Merely 26 years old, Igor Krapar Shcherbakov’s work has a graceful lyricism matched only by his mastery of classical form. Trained at the Voronezh Art College, Igor grew up in the agriculturally rich Voronezah “black earth” region. The artist’s expertise in plein air painting infuses even his studio oil paintings through an evocative use of color, handling of light, and sfumato.
As such, the natural world has always been a source of inspiration for Igor, and today this is seen in his figural works, they are as if painted against the dark forest foliage, or against a fan of lily pads, night skies, and fog.
But as always, what looks easy to understand is in fact, not so transparent. And so, something else also emerges in many of Igor’s pictures.
At first, the work seems allegorical in the most traditional sense, in the manner of history painting or the metaphorical nude who might stand for a “universal” virtue or tendency. However, surprisingly, this language is in fact a reflection of the artist’s non dualistic view of femininity and women, and as well, the syncretic symbolic culture of this region of the world.
In the subject matter, namely portraits, nudes and landscapes, we see immediately the models and lessons of canonical modernism, namely that of Camille Pissarro, Gustav Klimt, Edgar Degas, or even the master of painting Paul Cézanne.
However, one wonders rather at this, and I became more and more curious why this southwestern Russian artist’s work seems more than a study in academic copying. I would add that this long-standing mode of training remains an important exercise for most artists, but it should be said — that this ability to mimic is not what makes Igor’s work remarkable. Rather, I thought to myself it was the artist’s sense of composition. There is, too, an alternately transparent and opaque use of verdant paint, the brush work legible, forming the plastic cubic forms we so often associate with Cézanne.
Igor’s primary subject is the maternal spirit and the female nude, evoking reinterpreted mythological scenes and a sort of solemn, evening song observation of the naked form.
Beyond formal elements of style, many of the artist’s work emerges as marked by a light simplicity and sweetness, beneath all the technical complexity.
This quite muted romance echoes Shcherbakov’s affection for what he sees as a distinctly “feminine connection to the sacred source of life.”
One should not immediately associate these sentiments with sexist traditions of associating women with a more “base” or “animal/ natural” nature that reflects their relationship with generative processes, but rather a lived or emotional experience of a young man whose relationship with his own family has strengthened his connections to the complex experience of being female.
RB: Your work often features female figures, and there is a complexity to the depiction of feminine sexuality.
IK: As you rightly pointed out, this sense of feminine energy is the primary theme. I feel that within the creative process there is a sexual element and yet while I believe that the sexual energy is part of the power of the artwork, I also try to touch on something more complex, the role of woman, her vital energy, as the sacred source of life, and the cycle of life, youth, beauty motherhood and other eternal themes revealing the intricate complexity and diverse experience of womanhood.
Igor sees his work as expressive of humankind’s relationship to the natural world, and in particular the feminine element, a reflection of the regional co-existence of pagan traditions with Christianity, an accessible and symbiotic way of understanding that in part allows the artist to move fluidly through form, and to connect ideas about femininity, power, nature and the seasons. It is thought after all before the Christianization of the festival (to St. John or Ivan) that in fact the ancient celebration paid homage to a god and goddess, a pair of twins representing the masculine and feminine (refered to as Krupolo and Krupola; Kostromo and Kostrama etc.) According to legend, the two were married without knowing they were, in fact, brother and sister, and they drown themselves upon discovering the truth. The legend is in turn related to an aggregate of feminine and male elements, said to form one entity or truth.
RB: Can you tell me more about your choice of subject matter and this co-existence of figural subject matter and metaphor? Particularly, the use of ancient and classic allegorical seasonal and natural motifs? For example the Slavic celebration of the end of summer solstice, and the beginning of harvest.
IK: My main source of inspiration is nature and our undeniable relationship with the natural world. You can see this particular interest expressed in the pagan and mythological motifs you will see recur in my work. One of the works Nenuphars is dedicated to the topic of mermaids, in Russia this holiday is called Kupalo which is celebrated June 21-24. This festival symbolizes the culmination of the summer flowering herbs and the peak of sexual energy in mythology associated with water and rivers. This festival is very ancient (pagan) and is observed from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Again, the choice of this theme is not accidental, for it, best expresses the importance, subtlety and depth of women.
This type of art pushes you to reflect on the problems of looking at contemporary art, the way in which in America at least, the abstract or conceptual is often associated with innovation or “newness” — naturalism still seems to take second place. Of course, making art in Russia is an entirely different thing, realism was the official imagery of the Soviet Union, and only after the Cold War, did the vaults of the State Galleries open to show the masterworks of abstract artists like Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky , Liubov Popova, and Aleksandr Rodchenko among others. Now of course, things are quite different….