Art Blog

Icon-Painting today: a personal view

Posted by FAINOMENON on October 5, 2013 at 4:55 AM

The icon-painter is free:

from the anxiety of having to invent a signature-style;

from the need to 'belong' (by following any current -ism);

from the angst of the blanc canvas;

from the necessity (enforced upon him by the academic establishment and the art-dicecting, interpreting, recycling experts, critics and public) to squeeze himself into a convenient category so that his work can be more conveniently assessed, classified, consumed & digested;

from having to be modern, ground-breaking, revolutionary, eccentic, difficult, elite or the opposite (successful, popular, accessible) etc, etc.


I am not sure which one of these aspects of iconography attracted me most; it appealed to me, in all the soul-searching, anti-conformist pathos of my eighteen years of age, as the ultimate challenge: to earn my artistic freedom not the easy way (by throwing paint on the canvas at random - or installing corpses, blocks of wood, concrete or debris, or attempting to invent a radically new artform) but through the most gruelling, austere, strict exercise of discipline and self-control, mastering a highly demanding & stylised art-form.


The spiritual content was to me, initially, irrelevant: had the subject matter of icons been entirely different, it would have mattered one iota; what inspired my passionate plunge into icon-painting was the process itself; and the end goal (to conquer this austere, esoteric, tantalizing & laborious art-form, with the added danger of being labelled old-fashioned, traditional, obsolete) became the carrot dangling in front of my nose. I went into tackling all kinds of labels head on, with naive idealism and youthful enthusiasm.


But even at that young age I was already a loner and a cynic, fully aware that I was merely trading one freedom with another, or rather, one prison for another, perversely, masochistically, just because of the difficulty of the technique and the narrowness of the path: one foot wrong and I would sink in sentimentality and boredom, or fall into clumsy plagiarism and irrelevance. I loved danger, dilemmas & difficult tasks ever since I can remember; I loved the less obvious, too; the one thing that I loved more is freedom. Or, at least, as freedom is but a state of mind, the right to chose a punishment of my own liking...


Icon-painting is a scete, an escape into a monastic existence, a retreat from the material world. It is also a sentence for those who are either brave and foolish or shy and timid enough to feel comfotable with the obscurity, anonimity & even contempt associated with this humble craft.


Today, when everything is about the image and behavior becomes iconic, I am convinced that the further one retraces one's steps into the past, the further one can reach into the future; truth works like a pendulum.

My arrogance paid off and I have much more fun being a devotee of craftsmaship than if I had no rules to obey at all. I suppose I hate hidden rules more than the blatant ones - artistic freedom being an oxymoron, I prefer to subtrefuge old obstacles in my course rather than add new and baptise them, like the fasting monks christening meat and calling it fish...Too easy.


I suppose one has to have a healthy conviction in one's skill. Unfortunately convictions are not always objective; only hard work and practice can save talent from starvation and death.


Looking back after some thirty years of practice, I think I made a valid trade: having always been drawn to opposite extremes, Icon-painting presented me with a unique choice of vehicle for my contradicting affections: the spiritual and the material, the grand and the miniscule, the surreal and the factual, the stylistic and the anarchic, the sensual and the carnal, the systematic and the spontaneous, the palpable and the unfathomable.


Icon-painting today is as problematic as was when I started: marginalized as an arts & crafts discipline, plagued by copycats & industrial mass-producers, venerated only by antique dealers and religion, considered 'dead' and studied as a curiosity by trad and ethnic reviewers, it dares not say it's art in it's own right...

So, proud & happy to be a 'closet' artist, an icon-painter not limited to (or by) hagiography, I no longer wish to change the world: it is what it is. Controvercial.


Iconography has its own rules that defy all others. There is no perspective or depth. Three levels of existence occupy the campus of the icon - the natural, human and divine world. The elements of the composition are arranged in a strange, distorted "two-dimentional depth" as seen through a kaleidoscop; if we have to define it, we are looking at a highly stylised surrealism, with an under-lying symbolic impressionism, inspired by religious mythology.


Icons are both very childish and very mature. And, eventually, their ferocious, naive, fundamental content won me over. The themes, taken from oral tradition and apocryphal stories, revealed themselves to me, shedding their simplistic surfaces, in all their primordial, violent, timeless glory: questions and agonies never to be answered, tortures and fantasies of the hungry heart and struggles of the mind and flesh, wisdom borne from irony and primeval forces - fear, life, death, temptation, love and, finally, serenity...


Icons are the images of legends. They attempt to portray the psyche through a mixture of symbolism, mysticism and spiritualism transformed into pictorial purity and simplicity. Icons are bold and authentic in their defiance of naturalism, as they attempt to convey ideas transcending human existence and understanding with a naive and passionate simplicity. .




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