From Hardship To The Stars

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On The Work Of Artist Yakov Kandinov


Artist Yakov Abramovich Kandinov will turn 70 this September. His great creative achievements in easel and monumental painting following his emigration testify to the talent of the artist-philosopher. His work occupies a well-deserved place of honor in the fine arts of Central Asian Jews.

​​I was familiar with only three of his works from the album Bukharian Jewish Artists when it was released in Israel in 2016. Professional interest in the artist exceeded all my expectations. The overall picture of his creativity, endowed with the talent of a master, was fully revealed when I received photographs of his works from Los Angeles. Back in the day, Yakov Kandinov, a young artist who was just starting his journey in the Soviet art of Uzbekistan, was awarded the title of Laureate of the Lenin Komsomol of the Namangan region for his design of monuments.

He belongs to the generation of Soviet artists of the 1980s, whose work was marked by experiments in art and rethinking of the historical events of the country's past. Kandinov was engaged in the decoration of interiors and exteriors of buildings in Tashkent and the cities of Syrdarya and Khorezm, as well as the aforementioned Namangan region of Uzbekistan.

Why did Yakov Kandinov choose to focus on monumental art? This was the result of the fact that he was born and lived in Kokand, where monuments of architectural structures are well preserved. Kandinov was also attracted by the versatility of muralists, which enabled the artist to work as a painter and sculptor in decorative and applied art.



His Childhood

Kandinov was born in 1953, in a home with wonderful parents: Abram Benyaminovich and Roza Abramovna Kandinov. Yakov was in love with his city and for good reason. The old part of Kokand, the former capital of the Kokand Khanate, is an open-air museum. The artist was inspired by the Khan's Palace of Urda, numerous mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, as well as decorated private houses built in the city at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries. Under the shady alleys of the city, young Yakov drew the streets of ancient Kokand, where he lived as a child.

Yakov Abramovich treats his ancestors with great respect and reverence. According to his stories, it was possible to find out that he had a whole cohort of worthy and extraordinary relatives. In the distant past, they played a large role in the Bukharian Jewish communities of Central Asia and the Holy Land, and more recently in the former Soviet Union in the development of science, architecture, and philosophy and also in the administrative structures of the country. These experiences played a big role in shaping Kandinov’s personality.

On his father's side, Yakov is related to Aron ben Moshe Kandin (1822, Bukhara – 1909, Jerusalem), a community leader who served as gabbai of the synagogue in Bukhara and served as an advisor for Emir Alim Khan. He was even received by Emperor Alexander III and received Russian citizenship. At the end of his life, in 1888, Aron ben Moshe left for Palestine and did charity work in the Bukharian Jewish community of Jaffa, where he built a synagogue, nursing homes, and an orphanage.

On his mother’s side, Kandinov’s great-grandfather was Yakov Murdakhaev Yuhanan (1873-1966, Tashkent), a merchant of the first guild, member of the Russian joint-stock bank, as well as the Tashkent Old City branch of the bank during NEP.

Little Yakov was brought up mainly by his mother, who instilled in her son an interest in drawing. Roza Abramovna, working as the secretary of the Artistic Council at the Artistic Fund of Uzbekistan, had herself an interest in culture and art. The family had a wonderful tradition: twice a year, the mother brought her son to see her parents in Tashkent. Yakov had a very close relationship with his grandmother Zina Yukhananovna, an outstanding and educated woman who graduated from the Russian women's gymnasium of Tashkent. She gave her grandson love and attention. Yakov also idolized his mother's brother Albert Abramovich Kalendaryov, an engineer who wrote poetry and painted. On these trips, Roza Abramovna took her son to the museums and theaters for which Tashkent is famous.

Once she took her son to a performance of a traveling circus and lost sight of him there. After several minutes of searching, to her surprise, she found Yakov looking at a reproduction of Russian marine painter I. K. Aivazovsky’s work The Ninth Wave. In those years, wandering with his mother through the halls of the beloved State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan, he did not yet know that it would be here that he would return in a few years as an art school student. The drawing teachers at the school, Y. Rubinov and G. Ahmadaliev, recognized his talent and advised Yakov to take up art seriously.



Beginning Of The Journey: The Student Years

In 1969, Kandinov entered the P. P. Benkov Republican Art School in Tashkent. He studied at the department of painting with the wonderful teachers and painters Ivan Yakovlevich Sokolov (1923-1993) and Gennady Vasilyevich Moiseev (1935-1982). In 1973, Kandinov defended his thesis, a painting dedicated to the construction workers of the metro system in Tashkent. It was approved by the faculty, and he graduated with honors.

