Category: Opinion

Rafail Aliyev’s exquisite minimalism

Many researchers believe that the beginning of contemporary Azerbaijani art, in its present format, dates back to 1991. That was the time when Rafail Aliyev had his creative start first as a professional artist and later as an original painter. Through intensive searching for form and plasticity, through trial and error, he found his unique and immediately recognizable artistic style.

Rafail devoted nearly twenty years of his career to working with metal. His masterfully and meticulously made engravings arouse great interest and admiration for his professionalism and craftsmanship. Furthermore, his capacity for profound concentration and patience is admirable – this work requires not only assiduity but also a talent for preserving the inner rhythm of tension for a long time.

Rafail’s acquaintance with the great Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo became an impulse to start his own painting career. He saw in Tamayo’s painting a profound connection to his own personal view of the world. He saw in Rufino his spiritual co-thinker. Stylistically, Rafail’s painting is authentic and original. It is probably based on his experience of working with metal. If one compares Rafail’s examples of artistic metalwork with his own paintings, one cannot fail to notice an inextricable link, coherent integrity, between these seemingly so different forms of art. Lines and forms in his metal works and his canvases belong to the same visual language. The stylistic link between Rafail and Tamayo is based on their appeal to the origins of their visual cultures, to the primary core of the High Tradition.

Contemporary Azerbaijani art is based on three traditions: the ancient tradition of decorative-applied art, carpets, and medieval miniature painting in particular; the tradition of the Soviet painting school; and the tradition of Western modern culture. Bypassing the Soviet visual system, Rafail Aliyev synthesizes in his art the Western avant-garde approach and the ancient Turkic language of visual culture.

In many of his works, such as “Bull”, “Under the Moon”, and “The Sign”, the artist turns to the depths of his ethnogenetic memory, to the wall paintings of Neolithic artists. In this way, Rafail Aliyev continues the visual traditions of high Western modernism, where Picasso, Matisse, Léger, Klee, the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, and other artists belong. The essence of this high tradition of modernism is a return to the roots, to the very core of visual activity as a spiritual creation!

Rafail’s artistic method can be called exquisite minimalism. Whatever the artist is painting and whatever genre he is addressing – portrait, still life, landscape, or fantasy themes – the compositional structure of each of his works is based on two visual principles – brutal minimalism and the delicate elaboration of the painterly surface. Minimalism is expressed in the fact that to create a composition Rafail Aliyev selects one or two (less frequently more) figurative elements, which he ultimately stylizes by transforming the image into a graphic sign, a symbol. Important is that the sign remains recognizable, it does not transition into abstraction: we can clearly see a female figure, an animal, a tree, fruits and flowers in the paintings.

Rafail Aliyev’s paintings balance on the edge between figurativeness and pure abstraction. And this minimalistic pictorial structure is compensated by the finest modulation of pure, almost laconic colour and richly textured surface treatment of the canvas. The painter works with dense, tactile brushstrokes and then, with gentle glaze strokes, brings the colour to such an optical state that the canvas appears to glow and shimmer, as if the light is radiating from within. This demonstrates Rafail Aliyev’s talent as an original colorist, who skillfully combines simple, almost graphic compositional solutions with a restrained variety of colours. If the artist’s paintings are static in their composition, the colour combinations make them dynamic. Rafail Aliyev not only depicts a concise image but also shows the genesis of its emergence from an abstract background.

Based on an article by Teymur Daimi.

artist, art historian, PhD


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