100th anniversary of the birth of Kulchoro Kerimbekovich Kerimbekov

 Elena A. Voronina

It has been noted many times that anniversary exhibitions of great artists are not only a celebration of fine art, but often become a serious test for established assessments and familiar conception about the artist’s creative path, a kind of master class for aspiring artists. Especially if, during the life of the master, his art became a model for his contemporaries, and his works, familiar, large or little known, were recognized and remembered. From a historical perspective, from the point of view of modern artistic achievements, experiments, the true meaning of the master, the school and the fine arts is more clearly understood.

The exhibition “Artist’s palette. Painting. Graphics”, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kulchoro Kerimbekovich Kerimbekov, one of the founders of the Kyrgyz fine arts and the classics of the Kyrgyz school of painting, is undoubtedly a bright event, a celebration of fine arts not only for Bishkek, but also for the Kyrgyz Republic.

With its breadth and variety of meticulously assembled works, the exhibition allows you to take a closer look at some periods of creativity of the great artist and bright representatives of the magnificent four.  This is the first post-war graduation of four professional painters among Kyrgyz artists: Dzhakul Kozhakhmetov, Altymysh Usubaliev, Asanbek Moldakhmatov and Kulchoro Kerimbekov. 

Earlier, the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts named after G.Aitiev hosted the first joint exhibition in 2019: “Retrospective. The Age of Socialism. K. Kerimbekov, J. Kozhakhmetov, A. Usubaliev, A. Moldakhmatov. The Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture named after I. E. Repin (1947-1953)”.  This was the best thing that has happened to Kyrgyz National Museum recently. So many masterpieces of four talented artists were presented in the two halls of the Museum. 

“The ideological inspirer and organizer of the exhibition, Nour Kulchoro Kerim, the eldest daughter of K. Kerimbekov, noted: “For a long time we have cherished the idea of recalling the work of the “first four” with a single exhibition, not to consign them to oblivion. They belong to the representatives of the classical art in painting. They highly valued their friendship and creativity, delicately and respectfully conducted the dialogue, firmly standing for each other. It was such a time and a unique generation of creators united by brotherhood, who were taught by the great masters of the Leningrad academic school of painting (M.Avilov, V.Oreshnikov, Y.Neprincev, A.Mylnikov, M. Anikushin, G.Savinov and others).

You will agree that in the creative biography of any artist, an important place is occupied by the school that he went through, having acquired the ability to speak the language of art. Whether he has full confidence in the school, whether he rebels against it or he paves his own way… In any case, the time for the maturation of talent in following experienced masters and mentors is inevitable. It determines the direction of the artist’s creativity and forms the character of a creative person. For Kulchoro Kerimbekov, such a starting point was an academic higher art education in Leningrad in the early 50s of the last century at the former Imperial Academy of Arts.

Kulchoro Kerimbekov’s work developed in two directions: on the one hand, he wrote compositions, sometimes large, on historical, revolutionary, maritime, household and other subjects, on the other hand, he worked a lot on nature, painted landscapes. As a landscape painter, he developed the theme of small, lyrical landscape.  Based on the works presented at the exhibition, the main thing for him was not only how to paint, but also what to paint. He attaches great importance to themes and stories. There is a parallel with the Impressionists. The genre portrait which is also decisive in his work stands apart. This is no coincidence that K. Kerimbekov specialized in the genre of portrait and drawing in the studio of V.M. Oreshnikov, an outstanding Russian Soviet artist, portraitist. 

Each portrait of K. Kerimbekov is significant and interesting in its own way. A characteristic feature of his portraits is a clearly expressed intellectual principle. The hero of the portrait lives a rich and complex life of the mind. We see in the portraits of the painter’s contemporaries both creative thinking and concentration. The heroes of Kerimbekov’s portraits reveal their souls to us; silently confess to us, thereby inviting us to respond and to have a dialogue. This is how portrait heroes behave in the following works: “Portrait of a herdsman Alymkul”; “Portrait of A. Usenbayev”; “Young man with a pipe”; “Portrait of kolkhoznik (collective farmer)”; “Portrait of conductor K. Moldobasanov”. In the portrait “Veteran of the Great Patriotic War”, there is no ostentatious pathos or heroism, which many artists of the Soviet time used in their paintings. As a veteran of the Great Patriotic War himself, Kerimbekov- artist seeks to show a woman who is courageous and war-weary.

The portraitist-Kerimbekov, it seems, is alien to any nuance of spiritual confusion, selfish narcissism. He gives himself entirely to life and dissolves in his heroes. You think about it when you look at the works “Portrait of a son Aibek” and “In the fields of Kyrgyzstan. Hero of the Socialist Labor Saadat Nogoyeva”. 

Observing the paintings of K. Kerimbekov, starting from his first works as a student, and then an accomplished master, one can confidently say: in his manner there is not a shadow of a desire to amaze, puzzle or amuse the viewer. His art is devoid of any false pathos, external rhetoric of invented feelings, propaganda, and conjuncture. Kerimbekov’s talent matured and grew stronger as a result of high demands for himself, respect for teachers, the painting school, the viewer and love for life.

