Saturday, January 27, 2007

Iconography, A Divine Discipline

Russian master Vladislav Andrejev brought his knowledge of the ancient, intricate, highly coded art of the sacred icon to Minnesota.

Talking technique

For six days last week, 13 artists bent intently over their work in a hushed classroom at St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral in northeast Minneapolis. By week's end, each had fashioned a work of remarkable beauty. Yet not one was a work of artistic self-expression.

That's because they were painting icons, an extremely disciplined and symbol-infused form of religious art that abides by ancient and rigorous rules. Icons, highly stylized yet deeply mystical images born in the cradle days of Christianity and associated most strongly with its Orthodox tradition, are created -- or "written," as icon artists say -- for only one purpose, to make visible and to glorify the divine.

Each student in last week's master class, taught by Vladislav Andrejev, a Russian native who founded the Prosopon School of iconography, was working from a sketch of the Christ child fashioned by Andrejev and based on traditional images. In the way of all icons, the figure was imbued with symbols. Every curve, every color meant something.

The icons show Jesus at age 12, when "he became aware of his divine consciousness," Andrejev said with the help of a translator. The image's title -- "Christ Child, Emanuel" ("God with us") -- also expresses the religious reverence that icon painters bring to their work.

"From an early age, I was searching for the one true faith," said Andrejev, 68, who grew up in Soviet-era St. Petersburg, when iconography, like most religious expression, was suppressed. The artist, a slight, quiet man with a long, gray beard and kind eyes, practiced in secret. He went on to found the Prosopon School, part of the Byzantine-Russian tradition of iconography. He emigrated to New York in 1980 and teaches master classes nationwide.

This is not his first trip to Minnesota; two years ago, he painted the dome of the new St. Michael Catholic Church in exurban St. Michael. [....snip] StarTribune

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