Who is Mikhail Chapiro? An iconographer or an iconoclast?
Difficult to say, especially if you only have a partial impression of his art. Moreover, the humility so distinctive of his nature makes him disinclined to make explanatory statements on the topic. He confesses to some influences, René Magritte’s among others, but it would be rather hard to become aware of them visually. Where to look for benchmarks is a true challenge to your intuition. Why not in music, indeed — music is a very intuitive art! Which allusions would his paintings evoke if we let our sight dive into them and allowed our perceptions to override the rational? The sensation is as if you were hearing Mendelssohn’s romantic melodies and Schnittke’s sophisticated contemporary rhythms at the same time...
Can Chapiro be associated with any school? Is he a post-romanticist, a post-impressionist, or a resuscitated classic? Probably not. In spite of the multiple references to one or another tradition that can be found in his works, our attempts to circumscribe the phenomenon within the framework of what is known would remain desperate and vain. For his expression is to such an extent individual that it is inimitable. At least, identifying his paintings would never be a hard task for future art historians...
At first, his subjects seem varied: landscapes and cityscapes, portraits, animals, flowers. However, there is a common preference: a deep concentration on a single object. The absence of multi-figural compositions in his recent works suggests the artist’s undeclared propensity to analyze the substance of the object; to emphasize, through the artistic expression as a whole, the object’s intrinsic perfection and unique character — not merely the moment, the aspect, the pose captured, but rather the synthesis of all the characteristics that make its uniqueness.
This justifies the statement that Chapiro proves to have, despite all the serenity and calm radiating from his paintings, a perception of the exceptional very near to the romanticism. It is not a question of sweetish painting, but of conferring the characteristic of eternity to the object he reproduces through what he finds exceptional in it. But how might he be considered a romanticist? ...
With regard to composition, it is long time since Chapiro became a master. There under is not only a talent to proportion the object or to seize its most attractive perspective (or the more surprising one), but the ability to position it in the amorphous space of the canvas so as to make it coincide with a “strong point” as well. While this might be a blessing, it is most often a science — though subliminal, in the subconscious. What stands behind this capacity is a thorough education, a historical cultural knowledge, some geometrical wizardry, but mostly — a psychological awareness.
Is he therefore to be aligned with the classics? Not very convincing...
At proof, his portraits. The experienced observer often feels disappointed by the absence of perspective in the background and, moreover, by the lack of “air” — said for the space between the personage’s head and the canvas edge. We can only guess whether or not this approach is sought under the influence of Russian Middle-Ages and Renaissance icons. Nevertheless, this does not reduce its effect: it is as if the personality cannot be constrained into a frame whatsoever. It is represented in a completeness of soul that, symbolically, no space dimension could contain.
It is not by inadvertence that the line, the silhouette is left last in this stylistic analysis. Constantly in search of a transcendental abstraction level while professing his philosophy, our artist is subjugating the line to light. The outline preserves its functions: to trace the contour of the object while rendering motion. However, its substratum is now relieved of gravity: the light ray is serving that purpose. This is not a slicing laser beam but a diffuse, incoherent, hesitant light. Suddenly, one may realize that only those who lived at least one summer in Montreal are able to acknowledge that such a light actually exists. It is generated by the unique combination of the oblique solar shining at these northern latitudes, the nebulous air above the St. Lawrence, and the unpredictable filter of the galloping clouds.
Could therefore the ingenuous observer reproach to Chapiro a belated use of impressionist techniques? Surely not!
For the color would still have to be taken into account. The artist does not limit his pallet, like many others, to a range of preferred colors. By that, he rejects the constraints of the transient, of the fashion-influenced tastes of the public that is, unfortunately, all too often trying to classify artists’ work per periods.
Chapiro bows to Nature’s richness without filtering it. In answer, it is exceptionally generous towards his respectful, but demanding vision. In his landscapes, in particular, Chapiro recreates the luminous nuances of the colors with inimitable mastery, compared to which the 16-million synthetic colors of modern computers fade.
Indeed, from a physical point of view the explanation might be quite simple — color is perceived through light reflection and absorption. Any luminous effect can thus be simulated or arranged. Even this texture so specific to the painter can be obtained by means of various pictorial techniques, no matter how complex.
But ... There is no (and it is very unlikely that there would ever be) a device able to do what the artist does; few are his colleagues who achieve it in a so convincing way: the superposition of the internal sight on the objective, natural light. In fact, the colors we see in Chapiro’s paintings are those of our memory, of our remembrances.
In conclusion, if one shall insist to affiliate the Mikhail Chapiro phenomenon with an artistic current, one would probably be the closest to the truth by identifying him as a magical realist. A much more detailed critical analysis would be essential to rally the pictorial expression of his philosophy to the credo of such contemporary literary giants as Gabriel García Marquez or Alejo Carpentier. However, there is no doubt that, while being faithful to reality, Chapiro transforms it by incrusting the imaginary, the dream onto it. This confers near-hypnotic powers to his paintings. Is it possible that a secretion of a particular endorphin is induced by their subtlety and the calm they are exhaling? It does not matter — these images remain engraved in our subconscious for long.