Everything that we admire in Stanislav Nikireyev’s etchings – be it a mere blade of grass or a field extending beyond the skyline, small wooden houses or monumental buildings, be it a beetle, a butterfly, a bird or a range of mountains – everything reflects the ineffable and infinite harmony of the universe. What a rare encouragement in our, rather discordant, human life!
I came into the world in a modest timbered house in the fall of 1932. The first things I remember were blossoming orchards in our settlement of the quiet town of Michurinsk, Tambov Region, and a thick grass all over the street.
Orchards of the Michurin’s species were becoming fashionable and they grew everywhere. The grassy street then did not know the tires of motor-cars, and it was clean and velvety like a large carpet bordered with small houses, mostly built by their inhabitants. The houses were as different as their different owners. There were no luxury ones, but the fretted wooden ledges of their window-frames and cornices made them look at- tractive and cozy. I did not know why my Rykov Street once was renamed Kirov. Or why the church by the market was nearly demolished and why a number of other churches were badly damaged. They would speak in a whisper about repressions, and I only remembered an inscru- table word: yezhovshchina. All these vortices of trage- dies did not concern me. My whole infant existence be- longed solely to the stillness and neatness of my native home. But that blissful childhood in a clean and bright world did not last long. When I was seven I found out that I was poor.
This occurred on the eve of the New Year’s Day. We put up a Christmas tree in our home. It was not decorated with colored lights and ornaments but merely with some pastries and small pretzels baked by my mother. Our neighbors, who were somewhat better-off, covered their Christmas tree all round with ornaments. There were small toy elephants, fishes, rabbits, mushrooms and squirrels made from cardboard and vividly colored in silver and gold. I wished our fir tree was as smart as that. So I borrowed some toys from the same neighbors, then I deprived a few of my books of their hard covers in order to get some cardboard. I placed to it a toy fish or elephant, traced them and cut them out.
I did not have bright paints. Still, I had a set of dry watercolors affixed on a mock cardboard palette with the image of three sucking-pigs. My homemade toys proved not very attractive, since colored in rather tame brown, yellowish and bluish tints, but they were of my own. Soon after I tried to copy with the same watercolors the famous Rooks picture by A. Savrassov. There I used the black, the red and ochre paints. Surprisingly, this scrap of paper lasted until now. I think it was my father who suggested that I use window glass and a squared grid to overcome drawing difficulties. I later applied these tricks when making a portrait of Stalin which was praised by all of our guests, so that I fancied I was an artist.
With that drawing in my hands and encouraged by a friend I once timidly stepped on the threshold of a recently opened art studio. And I learned there that one ought to sketch from life and how to do it.
Two years of studio studies were followed by learn- ing in the well-known Penza art school. Benevolent and sensitive tutors founded their instruction methods on the powerful tradition of Russian realism, models of which could be examined right near the training classes in an excellent picture gallery. I have the luck to see, to hear the vivid, stately-solemn, unapproachably proud and most talented Ivan Silych Goryushkin-Sorokopu- dov, a dear disciple of the great Ilya Repin. The elderly artist appeared rarely in the school because of a disease. But his remarkable paintings and charcoal drawings were constantly before my eyes and fed my sight. They were not only works of a master. They expressed essen- tial features of our life and culture.
I studied diligently in order to obtain an increased grant, which was vital for me, since my mother could not provide me with any allowance. The terrible starvation of 1949 that tormented me during my first year of studies ended at last. But then I had to suffer a new trial, that of the military service. It was only in 1957, after graduating from school with a distinction that I left for Moscow in order to try to enter the Surikov Art Institute.
By that time I could judge the best qualities of my art which were manifested in drawing. I did reject the honour of being a painter and put in an application to take examinations for entering the graphics department. And I was enrolled as a student into the workshop of graphics led by Professor Y.A. Kibrik, a prominent master of book graphics.
His personal charm and professional skill in teaching, his inimitable honesty and daring, in work especially, influenced me so much that I thought my art studies had just began.
He taught the most difficult kind of graphic art, the realism. He tutored rigorously and nicely, fervently and tolerantly. He expected all of his pupils to create large, complex compositions, as condensed as possible and with bright images.
Though receiving good comments about my school color compositions, I did realize by the end of the stud- ies that my choice was landscape graphics.
I did not come up to my master’s expectations and graduated not at all that well from the Institute. So, in a mood of anxiety, I started a new life where I had to stand my ground, to gain a firm hold and to find my own way in my artistic career.
Oil colors were given up. Keenness on picturesque drawing in a free-and-easy and excessively bright color- ful manner cheered me up for a while. I even found my- self rather original and having no equal in that process. I made a number of lithographs and dry-point prints as well. They were exhibited in various art shows and pro- vided me with means of subsistence. I thought it would be so for a long time, if not forever.
The laws of art are not committed to paper. It is not possible to foresee theoretically the eventual devel- opment of a creative personality, for this process gives expression to the world of the artist’s life as perceived by himself. The more observant he is, the closer to life and nature, the deeper his affection for his fellow country- men and their culture and customs - the less predictable his work. Yet, it must be an impressive phenomenon of art. Some indefinable impulses made me return to the plate art, exactly to its classical and most difficult technique, that of the etching. This time it was a small size view made from life and named Silvery Hoarfrost. The subject was later redone as a larger Wintry View. Today neither of them excites me much, and I hardly see, why their appearance once caused such a fuss. However, I must say that both prints marked a start of a hard and tiresome work, wearing out the eyes and the whole body. But it did produce a number of pieces that lately made up a series of etchings. So, a new sphere of action opened before me, where I devoted myself to one manner of print - etching.
