PROFESSOR PETER KOZOREZENKO
Professor Peter Kozorezenko is
a member of the Russian Academy of Arts. He decided to create a book
devoted to Viktor Popkov whom he saw as a prodigiously talented
artist, one of the most outstanding figures of Russian art in the
second half of the twentieth century. He believed, however, that
Popkov, although famous and celebrated, was an enigma, half-obscured
by a veil of unquestioningly accepted categories and stereotypes
inherited from the now distant Soviet past. He wanted to look behind
the textbook image of a classical artist of Soviet Realism for a
more authentic Popkov, a magnificent, versatile artist paradoxically
underestimated and inadequately understood.
Viktor Popkov : A
Russian Painter of Genius
The fact that Popkov is a unique artist was obvious to many people during his lifetime. When we talk of geniuses of this calibre, it is customary to say they were ahead of their time, but the ensuing art of the last quarter of the twentieth century was not a great revelation we can claim to see anticipated in the work of its predecessors. Rather, it pales in comparison with the discoveries of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, of the 1970s. Popkov’s great merit is not that he invented something unprecedented. The drive to innovate at all costs played itself out, and was even somewhat discredited by the 20th century. Popkov’s unique talent was his ability to listen for and understand the voices of the past, and of course to remain unshakeably true to himself and his principles, unsullied by opportunism, unworried by any supposed obligation to innovate or to march in step with his times. There is a steadfastness in his genuinely individual stance, untrammelled by narcissism. That is not to say that Popkov’s art exists in a vacuum, outside history, not tethered to its time. That is not something that happens. Now, decades later, we can see that he was not alone in his more philosophical and contemplative approach, the deeper psychological insights of the images of his art in the late 1960s and 1970s. In him, however, these qualities attain a special intensity, serious-minded and open-hearted, which lifts him outside of time. That is something achieved by very few, an unselfconscious elite. The fate of Viktor Popkov’s legacy symbolically parallels his own destiny in life. It is the story of a successful Soviet artist who, with every passing year, had to fight increasing pressure from the Soviet system itself, to defend the right of his work to be seen by the public. Outwardly prospering, he was inwardly a prey to a sense of isolation and an intolerable concatenation of circumstances which culminated in his murder. Garnering prizes in international competitions, he was denied wholehearted recognition and understanding in his own country. He was awarded the USSR State Prize, but only once he was dead.