Haralampi Oroschakoff

Galerie Kluser

Haralampi Oroschakoff’s paintings consist of painted fragments, which are applied to the surface of a canvas like found ancient shards. One occasionally recognizes a hand, an eye, perhaps even a whole bearded face, and, in between, brush strokes—timid, cautious, irresolute, marked by awe and a touch of anxiety, as if the artist were bearing witness to an epochal event. Oroschakoff approaches painting through Byzantine culture, in particular through the world of Russian icons. In 1966, when he was 14 years old, the artist and his family moved from Eastern Europe to Vienna; recently feeling a discontent with the civilization of Western Europe, he has returned to his own Russian Orthodox roots. The icons he admires, unlike Western art, show little progressive development. Not created by human hands (according to the religious belief), they have, for centuries, remained true to an intrinsically abstract concept; they lack the imperative to reproduce a constantly changing visible reality. Away from the world’s hustle and bustle and independent of the artist’s subjective emotions, the icon points to nothing but a steady faith, asserting it consistently and almost defiantly in the face of any external changes, feelings, or innovations.

Through this concept, Oroschakoff first came to the use of geometric signs, giving each one a central, lasting, and utterly unshakable role—like the circle that signifies infinity, or the cross. Against this background, Oroschakoffs forms were to be understood as invariable, held out, like a banner, to confront the urge for invention, innovation, and ecstatic subjectivism that is central to Western modernism. In icons, the countenances of saints were also subject to a fixed concept. The shape, expression, style, and color were rigidly proscribed. In Oroschakoff’s new paintings, the faces of the Man of Sorrows, the Pantocrator, the prophet, and the Mother of God can be recognized. However, he takes over only certain parts of the faces, offering them in fragments, since their earlier unity and self-evident nature disappeared long ago.

Now that the vanguard role of Western culture has reached a dead end, such a focus on the concept of the icon is highly topical. The icon’s devotion to permanence can be set up as a monument challenging the obsolescence of current modes in Western art. Oroschakoff’s paintings create a place where, despite the ubiquitously lurking randomness of death, something suddenly happens—something that, if only for a short moment, allows us to believe that not everything is ephemeral and therefore futile. This moment used to be called the sublime; in Oroschakoff, it is something like the sacred.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.