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Vera Pereyatenets, fine art expert. “Agatha” Art Bureau. St. Petersburg , Russia. 


A flying owl with fluffy feathers, a wild goose drawing up its legs in eternal flight somewhere toward the warm sun, twisting roots of trees that look like some ancient creature, a trout that hides in riverweed and is ready to jump out in its butterfly hunting, an eagle boggling the imagination with the sweep of its wings. This is the world of sculptures by St. Petersburg animal sculptor Andrei Tunikov, whose works open to viewers the world of wild birds and fish full of natural beauty and nobility.

Animalistic genre in which he works is one of the most ancient in visual arts. Originating in the prehistoric era, it was associated with the natural desire of our ancestors to survive, without which knowledge of the animal world was impossible, and one of the means to transfer this knowledge was animalistic art in its various forms. This includes Paleolithic rock paintings as well as small figurines of animals found during archaeological excavations of ancient encampments. Strictly speaking, this genre never left the visual art history, however, in different epochs it acquired different emotional, philosophical and plastic meanings. But almost always the animal art assumes research spirit of the author. This was the case in the Renaissance, when a clear division into genres in the visual arts was born, and in the 17th century, when it was finalized. And already at this time associated with active land development by Europeans, study of botany and zoology as a science, the art walked alongside, and an accurate, scientific reproduction of the animal was required of the author. The Romantic era had other tasks set before artists: the cold analysis was replaced by a priority of projection of emotions, pathos of struggle, unexpected angles and poses. All the following century the animal art showed departure from the research component of this genre. In the works there is an increasing emotional and psychological content, which in the twentieth century was replaced by search for new forms and methods of processing materials.

Nevertheless, for the national animal art of the 20-30s, when such masters as Vasily Vatagin and Evgeny Charushin worked in this area, this connection with the research field was extremely important; moreover, there is much evidence left that a kind of push to work in this genre for many people was acquaintance in their childhood with A. Brehm’s Life of Animals which discovered an amazing world for them. It is no accident that one of the outstanding masters of this genre, V. Vatagin, was a zoologist closely associated with the Darwin Museum.

Subsequent years contributed to the fact that the national animal art, having passed the period of scientific understanding of the animal image, has become an experimental site for searching a new art form. Moreover, it was here in this non-politicized genre that a sculptor could afford those freedoms that were not permissible in depiction of man. In many ways, this trend was consistent with the rest of the artistic world immersed in postmodern search.

However, general, by no means aesthetic, problems of the modern world compel us to take a different look at the current trends in development of animalistic sculpture. And here, the value is accurate reproduction of animals, the very existence of which is endangered.

These trends are met by works of St. Petersburg sculptor Andrei Tunikov. His artistic experience is based on common humanitarian knowledge, constant work on technique and constant close study of nature.

Inspired by the nature of animals, perceiving their appearance as a certain aesthetic constant, he returns to animalistic art its original purpose - research, allocating to himself the role of conductor in perceiving of the world – the fragile and endangered world. But the level of artistic talent allows him to create images that go beyond these tasks and are filled with deep emotional and philosophical meaning.

In his works, Andrei Tunikov went through a certain evolutionary path from static and simple reproduction of the image in the first sculptures devoted to fish, to creating works that are complex in composition and plastics, where the tasks associated with composition using one or at most two support points are combined with the desire to convey movement, flight, puff of wind. This is achieved through the plasticity of his characters and use of the artistic language that he found in surface processing techniques when interpreting bird coats and feathers, grass, reeds and dry twigs. In his works there is a tendency developing from single images to the desire to create genre narratives about the life of birds: in the nest, when hunting, in flight. Upon that, the sculptor reproduces appearance of his characters with naturalistic accuracy. And in this meticulousness there is no mechanical dryness, but the emotional admiration of the subject that is already a unique act of creation.

Andrei Tunikov creates his works in wood carving technique, on the one hand, subordinating visual techniques to the idea, and, on the other hand, constantly improving and developing this technique in each sculpture. And the choice of this particular material is also not accidental but connected with the general philosophy of his works.

Wood carving – painted one or showing the texture of selected material – is rather old and virtuosic art. Its distribution stems from availability of material and relative ease of processing, resulting in its widespread use in folk art. However, the history of world art faced several periods of genuine take-off associated with outstanding wood carvers, wood sculptors of the Gothic era - Michael Paсher and Veit Stoss, the creator of the brilliant St. Mary's Basilica altar, - who created in this technique monumental works with complex composition and full of emotions, where technical process and virtuoso performance play an important role.

