A Chinggis Khan storyboard in oil on canvas
As testament to the enduring partnership of visual art and film, Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts is currently showing a memorial exhibition of storyboard paintings by legendary Mongolian film art director B.Purevsukh. Storyboarding, where a director or cinematographer draws detailed scenes for the director to use as a foundation for cinematic shots, is an essential part of filmmaking. But while storyboarding is common to cinema worldwide, Mongolia may be unique in that its directors hire professional artists, like Purevsukh, to compose oil paintings–rather than pen-and-pencil drawings–to visualize the scenes before they are shot. Purevsukh was the Chief Art Director on two famous Mongolian epic films, Queen Mandukhai (1989) and Under the Power of an Eternal Blue Sky, and several of his scenic paintings for these films are currently on view at Zanabazar’s exhibition gallery.
As both films use Chinggis Khaan as a primary subject–Under the Power of an Eternal Blue Sky follows Chinggis Khaan’s legendary war campaign and Queen Mandukhai portrays Chinggis Khaan’s granddaughter’s reign– Purevsukh heavily researched 13th century Mongolian life, from clothing to hairstyles to battle formations to dining customs – and his paintings are incredibly detailed as a result. Many of the untitled paintings depict vicious battle sequences or triumphant victory celebrations. In one particularly striking painting, a stampeding horde of Mongol warriors erupt over a hill while a citadel burns in the background. Another beautiful painting depicts 4 columns of mounted soldiers marching tirelessly through waist-deep snow, as the wind blows furious and white around them.
Despite Purevsukh’s propensity for historically accurate detail, his
brushwork is strangely abstract. In other words, while the uniforms for Chinggis Khaan’s soldiers reveal authentic 13th century battle gear, Purevsukh’s illustrations are broadly drawn. Yet Purevsukh manages to convey as much power, urgency, and energy as moving pictures themselves. Like Goya’s influential masterpiece The Third of May, Purevsukh imbues his abstract paintings with palpable emotion. Looking at the stampeding horde of warriors, one can almost hear thundering hooves and battle cries, or the eerie whistling of wind on a winter’s night.
Unsurprisingly, Chinggis Khaan features prominently in several of Purevsukh’s paintings, but his ubiquitous image gains fresh perspective from the artist. In the most arresting painting, Chinggis Khaan, dressed in a regal, all-white deel, sits on a dais surrounded by several advisers dressed in brown. Khaan pops against the drab background like an ethereal being, and though one can barely distinguish his advisers from the walls of their ger, every minute wrinkle and worry line is visible on their fearless leader’s face. Despite his grace and majesty, Khaan looks worn and tired, his kingdom’s concerns weighing heavy on his shoulders. Purevsukh manages to humanize Mongolia’s famous ruler, portraying both his prowess and weaknesses.
In addition to Purevsukh’s fascinating storyboard paintings, the exhibition features several smaller oil and watercolor paintings with scenes of forests in winter, or ordinary herders resting in a green pasture, that are unrelated to either film. Zanabazar also obtained some storyboard sketches for the films, showing technical information about camerawork. Whether a fan of visual art, film, or both, Purevsukh’s artwork offers a unique perspective into Mongolian filmmaking.
by Bijani Mizell
THE UB POST