ANDREI ZADORINE is part of a generation of Belorussian artists who experienced the limitations of Soviet rule as well as the new political and cultural openness of perestroyka. He was born in 1960 near the town of Berezovka in the Russian Ural Mountains, but grew up in an intellectual enclave near Minsk in Belarus. His father was an engineer and his mother a cardiologist. As a child he was always drawing and was a great admirer of Rembrandt’s though all he saw were black and white reproductions of his work. It was mainly the melodramatic atmosphere that appealed to him. He was not alone in this preference, for his compatriot Marc Chagall had already described the human aspect of the Dutch master’s paintings as “East Slavic”. Zadorine attended the art academy in Minsk in the early eighties (1980-1984). Strict doctrines were still adhered to at the time in Belarus, though Russia was quite openly entering the international scene. Along traditional socialist lines, Zadorine learned to produce social realistic art, ie recognizable art with social themes for the people and by the people. As a young artist, Zadorine did not resist the limitations as regards technique and theme alike. He was more interested in the work of American artist Andrew Wyeth who attracted so much attention in Russia at the time with his interiors and landscapes. For his final examination, Zadorine painted Souvenir (1984), a self-portrait of the artist surrounded by like-minded intellectual friends. Though it bears a strong resemblance to social realism, it also reveals a calm look to the future. After the art academy Zadorine did a post-academic course of study from 1987 to 1991 with renowned state artist Michael Savitsky. It enabled him to work professionally with a good salary, art supplies and a studio. The paintings he made in this period are interiors and historical pieces such as Landscape-like Interior (1989) and The Mournful Meeting in Kuropaty (1988), alluding to a ceremony in the woods of Minsk where mass graves were found dating back to the Stalin era. The painting caused quite a stir, but more because of the technique than the subject. The depictions were no longer academically painted, they were “modern” with ample attention devoted to colour and form. This formalism, as it was called, was not appreciated by his new mentor, who felt it detracted from the meaning of the work. What is more, it was not viewed as illustrating the pan-Slavic culture and was consequently rejected.The end of the period with Savitsky coincided with Zadorine’s first trip to Paris. In 1990, a year so crucial to Zadorine’s art, he saw examples of assumedly decadent and untrue formalism with his own eyes for the first time, ie the Western art of the French cubists and the Parisian school. The external appearance of his own paintings changed immediately, the cool colours were replaced by a warmer palette and the paintings became more like sketches, more modern. In a series of naively painted, almost monochrome small canvases, it is clear how strong this French influence was (The Traveler, 1990). He was nonetheless unwilling to abandon figurative painting. According to Zadorine, a painting should always retain a human approach to reality and can consequently never become abstract, since that would be too noncommittal. The French Modernism of art for art’s sake seemed be just as rigid and dogmatic as the Russian or rather Belorussian social realism with its anecdotal art approach to society. Free to act but imprisoned between two worlds, it was as if Zadorine had to choose between his talent at drawing and modern painting, the linear and the pictorial.
On his second trip to France, there was a jolt of recognition when he saw the work of Alberto Giacometti. Like drawings in space, Giacometti’s sculptures in bronze demonstrated how feasible it was to combine figurative with modern abstract art without the human images necessarily having to be seen as soulless and generalized. The secret was in the distance between the viewer and art work. From close by, wonderful details could be discerned in the colour and form, but due to the coarse texture it was impossible to recognize the person being portrayed. At a distance, the individual was clearly discernable, but more by his personal atmosphere than the details, just as we recognize someone more quickly by his aura or way of walking than by his eyes or nose. The delicate harmony between sketchy details, expression and atmosphere were also evident in Giacometti’s drawings and paintings. It was striking that the restrictions he imposed upon himself as regards the technique and theme, the standing person, the walking person and the bust, were not in any way at the expense of the options of the imagination. This is also how Zadorine depicts in his paintings the personal atmosphere of the individual in a limited number of positions (Composition no. 2, 1991). As a child, Zadorine read what the Russian classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina had to say about man’s romantic emotions and their position in society. In the young artist, the irreversibility of human life resulted in a melancholy world view with the atmosphere of the main character viewed as more important than his individual features. This was his leitmotiv when he was a student, up until the moment when childhood memories took over this role. Early in his development as an artist, it appeared that the portrayal of the human element could not be combined with complicated figure studies and frivolous themes, but could best be expressed in motionless paintings with a limited number of standing, lying or seated figures. Only in programmatic paintings like Kuropaty did he make an exception to this rule. As a lover of the Italian cinema of the sixties and seventies, Zadorine recognized the same interest in childhood memories, melancholia and capturing moods in the work of Frederico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. In his autobiographical Amarcord (1973), Fellini interrupts a snow fight at a square with the squawking sound of what later turns out to be a peacock. The townsfolk are taken aback as they watch the peacock arrive and strut around showing off its feathers. The magical effect of this surrealistic scene can barely be expressed in words, but it does make it clear that images describe reality in a different way than a language. The slow motion way the atmosphere is constructed is striking. Antonioni also plays with this difference between real time and perceived time. On various occasions in Il Deserto Rosso (1964), Antonioni replaces spoken with silent dialogue. In either case, the story is secondary to the atmosphere that is felt. Although in the first instance film is a different medium than painting, the similarities in approach are obvious. With one single image, Zadorine tries to denote an emotion without wanting to be narrative. The painting is also something that will have to be looked at slowly, for a feeling can never be caught in a single moment (In Anticipation, 1993-1998). In the mid-nineties, the balance between figurative art and atmosphere was to become the main theme in Zadorine’s work. It turned out that modern French paintings did not solely focus on form and colour. In painting, a figurative depiction of an abstract feeling could also be contemporary. And indeed the independence of Belarus had liberated figurative art from its social realistic dogma.
