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2002 . -

69
Summary
Amateur art was in the Soviet Union a way of substituting true "reality" (wretched
and beggarly) for the festive revolutionary "reality".
Another manifestation of the new "reality" in Soviet society was the club "reality".
Under the direction of Alexander Rotchenko, samples of
club furniture were developed in his studio.
Starting in 1924, "Lenin corners" were built in clubs all over the country. They were
to replace the religious "red corners" in private
houses, traditionally designated for icons and prayer.
In the process of creating a new "people", special importance was given to the
communes of the "OGPU" (department responsible for prisons). For example, in
the "Bolshevskaya" Commune", which existed
from 1924 up to1939, the homeless and young criminals were raised to become
talented musicians, artists, athletes and dancers. The power of Communist
education and miracle of the creation of a new "people" meant a lot more, one can
say, the worse the source of the human material from which the talent developed.
A brochure of the commune founder, M. Pogrebinsky, published in 1929, was
called "The People Factory" - amateurism was not a kind of creativity of the
masses, but a way of producing from imperfect human material a
new "people".
Through artistic creativity these new "people" achieved a feeling of full selfrealization. Creativity became the foundation for the belief in the strength and
necessity of the Soviet regime, which it encouraged and supported.
The Bolshevskaya Commune can be seen as a metaphor for the whole amateur
movement in which upbringing, education and
creativity were not separated. The whole of Soviet society was intended to be a
huge "People Factory". Amateur works of art were the traces of the transformation
of people of traditional culture (which the majority of
Russian inhabitants of the 1930s were) into a totalitarian new "people".
Although until the 1980s, artists were required to paint contemporary themes by
the organizers of exhibitions commemorating anniversaries or
those held in conjunction with communist party congressional sessions, naive art
remained partly forbidden and was connected in many
ways to the underground. This connection was directly established while the selftaught artists were studying at the extra-mural National University of Art,
(ZNUI), where officially unrecognized artists found teaching positions.
Their students, self-taught, are called naive artists today. Among the teachers of
ZNUI were Ivan Chuikov and Mikhail Roginsky, whose student was Pavel Leonov.
Pavel Petrovich Leonov was born in 1920 in the vicinity of the city of Qrel. In this
city one can find a mixture of both Russian and Ukrainian cultural
traditions. Ukrainian motives found in traditional costumes and typical houses are
reflected in Leonov's paintings.
It is rather difficult to reconstruct his biography, like many other Naive artists
Leonov prefers to tell you stories which are far from reality. It's up to the listener to
decide whether to believe or not, for Leonov has his own reality and his own
history which he keeps in his mind rather than a cold bureaucratic document
approved by officialdom. He was briefly conscripted during World War Two and as
a result he suffered from shell-shock. Perhaps at this time he began to draw.
When he lived in Kamchatka in the Far East he wanted to work as an artist but in

70
Soviet Russia an artist needed the certificate of his profession before he could
practice.
At the beginning of the 1990's the growing interest in his work brought collectors to
his village and he was asked to paint more pictures. At first he repeated several
subjects which he knew very well but, step by step, his manner became more
monumental and the significance of his work became more complicated. He
started to feel himself as an artist. We can see this new self identification in the
self portraits and grand compositions where he depicts scenes from his life as
heroic events.
Leonov calls his system of painting "constructional" or "architectural", placing it in
opposition to
"naturalism", which, as he puts it, had until then dominated the work of other
artists .The essence of Leonov's painting can be best described as follows: a grid
with vertical and horizontal lines . The sizes of the grid segments
vary and each of them serves as a "television screen", as Leonov describes it, for
separate scenes of, for example, a bird or a group of animals, and from these
"television screen", as from bricks, a narrative field of images is
composed. An important theme for Leonov is that of a picture within a picture.
Usually he begins with the painted inner frame of the whole composition and
the smaller frames of the "screens". Since each of his pictures has a frame, the
pictures within a picture especially stand out, surrounded by smaller frames. Depth
in Leonov's painting is created through planes, each of which is parallel to the
surface of the image and is the next picture within a picture.
Another characteristic trait found in Leonov's paintings are the friezes, which are
often united by the movement of various kinds of processions: wedding trains,
horse-driven carriages, buses, flying birds and boats on the
water. These friezes, like carpet threads, cross the entire surface of the picture.
Well-balanced friezes of vertical form are created using standing figures, the
Kremlin towers, tall trees and bell towers. A specific trait of Leonov's paintings are
his picturesque frames, which replace the
wooden frames and are used to separate the illusory space of
projected reality from the real plane of surrounding existence. Most often,
underbrush emerges as friezes and can be called fir trees. Ochre, spread on black
soot, has the surprising effect of looking like gold. This ability to convert cheap
paints into valuables transforms Leonov, the dreamer
into Leonov, the painter. Another variant is the frieze with flowers and butterflies
on a white background, which is even further from reality
and comes close to being his most poetic and ingenious work.
Leonov goes for an extremely radical combination of large masses of local
colours. For example, the contrast between yellow and
black could give his paintings a tragic tone.
However, they are realized in a way that increases the festive mood.
Typical for Leonov is his attention to the national theme of the guard, which is
personified in flying ravens or figures standing on the edges of his paintings.
Leonov's strength lies in his feeling for rhythm. The purely visual effect of his
paintings is based on the strict order in which
he places his coloured spots - images of birds, figures, tools or animals are
repeated on a horizontal or flat plane. This feeling for
rhythm is directly connected with the constructive style of Leonov's paintings.
In essence Leonov's works of art are not
only projected, but also conceptualized. This conceptual style makes some defects
on the canvas or accidental spots of colour invisible

