Emonuel Kalontarov (1932-1984) was a renowned production designer, painter, graphic and stage artist. He belonged to a generation of leading cinematographers at a time that many scholars call the golden era of Soviet film. During his 20-year career, Kalontarov created the visual concepts for over 30 films across a variety of genres, from historical drama to comedy, opera and ballet. His art marked by a deep lyricism, poetic vision, and an emotional expressiveness of color. Kalontarov’s paintings and drawings are in museums and private collections around the world. His work won awards at both national and international film festivals, and in the 1980s he was appointed to the governing body of the Union of Artists. Emonuel Kalontarov’s accolades include The People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, Chief Designer of Uzbekfilm Studio, and Professor of Film and Stage Design at the State University of Theater and Art in Tashkent.
Emonuel was born in Samarkand in 1932 into the family of painter Markel Kalontarov, and showed a keen interest in art from an early age. Samarkand was an ancient Silk Road city with a rich history and culture dating at least to the 329BC. A large number of prominent Russian artists moved to Samarkand in the 1920s, and their creative experiments were inspired by the city’s vibrant mix of folk art, architecture and landscapes. As they settled in the city, artists like Pavel Benkov, Alexander Volkov and Alexander Nikolaev (Usto Mumin) became actively involved in local art education.
Later, during World War II, both the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow and the Russian Academy of the Arts in Leningrad were evacuated to Samarkand. Artists and professors from both schools, including Robert Falk, Vladimir Favorsky and Igor Grabar, became close friends with the Kalontarov family. This was a fortunate turn of events for Emonuel, who had an opportunity to study under some of the best Russian artists of that generation.
By the age of 15, with the support of his mentors and his father, Kalontarov was accepted into the Tashkent State School of the Arts.
While Kalontarov’s later career took him around the world, he continued to be inspired by the blooming gardens, sunny streets and turquoise sky of Samarkand.
In 1953, Kalontarov graduated with honors from the Tashkent School of the Arts and was accepted to the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow, Russia’s legendary film school. While there, he studied under acclaimed Russian artists and production designers, including Mikhail Bogdanov, Yuri Pimenov and Georgy Shigal.
Along with Kalontarov, the emerging cinematic talents Vasily Shukshin, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrei Tarkovsky, Larisa Shepitko, Elem Klimov and Gleb Panfilov all studied at VGIK during Khrushchev’s thaw, the period from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s when repression and censorship were repealed. This group of VGIK students was recognized early on as formidable artists.
Emonuel graduated from VGIK with a degree in production design in 1959. His debut film, Sons Go Further, was released by Uzbekfilm in Tashkent the same year. He later became the studio’s Chief Designer and stayed there until his passing in 1984.
The 1960s marked the high point in a wave of creative freedom. Young Soviet filmmakers were putting out innovative work that revived the avant-garde spirit of the 1920s and completely changed the visual and narrative aspects of film art. Emonuel came of age as an artist at just the point when artists were being recognized as equal partners in film production. He understood the synthetic nature of cinema and the prospects that it opened for him as an artist.
In preproduction, Kalontarov expressed the visual and emotional features of the films he worked on in sketches, which brought out a unique artistic vision for each film. That vision would determine the course of production.
During his 20-year career at Uzbek Film Kalontarov created the visual concepts for over 30 films across a variety of genres, from historical drama to comedy, opera and ballet. Many of his films received major awards for production design. For each project, he found a unique visual concept based on meticulous research and his knowledge of architecture, color and light. In his interview, director Shukhrat Abbasov compared Kalontarov to “…[a]n actor who transforms and reinvents himself from one role to another.” Russian artist, David Vinitsky said of Kalontarov’s series of sketches for the film Man Follows Birds as sheer poetry, not painting: “The light, color, and technique in his sketches transform nature into an inspirational, poetic world specific to the film.”
Kalontarov’s personal believe was that the artist should “…[t]ransform himself in pursuit of new artistic expression.”
Painting and Teaching
Outside of his film work, Emonuel continued to paint vivid landscapes, life studies and portraits. His experience in film and stage design gave a new sense of perspective, composition and light to his easel works. After 1960, Kalontarov actively showed his work around the Soviet Union and abroad, with solo exhibitions in Moscow, Budapest, Sofia, Tbilisi, Tashkent and a number of other cities. In 1975, Kalontarov was recognized at the International Symposium of Eastern European Artists in Budapest, where he also had a solo exhibition of a series of original landscape paintings of Hungary and received the Miklos Kaplar Medal.
While working full time as a production designer, Kalontarov also devoted many years to teaching at the State University of Theater and Art in Tashkent, where he founded the Production and Stage Design department. Many of his students went on to become successful art directors and production designers at leading film studios, as well as in theater, television and advertising.
Emonuel Kalontarov’s art and teaching were tragically cut short when he died in Tashkent on August 5, 1984 at the age of 52.
In his short career, Kalontarov reached the top of his profession and became one of the influential film artists of the 20th century. His works are displayed in museums, galleries and private collections around the world, introducing viewers to a powerful artist whose influence on visual expression in film can still be felt.