Тhe artist Pavel Leonov

Pavel P. Leonov (20.12.1920/village is Volotovskoye, the Orel region - ☦ 25.03.2011) - the artist of naive art.

Pavel Leonov born in 1920. Since childhood, he was passionate towards painting, traveled a lot around the USSR, several times even got into prison and camp for minor offenses. He studied at Extramural People’s University of Arts (ZhNUI)with Mikhail Roginsky (the 1970s). From that time, there still remain most of his watercolors, showing his favorite scenes and pronounced techniques of the subsequent years. In the 1980s he practically put painting aside, and collectors increased their interest in his works only after the exhibition “Golden Dream” (1992, Moscow).

He made pictures depicting the rural life of the 1930s, military episodes, fantastic feats (“Russian Travelers Save Girls in Africa”), current events and characters. (“Gagarin”, “Bankers”).

Until 1937, Leonov lived in his native village with his relatives. After a quarrel with his father, he was expelled from the house and soon got into prison because of a street conflict with an officer. Until 1942, he lived in a colony in Poti, Georgia. Then he was released and trained for an office commander.

In 1944, he was sent to the front line to Hungary. The consequences of his participation in the military campaigns were insignificant, a slight wound in the arm and, possibly, a concussion. He was treated, then got into a colony in Rostov-on-the Don, where he stayed until 1947. Immediately after the colony he marrieds for the first time, but his marriage broke in the same year. Leonov went travelling around Siberia. He reached Kamchatka, where he made his first paintings. Then he settled in Uzbekistan and initiated correspondence with Extramural People’s University of Arts (ZhNUI) in the period of the 1960-70s. There he met his art teacher Roginsky. He produced his main subjects in watercolour. Then he moved to the village of Mekhovitsy, the Ivanovo region, where he met Zina, married her, and she bore him son Sergey. Then his trace got lost.

In the 1980s, he worked on a state farm as a driver, practically dropped painting as it was dangerous at the time. The artist from a neighboring village was sentenced to 8 years in prison for unearned incomes.
In 1988, he sent his pictures to a contest held in Ivanovo, but they were not accepted, but still registered and the his name was also spoken about in Moscow. Since 1991, he constantly worked as an artist. His style changed from a voluminous perspective in the early years to a planar and monumental in the later period. Leonov considers his art system to be of a design or architecture type, opposing it to “naturalism,” which he believes still dominates in other artists. Most of his paintings are based on a grid of verticals and contours, analogous to the system of carriers and bearers in a building. The dimensions of the grid cells are different, and each of them serves as a “TV”, as expressed by Pavel Petrovich, for a separate scene, a bird, or a group of animals, and a narrative image field is composed of these brick-like TVs. For Leonov, the theme of a picture inside a picture is important. Since each of his paintings has a frame, the pictures in the picture are often highlighted in small frames.

The depth in Leonov’s paintings is constructed from planes, each of which is parallel to the image plane and forms a next picture inside the picture. The most approved is such a picture design that depicts the artist’s studio or theater. Another characteristic feature of the design of Leonov’s paintings are friezes, which are often combined by a movement of various kinds of processions: wedding processions, harnesses, buses, flying birds and floating boats.

These friezes, like carpet threads, cross the entire plane of his pictures. The balancing friezes of the vertical are made by standing figures, the Kremlin towers, tall trees, and bell towers. A special feature of Leonov’s paintings are picturesque frames that change wooden frames, these paintings are not necessary at all, and are designed to separate the illusory space of the projected reality from the actual plane of the surrounding life. Most often thickets, or, simply speaking, trees act as friezes.

The ocher applied to black carbon has an amazing property that is perceived as gold. This ability to transform cheap paints into jewels turns Leonov himself from a dreamer into an artist. Another option - a frieze of flowers and butterflies on a white background - has a greater degree of distancing from reality and surrounds the most poetic and successful works of Leonov.

Leonov shifts to radical connections of large arrays of local colours. So, the contrast of yellow and black could make his paintings look tragically, but is implemented in such a way that, on the contrary, emphasizes the festive mood.

Especially typical for Leonov is appealing to the people’s image of a guard, which is expressed in flying eagles, ravens or figures at the picture edges. These guards always look “familiar “ and therefore do not seem scary.

Leonov’s strongest feature is his sense of rhythm. The purely visual impact of Leonov’s pictures is based on the strict arrangement order of colour spots - birds, figures, machines or animals, repeated horizontally or on a plane. This sense of rhythm is directly related to the constructiveness of Leonov’s painting art. But its structure is not a rigid grid of the frame house, as it allows variations, certain sorts of subtle irregularities in the rhythm sequence or the dimensions of individual “TVs” that make pictures look vivid and charming. Leonov’s painting art is not only fundamentally projective, but also conceptual. This concept makes the artist invisible to the individual defects of the canvas or unexpected colour spots - which, however, do not surprisingly disturb the visual integrity of the pictures, instead, they ensure their authenticity. Roughness and unpretentiousness, alongside with exquisite picturesqueness, testifies to the fundamental essence of these colourful surfaces.

The primordial creative principle of splashing colours revealed in its immediacy in the art of abstract expressive emotions, is present here in its original uncomplicated form and gives naturalness to these pictures. Paradoxically, the structure of violations and omissions turns out to be a new aesthetic system. This unpretentiousness is not total, but rather of a fragmentary, or testifying character, it is complemented with great pictorial skills applied by Leonov to depict plastic figures of people and animals, as well as human faces.

Leonov impresses with his original solutions in the combination of various animal figures, their authentic and simultaneously inconceivable poses: one beast may stand on another like in a circus performance, or a man riding a zebra may hold a hand of another man flying in an airplane over him. At times, Leonov’s way of expressing the plasticity of the human figure features classical grace combined with the characteristic deformities peculiar to the primitive art. Especially indicative here is the classical motif of women-bathers.

As a man of virgin culture, Leonov cannot depict a nude body without sufficient grounds for that, and any explicit eroticism is excluded is his works. Therefore, he introduces such topics as “Physical Exercises over the River”, “Bathing”, “Moms Teaching Children to Swim”, etc., to represent naked female or children figures. As a colourist, Leonov sometimes applies very complex colors to depict the sky surface or carnation, unnatural green or violet colours of which make an impression of not death, but rather that of pearls. Depicting the life of a person, he is very precise, but the face expressions of his characters as most impressive but still incomprehensible components of his art are sometimes far from the expectations of our perception.

Leonov lives in a relatively remote Russian village of Mekhovitsy. He leads a way of life featuring deliberately cultivated neglect, fixation on long-standing grievances, and senile distraction. Thus he resembles rather a typical outsider, while he is a true primitive in his painting art, which seems to emerge from some other angles of consciousness.

Pavel Leonov. Exhibitions