The purpose of this analysis is an attempt to place my artworks into the context of contemporary painting.
Questioning the prevailing consumerist culture could generate today’s form of History Painting. Some prominent contemporary artists seem to have recognized this, most especially those who received a classical formation in Eastern Europe such as
Neo Rauch and Adrian Ghenie.
I have been impressed by both the myth-making facility and the compositional talent of Neo Rauch. His free-treatment of traditional Renaissance perspective encouraged me to find my own way of manipulating the perspective. These attempts come from a desire to eliminate the horizon. That is why I begin, not from the Renaissance perspective, but from the flat and reverse viewpoint that one discovers in Byzantine art, particularly the icons of my native Russia, and in Persian miniatures.
When I recall Persian miniatures, it is Raqib Shaw who immediately springs to mind. His imaginative land is ruled by an uneasy juxtaposition of the beauty, violence and desire. These themes have also preoccupied me for some time. If one could make the approach of death sweet and anesthetic, that would represent a passive form of earthly paradise. In so far as beauty and violence live together in his world, I also have tried to combine apparent opposites. I try, therefore, to marry old and new deities, I introduce classical figures and baroque flourishes onto an otherwise flat, decorative surface. By doing that, I am contemplating the language of painting itself and the structure of composition.
The depiction of the fusion of beauty and ugliness also appears in the unique style of Chris Ofili. The spontaneity of his hand-drawing, as it emerges in his paintings, has echoes for me of Mark Chagal. The bond to the religion, myth and irony in his Upper Room (presented in Tate Modern a couple of years ago) gives me the confidence to think out, and then create, my own form of 21st. Century myth-making to form a critique of consumerist culture.
This form of critique is not intended as a negation of consumerism. Rather it is about the power of passion that craves beauty, un-fettered desire and violence that, in turn, produce ever greater passions. This critique should indicate not only what is desirable, but how to desire visually.
By adding images of contemporary, mass-produced, toys, I subvert traditional conventions of beauty and bring another meaning to the inherited aesthetic of the past. There is here an affinity with some of Jeff Koons’ output, in which he combines irony with silly-sweet and seductive images drawn from modern consumerism, together with some of its horrific aspects. My paintings, nevertheless, have a different mode - they are lyrical and nostalgic.
The aesthetic of the past is as important for me as the newest contemporary movements. In this respect an influential painter for me is Nicola Samori whose works comprises a meditation on the Old Master paintings. The time-flow reverses in his compositions, and we suddenly see the images degrading into fraying skin in the paint-layers. There are some detailed parts where the image degrades into smears of raw paint. This serves to remind us of our common mortality, and, once more, of the brevity of beauty. I intend to achieve the same end by deploying mythology in my paintings.
The medium of painting is very much about a language in itself, so how a painting is made is a critical matter. I have been impressed by Sigmar Polke's experimentation with the surface, and this opened up a whole new dimension for me. I have been experimenting with the oil’s viscosity and its effects (although Polke was experimenting more with the turpentine).
My artworks also extend to allegorical portraits of close friends.
In my portraits I want to combine an old-fashioned technique of painting with a contemporary point of view. Glenn Brown has played a carnivalesque game within classical portraiture. He takes portraits of famous artists of the past as his starting point. Where he magnifies the colour, shapes and texture of these artworks, however, I try to follow traditional portraiture paintings.
On the level of the language of painting, I am experimenting with different surfaces, such as painting on aluminum ("Michael and Kafka", "Michael and Dragon"). This is the sort of insight into the fundamental painting technique (the base) that we can observe in Gary Hume's and Nicola Samori paintings.
While Simon Granger paints portraits of the toys, giving them the features of strange and eccentric people, I give toys – like a souvenir – to the people I paint. Toys begin to live their own life as in the portrait of "Michael and Kafka," where they run over the painting surface.
One of the most elegant and skilful portrait painters around today is Michael Borremans, and it is hard to resist getting drawn into his vision, especially when one has a similar purpose in one’s portraiture.
© Anastasia Russa 2020