His featured painting, “Karvasary (Church of the Holy Cross),” depicts a centuries-old Orthodox church in the city of Kamyanets-Podolsk with soothing orange, green and blue.
The icons are still the highlight of the exhibit, occupying over half the gallery space. They depict biblical figures — Jesus and the Virgin Mary at the center, surrounded by archangels, Gospel authors and more — and Orthodox saints like Panteleimon, the patron of healing.
For the most part, the icons are painted in a traditional style, using rich colors and heavily shaded expressions as well as all of the regular identifiers in iconography. The archangels have wings and hold a thin, red staff; Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul all hold books. Each of the figures is adorned with a halo.
It’s where they differ from traditional iconography that the project takes on its unique, tragic meaning. Because of the sanctity of the figures depicted in this work, it has become fundamental that icons be painted on wood of great quality. That means it’s sturdy, even, unblemished and wholly intact.
As these icons are painted on the lids of ammunition boxes Russian soldiers left behind in Ukraine, they’re anything but great quality. The wood is porous, each surface made up of four to five small slats of wood held together. That helps to create small cracks in the would-be canvas, but in some the splits are even wider.
The lids are additionally pockmarked with holes and other dents. Rusted hinges that once served to hold the box together still hang at the edge of each piece, serving as a reminder of the horror these beautiful works originated in.
In traditional icons, the halos are painted in gold, adding an opulence meant to reflect the riches of heaven. In this series, the halos — except for Jesus’ — are loosely outlined with charcoal.
This lack of splendor gives the icons a much more reflective, even mournful, spirit.
These changes weren’t made to mock iconography or cast doubt on the sanctity of the figures, but rather to approach faith in the midst of suffering with a steadfast spirit.