Creative career of the Russian artist Mikhail Nikonov
Mikhail Nikonov was born on May 29, 1928 as a child of the General. He was a child when the Second World War broke out. His father, General Fedor Nikonov, was sent into internal exile and the family was deprived of all the privileges. His nobly born mother educated at the privileged boarding school for daughters of the aristocracy had to raise the family by herself. Mikhail attended the Surikov painting school in Moscow. During the war it was relocated to a remote village beyond the Urals and the family moved there too. Stern reality and severe living conditions left their mark on the whole oeuvre of the artist.
He was not by accident one of the originators of the «severe style» in painting. His real talent for drawing was absolutely obvious back at his school time. The perfect details and fine strokes of his first drawings were striking. Mikhail preserved and developed these skills throughout his life.
In 1943 General Fedor Nikonov was invalided out of the army because of a battle injury and returned into the framework of the family. This was the watershed event in the artist’s fate. General Fedor Nikonov trained his children in a soldierlike manner. This also influenced considerably on the character and mindset of Mikhail. On returning to Moscow he undertook further study at the Suricov Art Institute and naimly in the workshop of Igor Grabar. He graduated from this Institute in 1953 with honours.
The artist began to exhibit in 1955 and joined the Union of Artists in 1957 dring the seventh World Youth and Student Festival which was being held in Moscow for the first time. Then he decided to move away from the academic school and started to search for his own way in art. He suffered badly from the changes which took place in Russia at that time and understood that academic art was relic of the past. Together with a group of young artists, his peers, he formed a "Group of Nine," which was looking for new means of expression and symbolism drawing on "Jack of Diamonds" traditions.
The "Group of Nine" members were well-known artists, the"Sixtiers” N.Andronov, B.Birger, L.Berlin, W.Weisberg, N.Egorshina, M.Ivanov, K.Mordovin, M.Nikonov and M.Favorskaja. The young artists made a statement at once. In their oeuvre they based on traditions of Konchalovsky, Larionov, Falk and Goncharova. For Mikhail the style of Filonov was the closest one.
After the"Nine" had attracted the attention of art lovers at the exhibitions in Moscow (1960) and St. Petersburg (1961) Mikhail left the group explaining his decision by clash of opinions between him and some other members.
However the public reaction to the "Nine" was great both in the Soviet Union and beyond its borders. This was the first strong and severe blow to the stagnant dogmatic system of socialist realism. Mikhail found his feet and started working eagerly and seeking his own unique style.
In the sixties his works got natural convincing unity in form and content. Mikhail was working in a severe, expressive and ascetic manner. Many years on the cultural critic Alexandr Kamensky defined his idiom precisely as «furiously negative».
Another Russian critic called his works «a rough sea of sounds». The naturalness of his images is exciting, avant-garde traditions interlace with his own style. The paintings consist of simple and complex symbols and metaphors, an impetuous stream of concordant colors draws attention. Narratives have a special place in the art of Mikhail. They express his social motives and civic-mindedness.
The artist had always remained a convinced "Sixtier" prone to open polemic pronouncements. After the USSR had disintegrated in 1992 Mikhail could not evade the issue of vexed social problems which overflowed the country. Then his canvases contained the images of poverty-stricken people, constant wanderers. They also showed rap parlors where nouveaux riches were playing cards, drinking and dissipated, where everything could be sold and bought.
Another subject of his paintings was cathedrals, roods and candles. Though not very spiritual Mikhail was intuitively seeking the God in his works. Even still-lifes and multi-subject compositions are pointedly social. As a rule the works are severe and expressive, the "severity" appears both in characters and in execution method with the darkest colors and sharp strokes.
The subject of the wanderer permeates his all creative work. Since 1964 Mikhail had constantly come round to this image. It is to a large extent his self-portrait. He fully devoted himself to art and described the paradoxes of life.
Some large canvases of the artist display other day-to-day realities which are beyond the Russian art. They remind of wall-paintings by D.Rivera and A.Siqueiros which exhale great energy of monumentalism.
In the last decade of his life Mikhail had strayed from the severe worldview and created many wonderful lightsome women portraits. Some of them resemble his beloved wife who died prematurely. Her image can be traced throughout his works. Mikhail ended his creative career enlightened and spiritually renewed. His paintings have overthrown many clichés.