This work goes on during more than three decades, and its end is not in sight. Why? The course of my professional evolution where I made trial of various graphic means brought me to assume this particular style of expression which may look not much spectacular at first sight, though it requires the use of all kinds of subtleties and refined decorative devices.
I did not invent any unprecedented way of work. What I do is called realism, right as before. Outward features of my works, particularly in arrangement of the picture, are also rather traditional.
As to the rendering of the objects’ surface, milieu, details, there I have now a right to regard it as strictly my own.
The ability to explore is undoubtedly one of the essential attributes of a genuine artist. However any discovery is really valuable as a phenomenon of art only when it springs from the creator’s outlook, not from whims of fashion.
It is very difficult to achieve this kind of success. Artists are pretty often seduced by great names of modern and old masters whose works seem to be easy of imitation; by big money circulating in the art market; by tempting commercials, and by successes of fellow- artists.
Some people wrongly take realistic art for a simple matter. Yet, a creative work should be regarded as realistic one if only it absorbs the spirit and the joie de vivre and pains of time. Its aesthetics, while rooted in a tradition, is impregnated with up-to-date trends and open not only for art experts and connoisseurs, but for the general public as well.
The etching needle could serve as means of a candid and sublime artistic expression, such as it used to be in the Russian art and as our time expects it to be. In this way I would like to share my perception of the world I have seen and understood – or sometimes did not understand – with my contemporaries. I want them to feel nature suffering from vandalism and unbridled rapacity inherent in modern civilization.
When scratching with the point of a needle a thin layer of dark varnish upon a copper plate, I could represent most minute features of the visible world of nature. The structure of our habitat may appear plain and flat but to an indifferent eye. That is probably where dirty dumps in birch groves and camp fire spots covered with broken glass in the middle of velvety glades are from. It never occurs to perpetrators of such outrages that they ruin those plots, take them away from the living grass and flowers, from butterflies and beetles, and ants and dragonflies. Such attitude towards nature must be one of the sources of the modernistic art’s turbid stream.
A lot of young masters of our generation believe that as soon as an impression is perceptible, they achieved the aim and there is no need of wasting time to elaborate the rest. The famous Black Square of K. Malevich is also an outcome of impressions and medita- tions. Road signs put into sumptuous frames make as well some impression. Yet, why should they give all that to be works of art, abusing this noble word?
I always looked at the world with wide open eyes in order to catch the whole. But very often I stop and screw my eyes to make out most minute beings and objects. They are, to my mind, protagonists in the majestic drama of nature’s life. They create a serene, still, peaceful, bright, and infinitely attractive world that reminds me of my blissful childhood. It strengthens my fondness of nature and induces me to sit down at my worktable, where an etching plate and needles wait for me, and to do what my vocation calls me for.
Small sizes of plates I work upon create difficulties, since I like to put there a multitude of objects and de- tails dear to me. Today I use larger plates, and this re- quires yet much more time to carry out a task. So, two subjects, Lady Frossia’s Yard and Last Frost, did cost me 9 10 three years of work. I remember the times of my Insti- tute studies when I would make an etching in the space of two or three days, or rather, evenings. Then what hap- pened? Do my forces and my sight weaken? Yes, prob- ably, but the thing is that I grow less tolerant of clumsy works. But to get rid of an inappropriate untidiness of strokes and any confusion in the chiaroscuro proved a long and intensive process.
I should say some words about Last Frost etching, probably one of my best works.
Many titles of my etchings contain this sad adjective: last. The point is that I always liked to represen transitional phenomena, where an ambience is slowly dying down, going away and substituted be a nascent new one. Sometimes, the situation changes very fast, right before your eyes. Then, the artist has to observe intensively and to work promptly. So, once over two long mornings I did sketches from a small marsh near my home in Podolsk. As a rule, camera is for no use in my trade.
A magic and fugitive beauty appeared there before me. A thin ice thawed a little here and there under the spring sun, and fanciful patterns arose combining dark water spots over the ice and sparkling tiny crystals. Osier bed branches reflected in broader thawed patches. And I saw the most fascinating view of the last year’s dead leaves that had wintered frozen in ice. Some of them were showing off when floating on the water, but icebound and hardly visible ones were even more exciting. An expiring beauty of the last remnants of snow completed that unforgettable scene.
The small marsh was to become in a day or two a plane surface of turbid water. Later I did try with an incredible assiduity to engrave that silver symphony of ice, water, snow, dead leaves and grass on a copper plate. Working late into the night would suffice me to finish no more than just a few square centimeters of the picture.
This etching has been dated 1990, but even today I think it is one of my best achievements. At first sight, it may look a bit slack with its reserved tones of black, grey and white. Still, one ought to perceive the charm of this silvery chiaroscuro and to feel a kind of melancholic nostalgia for the gone life of the last summer, autumn and winter and a presentiment of the forthcoming awakening of the native land.
I Am From Tambov Country
In 1957 Stanislav graduated from the Penza Art College named after Savitsky.
He studied under I. S. Gorushkin-Sorokopudov guidance.
In 1963 he graduated from the Moscow State Academic Art Institute named after V.I. Surikov, the workshop of
E.A. Kibrik - easel graphics, and the workshop of M.N. Aleksic - etching.
People's Artist of the Russian Federation
Member of the Union of Artists of the USSR (1970)
Laureate of the I. E. Repin State Prize of the RSFSR (1978)
Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Arts (1983)
Honored Artist of Russia (1984)
Full member of Russian Academy of Arts
Laureate of Silver and Gold Medals of Russian Academy of Arts
His works available for viewing in The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum and in The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts