In September 1997 when I was living in Barcelona I went to visit an art fair, it wasn’t particularly exciting as it was the same old contemporary modern art stuff: plastic bags with semen and carpet dust and videos of hedgehogs sleeping. However, at the art fair there was one gallery which caught my attention: Ir-Art Gallery from Vladikavkaz, the director was Gala Tebieva. Gala was exhibiting the paintings of Vladimir Gobozov, Yuri Abisalov, Aksar Esenov and Alyena Shapovalova, the paintings were so different to everything else on view. The style was different; the subjects, the mood, the colour and the atmosphere spoke with a poetry I was unfamiliar with. There was so much personality that I asked for their business card and forced mine upon them. They returned the following year and stayed with me.

I’ve always been fascinated by Russia; its revolution, Lenin, Stalin, the huge human sacrifice in the Second World War. The Iron Curtain, Cold War, nuclear arms race, Yuri Gagarin and its romantically incomprehensible language. In the early 1980’s I had driven through East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary and even lived in West Berlin for 9 months from where I visited East Berlin. In all that time I had never met, let alone saw, a Russian until… I met Gala.

Ir-Art Gallery represented artists from North & South Ossetia and had a gallery space in the Central House of Artists in Moscow to showcase their work. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave Gala the opportunity to present the gallery and her artists to an international audience, hence the gallery’s presentation in Barcelona, and also Gala’s invitation for me to participate with their gallery in the art fair Art Manage in December 1998. I showed with the gallery five times.

In 2007 Gala invited me to participate in the first Alanica symposium which was held in Fiagdon, Верхний Фиагдон, just outside Vladikavkaz. Some of the artists were from Vladikavkaz and others from various parts of Russia, and it was with them, the local people plus an excellent translator, where I started to understand why they and the region was so different to anything I had experienced. Not just their cultural background; their history, music, religious believes but also their different mentality; how they see and react, and how their paintings speak with such individuality.

I was impressed with Fiagdon situated in a valley in the foothills of Mt Kazbek, 5.053m, some 30 kms to the south east in Georgia, the 7th highest mountain in the Great Caucasus Mountain Range. A remote frontier post on the mountain road to South Ossetia. There are few places in western Europe where one can feel isolated, lost in the surrounding wilds of nature with huge snow capped mountains, uninhabited valleys, abandoned villages with ruins showing the hardship of survival. A land empty of human habitation yet filled with mood. The landscape a hour outside of Vladikavkaz is monumental, magnificent, it is inspiring – and it needs to be shared, protected and honoured. Standing on a rock overlooking the vast vista of the world before me makes me feel so small and insignificant, a trivial flea. Nature can be both inspiring and also frightening, romantic yet disturbing.

It is romantic to behold the drama of the wind playing with the trees, the water flowing rapidly down the gorge, the clouds stroking the mountain peaks, the setting sun kissing them with its final rays before it goes to sleep. As night descends there are no comforting street lights, a cloudy sky smothers the stars and moon, and the darkness, the blackness, is disturbing. There you stand, blind and unable to see more than a few metres, incapable of deciding which is the way home. Drowning in the night. Crack, a branch breaks!

The fallen leaves rustle. Who’s there? A predator! Or... is it, hopefully, just your agitated imagination? Being alone in nature can be frightening; you could be the victim of wolves, wild dogs, boars, bears and, worst of all – bandits! Humans, the biggest predators on the world.

The feel of natures’ moods is what I want to paint and I want to do it in a way which encompasses it all. I want to paint a panorama, a panoramic view of that magnificence a mere stones throw outside of Vladikavkaz.


Landscape is not heritage it is a phenomenon. Land does not belong to anyone, it belongs to itself, we are only living on it and heritage is the history of how, when and what we did on it over generations. I first saw the landscape and towers around Vladikavkaz and Fiagdon in 2007 and the first time I ever saw a panoramic painting was the Panorama Mesdag in The Hague in Holland in 2008, I was amazed. I’ve since seen panoramas in Lucern in Thun and in Innsbruck

The first panorama was made in England in 1785 and during the 1800’s there were many throughout Europe and a few in the USA but with the invention of film they slowly disappeared. There are about 30 from this era left in the whole world, one of these The Battle of Borodino, was made in 1912 but was closed in 1918. However in 1962 it was renovated and a new building was made to house it at Polkionnaya Hill in Moscow. It is the only panorama in Russia The painter of this panorama was Франц Алексеевич Рубо (Franz Roubaud) who also painted the panoramas The Siege of Sevastpol, 1904 and The Taking of Ahulgo in 1896. Three fragments of this painting remain and are in the Dagestan museum of fine arts in Makhachkala.

Although there are only around 30 old panoramas existing new ones are still being made, notably in China. Modern panoramas are using digital photography and printing the image onto canvas before being hung. Photographs, films could be projected onto the circular wall and look modern, conceptual and new but then it would also be as though it was an IMAX cinema, visually spectacular but totally missing the magic and poetry of a hand made painting. The difference would be like looking at commercially printed wallpaper and not of a genuine painting. Google Maps also present 360˚ images.

The themes of many of the early panoramas show historical events such as battles or biblical stories, pictures about people. My idea is to make a panorama just about the landscape. A panorama showing the mountains, maybe showing the Darial Gorge, maybe from somewhere like Fiagdon or maybe even from Vladikavkaz.

These paintings are big, the painting in Borodino is 15m high by 115m long (a diameter of 36m). To view the panormas the public have to enter from beneath through a darkened corridor, as though in a cinema, and then climb some steps to stand on a platform which is about 12 m from the painting surface.

Towers form a significant part in Ossetia history so the platform should be built to resemble one so that the viewer has the impression of standing at the top of one looking at the landscape around them just as the people who used to live in them would have done. This tower would be surrounded by a false ground, a Faux Terrain, which would include real stones, broken branches, plants, flowers, etc., even butterflies – the actual fauna and flora to be found in the real landscape. This faux terrain would extend about 10 m from the viewing platform leaving enough space between it and the painting so the illusion of reality, a 2D painting, could take over from the genuine 3D of the false ground.

For further information:


Cross Section: South – North

This cross section shows the painting hanging on the curved wall. There are two possible ways to illuminate it, either by daylight through windows in the roof or by artificial light.

I have chosen artificial light for two reasons, firstly its brightness and hue can be controlled and secondly the amount of natural day light changes with the seasons so during the winter the venue can remain open for longer. The scale in this drawing shows the painting to be 15m high and 100m circumference, a diameter of 31.8m. The canvas never hangs vertically but bows inward, the higher the canvas the greater the distortion.

Between the canvas and the viewing platform in the centre is the faux terrain. This false ground imitates the irregular surface of the ground beneath the tower supporting the platform on which are the stones, soil, plants etc.

The viewing platform is under an awning, the inside of which dark to make the tonal contrast between where the viewer stands and the painting 12m away. The amount of the painting visible is controlled by the width of the awning and the faux terrain. In the middle is the staircase with a chair lift to help people in wheel chairs.

Below the viewing platform is the entrance corridor which I have broken up into two levels to prevent the light from above entering the darkened corridor, again to maintain the tonal contrast for as long as possible. Along this corridors are doors for the staff to have access to the storage space under the faux terrain and also for maintenance. Outside the corridor is a large space which could be used for such events as temporary exhibitions, a lift and toilets. The main access is via a long ramp which encircles the building. This floor is below ground level to reduce the appearance of the size of the building. (In all the drawings the section below ground is indicated by being pale grey.)

On the roof are solar panels.


This south facing front of the building is the entrance. Although the painting is a cylinder the building resembles a square stone tower (a stone clad steel and concrete frame).

In order to reduce the size of the whole building the stone tower is encased by three stories of glass. This glass will act like a green house and warm up the interior plus without it a solid stone tower would look overpowering. The glass is camouflage and will give the people outside a glimpse of what is within. The whole building is encircled by steps, like many churches and public buildings, to give the visitors the feeling that they are entering into a special place. Two other buildings, with the same roof style as those in Dargvas and painted white echo the historic Ossetian architecture, are directly in front of the stone tower. On the ground floor is the kiosk which sells tickets to the panorama, the book/merchandise shop, the cloakroom, the tourist information desk, toilets, a lift and staircase and the two ramps. The one to the right leads downwards to the panorama while the one on the left leads up to the restaurant and bar. The tourist information desk is very important as the Panorama Alanica would be a tourist attraction and visitors might want to know more about the actual landscape of North Ossetia and how to get there and where to stay.

On the first floor in the drawing is the restaurant with a bar on the second floor with access to a terrace but it would be possible to divide this area into two, one half a restaurant and the other a bar which could be in the white building on the right. The other building contains the lift and staircase. Toilets are also on this floor.


This is the eastern facade which shows the ramps where the people walk down and also up. The entrance to the painting is below ground.


This is the northern side of the building.


This is the western side. Here we see that the ramp is below ground and consequently the room is darker. The artificial light near the ramp is good but becomes dimmer as the visitors get closer to the corridor leading to the panorama.

This is a plan of the first floor showing how the extra rooms such as the toilets and the kitchen are within the tower. On the ground floor this space is used for the wardrobe and toilets and on the top floor for the bar and more toilets.

This is a plan showing the corridor to the platform.

This is the plan showing the solar panels on the roof.

These show where the former Irtex building was, these photographs are to show the relative scale of the whole panoramic building in a possible site. The height could be reduced by making more of the building below ground.

Making the panoramic painting is only half of the project, the other is the presentation of the painting. All these drawings are only an indication of what could be one solution.

I have tried to show the painting in one square building incorporating the auxiliaries required: wardrobe, ticket office, shop, tourist information, restaurant, bar and toilets.

The whole could be divided into a cultural centre spread over various, possibly, connected buildings into an Art Park.

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