Country – Russia

City – Moscow 

Alexander Kornoukhov mosaics – simple,at the same time unexpected, but intuitively understandable. Mosaic review visiting famous russian mosaicist now.

Alexander Kornoukhov – monumental artist, painter, graphic artist, Counselor to the Russian State Academy of Architecture, corresponding member of the Academy of Arts, professor of Art at the Surikov Art Institute (Moscow), member of the Artists Union of Russia, is actively working in mosaic both in Russia and abroad.


His mosaics adorn the tympanum of the Zion Cathedral in Tbilisi (commissioned by the Patriarch of Georgia Ilya II, the work was done jointly with Yuri Yarin), Moscow churches of Saint Mitrofania of Voronezh, Transfiguration of the Savior in Tushino (together with Kurilov), Saint Cosmas and Damian in Shubino, Assumption in the Assumption Vrazhek, the Church of the Sign in Krasnogorsk and others, as well as temples in Italy. In 1996, he received an order from Pope John Paul II to decorate Redemptoris Mater chapel in the Vatican.

Saint Cosmas and Damian in Shubino
Saint Cosmas and Damian in Shubino

Alexander Kornoukhov was born in 1947 in a family of artists. Mother, Antonina Fedorovna, worked with V.A. Favorsky and P.D. Korin, famous Russian artists. In 1965 he graduated from an architectural and art school, where he studied under S.L. Ter-Gregorian. Then he entered the Moscow Polygraphic Institute in the class of A.D. Goncharova And P.G. Zakharova. After graduating from MPI, he worked at the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

His first exhibition was held in 1974 in the exhibition hall on the street. Remizova 10, where oil painting was presented. In 1976 – an exhibition of paintings in the hall in Ermolaevsky Lane.

In 1977, Kornoukhov became a member of the creative union in the section of monumental painting, since in his student days he worked in the technique of stained glass, mosaics and paintings. The first work at the Combine of monumental and decorative art – eight mosaics for a recreation center in Reutovo on the theme of still life – a landscape associated with antiquity. These mosaics were awarded the Art Fund Award for Best Work of the Year.


Further work was performed in collaboration with the artist P. Kurilo. In 1980, in the administrative building of the NGO Vega in Moscow, an architectural mosaic of natural stone was created, laid out as if in a clay thickness of a raw wall. The theme of historical, sometimes archaic plasticity was continued in the mosaic of the winter garden of the state-of-the-art factory in Cheboksary (130 square meters).


At the same time, Kornoukhov and Kurilo worked with architectural plastics in Dubna – at the Cosmic Communications Center at M9 2 station, the building of which made it possible to interpret architecture as a free sculpture of glass, steel, instruments (radars) and the architectural volume located in the natural landscape.


The same interpretation is partly inherent in the building of the Wellness Center in Vladimir-30, it is a sculptural composition of glass and concrete, as well as the German Center in Karaganda.


In 1985, a composition was created for the 50th anniversary of Artists Union of Russia from autonomous mosaics, interpreted not as easel works, but as evidence fragments of an invisible architecture. The theme of working with loose stone was developed in a project for the International Mosaic Competition in 1982 and implemented in a mosaic stele for a park in Ravenna, Italy, in 1986.


In 1989, the artist turned to the creative study of mosaic plastics in church art when he created the tympanum of the Tbilisi Cathedral. Work in this direction was continued in the Moscow church of Saint Mitrofania Voronezh, in the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Tushino, in the Church of the Sign in Krasnogorsk.


Thanks to experience in temple architecture, it became possible to carry out a number of mosaics in the Papal Palace of the Vatican, namely, in the Raphael’s Robe, in the chapel of the Mother of the Redeemer (Redemptoris Mater), dedicated to the Jubilee of 2000. It was created in 1580, during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII. She redid many times. Here, in the architecture of the late Renaissance (1580), the artist tried to combine the plastic experience of Eastern and Roman art.


