95-year-old artist Alexei Novikov spoke about life in poetry

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Alexey Ivanovich Novikov was born on April 15, 1931 in the Oryol region. Soviet and Russian nonconformist artist, cosmist philosopher. Member of the Union of Artists of the USSR since 1969, academician of the Russian Academy of Arts (Moscow). Known for his figurative art. Participates in exhibitions since 1964. A few years ago, the Academy showed a retrospective of Alexei Novikov.

It’s hard to believe that in the very center of Moscow, a stone’s throw from the Chistye Prudy metro station, there is a quiet gateway with a cozy garden. In the far corner of the old Moscow courtyard is a secret door to the village life of an artist of the sixties. “I have a Swiss lock – with a secret, look,” says the artist Igor Novikov, the son of Alexei Ivanovich, taking the keys out of his jeans pocket. Shows a small wooden handle, from which suddenly appears a thin metal stick with a hook on the tip. Looks like a lockpick. “Exactly!” – Igor confirms and with a slight movement sends the key to the inconspicuous iron door, which immediately lends itself. Just in 1985, when Igor began to exhibit in Europe, his father was given a workshop, and his son helped to equip it and now works with him. He follows in the footsteps of his non-conformism, but in his own way, while arm in arm with his father.

The same tattoo with a heart and a dagger on his arm

Having crossed the threshold of the apartment, it seems that you are transported in time and space: from Moscow of the 21st century – half a century ago, to a rural house. A large room is occupied with antique furniture, paintings, an easel, books, in the center there is a large round table. Whitewashed, as if in a hut, the walls are filled with paintings by the author. These are avant-garde stories from rural life. Here are women in headscarves against the background of low houses, cut out of colored planes, like a patchwork quilt. But the musicians in red tuxedos are playing jazz against the background of a white sky, through which, like clouds, three biblical fish swim. Among the paintings, one diploma stands out – this is the Gold Medal received by the artist in 2016, when his large retrospective was held at the Russian Academy of Arts. On the left, a discreet black-and-white photograph of a thoughtful young man with a piercing gaze is attached. This is Alexei Ivanovich in his youth. And between them, outlandish keys hang on carnations …

– This is a totem – the keys to life – explains the artist. — Antique, from the locks of the doors behind which I lived. I had a few more from the church, but they are not here …

Aleksei Ivanovich, dressed in a naval sailor suit, is sitting on the sofa, in front of his paintings and a large TV. Over the years, walking is becoming more and more difficult, age makes its own, so he became attached to the sofa. He is assisted by his wife Valentina, who is now 82 years old. They have been together for 60 years. She is a retired design engineer. And son Igor.

Alexei Novikov while serving in the Northern Fleet.

The artist greets with poems of his own composition: “Like a holy monk, I closed the hatch to go under water, torpedo racks instead of all the icons, I believed in my submarine – in our iron house …” Reads loudly and clearly, with pauses and accents. Almost like Voznesensky, Novikov’s friend.

– My father served in Kronstadt. Jung of the Northern Fleet! – explains son Igor.

– Yes, in his youth he served in Kronstadt, and then in the Northern Fleet, – Alexei Ivanovich clarifies. – I was in Cuba, in Czechoslovakia. Once our division stood in the Mediterranean Sea, in Albania … – and after a pause, he recites his poems again: “If there is nowhere else to go, we lose friends, not being able to stand up for them, if leaves fall and cling to the ground and if they have nowhere else to go , then, again, get ready for a cruel winter, which means that we are in the neighborhood again … “

From the ship to art. How did it come about?

– Like this. I have always loved Leonardo da Vinci. He often lay down on the ground and looked at the sky, envied how the eagle flies. Me too. The clouds are white… And I wrote this poem: “Ah, the sky, who dotted you with white flowers of clouds, they fly somewhere, almost to the north, or maybe to the south.” That is why I became an artist. I have been drawing since childhood. Studied at the institute in Riga. Now everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants money. And we were thinking about something else…

– And where did you get the tattoos – also memories of the fleet? I ask the artist. On the outside of the palm, a heart, a saw and a dagger are stuffed. The other hand is also decorated with some kind of symbol. Another indelible pattern can be seen from under the sailor’s neck. The whole body of Alexei Ivanovich in a tattoo is not a person, but a painting.

Painting by Igor Novikov “Longing for the Motherland”.

“I made this one in the seventh grade, in 1942,” he says. – You know, I lived in the Donbass, and when the Germans captured it, all the mines flooded, we left. Relatives then returned, and I stayed in a village in the Oryol region. The son of relatives had a tattoo. Then many did. And I decided. This one, with a heart, I stuffed, because I dreamed of a fleet. It was impressive – I was fascinated by the black uniform of sailors with gold anchors. I wanted like them. I remember coming to school later with a swollen arm. At the lesson, the principal of the school, and he was a mathematician and always walked in a military uniform, grabbed my hand and showed it to the whole class. This was the last tattoo I got. It was not long before we drove the Germans out of the Donbass. And now they are fighting for the Donbass again… Such a time as Vysotsky sang – when things and words were worn out. Let me sing Okudzhava for you: “The planet is burning and spinning, there is smoke over our Motherland, and, therefore, we need one victory, one for all – we will not stand up for the price …”

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