In the exposition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the painter’s birth, one can see works in which any viewer, both professional and amateur, can notice how the artist showed interest in the psychology of his characters. And this applies not only to portraits. This is where the talent of the artist lies. After all, the hero in the paintings of the artist can be not only a person, but also nature. For example, the interest in reflecting a historical fact in paintings with historical and revolutionary themes was the least of Kerimbekov’s concerns. These works are “Signature under the Stockholm Appeal”, “Stalin on the way to exile to Turukhansky region (Siberia)” and “Before the performance”. He was more concerned with the psychology of the characters. There is an internal reaction from any of Kulchoro Kerimbekov’s artworks: you look and get not only aesthetic pleasure, but also an emotional charge. You must admit, a similar feeling is observed from the examination of the paintings of artists – impressionists and post-impressionists.

Unfortunately, many other works on historical themes are not presented, such as: “The rally in the Oak Park in 1917”, a series of paintings on the topic “Voluntary annexation of Kirghizia to Russia”, other portraits of historical figures and contemporaries. 

Of course, to build an artistic and aesthetic assessment, to compare the work of an artist with artists from another era, to develop one’s impression from a “first glance” or from two or three works of an artist, in essence, is dangerous and wrong. We must remember Plato’s precept that “What’s beautiful is difficult.” Nevertheless, studying the creative path of Kulchoro Kerimbekov, which began at the beginning of the 50s of the last century, examining the works of the artist of different years, reading reviews of his work, reviews of the audience, talking with the artist’s family, you come to understand that we have beautiful example not only of social realism, but also of Soviet impressionism. And it is not surprising that the artist is close to impressionism. Taste, love, interest in this direction in painting arose during the time of Kerimbekov’s studies at the Samarkand Art School, where one of his teachers was the famous Russian painter Pavel Benkov.

Vibration of light and air, stream of water, unsteadiness of air, imperceptible movements of clouds, the sky in the dawn mist, leaves rustling, color reflections in the atmosphere, instantaneous moments and positions. All this can be felt, when you look at the landscapes of Kulchoro Kerimbekov: “Dry Ridge Bay”, “Sandy beach”, “Evening in Issyk-Kul”, “Grey day in Palanga”, “Cloudy day in Palanga”, “Autumn in Palanga”, “Gurzuf”, “Corner of my Motherland”, “Twilight in Issyk-Kul”. 

In my opinion, Kulchoro Kerimbekov revealed to us the very concept of a moment in Kyrgyz painting. Its moment is not a point, it is alive and has its own unique, measurable micro duration. Not every artist is able to visually convey a moment. A minimum of technique, since everything is slipping away at an incredible speed, you just need to convey the moment. Kerimbekov always painted his landscapes outdoors. He tried to avoid photography. He looked for realism in landscapes in specificity. The natural talent of this artist is to be able to see and be able to capture on paper or canvas this very moment of nature should not be underestimated. 

Poetry is felt in almost all of Kerimbekov’s landscapes. And poetry arises only when real nature is conveyed in all the infinite richness of its forms and states, in the incessant movement and change in the streams of light. You just need to be able to see it and convey it. Another feature of Kerimbekov’s landscapes is that he skillfully poetizes the ordinary, the routine. This technique reminds me of the work of one of the famous French and Danish impressionists of the XIX century, Camille Pissarro. Like his magnificent predecessor, Kerimbekov knows how to introduce into his landscapes (“Evening in Issyk-Kul”; “Port Przhewalsk”) a person engaged in work or everyday’s affairs. He stayed faithful to the method of creating a painting – an etude, Kerimbekov liked to work on the landscape at the same time, and not in parts. This constantly limited the size of his landscapes over time (“Arslanbab”). 

The artistic talent of Kulchoro Kerimbekov is primarily a lyrical talent. The Great Patriotic War did not take away from him either a sense of lyrics, or a state of being real, or a light in his eyes, or faith in humanity. All the works presented at the exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the painter’s birth, with all the specificity, sometimes plot-based certainty of action, direct narrative, are perceived as prose and poetry, in which lyrics have their own special place. When you look at the picturesque canvases of Kerimbekov, you understand that the artist from birth was gifted with the great powers of observation, but this power of observation is not analytical, which is needed in prose, but synthetic, integral to proper poetic thinking. You read it as a kind of poem, for instance, his series of industrial landscapes “Construction of the Toktogul Hydropower Plant.”

And poetry arises only when real nature is conveyed in all the infinite richness of its forms and states, in the incessant movement and change in the streams of light. And this skill was acquired due to the studies in I.E. Repin Leningrad Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (presently I.E. Repin Saint-Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture) and wonderful teachers, mentors, who, like their teachers – the great Russian artists Repin, Surikov, Ivanov, Kramskoi, Serov – believed that the art of depiction could not be unrealistic, and painting, that is, the painting of the living, cannot exist without admiring real life. The school of painting and drawing should be based on the study of real life.

The huge scale of the creative heritage of the first “four|” of painters of Kyrgyzstan with an academic education always attracted and will continue to attract the interest of the audience. The organization of a large anniversary exhibition of the classic of Kyrgyz painter Kulchoro Kerimbekov, one of the representatives of this “four”, is the next stage of a retrospective look at that era, which played its significant historical role in the development of national fine arts of the country.

 Elena A. Voronina, art historian, art reviewer

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