By Doctor of Art History, Professor, R. A. Yergalieva
Honorary Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Fine Arts Department Head of the Literature and Arts University named after M. O. Auezov
Member of the UNESCO International Association of Art critics
Monumental and decorative art is a particularly complex sphere, working in which the artist must possess a wide range of the professional qualities of an architect, a painter and designer, a universal vision of the synthesis of the arts, as well as the possession of a broad variety of fine art techniques.
Vladimir Tverdokhlebov is the master, who has combined all these complicated artistic skills and qualities. He is an Honoured Artist of the Republic of Kazakhstan. After graduating in 1967 from one of the most famous and prestigious art universities - the Higher Art and Industrial School named after Vera Mukhina (St. Petersburg) the artist has invested all his professional knowledge and talent into formation of Kazakhstan's monumental and decorative art, design and painting.
The work of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov is inextricably linked with the long-term development and achievements of the monumental and decorative art of Kazakhstan. His unique works not only decorate streets, buildings and interiors of our cities, but also form their recognisable appearance and create their unique artistic image.
In addition to the iconic works of V. Tverdokhlebov, which became the textbook monuments of the monumental art of Kazakhstan, such as the famous fountain dedicated to the Tengrian calendar (the Oriental calendar), the stained-glass windows and mosaics in the House of Scientists of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, mosaics for the Issyk restaurant of the Hotel Alma-Ata and others, the artist created numerous murals, tapestries, stained-glass windows and mosaics in many Palaces of Culture in cities of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
A number of early works of the artist are associated with the themes of childhood and adolescence, a beautiful, iridescent time. Tverdokhlebov created the wall painting "Life under the Sun" for a kindergarten in Karatau (1969) and the wall painting "Circus arrived" for the kindergarten of the Ministry of Communications in Almaty (1972). These works are inherent vibrant decorative multicolour, create an atmosphere of fairy tales and magic. In the wall painting in tempera "Youth" for one of the Almaty schools, V. Tverdokhlebov shows himself as a fine, sensitive colourist. Gentle pastel colours of the painting seem to remind us of the most tender and touching age of human life - youth.
The 1970s and 80s became for the artist a time of much creative activity. He completed major monumental and decorative works - the composition "Land of Karkaralinsk" (1973), mosaic on the building of the Dzhambul Dairy Plant (1976). Under the artistic leadership of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov a large and complex project of exterior and interior design was designed and executed for the Palace of Culture of the Almaty Cotton Plant with an impressive variety of extraordinary monumental and decorative works, including reliefs and mosaics, murals, fountains and sculptural compositions (1982).
The artist worked extensively and successfully in different regions of Kazakhstan. He created mosaics for the House of Culture in Sairamsk, Shymkent region (1973), for the Palace of Culture in Kaskelen district (1987), made in a rich colour spectrum associated with painting and tapestry.
At the end of the 70th mastery of the artist grew stronger, the ideas became more sophisticated his signature style became more recognisable and original. He was able to interpret well-known symbols and images, creating for them new emotional characters and overall decorativeness, combining rhythms and elements of heraldry, bringing poetry and allegories. Organic fusion of a monumental and decorative composition with an architectural ensemble became the hallmarks of V.Tverdokhlebov's creative genre.
Work on the fountain ensemble "Oriental Calendar" (1979-1981) brought true glory to Vladimir Tverdokhlebov. The idea to create a fountain in Almaty, surrounded by sculptures, came to him in recollection of his years of study in St. Petersburg, memories of the famous fountains of Peterhof.
The fountain, dedicated to the 12-year Tengrian calendar, immediately became a favourite place for gathering of Almaty inhabitants and visitors and a famous landmark. The fountain is surrounded by bronze cast allegorical figures of twelve animals, arranged in the exact order in which they follow the eastern calendar. Stylised in the spirit of synthesizing the Saki "animal style", using the eastern exotic Chinese artistic influences, the fountain has found its unique face.
In the composition of the fountain, the artist actively used not only the stylistics of Oriental art, but also the symbolism of images typical for the East. All the elements of the fountain represent a certain semantics, the meanings of which are sometimes difficult and require interpretation. Directed precisely to the West and East, South and North, the bronze vectors at the top of the composition, the number of rays of the curly "Sun" correspond to the number of days in the year. The runic signs on the bronze ribbon encircling the star - all these elements create a magical appeal to the image. The attractive force of this sculptural ensemble lies in this magical mystery.
