Article by Nikolay Makarov

Article by Nikolay Makarov

But copy for our student Truba is as follows:

Between 16th and 21st September 2008, the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg (Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya, No. 17) hosted the International Exhibition of Calligraphy, sponsored by the MEC Sokolniki.

It featured a museum exposition of samples of manuscripts from different eras; works of global schools of calligraphy; tools for writing and practicing penmanship; and literature on fonts and calligraphy.

There were organised master classes and lectures.
On display were works by major calligraphers from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Europe, the USA, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Mongolia, Turkey, India, Australia, Brazil, and Peru.

The exhibition was attended by some 45 people from the 67 invited.
For more details on the latest addition to MEC Sokolniki ′s projects visit

Between 9th and 14th December the exhibition is expected to remain open to the public, but will move to Moscow, and then it will go global… The project has made it possible to set up the National Union of Calligraphers, to organize the Contemporary Museum of Calligraphy. The website offers a wealth of additional information on basic penmanship to conceptual materials addressing problems of interest to professionals and presenting a modern vision and understanding of the subject. Books on calligraphy in the pdf format, which can be viewed and downloaded (this is part of the exhibition offering. For your information).

Notes from St. Petersburg on letters from Stockholm and more…

Day one and thereafter.

Setting 1

There was no point in going to bed. The flight from Tyumen left early in the morning. You had to arrive at the airport well in advance. Registration, customs, what have you. The rules and regulations are stricter now. "This is for your own safety," said the security guy, making me go through the frame once again and "feeling" me with his metal detector after I, in my innocence, had popped outside for a breath of fresh air… through a filter… Finally it was boarding time. They made a show of delivering a huge bus to the assembly point. After a ceremonious U-turn (virtually on a dime), we found ourselves at the foot of an airstair. Somebody giggled. After a momentary traditional pause, the passengers, boarding pass in hand, filed into the cabin. Vnukovo. Transfer. And finally Pulkovo… For some time afterwards, the eyes continued to see a spinning wheel of plastic bowls, boxes with personal items, shoe covers, frames... gradually it all died down.  St. Petersburg.
The luggage wasn′t much of a burden, and I decided to treat myself to a walk down Nevsky [Prospekt]. St. Petersburg seemed cooler than it was when I had come to "conquer" it back in ′86. Mostly, to be sure, it was all there. Kazansky [Cathedral]… The Arch of General Headquarters… immense Palace Square (now a joy for skateboards and roller-skates). 300+ years down the road, the city still looks a prime photo shoot location. Give credit where credit is due.  While it is true that the Hermitage Museum facade facing the square is covered with green "camouflage" netting, the one fronting the Neva is resplendent in all its ceremonial glory…
The city has weird buses, "milling about" like elephants at a waterhole, with their trunk-like hoses hanging down bottomless St. Petersburg′s manholes. This is by way of a WC solution…
Palace Bridge dropped me on Vasilievsky Island. Strelka [Spit]. The rostral columns. The Bourse. Rumour has it that the Naval Museum is on the way out. The bourse will shortly become what it used to be, a stock exchange. It will trade in a different commodity, though. Petroleum. The Neva banks are lined with moored semi-mock frigates, sailboats without sails.  A delight for romantics and a feature of a city on water. Somewhere not far from here hides the Aurora, repaired, polished, regulation complete, including a crew of conscripts, who keep watch 24/7.  But the ship is laid-up and "travel-restricted" for the time being.
Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya [Universitetskaya Embankment] is an object lesson in the history of architecture. Kunstkamera… Academy of Sciences… The Twelve Collegia…  Menshikov Palace… Academy…  and sphinxes… The genuine article. Where do they come from here? From the country of pharaohs. A real-life relic of the Napoleonic campaigns.


The entrance featured two signs, "Day" and "Night", which flanked the door, an awning against rain and two funny little cars with the word "Calligraphy".
The cars were "He" and "She". Black and white. The white one had raised painted eyelashes and stared at passers-by and exhibition visitors without blinking. The little cars arrived at the front entrance each morning to welcome, as some kind of enigmatic sphinxes, exhibitors and visitors, and departed each evening for a night’s rest. Lots of people went on puzzling over their mystery even after they left for good.
As for rain, none came during the time the exhibition was open, which is a rare occurrence for St. Petersburg, what with the statistics showing that the city averages a mere 22 sunny days a year.

