A socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of nationwide and international conventions; exhibitions; and business, public, youth, sporting, and cultural events.

The Roscongress Foundation is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of nationwide and international conventions; exhibitions; and business, public, youth, sporting, and cultural events. It was established in pursuance of a decision by the President of the Russian Federation.

The Foundation was established in 2007 with the aim of facilitating the development of Russia’s economic potential, promoting its national interests, and strengthening the country’s image. One of the roles of the Foundation is to comprehensively evaluate, analyse, and cover issues on the Russian and global economic agendas. It also offers administrative services, provides promotional support for business projects and attracting investment, helps foster social entrepreneurship and charitable initiatives.

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31 May 2019

Oleg Dukhanin, Palekh Artist: We’re working with old materials but in new formats

Oleg, please tell us a little bit about your family. Did everyone want to be an artist?
I was born in Tver, but my father was of the Don Cossacks of the Voronezh Region. Many of my family on my father’s side painted. Even my uncle, who ended up in a concentration camp during World War II, continued to paint. There, his work was highly prized, and he was treated accordingly. When my father noticed that I was good at painting, he was ecstatic, and helped me choose an art school. That’s when I finally understood who I wanted to be. Today I’m a father of six myself, and they paint as well. My wife is an artist. Her grandfather was an icon painter from Palekh. So, I guess you could say we have a whole dynasty here.

Why did you specifically choose miniature lacquer art as your field of choice?
When I was in art school, I found out that one of my family members had graduated from the Palekh School. I went to visit him, saw a lacquer miniature at his house, and was just dumbstruck. This was such fine work, with such bright gilding, and all of it was done by hand. I was enthralled. And, of course, I loved icon painting. In the 10th grade, I painted my first icon. Of course, then it was just in watercolour, which is why icon painting always seemed like something special to me. Basically, that was the moment was when my desire to study in Palekh really took form.

In one of your interviews, you said that, for 30 years, miniature lacquer art waned. Why did this happen?
We survived a very difficult period. Miniature lacquer art appeared just after the 1917 revolution, when, within the course of an hour, Palekh master icon painters lost their profession and found themselves to be outlaws. They needed to find a new use for their skills. Eventually, they found a way to transition from spiritual art to secular art, while preserving their same artistic traditions. In miniature lacquer art, as in icons, good always triumphs over evil. Today, Palekh preserves a national heritage. Because of the art school, Palekh preserved its traditions. My generation had still been taught by icon painters. And when the Perestroika happened, our artists wrote the textbook on painting icons.

What started the new age of the Palekh school?
Today, people have started to acknowledge that, without a spiritual renaissance, Russia has no future. Palekh has always been known for its fine miniature art: there’s the technique and then there’s the subject matter, which has always had a national element to it. It appealed to the people. Artists portrayed fairy tales, epics, and even everyday life. There was political art celebrating Gagarin’s first space flight and space exploration. But with time, all of this started to disappear. That’s when many started to wonder if Palekh would exist for much longer.

And now, we’re currently starting a new team, gathering artists, and aiming for new heights. At the same time, we’re not bowing to business interests, we’re not operating under the principle of ‘make it fast to sell it fast,’ we’re not stamping out work in a day. Moreover, together with the Ivanovo Region Governor Stanislav Voskresensky, we are driving a Palekh renaissance. We’re reconstructing, restoring, doing everything we can so that in the future, the village will be able to host large Russian art forums and foreign visitors

Almost a year ago, you opened your own workshop. Are there a lot of artists seeking to paint in the Palekh School style? Are young artists interested?
Right now, the problem is that young people are focused on earning money fast. But in order to continue our work, we need people who truly love this art. So, there is a staffing problem. That’s why we work closely with museums, with schools, to attract young artists and pass on our knowledge to them.

In order to become an artist, you don’t just have to be a visual thinker, you have to have skills. Unfortunately, today’s students aren’t getting enough technical art education. That’s why we’ve reached an agreement with the museum, so that when students visit my workshop, they have the opportunity to work with the museum collection and copy existing miniatures. At the same time, we give them the opportunity to earn a living. Because a good copy is very, very valuable.

How has the art and its subject matter changed recently?
The Palekh tradition is alive and well. Each generation focuses on its own themes. In its transition from icons to miniature lacquer art, Palekh created new forms and new subject matter. It was the very definition of avant-garde, even though no one used that word when the style was first developed. Artists painted what they saw: the village, tractors replacing horses. Today’s society is changing and, naturally, Palekh is changing with it. We’re discovering brand new formats. Recently, the Dukhanin workshop, working with Palekh artists, created a whole new series of works called ‘12 Months’ about the human condition, domestic comfort, and harmony. We’re working with old materials but in new formats. Palekh has started becoming an element of interior decoration: the detailing on a piece of furniture or the inspiration for a mural.

Have you made a piece that you found particularly memorable?
Over the years of my work, we’ve created six collections of 60 works each. One of them was recently shown in the State Kremlin Palace. It was dedicated to the 10-year anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill. Icons are the focus of the collection. This was an exhibition where the attending members of the clergy, with their white hair and their long beards, were so moved that they couldn’t hold back their tears.


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