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Filonov's Microscope (2013)

The late works of the Russian artist Pavel Filonov (1883-1941) are characterised by a style in which many hundreds of individually designed fragments coalesce into figurative forms.In a determined reaction against cubism, which in his view reduced figurative art to simple geometric surfaces and colour, Filonov’s ‘analytical realism’ built images from small details, each representing part of the inner spirit of the subject. His paintings also appear to show figures in motion, presenting multiple perspectives simultaneously and superimposed figures that grow out of large areas of abstraction, showing a debt to the Futurism prevalent in Russia at the time.


In his Countenances (Faces on an Icon), one can see two clearly defined pairs of eyes peering from the complex mass of colours and shapes, possessed by the trance-like detachment typical of Russian Orthodox icons. Set in a sea of intricate fragments reminiscent of stained glass and Russian folk art, the faces float as if certain areas of the painting have a gravitational pull that aims to give meaning to the abstract environment. One will also notice less prominent facial figures in the painting: the disembodied noses that surround the face on the left of the image are apparently still in the process of formation, or perhaps of disintegration.

Pavel Nikolayevich Filonov. Countenances (Faces on an Icon). 1940. Oil on Paper. 64x56cm. The Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Duration: c.24 Minutes

Instrumentation: Fl (+AFl, BFl), Ob (+BOb), Cl (+BCl, CbCl), Perc, Pno, Vln, Vla, Vc

Première: 9th May 2014, Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik; Ensemble Recherche

Commissioned by the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung and Westdeutscher Rundfunk

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