I have my own private and homey perception of Boris Grebenshikov as a friend and an artist. But for a Western audience I should probably begin with the public perception of the man. As far as I remember (we are the same age and my memories go back to the 1970s) he has always been a star, in the Western sense of the word. For half of the country his name was a password, a laissez passer into the world of rock, into a new, very different acoustic, poetic, psychedelic culture (with its own codes of behaviour). Simply because in Soviet days this culture by definition was alternative: the other half of the country was swallowing the official ideology.
In the 1990s the image of a Western rock star lost some of its authenticity in the public perception of Grebenshikov. An image that would be closer to him (especially given his spiritual quest) would be that of a pillar, the pillar as antithesis to looseness, wobbliness and staggering. Staggering in Russia is permanent. Equally permanent is a desire to «lean on a pillar. Everyone wants to touch you, to borrow your diamond-like firmness. The list of politicians, men of the cloth, let alone artists, musicians and the like who long to be associated with the pillar is endless.
Sometimes they are driven by their own spiritual quest. Sometimes they are being cynically pragmatic and just want a share of his magnitude, popularity, stability. Politicians are paradoxically confident that they can appropriate the pillar of BG. Political commentators believe them and accuse BG of this or that political engagement: he shook a wrong hand, or allowed a wrong selfie. All of this is ludicrous: a pillar cannot be mobilised or appropriated. It's there, solid as a rock. At the same time it can't stop you from trying to lean on it. Especially given that BG is a man of old-school Petersburg manners with their benevolent permissiveness. But no more than that. Those willing to appropriate BG forget a fundamental, ontological property of a pillar: anything casual and superficial just flows off it.
It should be said that the job of a pillar, even though it inevitably added some detachment and alienation to BG's public persona, has hardly touched his inner self. Out of the public sight he eagerly jumps off his pillar's pedestal to plunge back into the ‘Bohemia' he has been part and parcel of since his youth.
All of the above is directly related to BG and his connections, relations and ties with artists. There are many old-time friendships: artists invite him to their exhibitions, they do of the art establishment. It can of course be included into the art market system but only post factum. Originally, organically it feels different and alienated. What is then this art's sentient or intuitive purpose? I believe it is in representing the way consciousness works. This consciousness can be somnambular, self-immersive, individualistic. It can be collective and template-based, dreamy and clouded or, conversely, enlightened. But it invariably expresses itself in its unique, non-typical, authorised forms. I believe a lot of the above relates to BG as an artist. He has never been and never felt a part of the art establishment (even Mitki, conceptually socially uninvolved louts, were only too well aware of their belonging to this establishment). This alone makes alliances between Mitki and BG, the New Artists and BG beneficial for the former, without claiming BG's inner self and his consciousness. The paternalism of institutionalised Contemporary Art, even as subconscious as Mitki's, towards outsiders does not work here. BG's singularity, his alienation and detachment from any rules of the guild (be it a culture of painting or a culture of concept) are quite conscious. Addressing himself to visual art he has always known (originally probably rather felt) what it is he wants. And he wants just one thing: to work with the states of his consciousness, transmit, share and therefore outlive them.
In The White Tower, one of the early pieces, professional timidity does not inhibit him from expressing dramatic tension related to the process of acquiring faith. On the contrary, ineptitude and imperfections work towards creating the image: a family in the painting are disoriented, they do not as yet know how to live, how to exist in this newly acquired state of religious spirituality. Timidly painted figures are timidly walking along their new way, but this is predetermined.
In The Rose and the Cross and The Red Sky no professional intricacies stand between the consciousness and the image: corporeality (monotonous and repetitive brushwork) expresses the spirituality of ritual (prayer, mantras, prayer beads) with its tuning of consciousness.
In «historic and revolutionary» works (The Capture of Joseph Stalin by the Irish Folk Hero Fer Diad and The Leader of the World Proletariat Enlightens Adam about the Nutritional Value of Apples) it is tempting to see references to Sots-Artor at least Mitki's historic narratives. But these referencesare misleading.There are no cerebral Sots-Artist collages of competing ideologies. Nor is there Mitki's extravagant looseness which hides their wish to brashly “capture® history. You won't find here Sergei Kuryokhin's tradition of surrealist political styob (like his infamous TV provocation «Lenin Was a Mushroom"). In BG's juxtapositions of incongruent historic realities a sense of naturalness vividly prevails over satire. The root of this naturalness is in the commonness of the expanded consciousness and psychedelia — for him just a given. (Equally in his songs such spatial-temporal distortions look organic and mundane rather than extreme: «With a crossbow in the underground... or «lvanov at the bus stop is waiting for a chariot*). Architectural motives are a constant presence in BG's paintings. He is boldly uninhibited by hackneyed, trivial storylines or their straightforward, head-on depictions. There is obviously something behind this boldness. I think BG's interests here are other than painterly. Are they memorial? Or ethnographic? I think they are related to representing different types of mentality. Behind each and every image there is a sense. Henri Lefebvre defined this sense as practical-social. In the case of BG I would call it practical-spiritual. He treats the «opticality» of an architectural landscape differently, depending on his own spiritual mood (meditative, trans, return to «reality»), and receives different visions: sparsity, dematerialisation, narrowness, objectivity. In other words, behind the haze of the landscape (The New Year Approaches), symbolic stereoscopy (Morning in the Dark Kingdom), psychedelic suggestiveness (Red) there is a history of BG's inner life, a cut-off of his mentality. A propos of history, I do not see in BG's works any «history of development», any evolution, etc. Every new painting is an expression of a concrete state of his consciousness. Development is irrelevant. He does not try to look ahead. Neither does he look back. Because, as we know from the Bible, if you do you turn into a pillar of salt.
Head of the Departament of Contemporary Art at State Russian Museum