Irina Nikiforova
Formula of feelings
A creative person strives to rise above the hustle of mundane life, to break away from the "earthly captivity" and the limitations of the plot. The philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev who regarded creative act as the demiurge's freedom of personality, wrote this about the supreme significance of art: "A true way is not a movement to the right or to the left along the surface of the world, but a movement upwards or downwards along some extra-worldly lines, an evolution 'in the spirit' rather than 'in the world'. Freedom from the need to react to the world and opportunistically adapt to the world is a great conquest of the spirit. This is a way of lofty spiritual contemplation, spiritual self-discipline and utter concentration."[1]

A true artist attains this aim thanks to his "daring creative initiative" and by developing his own inimitable means of expression and his own devices. By analyzing them and trying to comprehend their nature we reveal much about the artist's art: from the process of nurturing the idea for a picture and methods employed to the peculiarities of the viewer's perception of the end result.

The work of Pyotr Dik is a good example of "creative daring" and supreme intellectual effort to transform reality, showing his thirst to rise above mundane life towards spiritual existence. The apparent aloofness and "otherworldliness" of his plot-driven compositions were the result of his artistic will, clear understanding of his task and conscious search for an appropriate solution. Dik did not simply paint from nature but rather "worked with nature"[2]. Everyday scenes served him as a pretext to contemplate on something of greater importance as well as providing an opportunity to reveal a different, higher meaning of the image. "We were advised, first by our colleges teachers and then by exhibition organizers, 'to depict life in the forms of life itself'. This requirement became a tradition and in effect negated the very essence of art and its specific nature. Art was reduced to maximum likeness in reproducing visual reality, although it should have been quite the opposite: reality should be a starting point for penetrating the essence."
The phenomenon of Pyotr Dik's art consists in the effect created by his works which invariably enter into contact with the viewer and inspire a desired emotional response, a sensation of actually experienced feelings. They are like a healing water spring which restores the long-lost sharpness of your soul when you drink from it. His pictures are so rich in sincere authorial overtones that they seem to radiate confessional, heartfelt, winning warmth. The mechanism of Dik's impact on the viewer's perception of his pictures is quite extraordinary compelling him to capture the finest sentiments and reflect on them as if the artist discovered a formula of human emotions, as if he found a key to a visual code capable of exciting the right emotional reactions. Dik's method does not seem to possess any special secrets – you can penetrate the mystery of his art by analyzing his mastery and watching his artistic process. The first is apparent from his finished works while the second became possible thanks to the vast archives made available by his widow Kira Limonova. Dik's heritage includes numerous drafts and sketches, albums and manuscripts.

Dik's art stands out for its powerful artistic intuition, effectiveness of his creative quests, intellectualism, sincere emotions and empathy. However, without constant work with his intuition and personal experiences it would be impossible for the artist to achieve such depth of imagery which would activate the viewer's immediate perceptions.

The emotional precision and perfect harmony of his "pictorial revelations" speak to you without any words. Highly pertinent in Dik's case is Vladimir Nabokov's definition of literary mastery as an art of building bridges over abysses between the thought and its expression. This task of "building bridges" was resolved by Dik in keeping with his highly distinctive talent as an artist and the visual language he developed in his ceaseless and inspired work.

The eminently expressive structuring of his compositions is one of the main distinguishing features of his works. The start of his work with pastels marked a new stage in the evolution of his unique style. It was not from the beginning that Dik came to the material which turned out to be most appropriate for him. In the early years of his career, after he had to abandon monumental art, his easel works were mainly printed graphic plates such as lithographs and monotypes. Only a few samples of those art practices are extant today, and they are not really representative of Dik's manner as a mature artist.

The long and laborious process of printing from stone forms, despite the wealth of expressive possibilities available in lithography, has cooled the artist's enthusiasm for this art. The main advantages of lithography such as high quality of reproduction and numerous copies printed from a single picture were not attractive for the artist. It may be assumed that the impossibility of making changes in the finished product were unacceptable for Dik who preferred variation and unlimited freedom.
In the 1980s Dik turned to the monotype. In its uniqueness a single-copy print is akin to an original drawing. But this technique required a constant intense control, subordination of the material to authorial design, and overcoming its willful nature which may lead to unpredictable results. Self-organization of this capricious material in the prints, a play of random color effects and fanciful forms deviated at times from the artist's original idea. Dik employed additional devices: he colored the prints with watercolors and gouaches, added details in charcoal and chalk. The subsequent finishing touches made with other materials, including pastels, did not always produce the desired result. Moreover, the effects created were alien to Dik's nature: unnaturalness, unneeded complexity, "fabricated" cumbersome compositions with literary plots dictated by spontaneous forms.
Finally Dik made a conscious choice in favor of pastels with all their advantages. Pastels are incredibly expressive, but this technique requires the use of special drawing devices. Due to the high degree of dispersion of pigment particles and their increased interpenetration in stumping, pastels produce subtle and gentle tinges capable of modeling shapes and draw the viewer into an illusory imitation of reality. Since the age of baroque the art of pastels with their soft color range, for which pastels are so famous, have had the reputation of the most widespread technique for chamber salon portraits, elegant still-lives and landscapes.

