"The Russian Ballet in the Artistic Works of Natan"
The Krasnodar artist Natalia Nikolaevna Shevchenko, better known by her pseudonym Natan, has recently stepped onto the contemporary art scene. She has created over four-hundred works and organized her own exhibitions, which have been met with great success both in Russia and abroad.
The success of her exhibitions built Natan's confidence in her work and instilled in her the desire to perfect her artistic talents and move on to further creative achievements, not simply to be satisfied with what she has already accomplished. She drew great inspiration from personal meetings with her audience at her exhibitions, regularly attending their openings. The secret to the draw of Shevchenko's work lies in her choice of subject. Her works celebrate the Russian Ballet; it defines her artistic goals and guides her creative path to this day.
The artist's choice of ballet as a subject matter was no mere chance. Natan is truly a Petersburger at heart: she has been uncommonly taken with ballet since childhood, intrigued by the opera and ballet performances she saw at the Mariinsky and Maly Theaters. In the many years since that time, she has held onto those first vivid impressions and onto her love for this wonderful world of art. The artist creates paintings one after another with unprecedented freedom and boldness. Her goal is to convey in color her personal vision and her understanding of the rhythm of music and dance, and through this to find a compositional approach to visual expression. Shevchenko has painted many paintings of such subjects as the celebrated ballets "Swan Lake," "Anna Karenina," and "Master and Margarita," as well as of such famous ballerinas as Namara Karsavina, Anna Pavlova, Ida Rubenstein, and Mya Plisetskaya. Notably, she was the first to paint a portrait of the eminent ballet master Sergei Diaghilev, who is best known for his work with Russian ballet abroad, beginning with "Russian Seasons" in Paris. Currently, this portrait is part of the Tula Oblast Fine Arts Museum. The portrait was painted as if in one breath, one brush stroke, with no trace of indecisiveness or struggle. Natan's artistic technique is reminiscent of the traditions of the artistic movement Mir Iskusstva. Shevchenko's goal was to show her admiration for the unique persona that is Diaghilev; to do this she had to find harmony between the variously colored planes of each aspect in her painting. The successful completion of this portrait strengthened Natan's confidence, pushing her to continue focusing her work on ballet. Many paintings were to follow, a result of her creative inspiration and her deep understanding of the unity of music and movement. However, Natan makes no effort to capture the plot on canvas or the physical perception of the artists in this space. The artist is concerned with something else: the expression of complex plastic movements through the use of a fragmented composition, figuratively taking a snapshot of the production and bringing it to her audience with extra emphasis on the movement of figures in space. Natan achieves the feeling of movement, integral to ballet, by consciously extending the arms of the ballerina and boldly using a moving perspective. Shevchenko's canvases create a feeling of weightlessness and of the instantaneous realization of her artistic ideas. Through her use of color, she emphasizes the expressiveness and spontaneity of dance, not focusing on each detail but rather using her overall impression of the movement on stage. By looking at her body of work, one can see the artist's growth. This growth helped her to create unusual, bright, truly fantastic depictions of ballet, where one sees music and dance transform as one and even feels the depicted beauty. It's difficult to capture this impression of ballet in words. The famous ballet master George Balanchine once said, "it is impossible to explain ballet with words, just as it is impossible to describe the fragrance of a flower or the sound of music.” Balanchine's words and outlook are similar to those of Shevchenko; she expresses these sentiments skillfully and completely in her works.
From the very beginning of her artistic journey, Natalia Nikolaevna endeavored to unravel and to understand the graceful, meaningful, and emotional nature of ballet. This complex nature fully took hold of her feelings and inspired her to depict in painted motion the images that she so intuitively grasped.
Another notable theme in Shevchenko's work is Russian folklore, which also played a significant role in her artistic journey. Natan is attracted by the bright character of folk beauty, and she often depicts her female subjects in folk clothing and kokoshniki (a traditional Russian headdress). In this way, she emphasizes both genuine and theatrical aspects of her subjects, to captivating effect. When doing this, she does not get caught up in speculation and contemplation of old ideas, instead depicting the aspects of modern life that bring her worry and joy. At this point in time, one should look at her art as a constant effort to attain professional quality and harmony through the exploration of eternal ideas of beauty. Natan's indefatigable nature and deep internal understanding of the world around her aid her on the difficult path to artistic realization.
Text: Marina Nikolaevna Kuzina, Art Historian at the Tula Museum of Fine Arts; Member of the Union of Russian Artists; Distinguished worker for the culture of Russia.