REVIEW: Oleg Kudryashov ‘Freedom Inside Yourself’ at Bermondsey Project by Theodora Clarke
The Russian artist Oleg Kudryashov’s new exhibition in south London is his first major retrospective in Britain. Coincided to time with the artist’s eightieth birthday, his latest show is on display at a rather unique venue. The Bermondsey Project is an unusual partnership between the national homeless charity CRISIS and Bow Arts. Central to the complex is a large gallery dominated by white walls, in a former warehouse, which is where Kudryashov’s works are now hung in Southwark.
Kudryashov is still a relatively obscure artist in the West. This remains the fact despite his work being acquired by several major collections such as the Ashmolean Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and Tate. Even the prestigious State Tretyakov Gallery honoured him, with a one-man exhibition in Moscow, where he has been living since 1998.
The exhibition curator Edward Lucie-Smith says: “We are incredibly excited that an artist of Kudryashov’s stature has chosen to exhibit at the Bermondsey Project. His fascination with very direct mark-making to create abstract figures and ambitious printmaking processes make his work unique. His work forms perhaps the most important link between the Russian and British avant-gardes in the second half of the 20th century.”
Kudryashov is known in Russia as one of the country’s leading graphic artists. In the 1970s under Leonid Brezhenev’s period in power, Kudryashov emigrated from his homeland, impatient with restraints on personal and intellectual freedoms. The artist was allowed to leave but he was prevented from taking the vast majority of his works with him. As a result, he destroyed nearly 6000 pieces before he left Russia.
The artist himself explains, “I belong to the generation which was not exposed to the influence of the artists of the 1920s and their manifestos. And looking back today on my own artistic experiments, I can say that I was like an orphan of Soviet art [which considered itself to be] the ‘most progressive’ art in the world….On leaving I said ‘I will start all over again from the beginning’. I took into emigration a pair of scissors for cutting metal, several small pieces of zinc and thirty sheets of paper. The very first evening, at the first place where we stopped to spend the night, I began to draw”.
From the early part of his career roughly 600 works remain which survived in the hands of his friends. Several of these works, which are held in private collections, are on display.
London as a city played an important role in Kudryashov’s life. After travelling in Europe following his self-imposed exile, the artist settled in the United Kingdom. The Acme Housing Association provided him with a studio and housing. The artist settled into one of the large studio complexes in Brixton, owned by the group, which aimed to help London’s international community of artists. The Acme Gallery was well-known in the 1970s for presenting the latest avant-garde works by contemporary artists. Kudryashov lived for nearly twenty years in Britain building his reputation as a highly original artist who refused to be aligned with any one artistic group or movement.
Kudryashov’s works are difficult to define. In this exhibition we can see many examples of his prints which vary from abstract to figurative compositions. The Bermondsey exhibition demonstrates his skill as a major printmaker and also the diversity of his work. One wall displays a number of compositions which allude to the tradition of icons. Several drawings show a central scene surrounded by a border of smaller ones which are reminiscent of religious iconography. He would have seen icons in the nearby Orthodox Cathedral where he grew up in Moscow. The lubok, or folk print, is also referenced in his prints. Many other Russian artists, such as David Burliuk, were also inspired by these Russian traditional art forms. Works such as ‘Girl on a Crossroad’ (1963), a monochromatic linocut on paper recall the stylized forms of the lubok.
Kudryashov worked as a book illustrator for a number of publishers and several of his illustrations are shown here. He enjoyed experimenting with different mediums from dry point to woodcuts. Many of the works here depict the artist’s favourite subject of the urban landscape or view through the window. However, most eye-catching are his three-dimensional works which are constructed of bright coloured paper and remind the viewer of Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructions from 1915.
The exhibition is accompanied by a printed catalogue, with texts by the curators Sergei Reviakin and Edward Lucie-Smith, and also by an iBook for iPad with an extended essay by Russian art historian Igor Golomstock. The catalogue also features an interview with the artist, at his flat in Moscow, with the well-known Serpentine Gallery curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist.
OLEG KUDRYASHOV: FREEDOM INSIDE YOURSELF
A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION TO CELEBRATE THE ARTIST’S 80THBIRTHDAY
CURATED BY EDWARD LUCIE-SMITH AND SERGEI REVIAKIN
Exhibition dates: 14th to 30 September 2012
Exhibition hours: Thursday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6 p.m.
BERMONDSEY PROJECT SPACE
46 Willow Walk London SE1 5SF
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE CHARITY CRISIS