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Art lifts our eyes to eternity and shows us the importance of the here and now. Ally Gordon

Artists

Cherkasova, Elena - VM - Viktor Barashkov

Elena Cherkasova: Cherubikon

Let every Breath Praise the Lord

by Viktor Barashkov

Elena Cherkasova is a Russian artist who predominantly creates works on religious themes. Unusual for this type of art, her works find positive appreciation from both art and church circles. In this visual meditation we will try to understand in more detail three of her new works that are shown in the current 1st Biennale of Christocentric Art in Moscow.

One stream in contemporary art on religious themes is formed by naïve or primitive art. This type of art is important due to the concentration on spiritual meaning and not on brilliant technique. In most works by Elena Cherkasova we see no mouths; the faces gain their expressiveness through the eyes. Eyes are the mirror of the soul in the words attributed to Cicero. But not only eyes, gestures are also central. Cherkosova’s figures communicate with their bodies This comes from old Byzantine icons, where every gesture had its own meaning. Cherkasova’s works are always a dialogue, with God and about God. Words are the very substance of them. That is why some art critics call her works ‘sermons’.

The first work has ‘The Cherubikon’ as its title. This hymn from the Byzantine liturgy symbolically incorporates those present at the liturgy into the presence of the angels gathered around God's throne. In this work the artist combines images with a clearly inscribed text in Church Slavonic – a language that has and had great importance for the liturgical practice of the Orthodox Church. The sacred meaning of the words and their ornamental quality are equally important. We see cherubim in the center around a table with three angels who symbolize the Holy Trinity. We see wine and bread on the table. And – this is important – we see people gathered at the liturgy. There is no division between heaven and earth.

The next work is entitled ‘The Vision of the Apostle Peter’. The text in Church Slavonic is from the Acts of the Apostles 10:9-16:

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 
10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 
11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 
12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 
13 Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 
14 But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 
15 The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 
16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

This story tells about a crucial moment in the broadening of the spread of the gospel, which from now on would include the ‘heathens.’ We see the Apostle who is depicted separately from the vision itself. The animals, clearly depicted, form a second center in the work. Two angels hold a large cloth with animals and the hand of the Lord blesses them. In the lower right corner we see the three men who were sent to Peter by the centurion Cornelius.

The third work called ‘Michaelmas’ is untypical for the artist, as there is very little text (only the title of the picture). We see angels gathered around the Lord. One of them, probably the archangel Michael, is sitting on a horse. There also are a lion, an eagle, a man and a bull with wings; they symbolize the evangelists. They all praise the Lord.

Orthodox priest Leonid Griliches writes about Cherkasova’s “amazing ability to capture in colours different shades of the words.” According to him Cherkasova’s art is not just illustration. It is art as a second book and the language of this book is Church Slavonic. This art reflects the living tradition of the church.

These drawings are very decorative. The white color in them is a clear symbol of heavenly light. We see the beauty of the world, be it angels, people, or animals. Let every breath praise the Lord!

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Elena Cherkasova: Cherubikon, 2020, craft paper, ink, acrylic, 48 × 38 cm, Private collection of the artist.

Elena Cherkasova: Vision of the Apostle Peter, 2020, craft paper, ink, acrylic, 17 × 40 cm, Private collection of the artist.

Elena Cherkasova: Michaelmas, 2020, craft paper, ink, acrylic, 37 × 27 cm, Private collection of the artist. 

Elena Cherkasova (b. 1962) is a Russian artist from Moscow. Since 1996 she has worked predominantly with religious themes. She has had exhibitions in Russia (Moscow, Saratov, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Tula) and Italy. Her works are in collections of the Moscow Theological Academy, Diocesan Museum in Milan, Museum of Contemporary Christian Art (Russia), and in private collections in Russia, Belarus, Finland, Great Britain, Germany, France, USA, Canada and other countries. See more of her work here: https://www.pravmir.com/helena-cherkasovas-paintings

Viktor Barashkov is a Russian philosopher and art historian. He is Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of Stoletovs’ Vladimir State University in Vladimir, Russia. His main fields of interest are contemporary religious art and architecture, philosophy of culture and anthropology of religion. He is a member of the Russian National Section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

The 1st International Biennale of Christocentric Art, March 15 - June 15, Moscow, 6/1 Chernigovsky pereulok, building 3. This Biennale creates a single platform for all those who devote their creativity to understanding the Christian faith and to reflection of the gospel stories. The exhibition is curated by Gor Chahal and represents more than 100 works: contemporary icons as well as works of art in different techniques and materials: wood, metal, fabric (textile), mosaics, photography, video art, light installations etc. The exhibition presents the works of Albert Soltanov, Elena Cherkasova, Philip Davydov, Gor Chahal, Philippe Nussbaumer, Sergey Nekrasov, Anatolij Komelin etc. We can see an interesting juxtaposition of meanings: the nature of God, divine light, sacred places, saints, different modes of connection between people and God. A short video can be watched on the website of Biennale, https://christ-art.ru/en/.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 9 May 2021