Genrih Asafov - Modern Russian Artist 

– We often visited exhibitions in Moscow Manezh when I was a student and there I noticed that if the viewers like the artists – the critics don’t. If critics do the viewers don’t. I thought what to do. And I told myself that I should not try pleasing anyone. I will do what I feel. Perfect! So I’ve got some interesting freedom: I do not fear anyone, I do not have to please anyone. So I started expressing what I feel. And this is my art. It is it that breaks the gaps as it is original and truly felt, it is – Earthy.

Possessing fundamental education and background of works that is rather rare for Vologda, feeling necessity in reassessment of his painting in 1976 Genrih Asafov arranges his first one-man exhibition in halls of Vologda branch of Union of Artists and starts preparing for large one-man exhibition of easel painting in Vologda regional art gallery (VOKG). During these years several important paintings are created, in particular triptych of still-life paintings “Paternal” (1977, VOKG), “Maternal” (1977, VOKG) and “Riverbank” (1977, authors collection). There appear complicated genre works revealing monumental ideas of the artist – a person’s figure stands in full height rationally cutting all unnecessary for the sake of attention concentration at the only necessary canvas idea. Color and graphic harmony of finished work is mathematics. It is intuitional movement of the artist towards beauty along invisible formulas, correctness of which is confirmed or denied by the achieved result. And anthropologist Vyacheslav V. Ivanov would be a thousand times right arguing regarding science, that “beautifully built theory is usually correct, and incorrect looks ugly”. Concept or actuality are rather interesting by themselves if remember that only beauty through suffering is the only criteria of truth in art.


Experiments with glazing, texture highlights of light spots in composition and creation of deep shadows by multi-layer palette of dense color hues result creation of several painting and long work that can be referred to as the “Rembrandt period” in Genrih Asafov’s art life. All drama of painting is represented here in the swarm of small and large strokes and brush-handle touches, expressing the nerve of infinite everyday rotation of the world: “For life” (1985, VOKG), “Against the tide” (1984, author’s collection). Shapes of Kamenny Monastery start to appear in the backgrounds of the paintings – Asafov’s own “Gaugin metaphysical island”, as close and irretrievable as childhood is: “Kammeny Spas” (1989, author’s collection). Small canvas “Krasavino” becomes a remarkable work of that period (1979, author’s collection). Lonely white poplar stands in the desert moonlit unmown field. Lyrics of the image of lost village here is in perfect harmony with artistic form of the work, correlation of light and shade that are carefully connected by thin glazing layers. Thought these classic techniques flows the dialogue of Genrih Asafov with deep strata of world art, his self-identification as an artist able and competent to work with any art material and any theme.


This painting to some extent was a remonstrative plastic form of special kind. There was a period of great critical wave in the art history mostly based on the rejection of predecessors’ art work results. When Joan Miró wondered along Paris squares of 1910th and muttered “Off the Mediterranean” that was the revolt for destruction[1]. In the meantime for many innovators foremost Pablo Picasso it became clear that at destruction of art works, school of drawing and painting, too much is destructed to preserve at least something. Both in form and content “Rembrandt period” in Genrih Asafov’s art is an antithesis to market and socialist realism of 1970-1980-ies, based not on rejection but on intuitional interpretation and development of certain art phenomena and traditions of the past.

We must note that art of 80-ies of XX existed in Russia under careful ideological control. In 1983 “Krasavino” work was displayed at personal exhibition of Genrih Asafov under “The Poplar” name. This is a rather interesting precedent in art history when simple change of the name of metaphoric complex painting reduces implied strength and depth. Up to 1985 there were other tries of ideological pressure to the uncomfortable artist stated as “denigration of soviet reality”. In general under the influence of Francisco de Goya (“Judith”, about 1820, Prado) there appears a wish to name dark works of Genrih Asafov the “black paintings” but this would not be correct. The same may seem to the poet during the dark days that north country wooden houses are of black color but anyone who has seen those near would confirm that they are of rich orange color. Every work of “Rembrandt period” hides the same truth: black color in reality turns to be deep cobalt blue, emerald green, value of amber and scarlet multiplied and imprinted to the canvas body by dammar glazing.


Everything is so difficult with the color. For example stable statement “muted northern nature” does not stand any criticism. An artist notices colors in the northern nature that are not on the face – but they are definitely reflected in the unprejudiced digital camera lens. Russian North has long winter and foggy and rainy autumn. There is no end to the potato fields, endless wheat and oat but more often deserted fields. Nothing to look at besides naked forests and wet mouse-grey sky. Gilbert Chesterton in his essay “The glory of grey” says: “Lastly, there is this value about the color that men call colorless; that is suggests in some way the mixed and troubled average of existence, especially in its quality of strife and expectation and promise”[2].


