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Vasily Shulzhenko: New Paintings
Maya Polsky Gallery
Contemporary Russian artist Vasily Shulzhenko is even more bitterly scathing in his depictions of fools, frights and idiocy than before, in a series of new paintings on exhibition at Maya Polsky Gallery. The 'grotesque circus' themes of 2003 have evolved into a carnival of French Revolutionary types, with a modern-day figure -- a representation of the artist -- bleakly caught up in the riot of masks and monstrosities. Thickly laid-on oil impasto continues to suggest the fragmentation and decomposition of decay, crumbling, rusting and wood-rot. But it is the personalities that are most striking, more frightful than in prior work: vicious caricatures, pompously dolled-up, or of the lowest impoverished demeanor.
Periwigs and ruffled collars seem to satirize the French affectations of the Russian court, with allegorical overtones of present-day realities. Dirt, grime, and corruption run rampant under the powder and perfumed finery. The artist's authority figures are either dolts or brutes; Shulzhenko's sympathies lie with the peasant, or in his images of modern living, the common man -- generally, depicted in states of crushed, weary patience, or even, a complete, despairing hopelessness. More often than not, his 'everyman' is menaced by a carnival of fools. In Man Who Wandered into a Wrong Street (oil on canvas: 46-1/2 x 72 in.: 2004) the title character is ringed with a quartet of horrors, including a figure in a Venetian mask, whispering some unsavory secret, and a sour-faced dwarf, who seems to be his only guide.
Crumbling buildings, decay, social blight -- Shulzhenko expresses through these the legacy of the Westernization which propelled Russia, by force, into the modern world. His fantastic allegories spring from the unresolved issues of such cultural dislocation. The artist's images are as uniquely Russian as they are resonant of universal appeal. It is a singular accomplishment.
Vasily Shulzhenko: New Paintings will be at Maya Polsky Gallery through April 30, 2005. Thirteen large-scale paintings in oil, the balance of them new works from 2004-2005. The work of this contemporary Russian artist continues to be imaginative and intense, a rich blend of fantastic imagery and biting social commentary. A full-color catalogue of the exhibition is available for $10 at the gallery.
--Katherine Rook Lieber
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