Kaluga Region town: church architecture mingles with modern art

The town of Borovsk in the Kaluga region has existed since the 13th Century. With its hillside churches, it is a real guardian of authentic Russian culture. Now the town is also a place to enjoy modern art.

The bell chimes coming from a dozen of churches can be heard in the town every 15 minutes. Among the most famous churches of Borovsk are the Christian Old Believers’ Church and Svyato- Pafnutiev Monastery.

However, the town is not all about traditional religious architecture. Its houses have become canvas for contemporary art.

A retired construction engineer and a self-taught artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov is recording the history of his native town through his paintings.

Vladimir Ovchinnikov reckoned his native Borovsk lacked folk-culture and splashed 100 murals featuring the images of churches, historical figures and still-life on the town’s walls.

“Polls say 95 per cent of people in our town don’t visit art galleries and museums at all. And thus they can take in the outdoor exhibition. Perhaps, it’s not the greatest art of all times, but still this is art,” says Vladimir Ovchinnikov.

No site is too holy for Ovchinnikov’s brush, including walls opposite the mayor’s office. Thus, on the building just opposite the mayor’s window, the picture of space travel theorizer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky neighbors a typical Soviet satire.

Not everybody, however, has appreciated the effort.

After the artist made a wall-sized political cartoon featuring a local governor, he became persona non grata.

“There were three paintings on this wall,” says Vladimir Ovchinnikov pointing at a house. “One is left. Two others were whitewashed under the pretext of the house’s repair. The mayor has already destroyed 10 of my works.”

Ovchinnikov has been fined several times and even faced court charges. A local newspaper labeled him immoral, especially after he painted a controversial image of a religious martyr in a town where every citizen is a regular church-goer.

Surprisingly, the biggest local monastery does not think the artist has touched a raw nerve.

“We say icon painting is the Bible in colors. The same could be said about these paintings – they are the history of our town in colors. It’s especially good for the young people, who are raised without knowing their roots,” says monk Maksim from Svyato- Pafnutiev Monastery.

Monk Maksim turned to religion at the time of Perestroika in Russia. Images of abandoned churches and whitewashed icons are still strong in his memory. He is convinced that the artist should not give up and should continue with his dream of decorating all of Borovsk with his murals.