Every artist’s creative path is decided by a variety of different factors, ranging from those connected with time, mentality and social and historical environment, to the personal and everyday. As the offspring of a long-established artistic dynasty, Ivan Korzhev had to face a serious choice, not so much of occupation as of his specialization within the field and, more importantly, of his artistic creed. The excellence of the artwork of his grandfather, the famous artist Geli Mikhailovich Korzhev, whose work Ivan had known since his childhood, set a high standard that could serve either as a tempting example to follow, or an unachievable ideal with such a weight of authority as to cut short any ambition. Another role model in terms of professional competence was Ivan’s mother (and Geli’s daughter), Irina Gelievna Korzheva-Chuveleva, an artist working with glass. Many other members of the Korzhev family devoted themselves to art too. It would be naive to assume that in developing their creative identity a child from a family of artists would have less difficulty than others. On the contrary, the weight of ideas and of talented artwork of which the young artist is aware pushes him to search for his own self with a redoubled zeal, asserting a particular competence and creative individuality.

Perhaps this is what explains the central quality of Ivan Korzhev’s art with its neverending exploration of ideas, narratives, genres, forms, stylistic techniques and art media. The internal dynamism of his personality ensures success for Korzhev’s ventures into different genres of sculpture, as well as architecture and graphic art. For all the variety of techniques, each of Korzhev’s works is distinguished by the obvious or implied impact of tradition, of the language of classical art, which became, probably due to the artist’s deep cultural roots, an inherent feature of his style. Every artist has an indisputable right to an idiosyncratic mode of vision and expression that accords with his ideas, yet he or she cannot make progress without a solid base, professional training, and profound knowledge of the cultural legacy of mankind. Ivan Korzhev successfully completed all stages of his education, from a complete course of study at the Moscow School of Art (now the Moscow Lyceum of Art, under the aegis of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts) to Mikhail Vladimirovich Pereyaslavets’s sculpture workshop at the Surikov Art College in Moscow. Evidence of this can be found in the array of artwork Korzhev accomplished as a student, including drawings, sculptures from life models, reliefs, studies and croquis.

This rich experience in a variety of creative methods not only taught Korzhev to respect the classical legacy of international art and natural philosophy, but also fostered in him a romanticized approach to the evaluation of complex everyday realities. It would be fair to say that such a decision was predestined, as the artist came to recognize and assimilate varied emotional and mental influences: his great-grandfather, the prominent architect Mikhail Petrovich Korzhev, was called a “romantic” of architecture; Geli Korzhev’s celebrated compositions are imbued with a Goya-like romantic spirit of tragedy; and heroicized romanticism features prominently in the artwork of Mikhail Pereyaslavets, the younger Korzhev’s teacher. The artist definitely responds to those ideas that conform to his worldview, but this combination of “ancestral experience” and the learned methodology of art is most likely the result of fate and destiny.

An individual of the 21st century, Ivan Korzhev communicates the very vague notion of “romanticism”, deliberately or intuitively, in a very peculiar fashion, relying on modern “Post-post-modern” ideas. Avoiding the stereotypical visual or semantic patterns of Post-modernism, the artist attempts to mix the classical and the contemporary without any ostentatious irony or unhealthy desire for self-expression, while retaining an element of the “playful”. This play, however, is important for him not as an easily-available instrument for destroying concepts and transforming ideas, but as a form of syncretic learning entitling him to a personal statement. Within such an approach, the eternal, classical narratives can be addressed in a variety of ways.

The biblical, evangelical images – “Expulsion from Paradise”, “The Prodigal Son”, “Judith”, “Judas. The Destiny”, “The Kiss of Judas”, “Pontius Pilate” – were created on the borders of the classical visual repertoire employing the yardstick of Realist verisimilitude of forms, even when such forms are marked by a deliberate incompleteness (nonfinito) or a stylization of lines and shapes. Remaining a modern artist in his complex interpretations of the categories of historicism and realism, retrospection and classicalness, Ivan Korzhev builds up dialectic power lines between the eternal and the transient. Such an approach helps to preserve the relevance of the deep spiritual and philosophical insights,as in the case of the imagery of Judas, where the artist continues the apologetic tradition of the Cainites – the Albigensian heresy – Albert Reville – Maximilian Voloshin – Mikhail Bulgakov – Jorge Luis Borges (and others). The artist has tackled more than once the subjects of which he is especially fond, such as the stories of Pontius Pilate or Judith and Holofernes, treating them carefully and applying to them a variety of interpretative approaches. The several statues of Pontius Pilate trace a diachronous development – the story of the formation of individuality, its culmination and life’s final stage; one should also recall the theological and literary sources of the artist’s inspiration. The case of the biblical Judith is different: secured in historical terms and meaning, the symbol is each time transplanted to a different social and historical context created by purely sculptural means. Accordingly, the core of the image remains unchanged while semantic highlights in different statues bring to light different aspects of the eternal story.

A large part of Korzhev’s work contains various allusions to the classical art of antiquity – to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. References to antiquity are also manifested in the artist’s individualized attempts to rival ancient reliefs and medallions, working on which he assimilated and creatively processed the experience of the past. This practical, methodical work was accomplished by a professional deeply engaged in the artwork concerned. But the variations on Egyptian themes – “The Mirror of Isis”, “Cleopatra” – show a degree of moderation of such seriousness. Due to their stylized and grotesque treatment, the masks of Hercules and Antaeus appear like facetious theatricals “with changing costumes”, whereas the characters of the “Dionysian Mysteries” are imbued with a sense of truly cheerful merry-making. The mytho-poetic images such as “The Sphynx of the Taurida” and “Zeus” enthral with their colourful hedonism. However, often the layers of meaning the deciphering of which can be entertaining indeed are not the only engaging feature of the images inspired by antiquity. The stylized torso “Cuirass and Sagum” does not call for any playful interaction; instead, it evokes the complexities of the social and cultural environment of Ancient Rome. The array of several battle-themed reliefs like “Confrontation. Amazonomachy”, the romantic sculptural group resembling an ancient artefact “Combat (Warriors)”, and the monumental symbolical mural relief “Moirae (The Fates)”, are distinguished by their powerfully dramatic overtones.

Allowing himself to introduce elements of irony into the treatment of different realities, from the not-so-distant past (“World of Childhood (Dolls)”, “Ivan Poddubny”, “Barrel”), Korzhev proves himself capable of clearly marking the boundaries of what is acceptable, and of capturing the viewer’s attention by making him deeply understand the essence of the images insofar as narratives of universal importance and elevated ideas are concerned. The unfolding narrative about the formation of the individual is the common foundation of the conceptual series of sculptures devoted to great personalities who have left an indelible mark on the history of humankind, like Alexander Menshikov, Joan of Arc, Emelian Pugachev, Evpaty Kolovrat, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great. With Genghis Khan, this intention has been realized through two statues — one of Temujin, the young leader of a Mongolian tribe before he assumed the title of Great Khan, the other of the great military commander and Khan of Khans, Genghis Khan. Here we can speak about the integral development of personality over time.

Other subjects in the series of images of prominent historical personalities are portrayed at climactic, tragic moments of their eventful lives. The choice of such moments allows the sculptor to synthesize the dynamism of the spiritual growth or, depending on the personality, the projection of individuality. Meanwhile, the sculptor rejects equally any exemplary transcendentality of the ideal, as well as any prosaic matter-of-factness. The artist employs his chosen concept of passive heroics with romantic gloss to find a balance between the ideal and everyday elements, synthesized into a whole within the limits of an indeterminate period that is “out of time”. All these historical figures are united by the narrative of homo patiens, either in obvious form or in disguise, hidden under different masks. Even Alexander Pushkin’s portrait, closer than all the other pieces to an absolute ideal, has the features of a passive personality. Meanwhile, in “Buddha” the sculptor probably wanted to convey the ideal of overcoming suffering by achieving the highest inner harmony, and “Hoca Nasreddin” is an example of self-purification through the grotesque and clownery of the Theatre of the Absurd.

With regard to one of the key problems of the philosophy of history, it can be confidently assumed that Ivan Korzhev believes in the great importance of the role of the individual. Every historical figure not only has a recognizable distinctive appearance but is also treated with specific creative instruments and with an invariable emphasis on the individual rather than his surroundings, which can be very rich. The aspiration to reify and maximally contemporize a historical figure is especially evident in the historical series of graphic pieces with their fragmentary composition, close-ups of the faces of the notable characters concerned, and an overall leanness of visual repertoire, which keeps the viewer focused on what is truly important. In these pieces, portrait-like resemblance is not an end in itself, and the viewer can unriddle the images not so much through physical likeness as by means of intellectual ex​amination.

Completely different aspects of the romantic vision are revealed in a historical figure that attracts the artist not so much by its personal traits as by the societal semantics of the forms – the decadent Ida Rubinstein performing her “Dance of the Seven Veils”. Reflection in Korzhev’s other works, such as “Carnival”, “Reverie” and “Langour”, is also focused on the dualistic nature of female beauty connected to the romantic, basically secret, hidden, latent foundation which has undercurrents of Passeism of varying strength. The various behavioural and psycho-emotional aspects of femininity are exposed in sculptures such as “Shivering”, “Conversation”, “Coquetry” and “Phobia”, in the numerous nude drawings, croquis, studies, reliefs and sculptural models from nature. Meanwhile, the relief “The Beauty Contest”, reaching not only the viewer’s aesthetic sense but also their moral and ethical conscience, requires a different, sharply social approach to its subject matter.

This relief is directly related to another of Korzhev’s work – the three-piece relief “Expectation of Expectations”. The similarity of the compositional arrangements is determined by the desire, not frequently noticed in contemporary artists, to make art relevant with interactive socio-cultural and moral and ethical reflections. As one can see in this and other works, Ivan Korzhev, preserving his unwavering respect for classical art, does not eschew references to vital issues of the day while he draws parallels with the eternal narratives; he does not only employ certain techniques and stylistic approaches but also weaves a complex symbolical and allegorical interpretation of images which is free of any simple-minded concreteness. The variations on socio-cultural themes are diverse: from the emblematic sculptural formulas (“Weapons”) and lean graphic metaphors (the series “Arms (Arms and Things)”) to the polysemic images drawing on different arts and injecting an element of irony into a chosen narrative, like “Peres-Troika”.

Such echoes of irony capable of mitigating the intensity of any ethical message are also felt in Korzhev’s portraits, which cover a wide range of styles – from classical busts to synthesized forms. In “Red Kerchief”, “Shoulder Straps” and “Adolescent Girl (Portrait of a Girl)” the artist employs a Realist tradition to create an imagery which is impersonal and generalized, although the models have obvious resemblances to real people. The “Investor”’s head too has individual traits, but its realism is subverted by an intervention of material objects into its flesh, which, together with roman​ticized allusions to antique sculptures, builds up an absurdity that leads to a fundamentally tragic denouement.

However, one should be warned against scouring the artist’s irony for critical undercurrents that imply a rejection of traditional humanistic values. Quite the opposite: all of Korzhev’s sculptural “statements” are coupled with lastingly relevant references to eternal themes, references which are rooted in the feeling of involvement and kinship with, and “global acceptance” of, the dynamic world full of drama and beauty. The subjectivity of the situation and the attitudes of the personalities concerned enable the artist to single out a certain everyday aspect and to invest it, by an exertion of the creative will power, with a symbolical meaning, transforming an “individual case” into an event – a reality – of universal scope. The sculptures such as “He and She. Torsos”, “Silence”, “Wailing Over the Dead”, “Crusader”, “Torso”, “The Outcast”, “Communication”, “Sumo Wrestlers”, and “Blacksmith” represent pithy signifiers that reveal the undercurrents of meaning of varying complexity as the viewer’s intellect engages itself with the imagery.

Combining realism and abstraction within one sculptural composition in a certain proportion, Ivan Korzhev seeks to provide not only an illustrative and literary, but also an abstract and metaphorical interpretation of his themes. The viewers cannot “read” such a metaphor if they do not have a certain stock of knowledge and aesthetic experience. Yet it cannot be argued that the objects created by the sculptor are cultural codes, or an “art for the learned” which cannot exist without cultural and philosophical reflection. The multiplicity of meanings inherent in the images enables the viewer to open them up at very different levels depending on the viewer’s subjective response.

The sculptor’s cosmopolitan view of the world, combined with a touch of romanticism, makes him perfectly at ease when approaching the most diverse historical and cultural narratives. Besides, this inner liberty, nourished by continuous study of classical artists, also rests on the sculptor’s diverse formal skills and his solid command of artistic techniques. Korzhev has a keen flair for the emotional and representational potential of sculpture and prefers to actively employ it to assert his artistic priorities. He creates a space which dynamically fills in the pauses within the forms; he introduces rhythms – some rugged and emphatically awkward, some smooth and flowing; in every sculpture he introduces a special pattern of folds in tune with the image. The material used in the making of a sculpture, too, is important in the development of its themes. Korzhev has a superb ability to choose, sometimes with amazing accuracy, not only the material most suitable for the rendition of a particular idea but also a suitable method of processing it. He calmly and competently employs the varying qualities of the materials: his wood is either flowing and smooth, or loosened and breathing; bronze is polished to shine or patinated; ceramics can be grainy or glazed; stones have a very rich tex​ture.

However, Ivan Korzhev does not have to worry about being criticized for eclecticism – his defence against such a charge is his incontestably holistic, well-thought-out and mature stance as an artist, which can be best described as a romantic and dramatic response to the world and a presumption of beauty. Such a mindset, aesthetically fairly inclusive, helps the artist to keep his artistic freedom intact. Ivan Korzhev does not endlessly replicate specific formal and stylistic choices, nor employ ad infinitum images he has at one time developed. He looks forward, always pushing the boundaries of his art and preserving his capacity for surprise at this world.

PhD in art, senior researcher in State institute of art studies Vershinina A.