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Vladimir Andreenkov: re-inventing abstraction over half a century

Vladimir Andreenkov at the opening of his exhibition at the Open Club Gallery ©Open Club Gallery

A retrospective of the nonagenarian non-conformist painter and sculptor has opened in Moscow. The Open Club Gallery has brought to light an often overlooked chapter in the history of Soviet ‘unofficial art’.

‘When creating a picture the abstractionist is forced most of all to think about a problem fundamental to fine art, that is the arrangement of space within a picture’, so wrote Russian artist Vladimir Andreenkov in his diary. A small retrospective recently opened at Moscow’s Open Club gallery. The artist is now 92, born in 1930 following the path usual for that time: first the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, book illustration as an escape from official art, then many years of working for himself and what is called in Russian ‘into a desk’. However, as a result he came up with an idea which is rather unusual. For many years he has defined himself not as a painter who produces an image, but as a constructivist who seeks the essence of a thing, in its colour, form, the rhythm of lines and surfaces, finally in the emptiness between them.

Hence an attraction to volumetric forms, Andreenkov likes creating abstract sculptures almost as much as paintings or linocut prints, ultimately seeking in his work an inner musicality. He sums up the importance of sound as follows: “When a work is very harmonious, music emanates from it. But if you pick something up shoddily, there is no music. I have no special education, but of course it makes a sound within me, and I believe that music is the sister of painting”.

On the whole Andreenkov does not like explaining his work, he believes that a viewer, even a more sophisticated one, can see only what is on the surface, and the rest of the iceberg of meanings is forever hidden from them. However, on the opening night he did give a small tour of the exhibition, presenting works from an early series called ‘Transformation’ where he squeezed out his purely academic view of the world drop by drop, and was overcome with the inherent power of abstraction, and what he identifies as graphic sheets of ‘Verticality’. “The vertical is our connection to the cosmos, the horizontal is what keeps us grounded, and in the unity of these beginnings is the essence of human existence.”

Yet if you distance yourself from the mystical mood of such formulations, it becomes clear why over many years Andreenkov was friends with Swiss painter Richard Paul Lohse (1902–1988) with whom there was a joint exhibition of their works at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow. And why he was generally very much in tune with the late European avant-garde stemming from Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) and Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931). Andreenkov's abstractions are not as mathematically slim as those of Lohse. Rather, they were the result of moving in a vacuum, which Andreenkov shared with his fellow non-conformists, and diving into the creative stream that brought him to the familiar shore of Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935). The artist says that his ‘Verticals’ initially appeared in the layout of a book for which he was making illustrations. Looking at pages crossed out for work, he felt both a rhythm and a clash of two opposing currents, which he then set down.

To observe Andreenkov, as it were, reinvent abstractionism in the 1960s, taking away its revolutionary and destructive intensity, and then filling it with new melancholic meanings and musical harmony for another fifty years, is certainly interesting. All the more so since this whole process can be clearly traced in two dozen or so small works shown at the exhibition, ‘The Construction of Colour’. Beyond this, it is perhaps of even more value to look into the eyes of an artist who for many years now has deemed hope to be the main subject in his art.

Construction of Colour. Vladimir Andreenkov

Open Club gallery

Moscow, Russia

May 27 – June 7, 2022

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