Igor Medvedev’s art celebrates the soul of our humanist past. This painter of light seeks to capture, remember and preserve the ancient spirit of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the small seaside fishing villages of Spain, the rapidly disappearing traditional towns atop hillsides in Greece. His is a vision that eschews technology and that applauds the common genius of simple human creativity and handiwork – as in the antique construction of an old whitewash village, standing after two thousand years, with its interlocking volumes, quaint doorways and brilliantly arranged flowers, tables, chairs – gifts of the artist that we all possess and express every day.
Medvedev’s work finds tranquility in this simple life, after a tumultuous and torturous youth. As a refugee fleeing German occupation during World War II, the young Russian found himself and his family a long way from freedom. After the war, the Medvedevs settled in Munich. It was there that Igor first saw the meticulousness and precision of Renaissance painting and sculpture. Today, he deploys the painstaking technique of that time, in a process known as “casein glazing.” His use of impasto and chiaroscuro have also led critics to comment that “He paints like a sculptor,” and in fact, the artist is accomplished in the bronze medium.
Much has been written about Igor Medvedev's quest for the "authentic" subject matter to paint. He says, "many, many dealers many, many times have asked me to paint Venice, Paris, London. But I could not. I would not. Those would be clichés. No, I find inspiration in the honesty and purity of the simple, colorful fishing boat, the hand-made net, the hand-built walls in a simple village. They are far-flung about the Mediterranean, and each has its own singular style."
Medvedev, then, has found in the villages of the Mediterranean and elsewhere "the Holy Land and Spain, among others" a kind of purified architectural language, which inspires this artist-urbanite, whose cosmopolitan upbringing in Russia, Germany and now California contrasts with the relief and relaxation that await him on his yearly sojourns to sun-drenched isles. The opposite of clichés, these ancient or antique sites emanate authenticity.
Medvedev also finds in the curves of his whitewashed walls, in the protuberances of rustic, terra-cottaadornments, in the shadows on a green-painted door or window - with their air of chiaroscuro mystery - the essence of woman, herself. Like a curvaceous, lightly-modeled bronze by Jean Arp, Medvedev perceives in smooth, village architecture the feminine qualities of fullness, roundness, warmth.
Then again, he will point out that the great interlocking walls, towers, turrets and bastions found in his work have all stood the test of time - strong sentinels whose integrity of construction stand like architectonic symbols of the determination of mankind to endure. It makes plastic and concrete buildings from the sixties, now falling apart, look terrible indeed.
Like a fine Swiss watch, Medvedev's Old Master approach is better, I think. Here you find only the perfect, concertised movement of composition in the stillness of classic time. And instead of winding your old timepiece daily, here all you have to do is switch on the lights in your rooms to activate the authentic painting.
University Art Museum, Dartmouth College, NH
SELECTED GROUP SHOWS
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
Igor Medvedev passed away in February of 2015.