The fountain "Oriental Calendar" was recognized as one of the best works in the field of decorative and park sculpture for 1978-1982 at the VI Congress of the Union of Artists of the USSR. Since 2010, the National Bank of the Republic of Kazakhstan has launched an annual series of collector coins “Oriental Calendar” in silver and gold, based on the design of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov’s figures of the fountain "Oriental Calendar". V.Tverdokhlebov performed an extensive and complex art works for the monumental and decorative design of the House of Scientists of the National Academy of Sciences in Almaty (1983-1984). Here the artist showed his mastership in the techniques of stained glass and tapestry, Florentine mosaic and relief, many of which are unique and still decorate the interiors of the building.
The approach of the master to the design of different halls of the House of Scientists differs with painstaking attention to the very theme of science, the desire to capture the formation of the science of Kazakhstan in visible recognizable images. In the mosaics of the foyer of the House of Scientists, the artist displayed the personalities of the outstanding sons of the East who dedicated their lives to the knowledge of the world and man. In this magnificent galaxy, the viewer can see the great scientist Al-Farabi, the poet and philosopher Abai Kunanbayev, the orientalist and discoverer of Kashgaria Chokan Valikhanov, the educator and teacher Ibrai Altynsarin, the first geologist Kanysh Satpayev and other scientists of Kazakhstan.
The central panel in the conference hall of the House of Scientists was created in the rarest technique of Florentine mosaic from local semi-precious stones of Kazakhstan. Doubtless one must admit that this image of the leader of the world proletariat, executed by Tverdokhlebov, became one of the best incarnations of this historical personality in the monumental art of the Soviet period. Calibrated in classical traditions, a clearly delineated semi-profile, a fine, direct view of the hero, combined with a romantic interpretation of the background in the form of undulating waves of colour of low key, creates a resolute and confident image. Vladimir Tverdokhlebov is a talented portraitist, perfectly demonstrated by his professionalism in a series of portraits created for the House of Scientists. "The art of the ancient Scythians" is the theme of the stained-glass windows in the Winter Garden of the House of Scientists. In this work, the immortal art of the "animal style" of the Scythian-Saka era became the source of inspiration for the artist.
In the solution of the stained-glass windows, the important quality of V.Tverdokhlebov, which is inherent in the creative personality, again manifested itself - his ability to easily enter into different ethno-cultural and chronological stylistics of world and national art. This skill was excellently manifested in the design of the fountain "Oriental Calendar" (1980) and in the solution of the mosaic panel of the "Thai" restaurant in the centre of Almaty (2002). Affluent in colour, refined and elegant lines of stained glass let sunlight through in a soft and glitter texture, creating in the Winter Garden a magical and inspirational atmosphere and at the same time a celebration of rich cultural context.
The artist works effectively in different styles and techniques of monumental art - mosaic and tapestry, landscape design and urban sculpture, stained-glass windows and monumental painting. The most important task of monumental and decorative art – the task of forming an object-spatial environment, both in the interiors of buildings and in the urban landscapes - has been successfully solved by the master Vladimir Tverdokhlebov.
In the mosaic compositions "Dragon" for the summer restaurant "Thai" (2002) and the "Silk Road" for the restaurant “Issyk” on the façade of the Hotel “Alma-Ata” (2005) Vladimir Tverdokhlebov demonstrated exceptional colouristic talent. He is able to create fantasy compositions in an extraordinary bright, but harmonious manner. Vladimir brings a spectator into a magical fairy tale, connecting myth and reality, illustrating his signature style.
