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Yury Fedorov, an artist of religious inspiration
When a physicist by education becomes an artist by calling, it can be regarded as a sign of God that it is a right step, not just a twist of Fate — the sign that the ineffable has had the upper hand and opened a way to the heart.
Yury A. Fedorov was born in the city of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) on September 28 1953; he was educated at the Department of Physics and Mechanics of the Polytechnic Institute; he also attended evening drawing and painting classes at the Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. After serving in the army (airborne troops), he worked at an oncology research centre; later, Fedorov devoted himself entirely to creating crosses and carved church ritual items, and to studying staurography (crosses and their design) and Byzantine and Old Rus-Ukraine art. He participated in archaeological excavations and helped organize Christian art exhibitions. In 1995, he showed his art at the World Miniature Art Exhibition held in London; since 1996 he has been collecting Christian ritual and other religious objects. He is the founder of the Maysternya Yuriya Fedorova Jewellery Studio.
A few words about form and content
Yury Fedorov was born in St Petersburg and educated at the Polytechnic, majoring in nuclear physics. After graduation, he worked sometime at an oncology research centre, but a feeling that his calling lay elsewhere kept growing in him and once, in a museum, he stopped in front of icons and carved crosses, and felt that something impelled him to take a closer look. The more he looked, the more he felt their magnetic force — and at one point he was overwhelmed by realization that those icons and crosses lived a secret life of their own. Fedorov began creating his own icons and crosses, and he did not have to start from scratch — since his childhood he had been drawing, painting and carving wood. At first, he was not satisfied with the result of his artistic endeavours. As far as the form was concerned, his icons and crosses looked quite the way such things should look, but he felt the right content was missing. He began to attend drawing and painting classes at the Repin Art Institute; he studied Byzantine and Old Rus art. But the desired breakthrough occurred only when Fedorov discovered Christian faith. He came to believe in one God, creator of the heaven and earth.
In his search for God, Fedorov was inspired by the Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod Antony, who was a connoisseur of religious art and a profound intellectual. When Antony saw a panagia (or encolpion; the image of the Virgin Mary worn as a pendant on the breast by top Orthodox hierarchs) carved by Fedorov, he acquired it for his collection. There were many other Fedorov’s creations that made their way to the Metropolitan’s collection. For Fedorov, Antony was more than a patron of art who commissioned works from him, but also a wise spiritual and intellectual guide. It was not long before Fedorov’s faith strengthened to a point of becoming the governing principle of life.
Artist and believer
It has always been difficult to combine artistic expression and true religiosity, and in our turbulent age, when apocalyptic tendencies are felt very acutely, and when temptations and sinful lawlessness are spreading with the speed of nuclear chain reaction, it is doubly difficult. Serenity, peace and love must reign supreme in the heart of a religious artist — but how to achieve them living in the present-day world and right in the midst of it? Probably, Fedorov possesses a special gift to protect himself against the destructive influences of the world.
As an artist, he knows to perfection all the Church canons, symbols and traditional imagery. He believes that only in closely following them, a religious artist can fully reveal the essence of the Christian teaching and Church sacraments. In his opinion, the main difference between secular and ecclesiastical art lies in regarding art not as an end in itself but a way to express the spiritual content of the soul, and as a way of coming to know God. That is why, he says, the Beauty should be regarded as one of the manifestations of God, and aesthetical principles as a spiritual exercise; the artistic skills and technique should be subservient to the spiritual task the artist wants to fulfil. Otherwise, Fedorov argues, instead of religious art, “we shall have ritual objects.”
Cross as an image
Central in Fedorov’s art is the image of the cross. Talking to people, he discovered to his dismay that people know but little about the symbolic meaning of the cross. His own guideline were the words of the nineteenth-century theologian Ihnaty (Bryanchaninov) who wrote, “The cross is the only true teaching, embodiment and foundation of the correct theology. Without the Cross there is no coming to know the Christ.”
Fedorov gradually moved from studying and reproducing the best samples of Byzantine and Old Rus crosses to creating generalized images of the cross. A book Fedorov wrote, Obraz khresta (The Image of the Cross), was a result of his research and of his understanding of the importance of the cross as a symbol. To a large extent, Fedorov’s book revived the staurographic (from the Greek word stauros — cross — tr.) studies, which were neglected for a long time.
In everyday Orthodox church life, only three or four forms of the cross to be worn by the faithful on the breast were used, but Fedorov amply demonstrated the richness of the imagery of the cross. The book appeared at the right time revealing to the lay readers the profound symbolism of the cross and drawing their attention to the invaluable spiritual heritage of Byzantium and Old Rus-Ukraine.