Zadorine experimented with motifs and memories from his youth that he alternately depicted with sketching and painting techniques to see whether he could achieve the same atmosphere in different fashions (The Old Book, 1996, The Dream, 1996). Although any number of attributes from the past – a gramophone, a hobby horse, a fishing rod or merry-go-round – have been included in the paintings, it is not Zadorine’s intention to show a story the way traditional art does. The motif merely serves as an allusion to a feeling, an indication of a memory and as such should be viewed as a still image from a film, a frame, or as a photographic snapshot from reality. Film and photography have totally altered how we look at and perceive the world. The traditional painter would construct the world and shape it as he saw fit, but the modern artist freezes the perceived image and plays the game of framing, sharpening and deepening, and visual sequencing, just like in the film. A portrayal is no longer an illustration of a certain person or event, but an instantaneous exposure recording reality. To emphasize the link with photographic and cinematic observation, here and there Zadorine makes a few scratches with the back of his brush when the oil paint is still wet. This “defacement” of the painting alludes to the celluloid of a piece of film and once again focuses attention on the difference between fiction and reality and the feeling that accompanies it. A few of the 1,998 paintings reveal a looser brush stroke. The watercolors that hitherto only served as rough sketches are granted increasing autonomy. In 1999, Zadorine’s interplay between looking and seeing, focused examining and staring, took a surprising turn. He found some old family photographs from the thirties, and they became the point of departure for a new series of paintings. Atmosphere is once again the theme, but this time it is the atmosphere of the family photographs, with the long exposure time making them all the more extraordinary (My Missing Grandfather, 1999). There is nothing here of the quick posed picture we know from modern times. At the start of the twentieth century, photography was just beginning. To get enough light on the plate to make a sharp print, the model would have to sit perfectly still for minutes on end.
This resulted in a dull stare, infinite and impossible to capture. The long exposure time also meant it was impossible to keep a mask on or to make a face. This is why it seems as if the true character of the individual is slowly becoming visible. Just as in the sculptures by Giacometti, a personal atmosphere slowly emerges. In Zadorine’s paintings, there seems to be a link between the time that used to be needed for posing and the time now needed to get a good look at his work, the time needed to discover the emotional life of the painting. It is not the recognition of the model but the understanding of the perception of the human atmosphere. The philosophical aspect of the Belorussian years and the formalist approach of his French years would seem to have joined together in the Netherlands to create a contemporary way of painting without his having to do without the drawing that is so important to him. “Zadorine paints as a sculptor, a photographer and a film-maker all at the same time with losing his love of the medium of paint. “- Werner van den Belt.
In the same way that words are used to create a narrative, Zadorine uses visual images to create atmospheric feeling. His work is directly addressing the soul. Poetic and romantic, Zadorine appeals to the viewer by illustrating the vulnerable and precious nature of the human soul. Memory (particularly drawn from childhood) and the acceptance of the irreversibility of human life are strong underlying currents that drive much of his work. This requires the viewer’s time and attention removed from intellectual enquiry to allow an experience rather than a sensation of his work to manifest.
The majority of Zadorine’s paintings consist of a composition of one or more figures in a limited number of poses, often accompanied by an innate object. Situating his figures within a limited spatial depth, the artist uses a warm, expressive palette to create a sense of intimacy and bright light to direct the viewer’s eye within the space. The space within the painting therefore becomes intensely personal to the figures that inhabit it.
An object or human motif merely serves as an allusion to a feeling, an indication of a memory or mood. The viewer recognises the atmosphere from their personal experience, demonstrating that the reality of Zadorine’s figures is philosophical rather than psychological. It is not Zadorine’s intention to show a story in the way that traditional art does. Under (and following) Soviet rule, Belarussian art was dominated by dogmatic social realism whereby figures within a composition held a narrative role. Zadorine broke away from these expectations of art, choosing to paint neither narrative nor still life – he paints what lies between. He is painting the silent and still atmosphere that is a moment within a greater story, an emotion that exists beyond a narrative. This silence in his work is the important factor in creating the balance between melodrama and melancholy, a moment of harmony between reflection and a tone of optimistic anticipation.
Zadorine’s work has been likened to historical and contemporary art and film. Citing the sculpture of Alberto Giacometti as an influence, Zadorine identifies with the attempt to portray a soul through an abstracted figure. Likewise, he was drawn to the evocatively melodramatic atmosphere of Rembrandt’s paintings though only initially having seen black and white reproductions. Thematically comparisons can be drawn from 1960’s Italian cinema. The work of Frederico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni shared an interest in melancholic childhood memory and in capturing mood beyond narrative. In terms of technique, his work is commonly and paradoxically compared to photography. Zadorine can create a painting that is reminiscent of a photograph both visually and atmospherically but is, in reality, still a painting. He paints the characteristics of a photograph (sepia colours and tone, scratched surface and creases) in order to demonstrate the balance between fiction and reality. Zadorine paints as a sculptor, a photographer and a filmmaker all at the same time without losing his love of the medium of paint.
1960 – Born in the village of Beryozovka in Russia
1984 – Graduation from the Belorussian State Theatre and Art Institute
1985 – 1986 – Teacher at the Belorussian State Theatre and Art Institute
1986 – 1987 – Teacher at Achremtsjik Republican Art
1987 – 1990 – Postgraduate courses in the USSR Academy of Arts in Minsk
1990 – 2003 – Member of the USSR Artists Union Since
1997 – Lives and works in the Netherlands