Pyotr Dik employed different qualities of pastels. The recipe for pastels usually includes very little binding matter. On the one hand, it makes them highly fragile but, on the other hand, gives them certain advantages compared to distemper paints. The unique color saturation and velvety light-absorbing texture produce subdued but deep hues which doubly intensify the power of the painting. Pastels' depth as it were disregards the plane surface of the sheet and creates its own pictorial environment. Dik's color spaces are intense and palpable thanks to the density and depth of paints layers. He avoided the usual devices for pastel painting, such as lining and shading, and never played with color gradations. As a result his painting manner evolved towards generalized forms free of any ostentation and detailing. By stumping with his thumb he slightly rounded the color forms and melted the sharp connecting lines, thus creating a very special light and color ambience. His color range determined the shapes of the objects, gave the depth to the space, and achieved various light effects.

Dik mastered the pastel technique on his own and from time to me made his own discoveries independently from the existing experiences. In order to fix the heavy friable layers of pastels on the picture surface he intuitively sought for coarser textures for a foundation. Sandpaper coated with coarse large-grit abrasive crumbs not only provided reliable foundation for the paints but also shone through with its silicon crystals from under the layers of pastels. This additional effect was used by Dik in many of his works – the device was always justified by the picture's subject and carefully thought-out, intensifying considerably the expressive potential of the pastels.

Dik never named his pictures and did not show his characters' faces, he had no use for their mimicry or dramatic gestures to convey his theme. The viewer had to figure out on his own what human feelings the artist encoded in his works: fear, despair, grief, pain, contentedness, trust – from very simple sentiments to outbursts of a wide range of emotions. They are apparent enough because they have been constructed from the projections of his personal feelings and expressed very convincingly without any pathetic overtones or emphasis on the banal, without sentimental flirtation or meaningful hints intended for the gullible viewer.
"The most precious thing for me is the miracle of the birth of a new picture. If this happens it means that all the factors joined into a most organic single whole, all the elements of which have become saturated with the same energy. That moment of birth determines the resultant artwork."[1]

The unmistakable effect of Dik's works on the viewer inspires an interest in a more profound study of the system of his expressive means. Dik's heritage includes his notebooks which are valuable for the researchers of his art. They contain the verbal explications of his ideas and reflections. There are also his sketchbooks with drawings of human figures, drafts and sketches for his compositions. These supplementary and draft materials provide documentary illustration of his creative process, objectively reflecting what is known as an artist's "laboratory". The artistic value of these materials is often no less valuable than the end result itself: the finished painting. In his essay "The Meaning and Beauty of Autographs" Stefan Zweig very aptly defined the significance of such a heritage: "A manuscript, better than any story or picture, expresses the unfading victory of the spirit over matter. Goethe's idea remains forever alive: in order to comprehend a work of art in full it is not enough to master it, you also need to trace the path of its creation. <…> Moreover, manuscripts possess an enormous moral significance, because they magnanimously remind us that the works we admire in their finished form are not only gracious gifts of a genius but also the fruit of his hard, exacting, and selfless labor. They show us the fields of battles where the human spirit is fighting matter, an eternal fight between Jacob and the Angel; they lead us into the depths of creation realms and doubly compel us to love and appreciate a person in an artist for the sake of his sacred work. Everything that guides our gaze from the external to the internal, from the transient to the eternal, is blessed and therefore we should regard these apparently insignificant sheets with particular reverence on account of their inner beauty, for there is no love more pure than love for spiritual beauty."[2]

Dik's numerous variants, sketches and pencil drawings provide a key to the understanding of the stages in his work, reveal the logic of his thinking, the source of his subjects and imagery. They shed light on the various details, which the artist had to deal with as he groped his way towards the maximally expressive form.

