Can anything good or beautiful come out of a nasty, brutish war? The rape, murder and mayhem of the almost year-long war in Ukraine scarcely seems a place to look for goodness and creativity. But two Ukrainian icon artists, Oleksandr Klymenko and his wife, Sofia Atlantova, have managed to bring beauty out of brutality.
Looking at the debris of war, they noticed that the wooden boxes that held ammunition look much like the wood backings on which icons have traditionally been painted for centuries. In the Ukrainian Orthodox Christian religion, a person’s creative act of painting images of the Virgin Mary (Theotokos), Jesus (Pantocrator) or the Saints is a religious observance or act of veneration. Any individual may make an “icon” to participate in this religious “act,” but naturally, some people are more adept at making beautiful or accurate images of Mary or Jesus than others. For centuries, these gifted painters have been revered as icon artists and the Museum of Russian Icons’ collection has many fine examples of their works.
Artists Klymenko and Atlantova are working in this long tradition, but with a twist. They use the discarded wood ammo boxes from the Russia-Ukraine War as the backing foundation for modern icon images. Their icons are being sold to provide funds for the “Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital” to mitigate the pain of the war. This is art with multiple purposes: a religious act of pious veneration, a propaganda effort to bring attention to a nasty war and an effort to raise money to help fellow countrymen. All of these are worthy goals, entirely independent of the “artistic” quality of the icons themselves.