The mythical leopard, hovering over the eastern city and the caravan, as if just descended from the ancient Saka jewelled artefacts, painted in the purple colours of a steppe sunset. Gold of sand, a pair of white swans flying above the clear blue water, gently domed buildings and yurts and a measured tread of camels connect with familiar silhouettes of the Almaty city landscape in the mosaic "Silk Road". Images appear on the modern building of the city as a mirage, as a memory emerged from its genesis, bringing to the contemporary life feeling of happiness in sensing its historical roots, precious cultural memory. The image of the winged serpent for the mosaic on the restaurant "Thai" again showed the ability of Vladimir Tverdokhebov to plunge into the world of another ethnic culture. Here he created allusions to the traditional Chinese art of lacquer work, an association with the famous cloisonné enamel, and has woven into the drawing the ornate complexity of oriental folklore and the wonderful Chinese "clouds of happiness" floating in fairy tale skies next to the magic beast.
The quality of V.Tverdokhlebov's creative handwriting is an exact understanding of the synthesis of arts, necessary for monumental art, architectonic precision, freedom and courage of design, colour richness and amazing rare harmony of complex compositional solutions.
The artist has a special gift of understanding the very essence of monumental and decorative art. Vladimir is able to preserve the sensation of the plane and statics of the wall, and at the same time saturate the image with the flexible fluidity of the flowing lines that impart dynamics to the action, fill it with decorative ornamentation and singing rhythm, and add to the composition of a mosaic or tapestry, relief or stained glass a sense of space and light.
The spectrum of formal-stylistic and technical searches of V.Tverdokhlebov is extensive. In his works he always uses a variety of rare techniques and approaches, reveals all the possibilities of natural and synthetic materials - smalt and cast coloured glass, bronze and gypsum, wool and tempera.
The mosaics of V.Tverdokhlebov "Jesus Christ" and "Trinity" for the facade of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Almaty (2006-2007) and the “Annunciation” for the Church of the Annunciation in Aktau (2007) fully revealed the artistic gift and philosophical depth of the artist's talent.
Accurate knowledge of the Orthodox canon in the depiction of saints, organic entry into architecture and the environment combined in these works with a subtle piety of images, emotional contemplation and sublime spirituality of their presentation. The state of enlightened spirituality is achieved by the author of frescoes with the softness of gestures and poses, "in Byzantine", warm colouring, singing symmetrical composition. The special sonority of the colour, almost picturesque tonal transitions of smalt colour, give the mosaics of this cycle a sense of historical and cultural context.
The artist also succeeds in easel painting, poster and interior design. In each of these independent art forms, Vladimir Tverdokhlebov proved himself as a rare professional, who understands laws and has brilliantly possessed all the arsenal of expressive means. The subtle emotional picturesqueness of his sketches made en plein air, the clear lapidary language of the symbols of his posters - all these are different interesting manifestations of the artist's talent.
In the industrial and ecological posters, posters of V.Tverdokhlebov for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society, the idea, the meaning of the message, is always laconically and expressively conveyed. At the same time, the artistic side itself is meaningfully solved - colour, line, contrast, symmetry and rhythm, allegory and symbol - the artist is able to unite all this into a whole image that is falling into the consciousness of the viewer.
The technique of painting appealed naturally to the artist. Since 1990 he has often participated in symposia and painting en plein air, including working in Paris in the international community of artists La Cite des Artistes, V.Tverdokhlebov is increasingly captivated by the picturesque. His still life paintings, landscapes and sketches are marked by the sophistication of world artistic culture, the energy of bold brushwork and the expression of feelings.
Love of the beauty of nature, the need to change impressions is a trait of V.Tverdokhlebov. Travelling, he shows amazing sensitivity to the peculiarities of different countries and cultures, steppe and city landscapes, seasons.
The special precise alignment, even of the artist’s small etudes, come from his experience as an artist-monumentalist, the captivating colour evokes allusions with his tapestries, the change of panorama and intimacy occurs in his works with the ease of the Master's hand, freely and flawlessly utilising all possible pictorial means.
Riot of colours, uncontrollable swing dynamics, whirlwind compositions in the picturesque sketches of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov seem to testify to the wonderful gift of individual freedom found by the artist in the creative possibilities of painting. His flamboyant textured brushstrokes transforms into a temperamental emotional action even the most simple plot or motif in the paintings of V.Tverdokhlebov. In his landscape sketches and paintings, grasses and bushes are twisted in a living, flexible dance. Hills, roads and rivers swirl like curly clouds. Spiritualised power, coveted natural pantheism, the eternal cycle of life's movement is as if all nature, the entire earthly universe permeates in the artist's canvases. His mountain ranges are growing, living and breathing, flowers blossom with delicate colours, the wind rustles the branches and foliage of the trees, water ripples, and the blue of the sky transparent light clouds fly swiftly by. This is how Tverdokhlebov's view of nature is vividly and positively expressed in his art. He immerses himself in life deeply and sensually.