The academy has a door that opens inward. The snow-white square of doormat gave me a minor shock. To the right and up the staircase, fringed with a black-and-white dotted line of flickering candles. A Yamaha mechanical grand piano filled up the space with music by way of an overture to the exhibition. My mind automatically recalled [a line from the film "An Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano "]: "Mistificatioooooon!..."; flying past were calligraphic signs made with a broad-tip pen; they indicated: "Rector"… "cloakroom"… "WC"… A ceremonial arch, and finally the Central Hall. It has a chessboard of a luminescent panel, which displays a game of calligraphy in progress. Organizers. Sponsors. Support. A projection screen, which is presenting the exhibitors in a leisurely fashion. Portraits. Works. Highlights.


Two halls house the exposition. Black-and-white mounts. Black-and-white graphics. Light projections of signs, characters and hieroglyphs are floating through space. Laser beams pierce the exposition along the aisles, creating a virtual border for people coming towards you…
The exhibition does indeed show a great variety.  It has an extensive historical section: books, manuscripts, letters, decrees and invitations. Contemporary calligraphic works showcase both canonical writing and experimental graphics: texts, words, symbols, and associations. Calligraphy in a wide variety of guises…
I am taking photo shorthand. I am taking pictures on a sample basis. Interesting sheets. Fragments. Familiar stuff. Unexpected twists. Familiar names. Dobrovinsky, Pronenko, Bogdesko, Toreev, Maierhofer, Larcher.  Now I′m taking a calmer look. I have a whole week ahead.
Fantastic virtuosic calligraphy by Jean Larcher, done with a fine-tip pen. A whole series of works of the same technique. Everything is straightforward and above board. All it takes is dark background, white paint, tools, font and the skill to make it all come together to form a whole.
Ganzorig Alyeksander… very expressive calligraphy. Something special. The Orient, yes, but not China or Japan. Large-scale calligraphic sign symbols. Distinctive calligraphic archetypes: a line, a circle, a vertical, a horizontal …  this is Mongolia…..
With the edge taken off my curiosity and the hotel address found out, I make a beeline for the hotel.
Vasilievsky Island, 12th line… Marco Polo.

My roommate is already in. We introduce ourselves. Vitaly Shapovalov. Rostov-on-Don, freelance black-and-white artist and calligrapher. We share news and travel impressions. We take a little rest. Put away our luggage. Take care of routine household matters.
"I′ve already dropped in at the exhibition. I know the way." "Sure, let′s go. We can sleep later."

We head for the exhibition.

I already know quite a few of the exhibitors. The first meeting took place in May, in Moscow, at the presentation of the calligraphy exhibition project. That makes Vitaly my "Virgil, a guide through our circles…" of calligraphy. Now let′s tour the exhibition, making no haste, savouring everything. Next to the works are magnifying glasses, making it possible to examine the items in greater detail if desired, and photograph them, too. The results are quite good.
E. Dobrovinsky. Letters from Stockholm. Some kind of peculiar dashes race across the paper. Totally "punk" graphics in terms of rhythm and chaotic movement, but for all that, the riot of lines lets through the outlines of classic character patterns, yet not quite clear or well-defined. Given the frenzied execution, it is inconceivable to think that it is possible to see the whole, and yet… No, no, no, it cannot be; rather, there ought to be some sort of technique involved. Something must have been put underneath, but then there would have been texture and the pattern of graphics would have been different, with the tool running against an obstacle and leaving a different trace. So, after all, the procedure used remains a mystery. I compare notes with Vitaly. The principle is clear: something was indeed used, but what exactly? Try as we might, we failed to put our finger on it. What we needed was the author. So, now, notes from Helsinki: my head is a jumble.