71
to the painter, which, however, in a surprising way does not disturb the visual unity
of his pictures and serve to guarantee their
authenticity. The coarse brushwork and distorted figures presented together with
his more refined painting style attests to the basic
rooted essence of these colourful surfaces.
Leonov's plastic people figures at times do not
lack a classical elegance, uniting with the characteristic deformations typical of
primitivism. A significant classical motif is that of a female
swimmer. Being a person of traditional culture, he cannot paint a nude body
without sufficient reason, and any open eroticism is for him out of the question.
Therefore he chooses such themes as "Sports at the river"; "Swimming"; "Mothers
teaching their children to swim", etc, to present naked female and
children's bodies.
As a master of colours, Leonov sometimes creates very complex ones, e.g. on the
surface at a sky or in his portrayal of human bodies . The human faces in his
pictures are full of thought and expression.
Here Leonov is very exact but the facial expressions of his personages at
times are cosmically far away from how sue would
normally perceive them to be and form one of the
most impressive aspects of his art.
Leonov lives in a remote Russian village called
Mekhovitsy with his wife, Zina.
His life style reminds us of a typical outsider, moreover, his paintings, which
proceed from other areas of his consciousness, belong to authentic primitivism.
Besides the ideal past Leonov is concerned with the ideal future, or even the
present as it should be. In the picture Mekhovitsy one can see everything that
should be in a village: a merry-go-round, a theatre, dancing and singing animals,
flying birds, and helicopters.
Leonov has always felt that he was short of space, and in the course of his life
kept evolving towards larger and larger formats. It seems that he wants to
embrace the whole world with his paintings, and thus establish equality between
dream and reality.
Musician, writer and broadcaster, James Young first encountered the work of
Pavel Leonov in Moscow in October 1993 while working on a commission for BBC
Radio 3. During those uncertain days political upheaval the small show of
Leonovs paintings in Moscows Central Exhibition Hall provided a spiritual refuge
an essential link to a greater humanitarian vision.
He wrote the article in Raw Vision A Fools Paradise (N29) where he said:
"None of his painful past is apparent in his work or in his interaction with others.
Instead, Leonov possesses an undefeated and unembittered energy as he strides
about his yard carrying stretchers and unfurling canvases. His involvement in the
life of his painting, or constructions as he call them, is total that the perplexed
looks and teasing remarks of other villagers (unrealistic, my child can do
better,) completely washes over him."
The artist lives in the former outbuilding of a landowner's home. The main
house was burned down in the Revolution and the artist's house, like the old trees
around it, are the only relics of that time. Three old maples belong to the many
rooks who have built there nests there. The village is very quiet. The textile
factory, which had been working non-stop before and after the Revolution, was
closed as a consequence of the "reforms" initiated towards the end of the Soviet

