Encaustic image head of an angel

Newsletter April 2024: ART vs BEAUTY

Icon The Mother of God with Christ Childe on a roof tile. Topics:
1. Art vs Beauty
2. New Art Forms
3. Teaching


Dear Friends,
If you are reading this, at least once or twice in your life you dedicated some time to art. Maybe art even became such a distinct part of your life, that you decided to dedicate some months, years, or even the whole life to it. Anyhow, I believe you have an idea of what art actually is and is not. You have your own understanding and your own experience of art.

I want to discuss a couple of questions I started facing after we moved to Georgia and it sounds like this:
How did old iconographers manage to be so freer than we are? Why are they more artists than we are? And how can we learn their artistic freedom?
Icon The Nativity of Christ by Olga Shalamova. Egg Tempera on Old Wood. Please, don't beat me, but I think I start knowing the answer! It was a pure occasion when I discovered it, but I think it's the right one. For me it appeared like a recipe:
Not only should an icon (or any other piece of liturgical art) be a good companion for prayer. It should also invite the beholder to share the major joy of visual art: the joy of seeing good art.

You may say it all sounds like an old theory, like another series of beautiful words and just another piece of mentorship (or bullshit?); - nothing new at all. And yet, now I feel that it is a real new world, and it is achievable… Like it is achievable to learn how to take good photos… - I think everybody will agree with that. There are some skills involved of course, but after gaining the skills and learning a technique one has to start loving to see what comes out at every second of the work. To start loving the visual message, not the techniques, which can be applied wittily, delicately or laconically. - To just feel the pleasure of seeing…

Icon The Nativity of Christ by Olga Shalamova. Egg Tempera on an old roof tile. From the very first moment when the brush touches the surface... To start your artwork as meaningful right from the very first brushstroke.. And till the last one. I think one day there might be a workshop or course, teaching how to produce your image attentively, how to make it loveable and enjoyable for yourself and everyone and precise from start to finish. For now just this short piece of advice: try minding how your brush does every move and let it always operate beautifully.

Maybe this is what Roger Scruton meant when he wanted contemporary Christian art and churches to be beautiful? - He probably meant that visual art should work like one, and making choices the churchwardens should have taste in art rather than to trust speculative concepts? Yet, with my full agreement with Roger's desire to bring back the aesthetics, I must note that in this case we just need true artists… Not "artists" who know how to draw a human figure or how to weld an iron sculpture, write obscure texts and enchant their clients, but those who really make art work VISUALLY.

Icon The Mother of God by Philip Davydov. Hot Encaustic on old wood. I am saying all this because it is only now I begin approaching what it is… And how the work of a brush or any other instrument can be stunning just by itself. Well, I hope I have some more years and they will allow me to move further in my journey ????For now I just want to share what we have made during several last months. We are very happy to share with you our latest works, and we are particularly happy to show you an interesting combination, invented by Olga.


Visiting old Georgian churches in remote villages we often find fragments of ceramic jars or tiles. They look beautiful in their natural state, but they also look promising, as their worn surface seems to be very rich and appealing, so I could not resist from taking them home with me. I think you may have seen the large roof tiles which Olga began using for painting a while ago. I began collecting the fragments, and as some of them were too good to be left in peace, I began painting on them. Although I never actually thought of how they can be used, I enjoyed the feeling of cooperation with the clay. It's different from the old wood, and yet, it's a great support, especially thrilling when you manage to let the surface work for the image. We decided to add these images to the ""Georgian Series"as they anyway are on wood.

Icon The Angel by Philip Davydov. Hot Encaustic on ceramic fragment on old wood. So, we have to thank Olga, - it was her who occasionally dropped my painted ceramic fragment on a piece of old wood, and said: "Look, how they work together"! And it was also her idea to use a router to create a recess so that the piece of ceramic could get half immersed in the wood. And at the end, - it was her, who did these recesses with the router so that the images got a natural connection with their carefully chosen pieces of wood. Here I am presenting you three images of this new type of our common production: encaustic paint on ceramic fragments on old wood:


Yet, not all the time can be dedicated to painting. Teaching takes a lot of time too, and In little more than a week we are going to New Jersey USA to teach a course. It's a difficult one indeed. In the last Newsletter I mentioned that we changed the subject. Some weeks after, actually at the last moment we had to find a new location, because the Abbey appeared to request 18 students to be the minimum group size. I desperately tried to find a new place on my own, but only with prayers and help from our friends managed to solve our problem. We will be teaching this iconography workshop for 5 full working days, - Monday May 6 - Friday May 10 in the Holy Trinity church in Princeton. If you like to join us in learning how to draw and how to paint an icon, you are very welcome - some slots are still open.

Iconographer Olga Shalamova filming video tutorials for the Study Group program. Being involved in teaching so much for so many years, I decided to finally make a short article about teaching iconography (now I am waiting for the Editor to approve it), - I am sharing the history of our teaching and some insights from our experience, - have a look if you are interested: I hope that it does not sound too much self-promoting, as my main idea was really to speak about the evolution of our curriculum and of what I think is important in teaching and learning. And of course I could not miss a chance to mention the Study Group.

All these things are inspiring, even though sometimes it feels like a running horse, but I guess we are all kind of in the same boat, rowing to the best of our abilities.

Thank you for your invaluable spiritual support!

With warmest wishes and gratitude,

Philip and Olga

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