As the artist says:

“At this point, the value of every millimeter is such that it takes your breath away. So I decided to offer there a simple lapidary stone, which I experience as something being reborn. Stone is an everlasting material, this substance in its pure form, the primary element. The papal chapel is anniversary, and it was supposed to give a look at the entire two-thousand-year history of Christian art. The chapel, like any architecture, is dumb music, and I wanted to hear it, I wanted it to sound.

But where is the such melody that really embraces Rome with its holy Constance, and Ravenna, and the Jordanian mosaics, and the mosaics of Georgia and Armenia, and the mosaics of Jerusalem? What you see everywhere today does not give this sound. Current art is objects that are brought into the temple, and nothing comes of it. I have been in Greece and in other countries, but have not yet seen mosaics that would come from there, from the wall, from the idea of ​​the temple itself. And for me this is exactly what is interesting. Therefore, the papal chapel, in my opinion, should be based on Roman early Christian plastic. From Roman mosaics we also took ornaments, and so came Heavenly Jerusalem.”

Of a different nature was the architecture of the temple of Sant Ugo in Rome. At that time, it was completely new, representing a monolithic concrete block. The temple is located in the modern quarter of Solaria Nuova in the north of Rome. There, architects made such a building-garden, which is a developed architectural event in space and at the same time crowns this hill with the church of Sant Hugo.


This is a rather large parish, with 40 thousand parishioners and seven priests who constantly live there. According to Alexander, they could not bear the burden of this monolithic concrete and “quietly, like swallows, began to plaster something in order to somehow revive the premises.” But in general, everything remained the same monolithic concrete.

Kornoukhov was invited to try to solve the problem of continuity and compatibility of ancient canons and modern architecture. The artist had an idea – to try a technique that could even connect with cast concrete and turn out to be organic in a new space. In total, about 60 meters of mosaics were made there.

Next, we give a short story by Alexander Kornoukhov about this work:

– Here, in this area, I came up with a comprehensive approach to architecture, characteristic of the 60s. The complex of the temple in Sant Hugo included many different events. Firstly, these are gardens, and secondly, various landscape constructions. At the same time, there were dormitories for priests, interest clubs for residents of the district, bandstands, and other public facilities. In general, this is a developed complex.

In the image of the complex, architectural thought was seen well, but it was in no way connected with the traditional church thought characteristic of Italy. Say the dormitories for the priests were executed in a strict Spartan manner, as for the true “warriors of the Lord.” The vaults were made by a simple formwork method.

The idea, I understand, was that the monks and priests living in this complex lived in the knowledge of the severity of the surrounding world and “carried their cross” diligently. Moreover, when they will go on a mission to countries with not the best conditions for their existence, they would be more morally prepared for it.

The architectural idea, as I understand it, in this case was not to create a church building, but to create a receptacle of modern people. In my opinion, this was the case when the building, more precisely the complex of structures moved to the state of local community most fully.

Speaking of modern architecture, modern art, modern mosaic, this idea comes to my mind – at the same time that in this case the idea itself was realized exclusively through architecture, at the same time it managed to weave itself into society as much as possible.

I’m interested in starting the word “Mosaic” from the very beginning. I remember one children’s game. Children in a sandbox throw up a pebble or sand, and then they close their eyes and wait for those to fall. This is the beginning of entry into art.

When we are dealing with ceramics, we make some kind of workpiece, put it in the oven. But what exactly will happen after firing, we do not know for sure. But the result, whatever it may be, is accepted by us as the birth of a child whom you accept as a native. Whether the icing has flowed there, or not, whether you planned it or not, is no longer important.

This is a very important period for mosaic activity, and it occupies a fairly large part of it. And this mosaic enthusiasm dominates experience and calculation.

– Do you mean that mosaic is always the first child?

– The question is that mosaic – it is always embodied. She is not a virtual reality. She gives a new organization of matter, which lived before you. It is clear that not all materials are such. Smalt – it is brewed, but for example, stones, they lived millions of years before you.

