Andrey Avinoff's Artistic Credo

Ever since I can remember I have loved drawing and painting. At the age of four years I drew a mountainous landscape, the likes of which I have not since equaled— if the satisfaction and price which I felt at that time are to be accepted as criterions. The quite startling understanding of distance and significance which those receding mountain peaks, each topped by a fine eagle, gave to me was one of the important experiences in my, until then, level existence.
This proved to be but a first happening, in a chain of adventures, which seem to have put me in direct contact with an unexpected variety of artistic sources. Many of the unaccountable incidents and vicissitudes, which came to me in subsequent years, had no apparent connection with art, and yet from them I have been permitted to build a deliberate and not unfounded point of view, which taken together with a conscientious attempt to secure technical freedom, have resulted in my present attitude towards aesthetics and towards art. It is the contact with many cycles and sources which leads me to believe in the desirability of a diversity of style, by which the artist may more fully reflect his own impulse and his understanding of the tendencies characterizing various artistic traditions.

My family moved to Russian Turkestan while I was still a child, in order that we might be near the headquarters of my father, who was at that time the commanding general of a brigade of sharp-shooters. While there we visited the semi-independent native state of Bokhara, the wonderful city of Samarkand with its magnificent architectural monuments, which had been partly demolished by earthquakes, that city of Tamerlane and other famous conquerors of Asia. The glorious mosques, with the resplendent tiles of turquoise blue, of deep celestial ultramarine and brilliant gold yellow, have left an indelible imprint on the memory of my childhood days.
I always consider butterflies as my main instructors in art. Since childhood, I have made paintings of them, endeavoring to reproduce every shade of their color, and every minute detail of pattern. Naturally, my eye has been trained to notice the slightest variations in this respect. The question of ornamental value of the butterfly's wings attracted me as one of the most fascinating problems connected with my favorite branch of entomology.
Together with systematic and biological investigators, I regard as most instructive the study of the laws of color and the pattern variations and interconnections exhibited by the butterfly wings, which after all represent the unique phenomenon in nature of a rigid, flat and ornamented surface, stretched onto veins. This surface is devoid of any marked structural irregularity.

The study of each pattern infinitely varies— though manifestly subject to certain laws of balance, symmetry, ornamental repetitions in the very intricate striation, peculiar occelation and elaborate border designs--and discloses wonderfully illuminating material on decoration as pure crystallization of natural ornament, independent of any epoch or national taste. Perhaps one of the most instructive features of the coloring of butterflies' and moths' wings, is not so much how the colors are matches, as in what proportion of relative areas, equal or interrupted, they are combined. The elements of quality and quantity are here equally significant.
One can find, on these winged jewels examples of dynamic symmetries, "constructivisms", "suprematism", so much spoken about nowadays, and a great deal more besides, never dreamed by any modernist prophet.
I decidedly consider a close and thoroughly systematic study of color rotations and pattern variations of lepidoptera, a most valuable guide for developing a sense of color composition and a feeling for harmonious and natural ornamentation.

Besides the scientific interest and gratification which I derived from entomology, I feel myself immeasurably indebted in my work as an artist, to the winged creatures that received from the ancient Greeks the fitting name of Psyche.
Another circumstance which played an important role in the formation and direction of my aesthetic taste since childhood, was our old country house, in the south of Russia, with all the varied collections and artistic treasures which it contained.

My nearest ancestors were enthusiastic collectors in different branches, and so our old house happened to contain many remarkable paintings of the Italian, Dutch and French masters, great numbers of Asiatic rugs, old porcelain, various antiquities from archeological excavations, and a considerable numismatic collection. Our library comprised a great diversity of fine illustrated books, dating from the 15th century. An important portion of the heirlooms, treasured in Byzantine and Old Russian schools. Some of the most valuable of these religious paintings.
Adorned the church that occupied one of the wings of the house. This estate was plundered and destroyed during the Russian Revolution; the old manor and the church with all their precious contents are now nothing but ruins.
In previous years we used to spend our summers here and during my early days I lived in this atmosphere of beautiful paintings and objects of art. When subsequently, in mature age, I visited the galleries of Europe, I realized that fate had ordained me, since childhood, to live in a real art museum, the various treasures of which had the additional importance of being objects intimately connected with our family traditions. All these dear and beloved paintings, books and collections were not only my teachers but also my friends, departed now, but never forgotten.