Among the later masters, undoubtedly, we should mention the Englishman Grinling Gibbons, who worked at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Although the area of his work was primarily decorative art, he was able to go beyond simple ornamental carving and created his compositions from a complex combination of all the glory of the plant world, filling them with voluminous sculptures of birds and animals, thus destroying the boundary between the decorative relief and indoor sculpture. Later, the figure of the Frenchman Aubert Parent appears, combining research analytics inherent in the Age of Enlightenment and the grace of French art of the Rococo period, while bringing his technique to perfection. In his works, roses carved from basswood compete with a living original, while birds and fragile butterflies can be perceived as illustrative material to the Encyclopedia by Diderot. In the national practice, too, there were periods of rise of this art associated with Perm wooden sculpture of the 17th – 19th centuries and with lush decorativeness of the Baroque iconostases. Later, being under universal dominance of the academic direction in art, Russian sculptors gave preference to bronze and marble, and if they turned to work with wood, the level of its processing was brought to perfection of the bronze form, i.e., it was polished and finished in such a way that it could imitate this material

Wooden sculpture was a field of folk art with its famous Sergiev-Posad and Bogorodskoye toys and carving of decorative architectural elements. It was this that during the era of Art Nouveau establishment attracted Russian craftsmen who worked in the workshops of Abramtsev and Talashkin and who created works of decorative and applied art in the Russian style, without which it would be impossible to imagine the world of Sergey Konenkov and Stepan Erzia whose sculptures are based on the nature of wood and who were aspiring to put their plastic idea into the volumes and forms.

The twentieth century, with its modernist search, led to the fact that many craftsmen, working with the wood in plastics, were inspired mostly by the nature of folk sculpture, preferring roughness and generality of volumes, which motivated artists to work with a tool that left traces of work on the surface of the sculpture. At the same time, many craftsmen tried to preserve integrity of the wood, removing only the minimum amount of material, due to which the forms turned out to be quite generalized. Many artists worked this way, and here it is enough to recall V. Vatagin, who created many works in the wooden sculpture technique. Another way, which artists took, was akin to the use of wood as constructive material in the field of architecture, which makes it possible to build the volume of sculpture, likening it to a spatial construction.

The post-modernist era, with its freedom in the choice of tradition and frequent mixing of them, opens up a wide opportunity for the artist to realize his individuality. And it is variety of patterns in working with wood that is characteristic of the artistic handwriting of Andrei Tunikov. On the one hand, there are works where he strives to maximally preserve the natural forms of wood, the bends of the trunk, the rootstocks, only correcting them slightly in order to arouse the viewer's association with the flame or other natural forms. The plasticity of branches, the bends of tree trunks, as once the masters of the beginning of the twentieth century did, become self-sufficient in his works.

While creating complex compositions, Andrei Tunikov returns to classical Western European carving with its unique craft level that is difficult to imagine in the modern world. At the same time, this meticulousness of the finishing is not mechanistic; the movement of his hands is felt, while sometimes working with miniature tools allowing to preserve the structure of the fibers of material, to show their natural attractiveness. In his works, carefully polished surfaces alternate with rhythmically placed traces of chisel elaboration, carved weightless feathers – with dense cylindrical volumes, which introduces a special tension in the structure of the image. At the same time, he does not cease to admire the very nature of wood, its warmth, ornamental texture, introducing darkened tracks from knots and veins of growth rings into the general composition. Even when the artist covers the finished sculpture with paint, reproducing the natural color of feathers or shiny fish scales, he strives to reproduce the porous structure of wood, its warmth and texture, which was typical of the older craftsmen and which is obviously relevant today.

In this respect, Andrei Tunikov’s works enter seamlessly the context of contemporary art with its wide range of associations with previous legacies - from ancient Egypt to avant-garde search at the turn of the century, -  and combination of traditions with new materials and technologies. Increased sensuality of the emotional scope of his works, reflected in these wingspans, complex combination of surface textures, perspectives and that hidden tension that is present in his sculptures, is combined with deep respect for both the material itself and the images created by him.    


Vera Pereyatenets, fine art expert. “Agatha” Art Bureau. St. Petersburg , Russia.

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