This expectation is let off to the canvas by unrestrained palette. In the second part of eighties in continuation of fauvism, art of Henri Matisse and rural series of Kazimir Malevich Genrih Asafov starts widely use color spots in painting compositions of his works: “Motherland” (1986, author’s collection), “Autumn” (1986, author’s collection), “Pie is a target” (1997), “Alyosha, call the geese in” (1993, both – Gallery Korea, Seoul). Many completed works get brand new face with irreparable loss of former one: “Haystack” (1991), “Without women” (1995), “Russian women” (1992), “Artist and people” (1992), “Without men” (1993, all - author’s collection). There happens fundamental restructuring of the style that leads to establishment of authentic personal art signature that is still developing. The movement itself affirms neither freedom of self-expression, nor stylistic figures or happiness and joy of art. Diaries of Varlam Shalamov fix “Painting is physical work”[3]. Art of Genrih Asafov is an ode to peasant and his hard labor: “art shall give hope” is the main thesis and core of his philosophic world.


[1] Françoise Gilot, Lake Carlton, Life with Picasso – New York, Toronto, London, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964

[2] ALARMS AND DISCURSIONS by G.K. Chesterton, Published February, 1911. Source: http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/alarms_and_discursions.html#18

[3] Varlam Shalamov, Collected edition in 6 volumes / Issued by Irina Sirotinskaya – Moscow: TERRA-Book Club, 2004-2005, volume 5. Translation by Yulia Volkova

Фото Сергей Попеляев - копия.jpg

Key dates

1940 was born in the village of Chirkovo, Ust-Kubinsky district, Vologda region
1961 first personal exhibition of painting in Ust-Kubensky
1964 graduated with honors from YAHU
1967 three-year military service on about. Sakhalin
1973 graduated from the Moscow Art Theater. Surikova (monumental painting)
1974 work as an artist in Moscow
1975 work as an artist in Kirov
1975 All-Union Youth Exhibition
1976 personal exhibition of painting in Vologda, CX hall
1977 member of the Union of Artists of the USSR
1981 interior mosaic in Vologda (69 sq.m.)
1983 personal exhibition of painting, VOKG
1984 five Byzantine mosaics of smalt in the Vologda region (82 sq.m.)
1986 five Byzantine mosaics of smalt in the Vologda region (65 sq.m.)
1986 mural “New Village” in Vologda (18 sq.m.)
1987 "Exhibition of six artists" in Leningrad, CX Hall
1990 Byzantine mosaic from smalt "Gosstrakh" in Vologda (64 sq.m.)
1993 personal exhibition of painting, VOKG
1994 nomination for the State Prize of the Russian Federation in the field of literature and art
1997 personal exhibition of painting "From Kuben to Vologda", VGMZ
2000 personal exhibition of painting, VOKG
2000 one hundred works donated to the exhibition in Ust-Kubinsky district
2000 Certificate of Honor of the Vologda Oblast Governor
2003 honorary citizen of the Ust-Kubinsky district of the Vologda region
2003 personal exhibition of painting in Yaroslavl, CX hall
2004 personal exhibition of painting in Vologda, Red Bridge
2009 All-Russian art exhibition, State Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val
2009 Medal of the Union of Artists of Russia
2009 personal exhibition of painting in Vologda, Red Bridge
2010 personal exhibition in Ust-Kubensky, House of Culture
2010 Honored Artist of the Russian Federation
2012 personal exhibition of painting in Moscow, Open Club
2012 personal exhibition of paintings in Cherepovets
2012 personal exhibition of paintings and sketches in Ferapontovo, museum of frescoes Dionysia UNESCO
2015 publication of the album "Henry Asafov" (M., Izvestia)
2016 participation in the project “Invisible noticeable” in Vologda, Red Corner
2018 personal exhibition of painting “Spring. 2018 ”in Vologda, Red Corner
2018 personal exhibition “Belovsky Circle of Henry Asafov”, V.I. Museum-Apartment Belova, KBGMZ
2018 personal exhibition "Autumn" in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Vologda region
2018 personal exhibition "Duma" in the administration of the Ust-Kubinsky district
2020 the first virtual exhibition "Art Should Give Hope"

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