In the works of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov, the fine knowledge of the art of the West and the understanding of the fine stylistics of the art of Japan and China are combined, his ability to melt the innovative and traditional impulses of world art into the mainstream of the national style of the Kazakh art school is manifested. It is difficult to list all the works created by the extraordinary artist Vladimir Tverdokhlebov in the field of monumental and decorative art, design, poster and painting. Suffice it to say, that his significant contribution to the art of Kazakhstan laid the foundation of the high standard of Kazakhstan’s art and formed its originality.
By Natalya Selivanova
Executive editor of "Your House" magazine
Interpretations by artist Vladimir Tverdokhlebov
Everything about him is monumental - from his name that is associated with the earth’s firmness and constancy, brilliant education, completed in the Soviet’s best art university, to his deep and thorough subject knowledge and impeccable taste, thanks to which we now owe not only truly beautiful, publicly appreciated, aesthetically forbearing, but also long-lasting, timeless works of art.
Extraordinary and expressive, Vladimir Tverdokhlebov quickly gained a reputation as a talented artist of monumental and decorative art. He also demonstrated great organizational skills, so the projects, where he executed responsibilities of Lead Artist and Head of Complex Design, followed one after another.
His first project was the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan in 1967-68.
In 1971 he was honoured to prepare the Art exhibition of the Central Asian Republics and Kazakhstan at the Grand Arena in Moscow. This project took more than a year.
Next was the memorial house-museum of Mukhtar Auezov. The scope and magnitude of the Kazakh Central State Museum’s expositions gave way to intimate and exquisitely refined interior.
Then the artist's imagination extended to decoration of urban environment and in 1980 he completed the fountain "Oriental Calendar", known as the “Signs of Zodiac”, on which Vladimir Tverdokhlebov worked for over 7 years. This fountain is unique, the world's only fountain depicting the prehistoric Tengrian calendar, widespread throughout Central Asia, Northern and Western China, Mongolia, from the Ural mountains to Siberia, and which to this day remains one of the most popular and reliable methods of chronology among indigenous peoples.
The artistic style of the fountain is based on the so-called animalistic style, typical for graphic and decorative objects design of the ancient people who inhabited the territory of Kazakhstan. The figures of twelve animals: rat, ox, leopard, rabbit, snail, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and boar, decorated with phantasmagorical wings, arranged around the sun, which rises on a high pedestal, in turn, surrounded by a ring with the images of the astrological signs of the zodiac . Wide water jets of the fountain, coming from under of each animal figure, are heading towards the Sun. Energetic, lively and sparkling, they create magical connection. Mosaic floor of the fountain - a distinct work of art - symbolic representation of the cosmos, uniting time laps in its infinity. Materials the fountain made from are classic and everlasting: marble, bronze, smalt. A stylish, conceptual, it is ornate, but contemporary and sophisticated.
Later, Vladimir as the Leader of a group of artists began a complex design of the House of Scientists of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan. In the large five-storey building, he organically used a variety of beautiful and durable natural materials found in Kazakhstan in combination with modern technology and original creations and techniques. For instance, in the large conference hall, he created a unique country mosaic composition, made in the Florentine mosaic technique out of semi-precious stones with the image of Lenin, the leader of the 1917 October revolution. In the lobby - mosaic portraits of prominent figures who influenced Kazakhstan’s science development (Al Farabi, Abay Kunanbayev, Ybyrai Altynsarin, Shokan Walikhanov, Kanysh Satpayev and Mukhtar Auezov). The meeting halls decorated with luxurious tapestries and handmade stucco. On the top floor - the radiant stained glass window themed "The Culture of Kazakhstan. Links the past with the present" and a magnificent multi-level winter garden with fine paintings on the walls with views of the Kazakh steppe, horses, and scenes from the life of nomads in oriental miniature style. As a result, the interior of the House of Scientists naturally intertwines lyrical and solemn melodies, human values and national culture, and symbols of the earth with their cosmic equivalent.
