VISIONARY REVUE


The Women of Nadjis - 1911
(Les Femmes des Nadjis)

      ""To punish her mere existence" he writes "Kalmakoff shut up his wife in their home while painting all day long... he painted for himself and for his deliverance - whispering mysteriously that he was painting the devil... The foremost theme of his works appeared at this time: that woman is linked with evil as its emmisary and incarnation." (Georges Martin du Nord, ‘Nicolas Kalmakoff’ in le Réalisme Fantastique, Jean-Claude Guibert, Editions Opta, Paris 1973 p. 19. Author’s translation.)
      But, if misogyny undoubtedly abounds in his work, so too does an intense eroticism. Once again, Mgebrov's memoire gives us a glimpse into the early works of Kalmakoff, now lost to us:
      "All his works betrayed a certain eroticism - an eroticism so overwhelming that it could only be attributed to Satan himself, or worse, to a force even greater than Satan, to something infinitely more awesome and terrifying...
      "A couple of years ago I saw a truly prodigious painting of his at Evreinoff's place, a painting that was pervaded entirely by his hyper-diabolic eroticism. It depicted the sexes of a man and woman in union. But, using that array of colours so particular to him, he created strange rhythmic patterns around them, evoking a sense of mystery. The two sexes were rendered in such a way that you believed you were witnessing the creation of the world."
(KAL p. 20)
      Mgebrov, who knew Kalmakoff well, admitted a demonic source for the artist's eroticism - but also went beyond this view, seeing the source of his sexual energy as something more ancient, primordial, even ethereal. It appears that, as a result of his intensive denial, Kalmakoff had - in the pure Freudian sense - displaced his desire onto images which sublimated his eroticism entirely. Since the source of his desire was, at once, paradisal and demonic, the women in his paintings also took on the dual aspect of ethereal and malevolent. It is this quality which makes his oeuvre so unique: populated by female figures who are equally goddess and temptress.



 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2004


She Rides a Peacock - 1910
(Elle Chevauche un Paon)


      Certainly, this is the case with The Women of Nadjis (left), one of the earliest works we possess. The two feminine figures undulate with undeniable eroticism. And yet, thirteen blackened faces float between them, as if manifesting the frightening source of their eroticism. A closer examination reveals that these dark faces with flaming hair may indeed be the heads of numerous serpents, whose scaled bodies form rhythmic patterns of colour throughout the background.
      In a similar work from the same period, She Rides a Peacock (above), we behold a black woman in profile kneeling in an Egyptian manner on a stylized peacock. Once again, the background is charged with rhythmic patterns of colour.

MIR ISKOUSSTVA
AND THE SOURCE OF LIFE

      When viewing the early works that were subsequently lost, Mgebrov also commented on the mysterious organic shapes that crowded into the backgrounds:
      "His works were visually stunning, corresponding to no known school or style. Time and again, he depicted vague organic shapes, as if he wanted to magnify a million times the first cellular life-form from the universe's inception. And these sinuous, wavey molecules moved in the most extraordinary patterns, sometimes falling into swirling vortex designs. The subjects in the paintings were often difficult to distinguish, but you could still sense the intense desire to understand, beyond the fantasy and caprice, the essence of something evil."(KAL 20)
      In the earliest paintings we have (above), we can still see in the background those 'extraordinary patterns' which Mgebrov described. This is even more evident in his dark work Genuflecting Monster of 1910 (see next page).



 
 
 


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