In the same year, Kandinov entered one of the best art universities in Central Asia, the A. N. Ostrovsky Tashkent Theater and Art Institute. According to the stories of Yakov Abramovich, he passed the entrance exams and scored enough points, but his name was not on the list of those accepted. The period was marked by another outbreak of anti-Israeli propaganda in the country. Only thanks to the intervention of the great and incomparable People's Artist of the USSR and Uzbekistan Tamara Khanum, whom Yakov met through his uncle Izold Benyaminovich Kandinov (who at that time held a high position in the Ministry of Motor Transport of Uzbekistan), he was admitted to the institute. He studied at the faculty of monumental art and one of his teachers was the well-known artist, People's Artist of Uzbekistan, Professor Chingiz Akhmarov, who was remembered by Yakov as an excellent educator and storyteller of art history.

In 1978, Yakov successfully graduated from the establishment, having received a diploma as an artist of monumental and decorative art. That year, for the first time in his creative career he took part in the design of the agriculture pavilion at Victory Park in Tashkent. Kandinov worked under the guidance of the author of this project, Bakhodir Dzhalalov, People's Artist of the Uzbek SSR, with whom he subsequently developed a friendship that lasted almost until his departure from the country.

In Kandinov’s work as an artist, two periods can be distinguished: Uzbek and American, connected inextricably with each other, but each with its own specific features.



Monumental Projects In Uzbekistan

Kandinov’s first public work composed on his own was in 1979, a painting with the symbolic name Wind Rose, for the interior of the Urgench Bus Station.

In 1980, Kandinov was hired as an artist at the Republican Factory of Sculpture and Monumental Art in Tashkent. At the same time, he painted the multi-figure composition Wives in the interior of the garment factory in the city of Guliston, Syrdarya region. In subsequent years, Yakov painted the interiors of the Botanika sanatorium near Tashkent with the compositions Ibn Sino on the first administrative floor, and Motherhood and Harvest Festival on the upper floors.

In 1985, Yakov Kandinov moved with his family to Namangan, and all his subsequent projects relate to this city, including the painting of the staircase of the Palace of Culture in the regional center of the Namangan region, as well as the lobby of the Namangan Polytechnic Institute, the fresco of which consisted of six separate compositions interconnected. Articles with photographs dedicated to these projects of Kandinov’s were published in newspapers and in the magazine Art of Soviet Uzbekistan.

In the late 1980s, the artist painted the interiors of the House of Political Education and the School of Arts and created stained glass windows for the trauma hospital in Namangan. Over a ten-year span in his homeland, Kandinov made monumental objects that testify to his skill as a mature artist who pays great attention to the embodiment of his work. These were expressed by the artist in the design details that consider the beauty of Central Asian art. In these projects, Kandinov achieved compositional harmony, in which color relationships, stylization, and generalization play an important role in creating artistic images.

The creative career of Kandinov, a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, was on the rise: he had about ten decorated monumental objects and a record of successful teaching at the State School of Arts, but by the will of fate, he had to get ready for a long journey to start all over again.



In America: Creative Life In California

Historical events developed in such a way that in 1991 Kandinov and his family had to leave their former country for the United States. They settled in California, in a paradise-like corner of the country, first in San Diego and then in Los Angeles. Despite all the difficulties of emigration associated with cultural and linguistic barriers, the artist managed to remain true to his craft, finding his niche in the art world.

It was necessary to start somewhere. While still at home, Yakov Abramovich shared the progressive views of People’s Artist of the USSR Boris Nemensky concerning the development of aesthetic education and children's creativity in society. In 1992, drawing on his past teaching experience in his homeland, he opened the Art School for Gifted Children in San Diego. Less than a year later, the students of Kandinov’s school became laureates of the All-American competition for the best drawing, organized by HIAS.

The artist, in parallel with his teaching activities, was engaged in creative work in a rented apartment, where his wife Svetlana Yuryevna Kandinova (née Fatakhova), having allocated him a room for the workshop, created all the conditions necessary for creative work. In 1994, he organized his own studio, Jacobs Art & Design Co., where he was approached by American architects and designers with offers to work on joint projects.

Kandinov began to work once again as a muralist in America, decorating the interiors and exteriors of offices, restaurants, private villas, estates, and houses, etc. The artist, having lived in Central Asia, had absorbed its peculiar beauty and oriental wisdom and, with an academic art education, brilliantly adjusted in America with the design of objects executed in the best traditions of Western European painting of the Renaissance and Baroque, as well as modernism and postmodernism.

Kandinov’s name was already well-known, and by 2004 in San Diego he took part in a competition with sketches for the Eredita Italiana (Italian Heritage) project, which he won. In the design of a restaurant in a former church, built back in 1905 in Piazza Little Italy, Kandinov’s frescoes sing with the unfading beauty of Italy and its symbols of Renaissance art (Birth of Venus and Per Aspera Ad Astra - Through Thorns To The Stars). The composition also includes a family portrait of Sicilian immigrants who arrived in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century and well-known symbols: a red lily corresponding to the coat of arms of Florence, a winged lion with a book represents the coat of arms of Venice, and the red and yellow flag of Sicily.