Though my vocation has always been art and natural science, I graduated in law, and as was the custom in certain classics in Russia, I joined the government service, passing from district courts to the Senate where I was Assistant Secretary General to the Imperial Court, where I had been appointed in 1911, as Gentleman-In-Waiting to the Emperor, and, at the time of the Revolution, I was elected District Marshall of Nobility.
But my official occupation fortunately always gave me ample leisure for art and travels. My paintings were first admitted to public exhibition in Moscow in 1904, before I had reached the age of twenty, and since them they have been on exhibition in both capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg, most often with the Society of Moscow Artists and the Academy of Fine Arts. Voyaging about the world brought me in contact again, at a mature age, with the magic and charm of Asiatic art.

It was a true inspiration to admire the glories of India--Buddhist, Hindu and Mohammedan--the phantasmagoric temples of South India, the grace and abstract perfection of Mogul art, fascinating mystery and profound symbolism of Tibetan banners in remote lamaseries. I am inclined equally to treasure the enigmatical, terse laconism of the early Chinese portrait painters, the calligraphic refinement of a court painter of a Shah-Takmasp or a Shah-Jehan, or the devout pictorial prayer of a nameless monk in a forgotten monastery.
The tropical lands in the Old and New Worlds— Ceylon; later, the West Indies, have
disclosed the wonders of color in exuberant vegetation that transcend all regular limits of landscape composition in temperate zones. The primitive art of modern natives presents an interesting tribute of naïve interpretation of the luxury and overwhelming power of surrounding Nature.

Having come in touch with a great variety of artistic traditions, during my travels around the
World, I always experience a delight in plunging into different cycles of conceptions of beauty, and now I feel that my inclinations are decidedly divided between different schools, even different cultures.
Perhaps these tendencies may seem paradoxical, but for me they preserve the intimate interconnection, like different sounds forming one chord. It would be difficult to express, briefly and explicitly, my artistic credo from the point of view of my sympathies with accepted and known schools, but its closest formula would include early Italian and Flemish Renaissance of scarcely later than the Quattro Centro, ancient Russian Icon paintings and Indo-Persian miniatures.
The early Tibetan art also commands, in a way, may very great admiration. The archaic Greek arts conception has a great fascination for me. In the modern schools, which leave me cold in comparison with the magnificent achievement of a more spiritual past, I am interested naively in some novel ways of treating luminosities, spectral problems, transparencies and superimposed prismatic reflections, so frequent on the iridescent butterfly wings.

A loyalty to artistic traditions, a feeling of appropriateness of various forms and style to particular subjects, and a knowledge of draftsmanship are the best assets, in my opinion, to a free personal expression. Moods, prompted by certain pictorial problems, should freely and easily dictate the corresponding form of expression, blending them out of their sympathetic components and molding them into one indivisible entity.
It is like the perfect knowledge of all the shades of meanings of words, the understanding of rules of correct phrase construction and the feeling for character in language, which permits us to use it to the best advantage in expressing our innermost personality.
An artist, in order to be free, should worship craftsmanship and should lovingly cultivate the vehicle of his expression in all the varied forms of his fancy.

With all due respect to the correctness of drawing in cases of realistic painting, I feel more and more of call toward symbolic and allegorical paintings.
The grand visions, contained in many sacred scriptures, are a source of the most inspiring admiration, and if I will be able to dedicate myself to the pictorial interpretation of some of these in the modest limits of my ability, I would consider my vocation fulfilled.

Painting should remain a sign—it is by its very nature: symbol.
It should be, in its true achievement, a relation of significances—an apocalypse in colors and forms.
Mathematical harmonies and musical laws are akin to it. The metaphysical is within its reach.
The styles are part of the form and thus are an intrinsic element of the subject, since to disclose it in a visual, graphical or chromatic form is the purpose of painting.
Our ecstasies, before the multifarious glories of the beautiful, are anchored in an intuitive consciousness of s supreme unity.
The work of an artist should be a sacrifice of Devotion and Tribute of admiration to the creator, as a dewdrop reflects the sun and shines with a small spark of a heavenly rainbow.

| |

Essays on Nature by Andrey Avinoff
| |

Contact the Andrey Avinoff Foundation by email: