by Valentin Diakonov
Grey is the color of oblivion, memory and values. It also is the most important thing when speaking about Maria Serebriakova’s art. Grey is the dominant color of rocks, and elephants are grey – this is important because modern painting is “palpation of a creature in the dark.” Is there really an elephant in the shadows, and how many times should it be touched to figure it out? These are the main questions. The less one attempts it, the better: a confident guess, humble, yet convincing arsenal of evidence and here it is, right in front of us – an object worth becoming a valuable indication on nature of this breathing creature in the dark. In the case of Maria Serebriakova, an elephant does certainly exist. Its analogue turns out to be one of the most mysterious paintings of the modern era of European art – The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci.
This thing exists in duplicate, astride the English Channel in London’s National Gallery, and in the Louvre. It is one of the first concessions to romantic disposition and, as with any other of Leonardo’s works, it contains a collection of numerous vectors and interpretations. From Leonardo’s notes we know that the rocky landscape in the scene was inspired by real observations. In the course of traveling, the artist finds himself next to a cave. “Inside of me two things appear – fear and desire (or curiosity),” wrote Leonardo. Patricia Emison, an expert in Leonardo’s œuvre notes that Machiavelli was endowed with just the same mix of feelings when it came to the attitude of citizens towards the Sovereign, as was the biographer of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi, when writing about the feelings of audiences before the sculptor’s famous statue of Moses. According to Emison, this chain indicates that The Virgin of the Rocks had to produce an effect of the severe, even like a menacing portrait, but not a lovely family sketch. Other researchers have spoken about how Leonardo entered the inventive architecture of nature as an observer on the other side of human life. This sense of a work was picked up on by the Romantics – in painting it was Caspar David Friedrich; and, in poetry, for example, it was Percy Shelley, who exclaimed in front of Mont Blanc that is was: “Rude, bare, and high, Ghastly, and scarr’d, and riven. Is this the scene. Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young?” Desert rocks are not only fate, but also the place of anxious hallucinations. In Lermontov’s works a pine tree has a dream that it is a palm. For Wordsworth, it seemed that rocks walked towards him, as happened in Pushkin’s The Stone Guest.
Power, otherworldly will, hallucinations: these are a set of meanings surrounding rocks. Maria Serebriakova synthesizes all of them in her monochrome canvases, in which pines and rock shelters appear. Instead of the Virgin and Child, there is a bed or more likely a psychoanalyst’s couch, a place for the deployment of dreams and for returning the power over them.
Interpreters of Serebriakova’s art unanimously note the “nomadism” and “vagrancy” that appear in her works. Perhaps, in the last series of paintings viewers face the most legible and deployed appeal to the theme of a difficult journey. Rocky landscapes evoke anxiety and curiosity, beds are home furnishings, usually accompanying certainty, fixedness in space. They point relatively to an attempt to refuse immersion into the eternal horizon of the subconscious.