Jewish Themes In Painting

The life of Kandinov intersects with many wonderful and talented figures. One of these extraordinary meetings took place in 1973 in his former country in Leningrad at the State Russian Museum. A group of students from the P. P. Benkov Republican Art School were visiting the museum. As a graduate of this school, Kandinov spoke with the group. They came to pay their respects to the great master, world-famous artist Marc Chagall. Could Yakov have known then that in the future he would share the fate of Chagall, an immigrant who left his native land? In a foreign land, Chagall found his second home in Paris, where he depicted Jewish life in painting and was engaged in creativity in monumental art. Kandinov did not know that decades later, in America, he would create works with the image of a violinist, a kind of homage to the great Chagall.

Emigration for Kandinov became a kind of test of his self-awareness: who is he, and how could he express himself within the framework of a new culture without forgetting his own? In America, there awakened in the artist a serious interest in his roots, in the ancient history of the Jewish people, closely intertwined with religion and folk traditions. Kandinov turned to easel painting and created a cycle of works related to biblical themes in the traditions of the classical European school, as well as the Russian avant-garde in the form of lubok (folk painting) in works dedicated to the life of the inhabitants of Jewish shtetls. His paintings have been exhibited at art shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs. In 2008, One Man Show, the artist's solo exhibition, was on display at Temple Sinai in Los Angeles, timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

Kandinov, despite an intense creative life, is actively involved in the social life of the community of Bukharian Jews in America. For many years he served as president of the San Diego Bukharian community, and he participated in Bukharian community meetings in New York. Here he got to meet and get acquainted with interesting creative people whose spiritual beauty and deep understanding of the exotic life of the Jews of Central Asia lit the fire of creativity in the soul of Kandinov who was in love with his people. The artist paints portraits and figurative compositions that are conceptual in nature, following an inner voice without being attached to trends in art and fashion.

Looking at these works, one comes to the conclusion that the artist surrendered to the power of the brush and canvas, freely, in one breath, creating the ultimate poetry of images and achieving a sense of fullness and joy of life in the composition. The skill of Kandinov is most clearly manifested in the portrait genre - one of the most difficult in the visual arts - in which the world of the person being portrayed is interpreted through the eyes and attitude of the artist.

In the intersection of these two worlds - the model, and the artist - a third revelation is created from the juxtaposition of two personalities, which underlies Kandinov’s series on prominent Central Asian Jewish individuals, such as B. Kimyagarov, I. Mallaev, A. Aronov, and others, each of whom left a huge mark in the culture of Central Asia and in exile and serve as beacons of spiritual light in the community. The heroes of Kandinov’s works are endowed with the gift of creativity, bringing beauty into the world, close in spirit, and dear to the heart of the artist.

The creation of the picturesque Portrait of Boris (Bension) Kimyagarov, the outstanding and titled Soviet film director, People's Artist of Tajikistan, was motivated by a happy circumstance that happened in Tashkent. In his youth, Yakov met the cinema master in the house of his grandfather, Abram Kalendaryov. Kandinov deeply sunk into the soul and heart of the kind and parting words of the legendary director, whose name was surrounded by legends. And now, in exile, the artist, inspired by the work of Kimyagarov, the creator of epic iconographic films of Hollywood scale in the 1970s: The Legend of Rustam, Rustam and Sukhrob, and The Legend of Siyavush at the Tajikfilm film studio, painted a picturesque portrait in the form of a dedication to the film director.

Kandinov’s approach to the creation of this work was based on Kimyagarov’s films in which most of the frames were filmed in the mountains of Tajikistan. In the picture, the artist uses a system of multiple planes, where the process of filming by the director unfolds against the backdrop of a vast mountain landscape with rounded hills gradually giving way to pointed rocks and snowy mountain peaks.

The composure and persuasiveness of the image of the film director, dissolved in the space of vibrating forms and silhouettes, do not contradict the mood of romantic elation expressed by the whole system of the work. Both the softness of the pastel colors of pale blue, green, purple, and gray, and the changing nature of the stroke in different planes of the picture used brush by the artist depict this utopian paradise. In general, while maintaining a specific plot of the composition, the artist idealized all its elements: space, air, a figure in the foreground, and mountain peaks in the distance.

