.
Gazdov limits his interference to reduction of the form - from a rectangle he makes a square. And thus, once again, he proves that the perfection of the original composition is inviolable. He "reproduces" amazingly easy not only the gestures but also the characters from the original. Perhaps La Tourís anyway utmost purity of line contributes to that. Gazdovís graphicature version is unmistakable. One look at it is enough to exclaim, happy that we recognized it:
"Yes, thatís George La Tour!"
Pieter Breugel - "Country Wedding"
One of the interpreters of Breugelís work - Jean Paris - noted that all the wooden elements in the picture "Country Wedding" - the cross-beams, the benches, the table, the unhinged door used as a tray - "form a kind of wooden scaffolding that holds together the mess of human bodies".
Written a long time ago, today this statement tempts us to exclaim "Bullshit!", disgusted by the art criticís tendency to fornicate with words, a tendency that shows always when we face perfection. Or, as Lichtenberg put it, - "When the critic canít find a mistake, he makes one himself".
Because in fact Breugelís painting is a symbol of PIOUS ORDER and of the ritual succession of the wedding in this order - from the mystic sacrament of the nuptials to the exultation and the corporeal pleasures. In Breugelís "report-like" composition the ceremony has just begun, far ahead is the state of drunkenness and of Rablaisian homage to the lower parts. And the pictureís great charm comes exactly from this seeming order that surpasses sketchiness and fills with life coloured by fascinating details. The "Country Wedding" is an everyday-life wink, an innocent, down-to-earth comment on the representative and mystic "Wedding at Cana", a comment made by alive, healthy, vital, consistent characters that need not be "held together with a scaffolding".
Iíd rather say that Gazdov shares the opinion of a learned contemporary of Breugelís who characterized his art with the Latin maxim "Ars est celare artem" (art is to conceal art). Thatís why at first sight it seems that Gazdov reproduces the original without any interference - so convincing is his reduction.
Ivan Gazdovís graphicature "remake" once again shows the action in its chronology - what started in Breugel continues here - some of the people sitting at the table are already up probably to dance; one of the bagpipers accompanies them; and the chased away dog, now resigned and probably not hungry anymore, is already lying on the floor - next to the child that as before intently licks the dishes. And on the place of the empty bushel over the brideís head someone put two plaited wheat ears - symbol of a connection of the two families.
Vincent Van Gogh - "The Potato Eaters"
Here we find probably the most drastic deformation of the original that Gazdov made.
Of course, thatís because the original predisposes it. The usually grotesque, expressive characters of Van Gogh here are overtly graphicatured, but (I have to highlight it) identifiable and clear. A single look at the only graceful silhouette - that of the girl of the foreground with her back to us - is enough for the keen lover of reproductions to identify the prototype.
Otherwise, Gazdov squeezes the composition in a more confined space; chooses the point of view of a man standing on tiptoe and even changes the place of the gas lamp. He leaves only one potato, a coffee pot and a cup on the anyhow almost empty table, which is dramatically dominated by the deformed from the labour hands of the characters. Out of them grotesquely stick out the forksí engraved shanks - the only luxury in the poor cabin of the Bourinage residents. By the way, such details make the social pathos of the original more tolerable, the atmosphere - more intimate and ingenious, the mood - less troubled.
Lucas Cranach - "The Judgment of Paris"
I doubt if many people today can without hesitation define Cranach as one of their favourite painters. From the distance of the centuries, his works today seem like an odd combination of the scrupulosity of the naÔve and the genuine sensuality of the erotomaniac who chooses mythological stories only because they are an opportune cause to undress the female body. Often reproduced, Cranachís paintings are in way emblems of the period and of the so-called Danube school but... in fact they canít bear comparison with what his contemporary and compatriot Albrecht Durer did. However, exactly this famous sensuality that Cranachís paintings emit became the reason for one of the most curious burglaries in the history of fine art. Stolen in 1959, one of his "Venus"-es (property of the Museum of Frankfurt) was returned shortly afterwards with a note of thanks. "Now we - in Guatemala - paint the same things. Many thanks to the German people!" This robbery is an example of pathological passion towards an image, usually explained precisely with Venusís erotic appeal. Pure Freudism!
Maybe exactly the voluptuous appeal of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite is what caught Gazdovís attention, too.
Anyway Gazdovís graphicature vision is aimed mainly at the peculiar dance of the three goddesses. He twists them into an almost love knot - even their heads are connected with a joint necklace. Itís totally natural that Gazdov ironically retells the plot with a denouement of the kind "tails of the unexpected". Paris simply offers Aphrodite his own head instead of an apple - an eloquent hint for all mythology connoisseurs. And the harmless horse from the originalís background is now turned (probably by some playful god of the Greek pantheon) into an erect phallus that makes use of Parisís trance and creeps closer to the goddesses.
Pieter Breugel - "Hunters in the Snow"
In 1565 a rich patron - Yogenlink - orders Breugel to make a series of paintings about the four seasons for his home in Antwerp. To this day, it is a disputable matter whether the artist painted 6 or 12 scenes, but only 5 reached us: "Gloomy Day", "Hunters in the Snow", "Return of the Herd", "Harvest" and "Hay Harvest".