Obraz khresta presents the story of the origin and symbolism of the cross in an engaging manner. Fedorov describes the different forms and shapes of the Christian crosses and their use in church and in daily life. Being an artist who makes crosses himself, Fedorov devotes meticulous attention to the crosses that are supposed to be worn around the neck on the chest. Christian crosses and crucifixes reflected the iconographic traditions and aesthetical principles of the times when they were created, preserving at the same time their supertemporal character — the cross symbolizes the unity of the faithful with the Christ and with Church, presents in a symbolical and generalized manner the very essence of the Christian faith, and glorifies the Holy Church and the sacrifice of the Saviour. Also, pieces of the Life-giving Cross were sometimes regarded as charms, talismans with magical properties, but such an attitude to the cross was condemned by the Church as being too close to paganism.
Describing various forms and shapes of the cross, Fedorov in his book never overlooks the fact that basically, in the words of an ancient Christian theologian, “A cross, no matter what shape or form it comes in, is the cross.” Crosses made to be worn may come in different sizes and shapes, but in fact there are only two basic types — the monolithic cross and the encolpion (used to be put on the holy relics), which is hollow inside.
Wood, silver and gold
Fedorov is an artist whose skills are upgraded by his knowledge of the history of art. In the past twenty-five years he has created a great many crosses. Closest to his heart are early Christian, Byzantine and Old Rus-Ukrainian crosses, which sought to reveal their basic symbolic meaning rather than indulged in decorative flourishes. In later centuries, embellishments and ornamentation of the baroque or rococo type tended to conceal the primary meaning of the cross. At the end of the nineteenth century, there developed a style in the visual and decorative arts, which came to be known as Art Nouveau (or Modern, or Sezession). Fedorov has borrowed some ideas from that style to create his own, which reflects his artistic search without concealing the essence. The material, which is used in making crosses, is of a crucial importance. At the start of his artistic career, Fedorov used mostly wood and bone. Most of the work done was commissioned and each commission took a long time to fulfil because wood and bone in particular are hard to work with. When, later, Fedorov decided to produce crosses in greater numbers, he switched over to metal, mostly silver. Silver, Fedorov says, is the best material for making crosses not only because it is the metal from which the crosses were traditionally made, but also because silver is the symbol of purity and sanctity. Gold, as “the absolute metaphor of divine light” is mostly used for gilding the decorative elements or as the background in icons; in gilt silver, the gold is like a reflection of the divine light on the holy “flesh” of silver. Silver is a noble metal, which can be given different tints; also it ages well. In making crosses, Fedorov prefers carving, incision and casting to stamping or punching. He believes that casting preserves some of the unique warmth that every object produced by the artist is imbued with.
Like any true artist, Fedorov has followers — and, of course, there are those who try to copy his style or directly borrow his ideas without seeking permission to do so. But the artist is not worried or upset about it. When an artist makes living art, he says, it inspires others, but when his creativity begins to wane, his creation loses life and turns in dead shapes, and unwise followers turn their master into an idol, putting tags with his name on replicas and imitations, and calling it “the style of such and such,” ignoring the essence of the style.
Fedorov is a follower of traditions who at the same time keeps these traditions alive. He believes that if a tradition is “canned” and does not change to reflect the changing times, it is a dead tradition. Fedorov likes to retell an anecdote about a European art critic, who watching a Canadian Indian, a well-known carver, at work, pointed to some “inconstancies” saying they did not tally with the traditional design; the carver did not mince words expressing his indignation at the rude intrusion — it was the Indian who was in a position to develop the tradition and not an art critic to kill it by looking for “deviations.”
Fedorov believes that the time has come to make art more responsive to the spiritual needs of society. “It is religion that engendered culture, not the other way round. Bringing art closer to the Church does not mean that crosses or icons should appear on candy wrappers or bottle labels — it would only do a lot of damage both to culture and to faith.”
Fedorov, as a devout Christian, believes that the human being is a God’s creation — but at the same time, we, humans, are also creators; the more we create, the closer we are to Heaven.
Compiled by Andriy PYROHIV
Crucifix and its backside. Gilt silver, blackening. 4.6 x 3.4 cm. 2001.
Easter Egg. Inside — the Representation of the Angel and the Holy Myrrh-Bearing
Icon of St Nicholas. Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.
Crucifix and its backside. Gilt silver, blackening. 5.2 x 3.2 cm. 2002.
Cross with Deisis and its backside.
Silver rings with blackening. 2002.
Easter Egg; inside — Christ with Prophets.
Cross with Christ and the Virgin on the backside.
Cross with a chain. Gilt silver, enamel. 4.8 x 3.5 cm. 1999.