And suddenly, at some point, this pile of free material begins to turn into a product. It is not that simple. Human intervention in the mysterious fate of the stone is phenomenal. He breaks it, violating the sealing of the stone, revealing its hidden secret to the world. Mosaic begins with this phenomenon. If it does not start with the phenomenon, it will lead to nothing.

At this moment, a theme appears, the mystical theme of the realization of something that a person himself does not yet know, entrusting the bearing of the image to the material with which he is dealing.

– Alexander, I would like to ask you a question regarding work in the papal chapel. In one of your interviews, they asked you a question about the difficulties you encountered while working there. The difficulties are primarily the environment, which has a thousand-year history.

– This question is incorrectly posed, as if from a past century.)

– I do not ask this question, I try to ask my own on its basis. I understand that you, as a poet of mosaic, a poet of stone, most likely felt there in your element. It is clear that this was a challenge, but nevertheless, the tone of the religious building is familiar to you.

For me, the big question is, was it just these modernist, industrial forms of San Hugo that were an obstacle for you?


– I will try to answer this question. My first work that I did in the monumental art factory was the center of space communications, where there was not even a word about the presence of mosaics. In this case, only one thing saves – the feeling of the whole, which is not limited to any specific stones or mosaics. The meaning is deeper. You cannot live with only skin. And we don’t have a body, we have only skin. Mosaic is the surface of something mystical that we do not overlook. If you dealing only with skin – you get an artistic panel. But this is not the limit for the mosaic, it is capable of more.

Therefore, speaking of my work, I did not feel any heaviness. The question of whether it was hard for me to work – it seems to me this is not entirely correct.

“Is it hard for you to relax in a country house with a lot of mosquitoes? “Yes, it’s very difficult for me to rest in the country, where there are a lot of mosquitoes.”)

– It seems to me that something  is conceived in man by God so well that the human metabolism taking place in him is strictly proportionate to the living source in him. If a person has to crawl out from under the tank, he will crawl out from under him if he has a will to accomplish. Do you think it will be difficult for him to get out from under the tank?

Therefore, if we are talking about working in the chapel or Saint Hugo, it was such a task that was bound to be solved. Take, for example, a climber who needs to climb a rock. To climb up, he has fasten the rope. So, in my case, the rope – this is the task. Having an exact task means that it will naturally have a solution.

And as far as some internal responsibility is concerned, I’ll say so that I already realized from my experience that when you do something, this work can have three hundred million different solutions, and they will all be the only ones. And it all depends on which nostril you are breathing at the moment.

Realization of something into something, it is always mysterious and waiting for the last pebble that the mosaic artist puts. He closes the mosaic, and all the pebbles are revealed, they all become an object. And before that, they were all bleeding with the blood of events, they were in the process. But as soon as the last pebble completes the picture, then the mosaic is alienated and becomes an independent object.

It needs to say that for many people who are engaged in mosaic, this moment is the most important event, the most important.

– Alexander, tell me, do you feel regret after completing the mosaic with which you lived for a long time?

– In no case, never feel sorry. I will explain what the matter is. The fact is that all these mosaics are a synchronization of your life and what you do. And only if suddenly this work did not synchronize correctly, then in this case does this feeling of pity appear. We end our work by making our mosaic a Permanent Present.

In the context of the sense of time – the past, present and future, the mosaic does not remain in the past, it passes into the status of the Permanent Present.

– Alexander Davydovich, one more question. You and your students are, I mean students in a broad sense. I understand what you teach in Academy, but I mean in a more detailed sense. How do you see the relationship with them?

– This is an interesting question. I have long noticed that students are not the ones with whom you are communicating at this moment. You can never see or even know students, but at the same time they can be somewhere thousands of kilometers away. And the person next to whom you are talking to may not be your student at all.

This is the same mysticism as at the birth and growing of a child. At first it seems to you that he is “yours”, and after a while it becomes unclear who was born before – you or a child.

