In early Russia, it was not the custom to paint persons other than Bible figures and saints. And of course those were painted in the traditional stylized manner. When the painting of secular portraits first began to be accepted in the 16th century, they were done with the same techniques and stylization used in painting religious icons, as in this portrait of Tsar Ivan “the Terrible.” So the techniques of icon painting, it was found, could be put to other use.
When the Communists took control of Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century and made painting religious icons impractical, the workers in the noted icon-painting village of Palekh turned instead to painting scenes of fairy tales and foklore, again using techniques learned in icon painting.
I was recently quite surprised to find that a very talented young woman in my part of the country has come up with her own very innovative use of the methods of the icon painting tradition. Her name is Olga Volchkova. Olga was born in Russia, and studied at the Tver Art School, at the Tver Icon Painting School, and also studied oil restoration at the Grabar Institute. And in her words, she has “canonized plants” — has given them anthropomorphic form, extolling their virtues (and occasionally, dangers) in the form of saints.
I was happy to receive Olga’s permission to show some of her work here. All photos are copyrighted by Olga Volchkova.
Here is her manifestation of the Saffron Flower:
Here is “St. Calla Lily”:
Here is her “Holy Spirit of Herbs”:
This is her stylized depiction of the poisonous flower Aconite:
Here is “Black Tulip”:
This is her visual ode to the potato. She says the little fellow at the top, where one usually finds “Lord Sabaoth” in conventional icons, is the “Potato God.”
Here is “St. Cyani” the Bachelor Button (Centaurea cyanus); note the bicycle in the background:
This is a more conventional saint, Crispin. You may recall that according to tradition, he was a shoemaker, the patron saint of cobblers:
And finally, here is St. Watermelon. Note the seed decoration around his neck:
As you can see from these examples, there is much that a creative artist can do with the skills used for icon painting. No doubt some conservatives may wish to take offense at the playful “canonizing” of plants, but to them I would say, “Get a sense of humor.” One could do worse than to recall in visual form all that plants do for us.
To see more of Olga’s unique “plant icons,” go to her site: http://www.olgalaxy.com