Xenia Prokhorova’s Metaexpressionism: Dialectics of Life and Synesthesia of Creative Work
by Anna Kornilova (PhD in Art History),
Assistant Dean, Senior Lecturer, Art History Department,
St. Petersburg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Xenia Prokhorova is a young painter from St. Petersburg whose activities cover different aspects of creative work: easel painting, animation and graphic novels (using both computer graphics and easel graphic work).
Her artistic endeavor is very multifaceted, this quality being a result of both cultural achievements on many levels and cumulative artistic experience which Xenia was able to amass over the years of her life and which she, needless to say, still keeps amassing.
Xenia’s career as an artist is very special, even if somewhat eclectic. She started pursuing creative work at the age of 6 by attending workshops at the S. I. Rodionov Art and Design Studio for Children and Youth. At the same time, she was attending the Physics and Mathematics Lyceum. As she had become interested in law, however, she went, after high school graduation, to the Legal Studies Department of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics.
After the university she worked first at the Bar Council and later at the Federal Financial Markets Service (Central Bank of the Russian Federation). Still, she did not neglect visual arts, although they were rather her hobby at the time. For a while her career was on the upswing and Xenia really liked her profession plus legal practice was providing immense life experience for her, but, as Xenia admits, she eventually understood that this was not her destiny: deep inside she kept feeling dissatisfied with her job. It was then that Xenia left her highly paid, prestigious position, completely changing her field of activities and exploring an untrodden territory: she began studying TV Program Directing at the Moscow Academy of State and Municipal Management. Using her new knowledge and skills she worked as art director, director and designer creating advertisement and music video clips. Doing her new work Xenia started realizing that she was, in fact, much more attracted by such visual arts that were directly related to free hand drawing: painting, graphics, animation. At this point, she made a decision to move from Moscow to St. Petersburg in order to continue her education at the Ilya Repin State Academic Institute of Fine Arts, Sculpture and Architecture. She was eager to learn fundamentals of classical, academic painting which would provide her with an additional range of artistic tools.
As the St. Petersburg Academy still maintains a traditional approach (which emerged before the 1917 revolution) for accepting non-matriculated students, Xenia decided to become an unenrolled student with the workshop of Professor I. V. Petrov choosing him as her mentor. They immediately found common ground, and their creative chemistry was only getting better over the subsequent four years of her studies. Xenia feels that this consonance of personal and aesthetic positions created the basis for the seminal creative period which she enjoyed during her studies at the Academy.
In parallel with her studies at the Academy Xenia kept developing professional skills which she had acquired previously, when taking the course in classical and short animation. As it is, the combination of fundamental classical, academic easel painting with modern types of visual arts (animation and graphic novel) kept posing new challenges for Xenia, enriching her creative activity and providing her with synesthetic experience.
Despite her variegated interests and skills Xenia sees the world as an amazingly integral entity, appreciating as its element both herself and, most importantly, own creative activity. Thus, her multifaceted creative work appears as an equivalent of harmony bearing testament of her synesthetic perception.
The main law of dialectic is unity and struggle of opposites. This is also literally what dialectic of Xenia’s art means because it is was dictated by the dialectic of her life’s journey. Traditions were mixed with innovative approach, at times bordering on rowdy audacity. They were clashing and intermingling within the framework of the same pictorial plane. There painting gets transformed into graphics; elements of realism neighbor on expressive lines and dabs; sketchy brushwork adjoins illusory, yet sharply presented, detailed material.
Xenia’s creative endeavor is not only defined through her multifaceted professional experience, but also characterized by her immediate artistic interests as well as her philosophic and aesthetic attitudes. As for the history of figurative arts, Xenia’s preferences are equally divided between Symbolism and Expressionism plus she is drawn to the Far Eastern graphical tradition existing in Korea, Japan and China as well as to prehistoric art.
One can notice that Xenia’s work is influenced by such painters as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch as well as by Russian modernists: Mikhail Vrubel and those artists who were members of artistic movements Mir Iskusstva (World of Art), Bubnovyi Valet (Jack of Diamonds), and Osliniy Khvost (Donkey’s Tail). Semantic value of ethnic motives, whether they are from Africa or from the Far East, takes on special significance in Xenia’s oeuvre because they provide additional meanings in terms of figurative and symbolic presence without, however, stressing its semantic connotation while making use of its artistic harmony.