72
era. Now the village is mostly populated by old women who work silently on their
vegetable gardens. Only near the artist's house is it always noisy because of the
incessant calling of the rooks. There is another world, strange and contradictory,
enclosed in the soul of the artist. If he depicts a festival as the main theme of a
work one can often find depicted in the "screen" a scene of warfare. Is it fantasy or
a metaphor of Russian life with Chechnaya literally on the TV screens everyday?
Leonov does not invent anything, he is simply in a hurry to draw the images and
stories which he sees with his inner eye.
Intellectuals can read his pictures as political allusions or Freudian dreams but
ultimately such interpretations are like translating a bird's language into human.
The artist speaks his own language. There are many figures and objects which are
the same in different pictures just as words are the same in different stories. But
each story is different. "Like all Naive artists Leonov is a true story teller, departing
from personal reality and getting carried away by his emotions from old and new
times harmoniously mixed." Thus wrote Nico van der Endt, one of the first Western
intellectuals to appreciate Leonov. The neighbours in the village do not like the
artist. They do not understand his pictures which are childish in their eyes. Those
who live in other countries, very far from Moscow, consider his work to be the
image of the enigmatic Russian soul. Leonov's art is now in full flower. He finds
new subjects in newspapers and book illustrations and turns them into
masterpieces. He converts the little things of ordinary life into symbols of the
victory of his talent.
Leonov has had many successful exhibitions in Russia and abroad in the last
decade. His work is considered to be the best aspect of Russian Naive art. Many
artists, writers and photographers admire his work because they find there
something to fire their own imagination.

Pavel Leonov
1920 Born in in the village of Volotovskoje ,Orel district
1937 Left native village because of conflict with father
1939 Arrested first time
1939-1942 Imprisoned in Georgia (city of Poty)
1942-1944 Military school in Georgia
1945 World War Two. Injured in Hungary
1946-1947 Imprisoned in Rostov Don
1948 Brief first marriage
1950's Lives in Siberia and Kamchatka. Tries to paint.
1960's Lived in Uzbekistan.
1968 moved to live in Central Russia, Ivanovo Region
1968 married his wife Zina
1962-68 made water colors during his course at Extra-Mural University (ZNUI.)
Contacts with Roginsky
1970-ie his works were exhibited in the big Soviet Exhibitions of self-taught art
1976 born his son Sergei
1980's Almost lost. Worked as horse driver in kolhoz.
1991 Re-discovered
1996 Filmed first time by Dutch film-maker
1997 Grand Prix at INSITA in Bratislava
1997 Painted Mekhovitzi picture
2000 Grandson Pavel

73

Personal Exhibitions
1996On the ground, in the sky and on the sea - personal exhibition of painting.
of Pavel Leonov ,Contemporary Art Center, Moscow
1997-Zyw Gallery, , Edinburgh, Scotland
1997 -Pavel Leonov, Legends and Myths of the Soviet Country, Museum and
Exhibition Center Istoki, Moscow
1998 -2 Artists from Russia.Pavel Leonov and Vassily Romanenkov .Galerie
Hamer, Amsterdam
1998 - Art-Salon, Moscow
2000 - The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford,
Main exhibitions:
1970 .ZNUI Jubilee Display, Moscow,
1983 50 years of ZNUI, Podolsk,
1988 .Internationale de l'Imaginare. Regards sur l'URSS. Paris-Laval,
1992 Golden Dream. Contemporary Art Center,. Moscow
1993 ART-MIF, Moscow
1997 Naive Art of Russia, Russian Museum of Folk and applied Art, 1996
Moscow
Art-Moscow Fair, Moscow
1997 Insita 97, The 5th Triennale of Naive Art. International Exhibition of Insite Art,
The Slovak National gallery. Bratislava., The first prize.
1998 New Acquisitions and donations Museum Charlotta Zander, Schloss
Bonnigheim Germany.
1998 Naive art of Russia from the collection of Ksenia Bogemskaja and Alexei
Turchin. Exhibition hall Kovcheg,.Moscow.
1999 Outsiders Art Fair, Gallery Fillis Kind. New York, USA
1999 Naives and Outsiders. A new collection.Galerie Hamer, Amsterdam
1999 Exhibition in memory of the great Russian writer Andrei Platonov Central
Exhibition Hall Manezh, , Moscow.
1999 Amateur artists of Russia - to A.S. Pushkin. The exhibition devoted to 200years from the birthday of the poet., Central House of the Artist, Moscow.
1999 Prix Suisse et Prix Europe de Peinture Primitive Moderne 99, Galerie Pro
Arte Kasper, Morges, Switzerland.
1999 New Acquisitions. Collection of K.Bogemskaya and A.Turchin..Moscow.
1999-2000 Erste Begegnung mit der Russischen Naive,Museum Charlotte
Zander,Schliss Boennigheim, Germany..
2000 Prix Suisse et Prix Europe de Peinture Primitive Moderne, Galerie Pro Arte
Kasper, Morges, Switzerland. 2000. First Prize.

74

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