Here, Yakov, philosophically minded, manages to skillfully show not only the unity of man with the outside world, but also how to compress the time marked by the creativity of unusually talented people whose fates are mysteriously intertwined within the framework of this work. The first is marked by Kandinov who at the beginning of the twenty-first century immortalized the image of B. Kimyagarov in painting. In the same way, Kimyagarov, the author of the films included in the golden age of filmmaking in the twentieth century, glorified the great A. Firdousi, the poet of the Middle Ages and the author of the Shahnameh.

The multifaceted and vibrant creative life of the Honored Worker of the Arts of Uzbekistan Ilyas Mallaev, a talented musician, instrumentalist, singer, poet, rubaiyat writer, play and author of books, humanist, and philosopher also aroused great interest and response in Kandinov’s passion. In the Portrait of Ilyas Mallaev, the artist deeply articulated the feeling of unity of the universe and man, and the comprehension of the great power and expediency of nature. The artist deliberately divides the composition into two parts, using contrasting color combinations: celestial lapis lazuli in the image of the sky, symbolizing the spiritual world, and the ocher-red color of the earth, personifying the materiality of our world. In the center of the canvas, depicted literally rising from under the red sands of the desert with closed eyes is a spiritual artist with a sitar in his hands which was splendidly played by the master. The artist was faced with the task of showing music, the most conditional art, and he succeeded perfectly in the image of Mallaev, dissolved in his melody, whose rhythms are imprinted in the smooth bends of the dunes. A special musicality in the picture is felt due to sonorous and contrasting color combinations that give the work a certain drama. Additionally, the use of pictorial and plastic means, in the form of clouds against the sky in the form of stylized suzani ornaments, smoothly echoes to the sounds of music.

Mallaev was deeply connected to Central Asia, his homeland of Turkmenistan, the folk music genre of Shashmaqam, folklore, exotic life and traditions, and most importantly with the wisdom of the East. Kandinov uses the language of allegory in the portrait which is widely used in the poetry and music of Mallaev as he reflects on the creator, life, soul, beauty, and eternity. The image of a broken jug with a flower on the right side of the composition symbolizes the end of earthly life – death – which is trying to balance the nightingale sitting on a thin dried branch of a flower, personifying talent, the gift of singing, and love conforming to the image of a musician, and a crow sitting on the edge of the vessel which represents the magic of the mystery of life.

Another painting by the artist also full of deep and mystical meaning is dedicated to Aron Mikhailovich Aronov, a sage in the community of Bukharian Jews, a remarkable person and a New York-based collector of material culture and household items of Bukharian Jews. Kandinov in his composition, pushing the frame of the picture, depicts the image of the wise Aronov appearing from behind the horizon. His gaze is directed towards the center of the composition, where the artist captured the image of a young man in his trademark cowboy hat, pulling an old cart in the desert with Torah scrolls, musical instruments, carpets, and khum (a vessel for storing oil, wine, and copper utensils), etc. In the picture, the image of a mystical landscape plays a huge role, where the artist managed to convey the breath of nature merging into a single whole with the beating heart of the hero. In the center of the composition to the beat of the clatter of the cartwheels is the rhythm of flapping wings from a mighty eagle soaring in the air personifying the royal power of the Creator. In the composition, the red-orange earth is poetized by the artist with pinkish reflections of the rays of the setting sun that gilded the horizon. The sky in places has heavy blue-gray clouds, and a mosaic of colors is used for utensils and carpets on the wagon expressing the idea of ​​harmony and unity from the Creator and His creations. The canvas is filled with hidden inner dynamism, turning it into a bright emotionally charged work expressing Kandinov’s thoughts about Aronov, a man of extraordinary spiritual beauty whose deeds the artist also sang in poetic lines, “In the desert:”

“Madman, on the threshold of night in the desert, red from the heat, why drag a cart with all your might? What gifts does it have? I’m carrying in a cart, and I won’t leave what my people have accumulated and collected over the years. I carry this burden, as did my ancestors.”

The artist's arsenal also includes portraits of a Bukharian Jewish woman, Colonel of the Medical Service of the Sixth American Fleet Lyudmila Gerova, the well-known sociologist, and doctor of philosophical sciences Veliyam Kandinov, and others.

Artistically executed luxury still lives by Kandinov in the tradition of the Dutch school of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries amaze the viewer not only with the richness of color and the harmony of the composition, but also express philosophical reflections on life, for example, in the work Under the Mask of Time. The picturesque canvases called Namangan Still Life and Still Life with Peaches, are flooded with soft and warm light. The artist sings of the bounty of the land of Central Asia and the beauty of utensils, including traditional kumgans, lali (trays), and ceramics against the background of velvet tablecloths. Waiting for the artist are new meetings with people and new discoveries of the secrets of life that will lead to the birth of new works of art! Happy Birthday, Yakov Abramovich and good luck, maestro!

By Zoya Borukhova, Art Historian