Andrei Noda: the quest for the image of man

The existential condition of man is underlying theme in all of Andrei Noda’s work. The canvases of Noda portray solitary figures in an alien landscape, and quite often, two human figures are depicted as sharing the condition of being abandoned in a strange world. In their fundamental solitude, Noda’s personages resemble the graceful iconic figures of Giacometti.

Like Giacometti, Andrei Noda pursues the creation of a basic image, an elementary expression of Dasein of man. Given this iconic dimension in Noda’s work, it is not surprising that he feels affinity to the tradition of Russian religious art. Likewise, he has always been impressed by the power of expression inherent in the simplicity and symbolism of the early Flemish masters. In their powerful plainness, Noda’s personages bear resemblance to those of van Eyck, and in a similar manner as in van Eyck’s works, they are frequently depicted against the background of an alien and bizarre landscape.

The stylized and simple images of the Russian icons or van Eyck’s paintings seek to explain us the mystery of the existence of man in a world that, in essence, is sacred and pervaded with God’s mercy. Noda’s iconography is, however, that of a profane world, a landscape where humans go on with their existence without a resort to God’s guidance, without the omnipresence of the divine providing the world order and significance.

Whereas the Giacomettian figures seem solemn and mournful, Noda’s personages seem, however, to accept the fact of existence in a rather more jovial manner. To Noda, the human condition is more akin to a comedy than a tragedy. Despite the solitude of his personages, his pictures are often delightfully funny, and Noda frequently accentuates the comical aspects of the human condition with bold and surprising choices of colour. After all, existence is not a matter of mourning, but the absurdity of human condition is instead to be treated with warm humour and ironic self-reflection.

A basic question that Noda seems to pose is whether there can be a genuine way out of this comedy of human condition? Does the act of artistic creation provide order and meaning to existence? Time and again, the attention of the personages of Noda’s pictures seem to be fixed, alternatively, on two symbolic objects: the cup and the flower. The carnival and the act of artistic creation are presented as the two alternative means of coping with the fact of being cast into an alien landscape, of making bearable the fact of being. Does this mean that artistic creation should, at the end of the day, be understood merely as an expression of mauvais foi, much akin to intoxication and the carnivalist illusion of the world turned upside down? Is the enterprise of painting images just another act in the comedy? Perhaps not, suggests Noda, but if the painting of images is to become a source of order and meaning, commitment is required of the artist – the commitment of a serious craftsman who has the persistence to pursue his vocation, free of pretension and sentiments of self-pity, and uninfluenced by the artistic fads and fashions that come and go.

Andrei Noda studied painting in the Almaty Academy of Visual Arts. In the young years, he was a gifted wrestler, and was training to participate in the Olympic team of the Soviet Union. After graduation, the young artist lived for years in steppe towns, painting and working as an art teacher. Without doubt, the stark landscape of the steppe has profoundly shaped his style: in the vast open space, one has a tendency to develop a sense for the essential. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union fell apart, leaving its citizens – quite akin to Noda’s personages – to cope on their own in a new and alien world.

The post-Soviet society permitted, however, a full freedom of expression for the new wave of visual artists. Andrei Noda’s work reached quickly wide recognition in his native Kazakhstan, and several of his pictures have their place in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Modern Art in Almaty. His works have been exhibited widely both in Europe and America, and they have been acquired in private collections all over the world. After a period of living and working in Portland, Oregon, he returned to his native country, settling down in a mountain village near Almaty. In his mountain atelier, he continues to be productive as ever, in the manner of an honest and uncompromising craftsman pursuing the true image of man – the image that would unveil the bare facts of being, nothing less and nothing more.

 Dr. Timo Piirainen, professor of University of Helsinki, Finland