M A Y  15,  2013
4 Alexander Maximov. Archive Entries

Alexander Maximov. 1960

 

When you come across Alexander Maximov’s diary entries for the first time, your first natural reaction is that you read some absurdity. The artist seems to have focused on trifles, on very simple mundane things. Yet whenever he described that mundaneity, he practically always rose above it, reinterpreted what he had seen or what was going on around and elevated it in his thoughts to ‘cosmic heights.’ Later on the artist Valery Babin said, “Painting is meant to transform Everyday Life into Being!” That was precisely the way things stood with Maximov in his paintings, graphic works and diary reflections.

Though I, for one, am dead against any additional literary explication of the depicted story or its description, when reading Maximov’s diary entries I feel sorry that he didn’t use all of his texts in his works nor transferred them directly to graphic sheets. Even though he frequently did include texts in his works to great avail, at times I wish there were more of them. The thing is that Maximov’s texts not so much explain, decipher or supplement the representation as act as another, no less important “protagonist.” The huge corpus of Maximov’s oeuvre includes a sheet showing the artist washing his socks. Needless to say, the genre scene is hardly the paragon of beauty, and the story is no lottery ticket. What is curious is not only the way he did it but also his thoughts in the process.

 I decided to wash my socks. I was washing my socks and felt I wanted to draw this. But then I recalled Napoleon’s maxim, ‘Don’t wash your dirty linen in public.’ And it seemed to me shameful and indecent to show this procedure… Then it occurred to me: why should I follow Napoleon’s way of thinking. After all, I’m no Napoleon, I’m a far cry from Napoleon, I’m Alexander Maximov, and to show dirty socks being washed is therefore quite admissible and permissible for me. Isn’t it wonderful how water and soap, guided by my hands, cleanse these dirty socks and make them clean cotton socks of a lovely red color.” 05/21/1976

More on the reverse:

…now if he decided that way, I can decide differently, because copying his decisions still won’t make me a Napoleon, and no need for me to be one. 05/21/1976”

 

Here is another example of the “base” meeting the “sublime”:

People in the village come into contact with earth and grow trees and fruit on it. I live on the fourth floor in Moscow, and there earth that feeds and supports the entire world is found only in flower-pots or as dirt on vegetables. When I wash potatoes in water in the morning, scraping earth away with my fingers, I often recall a still life of Renato Guttuso – a basket of potatoes. I wonder if Guttuso washes potatoes himself.”

Next comes:

Earth is the whole of our planet, with all its minerals, air, water and every type of life there is on it. It is also the parts of the globe, countries, states, regions, cities and towns and villages. It is also dirt that we wash off the vegetables or clean off our shoes and clothes. The Earth is a planet, and when we wash potatoes, we come into contact with the Earth. Earth and dirt are parts of the same thing – the Earth. 07/22-23/1974”

 

1 Alexander Maximov. Archive Entries

When I wash potatoes in the morning… 1974

 

Of course, in his diaries Maximov muses a lot about himself and seeks to understand his place and role in this world:

I know a great deal about Goya, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Repin, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin and other great masters. I know many facts of their life and work, but I know nothing or next to nothing about myself. 04/30/1975”

Or take another entry of 1976:

I closely followed developments on Cuba, their revolution there, and was very anxious to see Fidel come to power. I followed closely how his troops descended from the mountains into the valley. But I didn’t notice that all the while I was losing hair and teeth, and that my general condition was worsening. What mattered most to me was that Fidel prevailed, and he did… But then, looking into a shop window I suddenly saw that I had little hair left on my head. There was a shining bold patch instead. Even though Fidel Castro was victorious, I hadl lost my hair. I hadn’t noticed that before. Now I saw it. I saw that besides Fidel Castro, I was there.”

He was absolutely frank and indeed meant what he said. What now sounds slightly absurd and might be taken for tongue-in-cheek was not there. A folk poet that he was, Maximov jotted down whatever he saw around. His archive is full of just as frank notes directly on problems of creativity. The artist’s responsibility to viewers is manifest even in the way he pedantically signed and dated every diary entry. He was just as pedantic about signing every one of his works, sometimes even giving the exact day, month, year, hour and minute they were done. I think he didn’t hope much that his works would meet with large audiences and treated his graphic sheets very much like his diary entries. Whatever Maximov produced, be it a page of his diary of drawings, in which no line or stroke was accidental, was his discoveries in his endless thoughts about time, art and himself conveyed in the form of drawings.