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Painting is an Act.

By Irina Perunova, the poet.

Regardless of how many interlocutors are involved in a conversation, everyone’s heart will attract like a magnet something that struck him personally in the common topic. Thus, I also remember an episode from Natasha Goncharova-Kantor’s youth that she shared with a smile: “I fell off the stage and ended up under the stage…” Having stumbled off the stage during a student’s show, which resulted in a compound arm fracture, she, a graduate of the Kharkov Art School, received a “free diploma” without an obligatory job placement. Free! The wording not compatible with Soviet realities. An unbelievable chance at the time: instead of getting a job placement in the middle of nowhere – go, “where your free mind leads you”, wherever the road takes you. Neither the mind, nor the road let the aspiring artist down as she decided on Odessa and ended up in the thick of the avant-garde scene that was gaining momentum there. The artistic brotherhood of Odessa received her with open arms into their creative family. Once, Evgeni Rakhmanin, a recognized maître of non-conformism, liked a painting of his young soul-sister so much that he traded her Chimera(Natasha had a whole series on them) for his Tapir, which still hangs in the living room of her house.One of those Chimerasfrom the 1990s is also presented in the catalog. The fire-breathing mutant monster, first mentioned in the sixth song of the Iliad, is not very recognizable in this creature – it rather resembles moonlight reflections of mountains or urban outskirts appearing in the growing dusk. This chimera is a resurgent force of the night in its strength and power, including power over our imagination. Its head almost blends into the purple sky, but its neck and torso are outlined by the darkness, over which it arches in its graceful, despite the powerful and short paws, jump or dance. Strange as it may seem, the energy emanating from the painting is quite peaceful: we coexist with myriads of visible and invisible entities, and this should be taken into the account. 

A mystical draft is there but not the kind that gets to the bones. It is no coincidence that the Chimerapainted a long time ago is found as equal side by side with Giraffesand a Bird and Giraffes and a Zebrafrom 2017 and other luminiferous works from the Biblical Zooseries.

And back to the falling off the stage… To me it seems a metaphor of sorts for the destiny of the artist and the key to understanding her work. The freedom given to the student back then was not just a gift, freedom is paid for by the pain that precedes it, in this case bodily, in others – a different kind of pain as the inner freedom is gained by suffering. What do people do on stage? They play. Play more successfully or less successfully, but a play is pre-announced and they count on applause. Finding oneself “under the stage”, one has to say goodbye to the desire to please the viewer. In fact, the avant-garde itself was under the official stage at the time. But as soon as it managed to regain a place on it, as soon as Goncharova successfully exhibited her works at the first officially permitted shows, which promised the prospects for further advancement of the name of their author, she changed the direction of the search. This time she rises “above the stage” along the narrow gangway of the ship sailing to the shores of the Holy Land. 

This is the same kind of disengagement from the lived-in word, this would be followed by the transformation of the previous manner of painting and many other deeply personal soul transformations, but she does not suspect anything yes, simply sails as a tourist, and again, wherever the road and her eyes lead her. And her eyes just wanted to see in reality the beauty of the eternal city revealed to her in a dream.

The artist calls some of her paintings “revealed to her”, confessing that she simply saw them. Undoubtedly, one of such paintings is Light of Jerusalem.  This is an unforgettable work that instantly awakens not even a memory but a pre-memory about what had happened before your birth and will remain after your death, for it never left you and this very minute it is with you. Nataly Goncharova’s Jerusalem is permeated with this outworldly meaning and light, while it is also quite recognizable to anyone who has had a fortune to wander down the narrow streets of the Old City. Morning, Night, Meeting… I will back out of mentioning the names of all the paintings inspired by Jerusalem, which have absorbed the presence of super-life, the viewer will be able to guess them correctly. But this light is also the free choice of the artist, her desire for goodness. 

 “An artist is a creator after the Creator. He can make decision and follow it, – says Nataly, -when you create one more world, it is better if it comes out full of light, because there is enough hell already. Hell is obtrusive, even if it is only a temporary thing, but the light must be protected. A painting is an act.” That is why her Immigrantsshine so! The happy moments of being are caught and saved in the same way as in New Life. Is this the Mother of God with baby Christ in her arms following Joseph, or a simple family, possibly migrantstoo… But now they remain in the space of love, embraced by its warmth, and hell is not capable to stop the renewal of the world. 

It is hardly possible to leave the ubiquitous darkness out, beyond the scope of the painting by simply having good intentions even combined with mastery. It requires an inner spiritual experience; only in such case art becomes an act. And such an act has nothing to do with the popular “little positive pictures.” For example, the Night Desert, where the mood conveyed by Goncharova-Kantor cannot be called serene, the color scheme does not please the eye, on the contrary, it provokes tension, but still, one gets a feeling that the world is being renewed. As if one is present at the birth pangs of the earth itself, as if the days of creation continue. It seems, that the real artist has a gift of not only being “a creator after the Creator” but, at least in part, His co-author. 

Nataly’s experience of many years in the field of icon painting undoubtedly affects her work as a whole. Since an icon painter by definition does not express himself, but reduces his personal presence to a minimum becoming transparent so as not to obscure the meek light of God in painted faces by his own brightness. Actually, here the author is once again “off stage” but for the sake of the One and others not playing the games of this world for they are not of this world. Serving as a vehicle for conducting the light, such artist does not leave his autograph on a fresco or an icon. The skill of “reducing myself to nothing, so as to evoke behind the wall not my own shadow but the light that is not obscured by me” in a paradoxical way provides incredible opportunities and a new degree of creative freedom outside the canon, that is, in painting and graphics as such. 

Goncharova-Kantor does not copy the reality, but rather releases the spirit hidden in the matter. The spirit of a city, a room, a tree… She is equally gifted when visualizing the spirit of a poetic piece. A series of illustrations, I would call them visions, to poems by Brodsky allowed me personally to see the voice of the poet in all the shades. And why not? For, in the painting Desert Windwe see the wind, see – not hear.  The swirls of the sand elements and the “air navigation” of dust billowed by the wind are barely distinguished… the thought comes to mind: “the earth was formless and void.” As if these were the first inarticulate impulses of the future life. Thus, a paper is not aware, which verses will appear on it, and more so, which pilgrims and horsemen will be called from oblivion by the artist’s brush and how they will cross the desert of the page. The world is being renewed and Nataly Goncharova-Kantor possesses a unique ability to be surprised by its metamorphoses and to surprise us, and… let the points of ellipsis last. We are grateful for her acts: one, two, three… O Lord, do not stop!

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