Arts : Graphics : Aleksandr Smirnov
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''EARTHBURG'' : Aleksandr Smirnov : Critics

Vladimir Sharov

Alexander Smirnov is a religious artist in every sense of the word. Both the Old and the New Testaments are alive for him not only because they are the basis of the Liturgy or, for example, the foundation of culture, but also because in this world nothing can exist without them. They make our world-the air we breathe, the things we see, feel, and smell, indeed the things without which there is no life.

In his paintings he depicts people who interpret the Holy Scripture without thinking every time they behave in one way but not another, every time they say "yes" but not "no". They reveal how they view goodness and sin; what is evil and why it seems to them forgivable; which falsehoods they have no power to withstand. Conversely, these people also reveal where their beliefs are firm and when their behavior seems as if it truly is saintly.

According to Smirnov, the Bible belongs to every one of us from birth. Thus we fulfill and over fulfill it through our own lives, through our own temptations and seductions. At the same time we fulfill and overfull it with our own goodness, our faith, our despair, our last hope for the Lord and our salvation. He can paint his close relatives-his wife or his daughter--or complete strangers, but he closes their eyelids, he turns their heads and twists their arms in such a way that you always remember that the person in front of you is exactly that person who was created by God on the sixth day in His image and likeness, into whom God Himself breathed the breathe of life.

It is well known that the Scripture as we now know it came into being only two thousand years ago. Before that it was prophesy and to write it down was strictly forbidden. It could be transmitted orally from a preacher to his followers, just as God Himself spoke to the prophets. The Alphabet had already been created, but people did not want to entrust to those insignificant letters that which God told them. They feared that God's Word would lose the warmth without which it would be incomprehensible. People began writing down the Testament only when they realized that it would otherwise be lost forever.

Imagine an enormous room, filled with sunlight, where on weekdays tens of students sketch pitchers and plaster casts, and where sheets of paper depicting the Last Judgment are visible on the floor. These drawings are overflowing with the images of the horror of humans, animals, in short of every living thing. On the spot were they are strewn it is as if the floor gives way beneath our feet and we are being shown the last minutes of the world, imminent death, hell. Every painting began and ended with the Word; they were forged in accordance with the Word. Lines of text ran at the top and bottom of the drawings, as if bearing witness to their respect for the Scripture, as if admitting that precisely the Scripture could preserve that which God wanted to tell His people. The bent sticks and epistyles of the letters ran along trying, before it was too late, to convey to us that which we must find out. But they clearly were tired, washed out; their strength was spent. At first they were torn up, uneven, their color increasingly fading. The words thinned out, parted, and through them, through their gaps, niches, and holes the Scripture stepped through…


…In the Art College on the Crimean embankment where Alexander Smirnov was, for almost twenty years, a professor, I first saw his large drawings that were based on the Apocalypse of John. The paintings and pencil drawings of Alexander Smirnov are his personal commentary on the Bible, his personal attempt to hear and comprehend the Word of God. And I am thankful to him that I can see so much of the Holy Scripture through his eyes.