Russian Modernism and Byzantine Iconography – another false dichotomy


A recurrent pattern in the history of ideas is a dominant narrative creating dichotomies that, at the time, did not exist. I have blogged about these before – false tension between the Christian and classical worlds in the time of Boethius Victor Watts debunked , or dichotomies between religion and science, much trumpeted by some commentators but which can often be contrasted with the beliefs of working scientists.

From the evergreen Eastern Christian Books blog of Adam deVille, news of a book which looks at another false dichotomy of a dominant historical narrative:

In The Icon and the Square, Maria Taroutina examines how the traditional interests of institutions such as the crown, the church, and the Imperial Academy of Arts temporarily aligned with the radical, leftist, and revolutionary avant-garde at the turn of the twentieth century through a shared interest in the Byzantine past, offering a counter-narrative to prevailing notions of Russian modernism.

Focusing on the works of four different artists—Mikhail Vrubel, Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Vladimir Tatlin — Taroutina shows how engagement with medieval pictorial traditions drove each artist to transform his own practice, pushing beyond the established boundaries of his respective artistic and intellectual milieu. She also contextualizes and complements her study of the work of these artists with an examination of the activities of a number of important cultural associations and institutions over the course of several decades. As a result, The Icon and the Square gives a more complete picture of Russian modernism: one that attends to the dialogue between generations of artists, curators, collectors, critics, and theorists.

The Icon and the Square retrieves a neglected but vital history that was deliberately suppressed by the atheist Soviet regime and subsequently ignored in favor of the secular formalism of mainstream modernist criticism. Taroutina’s timely study, which coincides with the centennial reassessments of Russian and Soviet modernism, is sure to invigorate conversation among scholars of art history, modernism, and Russian culture.

Adam deVille is good at pointing out the falseness of many oppositions conjured up by ignorance of history. He is especially strong on the pernicious influence of Christians failing to understand, or even try to understand, Marx and Freud.


Oisin Kelly frieze and Stained Glass from Church of St Theresa, Sion Mills, Tyrone

Oisin Kelly frieze and Stained Glass from Church of St Theresa, Sion Mills, Tyrone

The  exterior of the Church of St Theresa in Sion Mills is most notable for a frieze of the Last Supper by Oisin Kelly:


20180708_145505.jpgInside there are some interesting stained glass windows of Mary and St Joseph working. There is interesting detail of their specific tasks:


Coloured panels in geometric formations decorate the church, creating some interesting effects on the sunny day I visited:

20180708_145341.jpg20180708_145339.jpgThese panels are not dissimilar to those I saw in St Mary’s Oratory, Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone not far away.

Funeral of Arcabas, Saint-Hugues-de-Chartreuse

title-1535466846Via Le Dauphiné, a report with two photos of the funeral of Arcabas, the recently deceased French painter of the Sacred.:

Mardi matin, l’église de Saint-Hugues-de-Chartreuse a accueilli les obsèques de Jean-Marie Pirot, dit Arcabas. L’artiste peintre de renommée internationale est décédé jeudi 23 août au matin, à l’âge de 91 ans. Il avait entièrement décoré l’église chartrousine de ses œuvres et c’est donc naturellement que ses funérailles s’y sont déroulées devant près de 500 personnes. Famille, amis, élus ou simples admirateurs s’étaient rassemblés dans l’édifice ainsi que sur le parvis où des bancs avaient été prévus pour l’occasion.

The funeral was held in the church of Saint Hugues de Charteuse,  which as following the link will indicate was decorate by Arcabas and is therefore an entirely appropriate venue. Here are some images of the interior:



“The message hits you like a lead bus” – Charlie Booker on the pseudo-subversiveness of Banksy, 2006

I didn’t realise that this piece is from as far back as 2006. Twelve years ago! Charlie Booker’s persona can grate after a fairly little while, but on Banksy he was right on the nose:

Banksy first became famous for his stencilled subversions of pop-culture images; one showed John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson in a famous pose from Pulp Fiction, with their guns replaced by bananas. What did it mean? Something to do with the glamourisation of violence, yeah? Never mind. It looked cool. Most importantly, it was accompanied by the name “BANKSY” in huge letters, so everyone knew who’d done it. This, of course, is the real message behind all of Banksy’s work, despite any appearances to the contrary.

