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Art by Soviet rebels on show in UK

Published time: November 27, 2010 09:03
Edited time: November 27, 2010 15:52
A painting by Oleg Tselkov

A painting by Oleg Tselkov

Squaring the circle might sound like a ridiculous task for mathematicians, but that is how a number of artists prefer to spend their time.

­“Squaring the Circle” is the title of an exhibition of unconventional Russian talent on display at London’s Atkis Gallery, specializing in 20th Century Russian artists working in exile.

The selection of works brings together the so-called non-conformist artists belonging to the Moscow school of art – Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, Oscar Rabin, Oleg Tselkov and Vladimir Yankilevsky.

Freedom of expression and rejection of the ruling Soviet regime made these artists, born between 1925 and 1938, stick out like a sore thumb.

Although Dmitry Krasnopevtsev’s melancholic paintings had no explicit political content, back in 1956, when America’s Life Magazine had reproduced one of his works, a still life, Krasnopevtsev was declared a traitor in the Soviet Union.

He lost his state workshop and any chance of taking part in official exhibitions in the Soviet Union throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was forced to exhibit unofficially.

Krasnopevtsev’s paintings, however, were bought by well known art dealers, such as George Costakis as well as New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Dmitry Krasnopevtsev’s painting (image from

­Krasnopevtsev’s counterpart, Oscar Rabin, was one of the strongestvoices protesting against the Soviet regime. His house outside ofMoscow was a mecca for nonconformist artists during the 1970s. In 1974he participated in the famous underground art exhibition better knownas the “Bulldozer exhibition” organized by the “unofficial artists”. In1978, the authorities allowed Rabin to go to France. He was stripped ofhis Soviet citizenship and has lived in Paris ever since.

He has often been referred to as “Solzhenitsyn in painting”: his gloomy works reflect the mood of the society in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Oscar Rabin did not have his first solo exhibition until 1965 – it opened at London’s Grosvenor Gallery.

Oscar Rabin's signature still life

Recognized by his trademark avant-garde style, Vladimir Yankilevsky was also among the non-conformist group of artists. In 1962 he took part in the notorious “Maneghe” exhibition, bitterly criticized by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who immediately banned what he called “ugliness” and “s**t” saying his grandson could draw better.

Yankilevsky’s work has been collected by numerous museums including Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and The State Tretyakov Gallery, among others.

In 1988, when he visited New York for a retrospective exhibition, he relocated there, but later returned to Paris.

Oleg Tselkov is the other artist whose work is on display at the Aktis Gallery. They can be instantly recognized by his signature monster images of deformed human faces and bodies, reminiscent of sinister masks or anthropomorphic mutants, winning him comparisons to Francis Bacon.

American playwright Arthur Miller was quoted as saying that Tselkov “combines an almost brutally violent use of colour with a surreal misplacement of natural shapes to form freshly original pictures of sometimes satiric, sometimes tragic power.”

Tselkov was expelled from the Minsk Institute of Art and Theatre and also from the Repin Institute of Art, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow for ideological reasons.

His first solo exhibition took place in 1965 at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Physics, in Moscow. His foreign friends smuggled some of his works abroad where they were exhibited.

But since leaving the USSR for Paris in 1977, his work has been exhibited throughout the world.

The Squaring the Circle exhibition of works by some of the key non-conformist artists will run at the Aktis Gallery until the end of March 2011.

Valeria Paikova, RT