Most schools of contemporary Orthodox iconography follow similar techniques and strictly defined canons while maintaining their own set of distinct approaches. The painting style of Yury Kuznetsov stands out among them by challenging the constraints of the tradition while also remaining loyal to the spirit of icon painting. His particular style of the 21st-century icon is a blend of canonical iconographic approaches and a variety of painting techniques.
Yury Kuznetsov was born in 1948. He comes from the small Russian town of Kovrov, hidden among the magnificent landscapes of central Russia’s Vladimir Region. His father was a painter, and his mother came from the family of a priest. He grew up in an aesthetic and spiritual environment. His father taught him how to paint, and Yury followed in his footsteps.
After finishing school and completing his military service, he worked as an interior decorator in a factory together with his father. Simultaneously, he was trying his hand in different visual arts genres. In doing so, he observed and acquired the techniques and experimented with them. At home, he grasped at every opportunity to practise. He painted on plates, wooden boxes, walls, doors and even matchboxes. In doing so, he built up the courage to experiment and develop an independent vision. He put these valuable qualities to use when he began to paint his icons. He never completed any formal training or education as an artist. His supervisor at work talked him out of applying to university, convinced that formal education would only dim his talent.
Yury Kuznetsov had an interest in iconography already as a young man and researched its history, traditions and canons. However, he did not begin to paint icons until he had a close-call accident many years later. When his factory closed down, Yury followed the example of many and became a market trader. As he was returning to his hometown with newly acquired merchandise in 1994, his minibus collided with a car. The accident happened on a bridge, but by some miracle, neither vehicle fell off, but Yury’s minibus was a wreck. After spending many hours in it as it was being towed, Kuznetsov caught pneumonia and had survived clinical death. When he recovered, he left the business and took up icon painting.
He painted his three icons in 1994 in a traditional manner. Three years later, at age 49 he received his first blessing to paint icons from the Archpriest of the Kovrov deanery, Father Stephan. From then on, he set out to develop his distinct style of icon painting. He adopted the technique of pointillism of the French artist Georges-Pierre Seurat, perfecting and adapting it to iconography. He used optical colour mixing to obtain hues that could not be achieved by physical mixing. This gives the iconographer’s works their renowned nacreous glow.
Yury Kovrov explains: “I adopted this technique for a reason. I needed a colour that one would not encounter in reality, one that could not be obtained in any other way, such as yellow-purple, or blue-red. This technique allows me to obtain a non-existing hue by placing together three dots of incompatible colours. Up to 2000 such hues can be obtained in this manner. However, the colours seem incompatible only while I am painting. They match together perfectly once the icon is complete. The eye of the spectator does the work in a way that I do not fully understand”.
In Kuznetsov’ icons, the face, feet and hands of the saints are painted traditionally, while the pointillism technique is used for the rest of the work. The vestments, background and details acquire a lively décor and add richness to its colour range. –
Before the start of each new icon, Yury would read the life of the saint and pray to him so he might depict him his adequately and accurately. Only then would he proceed to use the mixing techniques to produce his distinct combination of the colours.
In 2005, he received the blessing for icon painting from Archbishop Eulogius of Vladimir and Suzdal. Speaking at the consecration of the icon “Protection of the Mother of God, Father Eulogius remarked: “The icon was painted in a novel and creative manner while keeping the canonical depiction of the faces. At that time, Yury’s iconographic style received formal recognition from the Orthodox Church and became known in 2006 as the style of Yury Kuznetsov. Informally, Kuznetsov’s works were termed “21st-century icons”. That same year, Kuznetsov received his most important blessing, from Alexius II, Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia. Receiving the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos “O Virgin Pure” as a gift from Yury Kuznetsov, the Patriarch exclaimed with admiration: “What majestic beauty!”
Yury Kuznetsov left behind a rich heritage of works, numbering 1446 icons, 23 folding icons and around 300 paintings. His works can be found in the collections of multiple Russian churches, monasteries, museums, private individuals, and in the homes of many Orthodox Christians.
His lifetime dream was to paint all the icons in a newly built church. His dream came true in 2000, with the completion of the wooden church of Nicholas the Wonderworker on Lake Istra in the environs of Moscow.
Yury Kuznetsov departed to God in 2012, leaving his daughter Maria Filippova as his heir and successor. His talent and work is still alive for us, and are present in the icons and paintings made in his distinct style.
*Pointillism s a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image.
Materials and photos sourced from www.iconkuznetsov.ru