Layers upon layers of preparatory materials and sketches from everyday life only at first glance seem to be intended for the future picture alone, a warming up before the start of real creative work. Usually they are left out from any public notice and only a finished work is presented for the viewer's judgment. However, these modest objects of research demonstrate how from a trifling sketch from nature or a chance observation, multiply transformed in the artist's mind, there emerges a precise and striking image while the picture acquires the exclusiveness of a revelation. An ordinary scene from life, which may not be of any particular interest as such, having passed through a crucible of the artist's imagination, attains some truly otherworldly force.
Dik's jottings on scraps of paper provide a glimpse into an exciting process of a birth of art allowing you to see how the required angle of vision was selected and the perspective was established, the rhythm of light and shade was determined.

The artist's sketches show the transformation of the plot, a search for expressive means to convey the idea and the content. It is at this stage that the artist breaks away from mundane literalism and completes the crystallization of his concept into concrete and convincing artistic imagery. "Infinity focuses in a point and the point grows into infinity. This is only possible in conditions of absolute inner interconnection, interdependence, and interpenetration of all the participating elements of a composition. And only then a work acquires its distinctive individuality and becomes a living organism existing according to the laws of all the living creatures. It is no longer a random motif but an independent universe."
Of special value are the sketches relating to the choice of the dominant features, details, and characters for the future composition. Dik's experiments with various means of expression demonstrate how carefully he thought out each element to render precisely the emotional tenor of the painting, and how its intonation was modified with even tiny changes. For example a solitary character sitting with a book conveys a certain mood, but when the artist puts a child next to him something else happens – now we see a man reading to a child and together they create a touching image of unity, a sign of passing on wisdom, of learning about the world. In the same way a picture acquires a new meaning when the artist puts a child with a couple like a conjunction mark between man and woman.

Walking a dog, two lady neighbors chatting, waiting for a night bus, crossing an underground passage – different settings and places of action, replacing one character with another or removing some of the characters or objects changed the atmosphere of the entire composition imparting to it a symbolic meaning. Dik used to move the same character or group it with some others, use it in different compositions, and stage different situations. For example, a multiply employed image of a stooping old woman with a stick as if half-buried in the ground was always painted in the same pose and from the same angle: from the back, with no face, somewhat from above and against a wide horizon to emphasize her smallness and "reverse growth" as it were. However, the change of characters in the picture and appearance of unexpected other details create each time a new theme and a different psychological atmosphere in the picture. Variation of the plot produces various shades of mood when the old woman's stooping silhouette appears on the road ascending a high hill, or when she is accompanied by a youth (an angel leading her away from us), or with a slender little child or a dog. When she carries a big umbrella she looks like a mushroom and suggests comical associations with a tortoise while at the same time inspiring poignant tenderness and almost a physical sense of a prolonged autumn rain.

Conditional interiors and landscapes providing the background for action in Dik's paintings serve as an additional element for enhancing the images. Several sketches, unfortunately not realized in a painting, demonstrate the process of image transformation. Two trees in twilight near an old house with a sloping roof and two windows; the same tree trunks and the same house but now with a light in the window as a motif of expectation; the same house in twilight and a female figure leaning on the tree as a more intense motif of loneliness.

The metamorphoses of narrative pictures turned into abstract compositions, genre scenes into still-lives, and the other way round, occurring in the process of Dik's artistic experiments were the focus of his interest in the later years of his life. Figures of nuns standing or walking to prayer in the predawn dusk are reiterated with the same rhythm as his still-lives painted at about the same time.

The organic properties of cityscapes, natural landscapes and still-lives with everyday objects are artistically transformed by Dik into abstract compositions. He continued to study the form and the limits of its ability to convey meaning and carry emotional loads, and he translated conditionally objective forms into abstract formulas of feelings expressed by means of colors, light, volume, and rhythmic patterns.
Not a single composition by Dik exists in isolation, independently of its predecessor – the emotion once experienced does not disappear. All his pictures can be arranged into a sequence of links: individual episodes which continue some meaningful inner monologue whereby the force of its impact is intensified with each "frame". The art of Pyotr Dik can be compared to the work of a talented film director who is also skilled as a camera man. The world of Dik's art openly interacts with our personal experiences and memories. You respond to his art with nostalgia so as to recall these images later and keep them in your mind forever. It seems that you have seen them many times before but never have you perceived so intensely those trusting defenseless children, those lovers, old people, dogs, hills, roads, groves left by birds, and lonely trees. The perfection of his art with its expressiveness, confessional intonations, and clarity find an immediate response in the viewer who reads the artist's message readily. Pyotr Dik succeeded in getting through to us, in all their poignant evidence and force, the dim, hidden, barely discernible movements of our souls, as well as his words on eternity, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness, which defy any moral devaluation.