MAGIC OF WOVEN PAINTINGS
The Museum of Fine Arts of Turkmenistan has a special hall exhibiting the unique hand-made woolen yarn carpet-paintings. They were once called Spalier. However, this German word is no longer used, as it has been superseded by the French word Tapestry.
Tapestry became a popular type of the Turkmen fine arts in the early 70's of the last century. Turkmen masters of tapestry created the genuine art masterpieces through the modern techniques of smooth weaving with the use of fringe. Tapestry took roots in Turkmenistan owing to the quite favorable conditions created by rich local traditions of carpet weaving and experiences of craftsmen, who had worked on thematic carpet weaving since 1930.
The emergence of tapestry art in Ashgabat looked very organic and natural. A quite solid and quantitatively impressive group of Turkmen masters came to the fore quite quickly. Their works focused mostly on the topic of continuity of traditions. A variety of forms (tapestry, thematic felt cloth, batik) and characteristic features of the process of formation and development of the leading masters' creative work were also conditioned by the rich past history of Turkmenistan's modern decorative textiles. They drew inspiration in not only the colors and rhythm of Turkmen carpets, household items, embroidery on clothes and headdresses, but also in music and poetry that conveyed the creative thinking of the Turkmen people. Features of natural landscapes, smooth fluidity of barkhan sands, sharpness of mountain peaks, life-giving force of water and variegated diversity of the flora influenced the figurative tapestries.
In their works, art critics rightly noted the role of fine art in developing the Turkmen tapestry art, as the achievements of Turkmenistan's painters had greatly influenced the stylistic features of the non-traditional forms of modern art textiles. It was also important that in the process of professional growth the Turkmen masters of tapestry used to refer to the achievements of the leading foreign schools.
According to one of the renowned experts in the Turkmen art of the 20th century, Galina Saurova, when we look at the traditional layer in the development of modern forms of decorative textiles there are two noticeable directions in the Turkmen carpet weaving. The first is the traditional ornamental art, and the second is the portrait-thematic carpet that emerged in the 30's and reflected the general process of thematic orientation of applied art in the region. A thematic carpet in its specific forms caused an ambiguous, mostly negative reaction, as masters rarely succeeded in avoiding the inner conflict of the canonical ornamental-planar origins with the principles of individual-authorial, mostly illusory-volumetric art. However, in general, the thematic carpet contributed to making a significant shift in the artistic perception and stimulated the emergence of more perfect forms of plastic thinking that were used in the figurative tapestry.
The artistic level of the Turkmen thematic carpets was quite high by the 70's. This is evidenced by the works of the oldest master, Redzhepnazar Bayramov, whose ornamental thematic carpets reflected a wide range of depictive motifs, and the works of his pupil, Jovza Shakhberdiyeva. The emergence of the thematic carpet also contributed to the birth of the new type of artists, who, on the one hand, were bound by the canons of traditional carpets and, on the other hand, had a range of individual-authorial means of self-expression that were completely different from those possessed by the unknown folk masters.
So, there seemed to be no difference in the artistic status of the thematic carpet and tapestry. Commenting on this situation by example of correlation between the contemporary thematic carpet and tapestry, art critic Marina Agranovskaya wrote... "boundaries have become unclear, and the only thing that today really defines the confrontation of the carpet and tapestry is the authors' perception of the canon of folk art ... Innovations in carpet weaving are possible only within the established system, while a tapestry painter looks at this system from the outside. Tradition is the law for carpet weavers, while tapestry painters treat it as a material for free interpretation." It should be added that the traditions of both ornamental and thematic carpet are an important but not the only source for tapestry painters. This notion is quite eloquently confirmed by the practices of even those of them who perfectly know the traditional methods of carpet making.
Amanmurad Atayev and Vera Gyllyeva refer to this category of artists most of all. They have higher professional education and combine in their works the principles of traditional and thematic carpet making, as well as the characteristic features of modern fine and monumental art. The ability to think in terms of traditional art forms is demonstrated by the carpet bag made by Amanmurad Atayev back in 1971, and the thematic carpet-tapestry "Ozareniye" (1977) by Vera Gyllyeva.
By the beginning of the 80's, the works of these artists focused more on the poetic side of tapestries. The figurative tapestries by Vera Gyllyeva provide a quite distinct feeling of the influence of easel painting. Firstly, this is due to the fact that she graduated as painter from the art college in Ashgabat, and she still occupies herself with painting, painting in watercolor and drawings. Secondly, this is because she closely follows the best achievements of the modern Turkmen painting, especially the works that convey the poetics of images based on the monumental-solemn, pathetic intonations.
