“If you look at the surface of the canvas or board, do not look like on a flat surface, but imagine the deep space and light in a depth. This light like a bonfire in the evening field radiate the circulars.”
~ Yuri Kuchukov, Artist
When reflecting upon the endless possibilities of icons to unlock, it dawned upon me the perfect opportunity to reflect upon. This past month in January of 2015, West Catholic High School was entrusted on loan four beautiful icons to display.
The artist of the icons is Yuri Kuchukov, a Russian artist who studied art at the School of Fine Art in Kharkov, USSR. He came to the United States in the 1970s. He has exhibited in galleries in New York City. He developed his skills as an iconographer in the 1980s at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. Since 1996 he has taught art at a private school in Hancock, NY.
West Catholic is honored to exhibit the icons due to the generosity of a local philanthropist who is loaning out four of Yuri’s pieces. For my interpretation I selected Ruth and Naomi for the reason that I love Ruth’s journey as well as the deep passion that the piece stirs in my soul. Fortunately, I was able to connect with Yuri to find out more about the piece from his point of view. Further, I was able to understand his motivation and inspiration of the work and iconography.
Yuri’s motivation to paint this particular icon was similar to my desire to select it. He was asked to paint female images of the Old Testament. Yuri responded, “I love the story of Ruth and I started to work on the composition of the painting.“
Ruth who as an outsider, a Moabite and traditionally considered an enemy to the people of Israel, seeks to journey with her mother-in-law, Naomi, as she returns to Bethlehem. My interpretation of the portrayal in this icon is Ruth’s loyal declaration when seeking to accompany Naomi.
‘Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried’ (Ruth 1: 16-17)
Naomi who had already lost her husband and her two sons in Moab decides to return to her homeland in Bethlehem of Judah where she might find refuge with her people. Naomi persisted that her daughter-in-laws return to their families since she had nothing to offer them. She had no more sons or resources. Ruth would not think of leaving Naomi to travel alone.
Ruth clasps Naomi’s hand. It appears that the clasped hands are in the inner circle of the icon. One is drawn to the open space in the clasp. “In the symbolic language of lines, convex curves always designate expression, the word, spatial unfolding, and revelation” (Evdokimov IV: 1). In this clasp there is much that is unspoken. Ruth is a Moabite and Naomi a Hebrew. Naomi and Ruth are connecting and yet there is openness and room in the clasp for the Spirit to draw them further together.
Striking is the solemn and pained look upon Naomi’s face. She is depicted with a staff appearing as the sage Moses. Behind Ruth’s head is a bush burning with crimson red as if referring to the theophany and saving act in Exodus. Ruth does travel with Naomi back to Bethlehem and meets Boaz when gleaning wheat from the fields. Naomi counsels Ruth on the art of manipulating Boaz (Ruth 3:8) who does then later propose. Boaz and Ruth have a son Obed. Ruth became the great grandmother of David.
The colors of the landscape are colorfully intense and harmonious as was Yuri’s intent. The imagery of desert landscape was reminiscent of Yuri’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
When asking Yuri’s response to my perceived geometric features, he expressed the following:
“When I painted the Ruth and Naomi I did not think about the geometry, I don’t know how it happens. If you look at the surface of the canvas or board, do not look like on a flat surface, but imagine the deep space and light in a depth. This light like a bonfire in the evening field radiate(s) the circulars. It is very interesting. The circular composition is often used in Byzantine iconography, Holy Trinity of Andrey Rublev is a great example. When I painted the Ruth and Naomi I did not think about the geometry, I don’t know how it happens.”
What I find most coincidental is that Yuri referred to Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon. I had desired to interpret that work before I realized it was featured by Evdokimov.
When looking for geometric identifiers, I noticed right away the circular center of the icon including the clasped hands. I even got a tape measure and measured. It was 3′ top to bottom and centered horizontally as well. Four focal points that make a quadrilateral are evident as well. “According to the Fathers of the Church, the number 4 was symbolic of the four gospels. Nothing could be added to or subtracted from that fullness. The number was also the sign of the Word’s universality” (Evdokimov IV: 1). The first focal point that was previously mentioned is the clasped hands. Another is the top of the staff. The highest point is Naomi as the pillar, and finally the fourth is Ruth kneeling as she is pleading to go with Naomi.