The "Hunters in the Snow" are indisputably one of the masterpieces of the whole 16th century. Although they are based on the Late Middle Ages calendar tradition (cf. "Duke de Berrieís Book of Hours" by the Limbourg Brothers), Breugelís works went far beyond any scheme and became one of the most intimate human messages - intransient and current over centuries. Probably it is the very original vitality and energy waving from the prototype that makes Gazdovís graphicature one of the most convincing in the album - a masterpiece in itself in the collection. Everything is the same here as in the original - the silhouettes of the hunters, the dogs, the crows and even the skaters on the frozen lake.
But, most importantly - the mood is the same, that intimate soft mood that once inspired Valeri Petrov to write "Allegedly after Breugel".
Rembrandt - "Return of the Prodigal Son"
In Gazdovís variant, Rembrandtís famous painting is an occasion for a simplified graphic expression of homage to the genious of a man who decidedly overcame and rejected the Baroque aesthetic - and substituted it for something that remained a precedent for decades to come.
Rembrandtís peculiar religious freedom is much commented. That freedom that allows him to interpret traditional topics and iconographic schemes in a way disturbing for his contemporaries. In any case, his dramatic art devices have nothing to do with the rational Calvinism spirit, dominating Hollandís mass consciousness in the 17th century. Some interpreters ascribe this to Rembrandtís affiliations to the Menonite sect (followers of Menno Simons), that disdained the ritual formalities and trusted in an internal contact with the Biblical messages and their interpretation not literally but in their metaphorical and allegorical depth.
Regardless of Gazdovís interest or lack of interest in this problem, what he achieved is a precedent, deserving of the originalís secularized message. "The Return of the Prodigal Son" seen through his eyes is an occasion in itself to replace the fatherís terrible grimace with a "frame" of a story that projects the desertion and the return at the same time. Gazdov in fact replaced it with all that the Biblical head of Rubensís can express. And he does it so convincingly and concisely that I think the additionally introduced symbols - the candle (the Holy Spirit) and the wheat ears (the entity of the community, of the family) are redundant.
Diego Velasquez - "Las Meninas"
In this exceptional graphicature we first notice Velasquezís self portrait and the amazing resemblance of the favourite court dwarf Marie Balbolla.
Itís only after that first and smashing impression, that we start to analyze the many witty jests that Gazdov filled his version with.
The major-domoís stern surveillance takes place twice. Once - from where Velasquez put him in the original (the open door at the back) and the second time - form the painterís canvas. I.e. again from where Velasquez put it being at the moment painted at the picture that we already see. If we continue "reading" we will notice the stunning resemblance in the first maid of honour and the playful expression on the face of the jester Nicolasito who tries to tease the imperturbable bulldog mastiff... And, of course, Saint Jagoís cross - projected twice on the painterís breast and on the canvas. As if Gazdov make us remember that Velasquez was made a knight whole three years after "Las Meninas" is finished and that the cross is added later with Philip IVís permission. The expression from Velasquezís self portrait is a special achievement, a convincing caricature that seems to be painted from nature.
Extremely beneficial in terms of composition and "theatrical" effects of the type "theatre in the theatre, a picture in the picture", "Las Meninas" is one of the most ingenious achievements in Gazdovís series initiative.
Jan Van Eyck - "The Arnolfini Marriage"
That is one of my favourite graphicature versions in this album. Gazdovís reading is easily identifiable, but along with that - full of traps and hints, varying from harmless to sarcastic.
Giovanni di Arigo Arnolfini remains the same - enrich, pretentious garments, stately frozen in a theatrical gesture..., that depersonalizes him and he becomes a conventional dummy. The shoes, thrown before him are the same, too - in 1421 their presence in the painting had a symbolic meaning. Put by Jan Van Eyck in the foreground of the picture, they are an evidence of a connection with the outside world and suggest Arnolfiniís occupation - a prosperous tradesman. On the other hand, at that time it was believed that putting your bear feet on the ground brings fertility. Gazdovís inoffensive irony in his version of the plot seems to be aimed exactly at this superstition. He projects in Giovannaís belly a negative homuluncus with a hat. It is a hint about whatís inside - a future son, a projection of the father. For the sake of convenience, the female figure is drawn right next to the four-poster bed so that she almost fuses with it, prepared for the future birth.
And in the spherical mirror, with a pencil and a notebook Gazdov himself "finishes" the story... in such a way that the stately tradesman would like it better.
Gazdov prefers this advance of events and tries to shake off the documentary dullness of the original. Probably because he remembers that after all the marriage turned out to be a failure - Giovanna Cennami never borne Giovanni di Arigo children, he left her and she for many years sued him for compensation.
"A propos"... an adequate cause for the pet to literally bristle up in its premonitions. Exactly as Gazdov saw it.
The necessary excuse...
It could be utterly laconic: "I wrote what I saw".
I added here and there some things Iíve stored disorderly in the drawers of my mind - more flavours, melodies and moods than strict facts.
Someone else would probably write something else.
So, in a sense, Iím apologizing rather to Ivan Gazdov than to the readers.
Because ever since I dedicated to the profession "art critic", I keep in an easily approachable place in my memory Oleg Grabarís definition of this job - "... a disharmonious word, coined in Germany - this is in itself a factor of disharmony; and probably this happened in the same Hamburg where they claim to have invented the Moon."
I also remember an aphorism by an immortal 18th century cynic - "The critic is a person who under the artistís astounded look tries to explain to him what he tried to paint."
My only excuse is that I watched Gazdovís work through the eyes not of a critic, but of an artist... and tried to distance myself from my professional distancing.
And also that above all I was truly entertained.
Iím sure that at least in this respect I approached and touched the author of these "acoustic versions".
And itís enough for me!
19 August 2004