(1930-1992)

Graphic artist, illustrator.

 

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A.Maximov. 1987

Alexander Denisovich Maximov was born in the Moscow region in 1930.

He began to draw as a boy and received professional training at the Moscow Regional Pamyati 1905 goda Art School, from which he graduated in 1950. In 1952 he enrolled in Moscow’s Surikov State Institute of Art, where he studied under Mikhail Cheremnykh, a disciple of K. Korovin and S. Malyutin. Cheremnykh designed the Anti-religious ABC book and the first of the ROSTA Windows and was among the founders of the TASS (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) Windows and the Krokodil satirical magazine. A 1958 Surikov graduate, Maximov majored in poster design.

Maximov did not work long as a poster designer. But a few compositional and coloristic sketches for posters, book illustrations and postcards done at the very outset of the Khrushchev Thaw period have survived in his legacy.

 

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Sketch of a March 8 (International Women’s Day) greeting card. 1958

 

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Sketch of a poster. 1961

 

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Poster sketches. 1961

 

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Poster sketch. 1959

 

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Poster sketch. 1963

 

There is as yet next to nothing of Maximov’s trademark style in these works except that they are done confidently by a competent young artist. Later Maximov only indirectly used his earlier poster-designer skills when working on sketches of invitations and catalogue covers for exhibitions to which he contributed. Nevertheless, the idea of combining drawing with text, tied organically with representation, apparently originated early on and was implemented in later works.

As young artists could hardly count on making good money at that time, they leaped at practically every opportunity. For a while Maximov plunged into the theme of aquatic sports competitions.

 

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On a Hot Day. 1964

 

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Compositional sketches on the Competitions theme. 1964

 

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Compositional sketches on the Competitions theme. 1964

Work on this theme and his countless experiments with versions, color schemes and figure expressivity led to quite unexpected finds and the appearance of a number of graphic sheets highly innovative not only for Soviet art of that period. Gallery owners in the West repeatedly pointed out later on that Maximov was ahead of European art development by fifteen years or more.

 

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My friend kayaker. 1963

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Front view of a torso. 1963

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Study in four planes. 1963

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Thoughts. 1963

 

Maximov’s going abstract in those years was neither a tribute to fashion nor a desire to be up to the mark. It was a natural process of studying nature, the surroundings, people and himself. While doing abstractions, he tried sundry technical methods, groping for expressive lines and spots, tested compositional solutions, explored relationships and mixed different professional techniques of surface treatment.

His research found perhaps the most graphic expression in his work on the 1961 album “The Abstract Art Debate”, which the Moscow-based Kovcheg gallery showed to the public at the 2001 International Art Fair ART MOSKVA. Some of the total of about 300 sheets document Maximov’s life, thoughts and experiences. The artist is shown eating, washing his hands, wiping his back, riding a bus, drawing his sleeping wife, eating corn knobs and seating on a toilet bowl. Most of these were works executed in the realistic manner. Abstraction comes into its own when it is a matter of music, emotions, feelings, spiritual quests, or else something associative and immaterial. Technical or plastic solutions found in abstract works were there and then used in realistic drawings and vice versa. The artist transformed this interpenetration of styles into a sort of dialogue between the works themselves. This series graphically demonstrates the possibility of peaceful co-existence of opposite stylistic trends and, what is more, the broad prospects for using the technical potential of one trend to accomplish creative goals in the other.

There was a time when, like many other artists, Maximov collaborated with the Murzilka magazine for children. Curiously enough, his illustrations were published on the same page opening as drawings for kids by another artist – Ilya Kabakov. It is, however, not known for sure whether the two artists were personally acquainted.

This experience of connecting words with pictures in a magazine, as well as the study of Russian icon painting with its designation of saints with the help of letters, served as an additional stimulus for Maximov to look for a style of his own. No doubt, his immersion in the world of Russian lubok prints played the decisive role in the evolution of Maximov’s trademark style. It was only natural that Maximov developed a passion for lubok. The same as it was with lubok, the most mundane subject could become a theme for the artist: he drew always and everywhere, registering the surrounding life and its particulars. It was equally interesting for him to work on a large composition or to elaborate its detail.

It all started with free copying of the best specimens of old luboks. After familiarizing himself with the medium and developing a taste for it, Maximov went further. Together with his colleagues at the Experimental lithographic studio in Verkhnyaya Maslovka – Leonid Kurzenkov, Nikolay Voronkov and the recognized master of printed graphic works Fedor Semenov-Amursky – Maximov began to produce representations on modern themes in the lubok style.

 

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A Moscow artist’s birthday party. 1978

 

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Going to the grocer’s to buy sour cream. 1978

 

On February 27, 1973, a group exhibition of “arrangements in the style of Russian lubok”, to which Alexander Maximov contributed, opened at the House of Artists in Kuznetsky Most. Maximov published a home-made catalogue for the exhibition titled “Arrangements of Russian Popular Lubok Prints”, in which he expounded the fundamentals of his vision of the world through the prism of Russian lubok.

Another group show was staged at the Russian Museum in Leningrad in 1977, and still another group exhibition, “Arrangements of Russian Lubok”, was held at the Central House of Artists in Moscow in 1984.

 

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Sketch of the exhibition invitation and catalogue. 1975

 

The lubok theme proved fertile, and Maximov continued to supply his pictures with text, now without looking back at the pre-revolutionary tradition.

 

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A landing troops tattoo on a man’s shoulder. 1977

 

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Flies at the Tambov Dacha. 1978. Kovcheg Gallery collection

 

Maximov was carried away by this inclusion of text into the picture. His unorthodox view of the surrounding world found expression in bizarre series, such as the lithographs, ”Some Tattoos at the Malorechenskoye Beach in the Crimea” (1976-1977), and the “Tambov Dacha” drawings  (1990). The diversity and scale of Maximov’s legacy is truly amazing. Throughout his work inventiveness and original thinking were his major merits. In the early 1990s the then Moscow Timiryazevsky district exhibition hall (which was to become the Kovcheg Gallery subsequently) staged the “Lithographs of the 1960s” exhibition, which acquainted the viewers with works of the artists of the Verkhnyaya Maslovka Experimental Lithographic Studio. In 1996 the same exhibition hall hosted Maximov’s first memorial show as part of its Lasting Names cycle. In view of the Kovcheg curators’ profound interest in Maximov’s works his widow, Vera Ivanovna Dzhigir, handed over a portion of the artist’s legacy and archive to the gallery and the rest to the Lyubertsy local lore museum.

 

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In turn, the Kovcheg Gallery gifted many of Maximov’s graphic sheets to the museums of Vologda, Tver, Ivanovo, Tula, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Nizhni Tagil, Novokuznetsk, Krasnoarmeisk and Uzlovaya. In the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and other Russian museums Maximov is also represented by mostly his Russian lubok arrangement prints.

In 2005 a retrospective of Maximov’s paintings and graphic works dating from 1961-1991 was held by the State Tretyakov Gallery in collaboration with the Kovcheg Gallery. Some 300 works ranging from abstract compositions of the early 1960s to his trademark lithographs were on show, for which a solid catalogue had been published.