Setting 2. Four against one

In the evening we made an appointment to meet in room 45 where Taranov was staying: "Come on, guys, drop by, I′m inviting you." His roommate was none other than Dobrovinsky. "You don′t go visiting empty-handed," we remembered, and dropped in at a shop to get "everything that was needed". The hospitable hosts (numbering 1) swung the door wide open, inviting us in with a gesture of welcome. The digs, however, were ill-equipped to accommodate the party. So we had to put our heads together in a hurry to try and decide what to do next and where to put "everything that was needed by everyone". Our options were limited: it was either beds, put closely against each other and securely fixed to the wall, or the cabinet, which housed a refrigerated mini-bar. The second option seemed a better prospect, but there was a problem: the fridge was plugged in and there was no telling what would happen if it was disconnected. It was decided to leave the power supply as it was and to try and solve the problem without such a radical treatment. The flex was rather short so that all our attempts at rearrangement proved a failure.
The "struggle" went on rather a long time. Finally, Nikolay Nikolaevich had a brainwave: "What we have to do, guys, is to pull the fridge from behind – and Bob′s your uncle." To begin with, this met with some scepticism: the cabinet back panel would be in the way, wouldn′t it, and what about the stiffener? But we had a look-see: true enough - the lower edge was just a bit higher than the top side of the fridge. From there on it went much easier: we moved the cabinet closer to the beds, and 5-6 seats were made available. The rest of the furniture that could conceivably be used for seating was arranged around it. Our spread could conservatively be offered to a dozen people at least. We got down to setting the table. What we had in mind was a scaled-down arrangement because we wanted to have a snack rather than a dinner. With the door open, people started to drift in. Everybody was given something agreeable to do and people slowly started to talk about this and that…
"Guten Tag" (or Guten Abend, I don′t recall the exact words, though it was already quite late) - a familiar figure stood in the doorway. Hans Maierhofer. Straight from Germany. "I′ve just arrived and decided to join the party," he said, "and see other exhibitors." Everything he said was totally in German. But since the party was composed exclusively of people with higher-education degrees, the language barriers remained unnoticed. Whenever necessary, a turn of phrase was eloquently supplemented with sign language, pictorial script or simply the language of objects. The language of the table is international and no less beautiful than calligraphy. The knowledge of history and classical literature certainly came in handy, too. Bauhaus, Durer, Goethe, to name but a few.
For the unexpectedly arrived Dobrovinsky our merry get-together was a pleasant surprise. Caught off-guard, he started to interpret from German into English and back into Russian, and it was only thanks to this that we understood that Hans, sad as it was, wanted to take his leave because a master class was scheduled for tomorrow and he was directly involved in it. It would focus on Fraktur. So he wanted to prepare his contribution.  It was at that point that we all thought: "Yes! This is a genuine European.  His job comes first and foremost. This is a responsible stance." And from then on we respected him all the more. (Jumping the gun, I′d like to say that the master had a steady hand in the morning. His Fraktur was impeccable.  "Skill can′t disappear just like that" was the thought of all those who knew their calligraphy).

"Notes from Helsinki"

With Maierhofer gone, people got more subdued, and, be it because of chagrin or something else, started to talk shop and nothing but. That was the moment to ask Dobrovinsky a question: "Evgeny Maksovich, so how did you actually produce your contributions, what was the technique: embossing or …?"
He gives a laugh. "It′s a long story. The work is called…" "Notes from Helsinki?" "No. Letters from Stockholm. It really happened in Sweden. I was wandering about the city. And my wanderings brought me to a cathedral where the floor was paved with epitaphed flagstones. It was the burial vault of a royal family or something like that. I can′t say exactly. But it was essentially true. (This is naturally no Dobrovinsky speaking; this is me telling the story. With some embellishments, to be sure. N.M.)   Ancient flagstones, several centuries old. They captured the spirit of time, the spirit of history. And all this wealth is here, under foot. Naturally enough, one wants to make some kind of record of all that, but how?  Photograph? Too simple and cold. What we have here is after all material; it needs to be touched. How? Print? Paint? All of a sudden, I think of what we did with coins in childhood. We took a sheet of paper and shaded it with a lead pencil. The result was a textured image. I hurry to the nearest shop, buy a pack of paper, several dozen sheets, and start copying everything on paper at a frantic pace. As I work, I naturally invent something, some kind of line-based writing, some kind of melody, all my own. The flagstones with carved signs provided a physical basis for graphic improvisation, which brings out the beauty of ancient historical writing. Then we come to the most interesting bit. All this happens with visitors and parishioners walking around. Normal life goes on. A warden appears. I explain the situation, who I am, where I come from and what is actually taking place. The warden keeps nodding and then leaves. Shortly after that, the spot where I was kneeling with my sheets, creating graphic impromptus is "cordoned off".  Along the perimeter of the area are set up posts or pyramids, with a striped tape hung to head off traffic. As I worked, I gradually passed beyond the fencing, but it was unobtrusively moved to match my progress. To make sure the artist was not by any chance disturbed during the practice of his art. That′s the story behind the letters from Stockholm… To put it in a nutshell, the subject was waiting on the ground; all that needed to be done was find means and technique and put it all in one story."
Evgeny Maksovich [Dobrovinsky] is an artist from whom I, like many others of our generation, "learned" from a distance. Using as case studies his contributions to Reklama, formerly brilliant Gratis, and the Union of Designers. A graphic artist and designer, author of fonts and witty posters, in his later years he opted for calligraphy, which became his way of life and outlook on the world.
On 18th September Dobrovinsky gave a lecture on his experience as a teacher at a calligraphy studio. The school is set up on the Crimean coast, not far from the excavation of the town of Chersonesos. A very beautiful location, inspiring. The lecture slides are available in the report on the visit to the calligraphy exhibition. The scope of work, its principles, philosophy require no comment. Here is what "the camera failed to catch":
He described his first experiments, his early education, things many people find easy to understand.
Practice makes perfect. That is why, when speaking about his teachers, Dobrovinsky was equally "appreciative" of his academic teachers and... his CO (or sergeant-major, it is not important which one). Nonsensical as it may seem, the Army became a hard school for many a sign-writer and calligrapher, much as monastery scriptoria, in that it provided iron practice. Kilometre-long copy of object-lesson propaganda made it possible to achieve mastery in penmanship. That made it possible to avoid feeling insuperable resistance in material when embarking on new topics…