Xenia’s artistic quest in the realm of easel art can be generally defined as figurative and graphic metaexpressionism because stylistic specifics of expressionism take on metaphorical value here while mediums of expression both for painting and for graphics are synthesized within the framework of the same pictorial plane.
Xenia’s metaexpressionism creates an environment consisting of sharp angles and unusual perspectives, uneven paintbrush strokes and structured decorative patterns. Breaking through the external figurative envelope one can find internal harmony full of tender poetic substance as well as metaphysical quintessence of imagery, that is, the inborn craving for Beauty and Eternity—a quality which is characteristic for every human being, but which is maimed and sometimes amputated in the clutch of life’s circumstances.
Today’s developments in art are characterized by an acute need in addressing a person’s inner self which is not a socially engaged, nor actively involved entity, but rather a steadfast spiritual core. Active and at times aggressive existence of the modern society which exerts pressure demanding participation in social activities results in a deeply-felt internal breakdown when persons lose the ability to stay in the privacy of their own minds and forget themselves in the bump and grind of everyday life. Xenia’s portraits of her models reveal their state of being self-absorbed and their desire for staying one on one with own selves—as is projected by their statuary condition. Xenia’s imagery is often static, menacingly majestic, and timeless.
Portrait as a genre has special meaning for Xenia. Her portraits are not ordinary images providing a certain degree of likeness with the original, but rather human characters as interpreted by the painter; they are a visually perceptible implementation of souls of specific human subjects who were sitting for Xenia. The impression of the external and the internal personas of the subject posing for Xenia is blended with own emotional turmoil of the painter giving an impetus to inspiration and reflection. Xenia Prokhorova follows the path of empathy, along which her expression of own feelings and ideas, of personal experience is blended into her philosophical and esthetical quest. Her metaexpressionism is not a specially elaborated system, but a method of communicating with space, with universe and of conveying her perception of the surrounding world through her brush. Each person, each character is a separate macrocosm having own history which will not be told in words, but presented on canvas. They are some phantom-like mental images which can reveal a person’s hidden core via a representation of his true nature.
A sizeable part of Xenia’s oeuvre is dedicated not only to the image per se, but rather to the existence of this image inside the artistic space, in the plane of the canvas. Such an approach makes Xenia’s oeuvre akin to the philosophical painting of the Far East which cherishes special care of empty spaces; for emptiness is the very beginning of everything and the end of all there is. Encroaching upon emptiness (the emptiness of a canvas or of any other surface) should occur with the greatest regard. Honoring the empty space without disturbing it with a brush and finding harmony of the immanent brush with the transcendental vacuum, this is one of the elements featuring Xenia Prokhorova’s metaexpressionism.
Xenia’s oeuvre represents, in fact, a singular esthetical and philosophical contract with the pictorial space while trying to find harmony between the emptiness and such occupied parts of the space that were formed using the painter’s brush. The space exists in and of itself, from its inception and forever, while all that appears through the painter’s brush is a phenomenon of a changeable condition. Thus, any painted, figurative surface is a combination of two principles, or certain dualism: condition of rest (that is, static state) and dynamics of movement; emptiness and occupancy; light and dark, male and female. Dualism is dialectical, as far as Xenia’s worldview is concerned: it is unity typified by struggle. Themes of her works, realms of her interests and her artistic manner, all of that is based on dialectic as expressed through metaexpressionism. Which includes the theme of sexuality in the unity and the difference of male and female principles; and the themes of life and death, of East and West, of modernity and archaic times, of innovation and tradition. Lastly, it is unity and struggle of painting and graphic art, of volume and flat surface, of mimesis and abstraction within a single pictorial space. While doing painting Xenia sees graphic art. When she is involved with graphic work, she cannot but see a line in its movement. And following a line with her eyes she sees color. It is not the material that dictates artistic expression, but artistic expression that has a hold over the material. For Xenia dabs, lines and colors cease to be tied to a specific art form if they are appropriately arranged in the pictorial space. Dialectic is the absolute concentration of movement in the state of rest. Synesthesia is the inability to perceive spatial arts separately from time-related arts or symbols from objects. Color is an equivalent of sound, sound is an equivalent of time, and time is an equivalent of space. All of that is the law of absolute harmony, that is unity of the whole and the parts; also, it is the law of dialectic: unity and struggle of opposites.
Such is the dialectic of Xenia’s life journey as implemented in her creative work, a dialectic which found its expression in a particular artistic language that can be defined as metaexpressionism.