Booker’s only getting warmed up:

Take his political stuff. One featured that Vietnamese girl who had her clothes napalmed off. Ho-hum, a familiar image, you think. I’ll just be on my way to my 9 to 5 desk job, mindless drone that I am. Then, with an astonished lurch, you notice sly, subversive genius Banksy has stencilled Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald either side of her.

Wham! The message hits you like a lead bus: America … um … war … er … Disney … and stuff. Wow. In an instant, your worldview changes forever. Your eyes are opened. Staggering away, mind blown, you flick v-signs at a Burger King on the way home. Nice one Banksy! You’ve shown us the truth, yeah?

That’s the spirit! The rest of the piece is on the same lines, and even in the short space of a few more paragraphs Booker’s rhetorical approach is close to outstaying its welcome – but he has already skewered Banksy’s pretensions perfectly.

Arcabas RIP

Arcabas RIP

The French sacred painter Arcabas (real name Jean-Marie Pirot has died :

Jean-Marie Pirot-Arcabas was born in 1926 in Lorraine (France). Graduated from the Fine Arts School (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) in Paris, he has had numerous exhibitions in France (Paris, Lyons, Grenoble, Marseille, Strasbourg, …) as well as abroad (Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, Bruges, Ostend, Luxembourg, Bergamo, Ottawa, Panama, …). His works are to be found in Europe as well as in Canada, Japan, USA, Mexico, … in various public galleries (the Grenoble Museum; the Paris National Library; the International Pinacotheca of Waterloo; the University of Ottawa; in Cuernavaca, Mexico) and in private collections.
He has also undertaken various commissions for the French government and local authorities (mosaics, frescoes, stained-glass windows) but his major achievement is the Ensemble d’art sacré contemporain in the church of Saint Hugues de Chartreuse, begun in 1953 and completed in 1986, which has been donated to the Département de l’Isère as part of our cultural heritage.
In the field of theatre, and from 1961 to 1972, he created the scenery and the costumes for the stage performances of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death, Bernanos’ The Diary of a country priest, and Camus’ The Just with the Comédie des Alpes company, and for Ramuz and Stravinsky’s The Story of the soldier at the National Arts Centre of Canada opera house. From 1950 to 1969, he held a chair of painting and directed a plastic art studio at the Grenoble Fine Arts School (Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Grenoble). From 1969 to 1972, as a guest artist of the National Arts Council of Canada and professor at the University of Ottawa, he founded and directed the “Experimental Collective Workshop”. On his return to France, he founded and directed the plastic art workshop “In praise of the Hand” at the Grenoble University of Social Sciences.
Since 1986, Arcabas lives and works in Saint Pierre de Chartreuse (Isère).

I took the risk of calling myself a painter and it is a fact that I paint ten hours a day, two hundred and fifty days a year. The hundred or so remaining days are given over to wanderings, distress and the obstinate search for a “consciousness of being”, suddenly lost and without which nothing is possible, especially not the passionate and often hazardous creation of those sorts of mirrors that we call works of art.

Let’s say that any clear-sighted person is revealed in their thoughts and actions which, like a mirror, reflect back their own image, revealing their true selves. In this regard, a work of art provides a good example: as a mirror for its creator, it has the further faculty of revealing in a discreet but sure way, the whole creation.

Days without inspiration are dark ones. They remind us constantly, as the author of Ecclesiastes does, that all is dust and returns to dust. This very fact kills all forms of joy and hope. But on a closer look, this reality hides another axiomatic one: this cosmic dust, more or less coagulated and assembled in diverse forms, holds in its inmost being the Spirit of the Universe. Docile and friendly, this divine medium can be led astray, separated and made diabolical. But, captured in its innate unity, it bears the phosphorescent clarity of meaning and flows, thus enriched, like an incandescent river towards a greater destiny, a new form in the Creation.
This is, par excellence, the raw material, made of Earth and Heaven, that is used by artists, these frank and open imitators, to whom, for sure, God grants His smile and His tenderness.”

Here is an Arcabas gallery on Pinterest from which I have taken the following images:

The Samaritan Woman
Emmaus, The Visitation