18th September. Glagolitic

All in all, 18th September was one of the more striking days in terms of master classes and lectures. They focused on the national font culture.
The subject of talk by Petr Petrovich Chobitko was aspects of Russian historical writing such as ustav [block lettering], semi-ustav, cursive writing, vyaz [ligatured script]. He published a book titled "Azbukovnik" with a detailed description of the technique and features of ustav and semi-ustav writing. He is preparing for publication a second part, on cursive writing and vyaz. Very cool books. They are written in plain language. They provide a lot of interesting details.

Yaroslav Iosipovich Kutz gave an in-depth coverage of the ways and procedures used to adapt the Roman script for the Cyrillic alphabet. He presented the Naris font developed by him for Shevchenko′s Kobzar, as well as its Roman rendition…

The day began with the secrets of Glagolitic.  In addressing them, "crafty"  Nikolay Nikolaevich  Taranov, started from a long way off by covering, albeit very briefly, the background of the issue and the contributions of his predecessors. He failed to make it clearer, however. The involved florid turns of phrases of source materials caused slight dizziness… as regards the question of Slavonic runes with a dedicated review of runic antiques of Obodrites, as well as Glagolitic and Cyrillic. As a contribution to the comparative Germanic-Slavonic archaeology, the creation by doctor Ignatz J. Hanus, full member and librarian of Czech Imperial Learned Society in Prague, etc. There seemed to be no end to this rigmarole.  When emotions finally started to run high, Nikolay Nikolaevich chose that moment to present, in plain and simple words, his take on the origins of Glagolitic. Not as in an academic treatise, but using vivid easy-to-grasp imagery. As visualized by an image-oriented person, an artist.

Here I am, Az. Here is Man. What does he see when looking at himself? Hands, feet. Here is a diagram, and here is a Croatian monument to the letter Az.
And here is an alternative representation of man. Here is a photo (what do Obodrite runes have to do with anything?) You must open your eyes and take a look as a human being does.
This is V, Vedi. This means "to know", "to see". This means eyes and nose, the human face as a sign.
G, Glagol; this means "to speak". And here is the sign of Glagolitic. This is just a profile: the mouth of a speaker, half-open, and his lips.

And so on and so forth. The Glagolitic symbols as a result of image-oriented vision. Convincing and interesting.
It may be that this is just an opinion and everything was in actual fact quite different. But thanks to Taranov, Glagolitic started to "speak". The intricate (for untrained eyes, used to Roman and Cyrillic script, true enough) alphabet of antiquity came to life…
Whatever the outcome of subsequent developments, the presentation did manage to do one thing. Glagolitic is now, antique as it is, quite a familiar alphabet.
Nikolay Taranov′s book titled "Zagadka Glagolitsy" [The Secret of Glagolitic] is in the pipeline for publication and expected to be released within the next 18 months. We are in for interesting discoveries and unveiling of secrets.

We still had three days ahead of us and a variety of calligraphic events. A unique presentation by the Wunderlichs (first thing in the morning, right on the pavement in front of the Academy of Arts). A brilliant performance by Katharina Pieper and Jean Larcher. Where it was finally made clear that the latter can wield not only a fine-tip pen but the entire toolset of calligraphy. The firework performance by a calligrapher from India, Achyut Palav. . And sacral Hebraic calligraphy of Avraham-Hersh Borschevsky: his penmanship is amazing in its painstaking attention to minutest details of signs, paintwork, and calligrapher′s tools. And much, much more…