Pavel Filonov (1883-1941) is at least as great a painter as Chagall, Goncharova, Kandinsky, Malevich, or any other member of the Russian avant-garde. Unlike these other artists, he is barely known outside Russia. There is a simple reason for this: when he died in 1941, he left nearly all his work to the Russian Museum in Leningrad - who then, considering it anti-Soviet, hid it away in their cellars until the late 1980s. Hardly any of his work can be seen outside Russia.
Many of Filonov’s paintings are huge and extraordinarily detailed. Seen closely, every element of Filonov’s works takes on a life of its own. One square centimetre of canvas could, if enlarged 50 or 100 times, be an entire Paul Klee—or a Miro, or a Kandinsky. Another square centimetre is more roughly textured—like the wrong side of a piece of richly coloured embroidery. Another square centimetre may be relatively empty—not a pattern but a delicate wash of colour. Each time one steps back from observing the detail of Filonov’s paintings, the work as a whole has changed.
Robert Chandler, who has recently spent several days visiting and revisiting the current exhibition of Filonov’s work at the new branch of the Russian Museum in Malaga, will discuss Filonov’s life and work against the background of the culture and society of the time.
For more on why many Russians consider Filonov one of the greatest 20th-century painters, see Robert's essay from 2013, published in Prospect magazine.