The student is a fairly spatial phenomenon. In no case is not the one to whom you constantly hammer something into his mind to he finally understands something.

– Are there any of your like-minded people in the mosaic with whom you are in mutual communication, from whom you get something, are they from you as well?

– Regarding what we get from someone or not, I will say a few words. Among the people who are making mosaic, I like Marco de Luca. The first thing I like about him was that he was a man of extraordinary graceful modesty. And, most importantly, I am fascinated by the very clear tasks that he poses mystically in his mosaics.

– Alexander Davydovich, I would like to ask you a question regarding contemporary art. What does the concept of “Contemporary art” mean to you? Does it exist at all, contemporary art, or can we talk only about art in general?

– The question is interesting, but the answer to it is ambiguous. I am sometimes asked how do I understand a modern icon? I answer that it is not a matter of icon but of modern person. When they ask a question about contemporary art, they partly put into it a question from the Art Nouveau style. What should this or that be like? Art Nouveau style answered this question simply – we will do everything as always, but better. And this answer, which now looks rather dubious, speaks of the decline of “tunnel vision”.


I will explain my thought. Once there was such genius of Russian thought – Mendeleev. He created a system that systematize a large amount of data in chemistry, limits it to a certain frame and describes the rules. He invented his system at that moment, neither earlier nor later, when humanity was able to understand and accept this logic and the laws of this system without difficulty.

But, as it turned out, behind the scenes there remained a small stream of super-heavy elements, which, shortening their lives, go into some irrational space and are not included in the perimeter outlined by this system. But they were discovered later.

This is what I call the answer to the question – what is contemporary art. I call Mendeleev a genius, not because he created this system of his, but because he gave out precisely that portion of knowledge that easily and clearly laid down on the understanding and perception of a person of his time.

We are talking about composing a mosaic as a sacred process that lasts in time, when the physical direction of the author’s time goes forward, he grows up, and yet a certain segment of his time is involved in his mosaic, slowly developing in the same direction.

Mosaic has one interesting feature, strangeness. It is possible to lay in it a temporal meaning, which once later, in the future, will be mystically revealed by the viewer.

Therefore, if we consider the mosaic from the point of view of the theory of the French philosopher Pierre de Chardin that man exists on the surface in the interpolation of the infinite Sky and the immeasurable Earth. The thin upper crust of the frozen earth’s surface is a mosaic, as an image.

The densest number of different processes takes place on it. Geological, political, economic, all these processes are most noticeable precisely on the surface of the Earth. Mosaic under such a consideration is an intermediary between Heaven and Earth. It forms an image in more than one plane, giving answers from an invisible inner space.

– One biographical question. You have been immersed in mosaics for a long time. This is your life. But there was a period in your life related to the Moscow State University of Printing Arts and your work at the State Institute of Ethnography. Was all this also interesting? Can  you call this time lost for yourself, or did it also somehow contribute to your implementation? Did you feel then that you would come to the mosaic?

– In Russia, in the USSR, the year 1957 was a very important milestone, when after all the recent terrible totalitarian events, the first festival of youth and students was held in Moscow for the first time. I was then 10 years old, and then I got into the space of artistic youth. There were absolutely extraordinary people who have now become widely known.

An unusually voluminous space appeared that corresponds to that young fountain of creativity that a person pours out at 10 years old. It is very important that his creative energy and the environment coincide.

This was the beginning of that very School, which in many respects determined my future, in contrast to the school, which I called “galleys” in my 7 years. I sat on a hard bench, listening to the teacher, who told me that “mother washed the frame”, not understanding what I’m doing here, what have I got to do with it. On this sunny day, when my mother writes a picturesque sketch of a local bazaar, and millions more blade of grass live around her, trembling.

After these “galleys”, a more meaningful architectural school began, followed by the Institute of Printing. I can’t say that the institute has particularly influenced me. Not only that, I quickly left this profession, because it seemed to me that in order to illustrate the books of great writers, I had to be no less great than them like artist.