It is significant that her works are also thematically close to the series of paintings on the topic of formation of a new life in Turkmenistan. For example, comparing the poetics of her tapestry "Ozareniye" (1977) with the imagery of classic paintings by Chary Amangeldiyev and Kulnazar Bekmuradov, one can see the common features expressed in similar coloristic and compositional principles, in a slightly official atmosphere and unshakable determination of the characters. Undoubtedly, Vera Gyllyeva, who has mastered perfectly the tapestry technique, also highlights the features of the decorative composition, effectively using its texture and silhouette, softening the psychologically rigid intonations that are justified in the picturesque works but are not legitimate in tapestry. The dynamic, rigid and generalized stylistics of picturesque paintings on historical themes was reflected in the Central Asian largest tapestry made by Vera Gyllyeva and her husband, painter Vladimir Baghdasaryan, more than forty years ago for the interior of the House of Political Education in Ashgabat, now "Mekan" Palace.
In her tapestries, Vera Gyllyeva also uses the hot range of yellow-red colors that are typical of the Turkmen painting, emphasizing the atmosphere of time and adding originality to the tapestries. Gyllyeva's high professionalism is also seen in her ability to work with compositions that differ in scale and topics, in the scope of her stylistic skills and coloristic diversity of her works. Such works as "More Druzhby" (1975) and almost 30-year old monumental tapestry "Sem' Zvezd", dedicated to the classics of Turkmen poetry, which are so different by their topics and composition, are evidence of her capacity to use a rich color palette, such as cold blue and greenish-blue shades, as well as her commitment to the multi-figured compositions and classical principles of smooth weaving. Gyllyeva achieved a new level in the 90's by creating the tapestry called "Zhemchuzhina" that is reminiscent of a seashell. This work presents the style of oriental miniatures with an exceptionally thin pattern and light-silver pearl colors. The high density of weaving allowed Gyllyeva to convey the tiniest details, the finest nuances and gradations of color. A special feature of her creative individuality, i.e. her measured and methodical search for the figurative solution, resulted in the lack of salient experimental works and in plasticity similarity of many of her tapestries.
Amanmurad Atayev is more agile in his search for tapestry expressiveness. The influence of painting is not so noticeable in his works, despite the commonalities with Gyllyeva's works in terms of selection of topics. Atayev's works are dominated by symbolic and allegorical interpretations and greater attention to the actual decorative qualities of texture, composition and general silhouettes. The basic principles of this approach are seen in his famous work "Leto" (1980). By the spectrum and intensity of colors used in this tapestry, this is one of the most colorful compositions in the modern Central Asian tapestry art. The fine and artistic color palette made this tapestry one of the most memorable. When Amanmurad Atayev shifted from social topics to more narrow topics, his technique became free and relaxed, and the artistic plot of tapestry became expressive and figurative-emotional. This is exemplified by one of his early works "Dary Morya" (1973).
Looking at the works by Annakuli Khodzhagulyev, Sulgun Khodjagulyeva and Kakamurad Bailyev, one can feel the inner dynamics and expressiveness of their search. In their works, each of them showed a desire to find an original metaphorical language, move away from the poster symbols typical of a number of Turkmen tapestries that became a certain trend at the end of the XX century. Evidently, this can be explained not only by the personal predilections of the artists but also by the objective factors. Khodzhagulyev's tapestry "Kompositsiya" is one of his first attempts to create a decorative and abstract work. The beauty of this work is based on the play of color spots and plasticity of rhythms. The artist actively refers to the technical search, combines techniques, changes the silhouettes and forms of tapestries, searches for unexpected compositional solutions. This is also seen in his exhibition works of the late 70's - early 80's, and in the works created for interiors of public buildings. Tapestry "Avaza" (2011) by his wife, Sulgun Khodzhaguliyeva, demonstrates a different, openly graphic manner, gravitating toward naturalism within the limits of traditional decorativeness.
All the above-named masters set the main trends in the development of the Turkmen tapestry art. On their way to establishing this genre, they all had to overcome the "resistance" of the traditional circle of the artistic perception of Turkmen weaving, to assert their right to independent existence and identity. According to art critic Akbar Khakimov, the development of the Turkmen tapestry is characterized by the commonality of topics chosen by these artists, regardless of their individual preferences, by the active development of figurative tapestry, common desire for development of the classical forms and techniques.
In the mid 80's, the desire to learn from the experience of the Baltic tapestry school became more evident in their works. It was reflected in their departure from the narrative rhetoric of the tapestries of the late 70's, in their attempts to find more concise and capacious metaphors, fresh and uncommon compositional solutions. They wanted to master a new methodology of artistic thinking and decorative expression of their works. Now their works are displayed not only in local museums, but also in private collections of admirers of their art in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, the USA, Turkey, Iran and other countries.
Speaking scientifically, one can draw the following conclusion. The variety of forms and styles of Turkmenistan's modern art textiles is guided, firstly, by the traditional heritage, secondly, by the interest in the development of modern national painting and, thirdly, the achievements of the international school of tapestry and art textiles in general.