Since 1980s, the urban environment has been enriched with a variety of other works of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov which also have become iconic: The Palace of Culture of the Almaty Cotton Plant, where he again acted as the Head Artist of the Complex Design (grandiose and impressive reliefs, mosaics and paintings on the walls, fountains and sculptures), as well as numerous paintings for kindergartens, schools of criminology in Almaty and more. He further designed for many public buildings in other cities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
The value of Tverdokhlebov’s monumental art is unconditional, the more so because all his works are conceptual and informative.
The urban environment, although significant and interesting, was not the only step in the long journey of the artist. In the 90s monumental art was not in demand. However, Vladimir did not despair – the talented artist understood having only an allotted little time on Earth, he should not grieve and do nothing. He increasingly engaged in painting.
He journeyed through the scenic area of Zhetysu (Seven Rivers (eng.), Semirechye (rus.)) in search of new experiences and inspiration, leaving for a long time his comfortable city apartment, studio, family and friends, directly linking the "wanderlust" to the new period of his work. Vladimir Tverdokhlebov became a member of the artist group "Tengri". The modern itinerants traveled to Bukhara, Khiva, Issyk-Kul, towns of Zhetysu, Charyn and Ili river valleys. Following the trips, they organized serious conceptual art exhibitions featuring the work of landscape-painter, Tverdokhlebov. Some of them intimate and exquisitely subtle, the others - monumental and sculptural - they felt a firm hand of large-scale designer. However, both are masterfully executed - the artist is at the stage of life, when all the priorities have been defined, his vision is clear and doubtless. His favourite subject is nature - rich, diverse, eternal - sometimes bright and contrasting, sometimes pastel and soft - his landscapes and still lifes are not photographic, but artistic and poetic.
Urban landscapes is another theme for Vladimir. This way he captures impressions from his travel to exotic towns and cities. Here are the towns of the East with their bright colours of the high sky, midday heat, architecture of mosques and minarets. And here are the cities of Europe –different colouring, culture, light. The artist is interested in not only the world-famous attractions, but also in minor streets, small fragments of often unmarked squares, bridges and alleys. Somehow, they have left their mark in the master’s soul. His pictures make you think, comprehend the laws of the universe and this is their philosophical value.
Watercolour paintings and oil canvases, harmoniously combining eternal and transient, sunny and cloudy, verticals and horizontals, thoughts and feelings - that is mysterious and attractive Art in interpretation by artist Tverdokhlebov.
Another facet in the works of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov - tapestries, beginning in 1983, when he designed the House of Scientists of Kazakhstan. Since then, he has created more than 50 tapestry compositions. Why this technique so valued by Vladimir? Primarily because it is “alive as nature, mobile as water and energetic as space."
Since 2010, the National Bank of Kazakhstan has issued an annual series of collector coins “The Oriental Calendar” in silver and gold, based on the design of Vladimir Tverdokhlebov’s figures of the fountain "The Oriental Calendar". In the near future, the series will be replenished by a new coin designed by Vladimir Tverdokhlebov in silver and gold, covered by coloured enamel, with symbolic representation of the cosmos, embodying the unity of the universe and the signs of the zodiac.
In addition, since 2002, Vladimir Tverdokhlebov has again become in demand as a muralist. There are no other artists of his class. Vladimir is again creating grandiose and original mosaic compositions for facades of iconic architectural sites in Almaty, such as the mosaic "Dragon" for the restaurant "Thai", the mosaic composition "The Silk Road" for the “Issyk” restaurant of the Hotel “Alma-Ata” and others.
But Vladimir considers that his main achievement in the past decade are the mosaics "Jesus Christ", "Trinity" and "Annunciation" on the facades of the Orthodox churches, the church of Christ the Saviour in the city of Almaty and the church of the Annunciation in the city of Aktau, created in 2006-07.
Vladimir Tverdokhlebov’s singularity is that he tends to put a great deal of research into each of his projects, his creations are thoughtful, he is able to visualise his works of art in overall and fit them organically into the natural and architectural space. Last, but not least, he strives to create lasting pieces that will stand the test of time and remain as monuments not only of art, but also of history.