In other words, illustrating Shakespeare or Dante, the artist must also be at the level of Shakespeare or Dante. But I didn’t realize myself like that. And the role of intermediary did not suit me. The work of an illustrator is akin to the work of a translator, who not only automatically translates, but makes a reconstruction of the translation, and its reconstruction should be as powerful as the original.

Ethnography, on the other hand, brought me an extraordinary sense of freedom, taking me away from various councils, meetings, and military commissars.

Studying in the Institute of Ethnography, I left for Chechnya for scientific research. I was doing a strange thing there – I painted mountain valleys with defensive towers and from them I studied the mutual relations between the clans. The fact is that the Tanges (special decorations) on the top of gateways were narrated just about it. For me, this was a knowledge of the medieval world that I had never encountered before.

The content of these Tangs surprised me with their unshakable temporal strength. Awareness of the temporary force has become for me a real event that overshadowed the institution. I went on ethnographic expeditions with nomads. Their mentality was amazing for an urban man, in stark contrast to his usual perception of the world. The experience of communicating with them was an invaluable contribution to my worldview.

In parallel with my work at the Institute of Ethnography, I began to enter the Union of Artists and work in the Combine of monumental and decorative art. It was a very peculiar combination. At that time, I concluded for myself that I need to keep myself at some distance from the profession.

Too close immersion does not allow to see the whole picture and complicates the general perception of oneself. Some distance allows you to see whole.

So it is with mosaics. I don’t stick in it like a bee in a jam. I see a mosaic, as part of architecture, as a kind of theater, a human gesture. In no case can I limit myself to those frames that are officially called mosaics.

– So you perceive yourself more as an observer?

– No, I behave like clay, I don’t know where the borders are. All other stones understand where it ends, but I do not understand.

– I envy your liveliness and such a wide perception!

– Interestingly, the framework we are starting to begin to form in ourselves unintentionally, listening to our teachers. A student starting to paint a landscape first seeks the horizon. Oddly enough, at this moment, template thinking begins.

I have decided long ago for myself one thing. One Russian fairy tale tells us: first, pour dead water on this dead guy. And then pour it with “living water”. In my opinion, knowledge, which you get at the institute – is dead water. Not because it is bad, but because it is a necessary rite of initiation, about which you should first bang your teeth. And then, knowing and understanding this space, move away from it and approach the one that is closer to you.

Le petit chaperon rouge
Le petit chaperon rouge

– Maybe then the learning process should be started in order to give a person the opportunity to realize himself as he can?

– A man himself is never realized, that’s why the function of a hunter is laid in him. That is, he can perceive something only while in motion. In order for him to start something and come to something, he must get into some kind of story.

– In my opinion, it is pointless to force a person to do something against his will, a person should have an interest.

– That’s why this is the dousing with “dead water”. You have to start somewhere. Although it may never come in handy.

– And at what moment should “living water” arrive?

– Living water is needed when you sprinkle well with “dead water”

– That is, it turns out that you still need a “mom washed the frame”

– Maybe you are right…

– Well, Alexander Davydovich, thank you very much for being able to devote your time to us! A conversation with you on the philosophy of art, the mutual reflection of it and human existence can lasts forever. We do not end it. Just interrupt for a while to take a breath, comprehend what was heard and provide food for future questions.

Artist portrait – Alexander Kornoukhov

Электронное периодическое издание «MOSAIC REVIEW» зарегистрировано в Федеральной службе по надзору за соблюдением законодательства в сфере массовых коммуникаций и охране культурного наследия 12 апреля 2019 г. Свидетельство о регистрации Эл № ФС77-75500. Учредитель — Кучменко Андрей Николаевич, Адрес редакции – 127247, г. Москва, Коровинское шоссе, д.2а, главный редактор – Кучменко А.Н. © «MOSAIC REVIEW» Частичное или полное использование материалов разрешается только при условии ссылки и/или прямой открытой для поисковых систем гиперссылки на непосредственный адрес материала на Сайте.