WHO WILL BELIEVE IN YOUR PURPLE MOSS?
Can one be a contemporary landscape painter that can express the feel of the epoch, just through simple and unassuming watercolor? How one can make viewers feel what kind of people exist in that landscape, how they live and what they do? Even Mother Nature emits something intangible, relative only to its time. Can one achieve that without use of “high techs” of the 21st century, without flashy innovations and various styles that humanity implemented in the 20th century, and yet evoke the feeling of authenticity?
The artist Oleg Pomerantsev was able to achieve it. Oleg wondrously found his own voice amongst thousands of artists, for hundreds of years depicting pines, marches and cottages in the snow, again and again. He found his voice during a tough time of postmodernism art, when everything had already been tried – the remakes, the allusions, the mocking satire, all of which dulled the freshness of the senses.
At first glance – his works have a hint of sweetness, sometimes perhaps resembling old fashioned postcards. Hold your gaze a moment longer and you will enter a world of wonder, miraculously created with just colored water on plain paper and you will begin to see unbelievably simple and familiar things take on an amazing shape. Then, the initial sugary impression disappears, and you will be astonished at how attune your emotions are with the artist’s expression.
Reflecting upon the Oleg Pomerantsev phenomena, one must mention the new type of nature-loving dwellers of
St. Petersburg. Who taught us, the Russians, to love landscape art as no other nation does (perhaps with the exception of Japan and China)? Why does it touch us so deeply; what is it inside us that brings forth our pagan roots and pantheistic origins? Why does a simple change of the shape of a cloud evoke the same emotions in us as listening to Beethoven or Tchaikovsky symphonies? Why are the phrases such as “breath of the fall”, or “crisp air on sunny day” such necessary descriptions? Why does Ivan see the birch and the storm cloud before he sees Maria or Peter next to him? And why does “Kalinka-malinka” the raspberry bush or “Blossoming apple and pear trees” appear first in songs before Katusha, the person? Why are the backdrop and the setting so important to us that sometimes the scenery itself becomes the real drama, and the characters in that scene are so closely intertwined with the environment that they cannot be pried away from it…
Oleg Pomerantsev belongs to a generation of people who lived the first halves of their lives during both the last golden age and the end of the socialist regime. The drive of the “thaw”, the short flourish in Russian history under Khrushchev rule, had ended. People grew bored of the “five year plans” and village life was dying out, as it had been doing for the past 300 years, somehow escaping complete annihilation. New gigantic industrial constructions and nuclear power plants, on which Oleg worked directly as an architect, caused more and more damage to the environment and brought on emotional pain due to violence committed against nature.
After work and on the weekends, Oleg “escaped” to the forest to find some inner peace. His favorite vacation spot was the village of Selishe where his relatives had a country house. It was and will be most common way Russians spend their leisure time, yearning for harmony between city and village life, preferably at a great distance between the two.
Oleg did not seek any personal gain from nature. He was not a hunter or camper with tents and kayaks, or even a farmer who demands more and more crops from the weary earth. He was not at all a fan of picnics and barbeques with girls and loud music, after which the ground is always littered with everlasting bottles, cans and bags.
The dreamer, the spectator, the traveler – Oleg treated nature as his dearest love that offered him the most unexpected and enchanting gifts of pure beauty. Unlike some simple appreciators of nature, quietly riding on the weekend trains, Oleg recorded his impressions on paper with watercolors.
According to the reminiscences of his friends, he was quite a considerate and modest person, never wanting to be bothersome to anyone. Once, on a long hike with his friends, Oleg was bitten by a snake. It was dark and no one saw it. He did not say a word to anyone, carrying on like nothing had happened, even though the pain became unbearable. Only when they got back to the city, he told his friends what had happened. This memory paints the picture of the artist as a human who steps back to allow nature to take the dramatic center stage.
Through the years, Oleg has developed his unique painting style and technique. By the end of the 1980’s, one can say that Oleg found himself as a true artist. In other words, the artist’s emergence coincided with the Perestroika, the breaking down of the communist regime. Perestroika, the force that crushed worldviews, political and social foundations, opened Oleg’s inner eye to the inexplicably angelic view of nature, the suffering, unkempt, tortured and chaotic nature that still possessed the mightiest strength and was as beloved as Love itself.
The places that Oleg extolled are not that numerous –Karelian Isthmus, the Leningrad Region, the Gulf of Finland and the Selishe village. The Urals, his birthplace and the place he often went to visit his parents. Central Russia, the Golden Ring. A few exotic places as well: Carpathians and Europe. In the realization of the fact that fate has placed Oleg in the modest, familiar landscape of St. Petersburg, the city that was so often depicted by many artists, lies the conundrum of his artistry.
If one tries to isolate the most distinctive trait of Oleg’s techniques, one will soon notice the absence of pure gray color in his paintings. Astonishingly, the artist saw our gray Nordic landscape, “the gray huts” (from the poem), as if through the eyes of a creature from an unknown paradise. It was as though the rays from the heavenly circles – and we know there are many above us – went through him, and he saw everything saturated in the hues of a hummingbird. The color Gray emits from absolutely everything around us – from the clouds, the rain, the logs
and the planks, the tree trunks and the melting snow… Oleg simply casts it aside, perhaps due to the floral origin of his last name. From his soul and his mind’s eye, he sees the colorful origins of the surrounding environment and he gives it life again, amplifying its vibrancy while maintaining the delicate harmony, where each micron plays an important role. Striking is the fact that even in his most colorful paintings, there is no hint of deception, fakery or fiction. Simply, the landscape shrugged off its gray mucky veil – the grass returned to its vibrant emerald hue, the sand again showed its rusted nature, the pines shone with joyful amber and showed off their reddish crowns, and the sky: the sky was alight with oceans of blue and indigo and turquoise.
At first glance, his paintings look full of color. Once you allow yourself to fully submerge in the landscape, you will marvel at the familiarity of the setting. Subtle hints of time, the details that purist landscape painters avoid at all cost in their artworks, emerge in full force in the shape of a chopped up log, a TV antennae on top of a roof, an old tire in the ditch, birches toppled by a loggers. Pomerantsev was not ashamed of these details, leaving everything as is, unaltered – impassable roads, muddy clay ditches in March, chaotic logging sites and broken trees after the storm. Everything reminds us of the passage of the 1980’s, the 1990’s and the new millennium.
In every one of his watercolors you can feel Oleg’s awe of God’s creation, the world. Even through the chaos of the epoch, the loss of order, the loneliness of people and the breakdown of the system Oleg sings his Ode to Mother Nature, to the Eternal Sun, to Father Frost and Maiden Spring.
What sets Oleg apart from other landscape painters is his poetic nature. Most of his landscapes are not just beautiful images but deep representations of the reality viewed through the thicket of the trees and the playfulness of the sky.
Oleg’s success and popularity began in the early 1990’s. His works attracted interest in Finland and Germany. At his first shared exhibition at the Artist Union of St. Petersburg, where he displayed his works alongside his three friends and colleagues, lines formed outside on the street.
Oleg was a marketable artist, his works sold with ease and he was accepted as a member in the artist guild. In 2012, Oleg passed away.
In our opinion, Oleg‘s true discovery and success is still ahead.
Oleg Pomerantsev managed to discover something intangible in the landscape genre, something granting us with simple pleasures of viewing true art. The kind of art that is masterfully ornate and created with the skill of a true master. Just as every new generation of artists, writers and composers discovers new ways to interpret the world and nature, Oleg has found his own vision, his own poetic voice that tells us the story of the new Russian on the old Russian land.