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Vladimir Yankilevsky is a nonconformist Russian artist who is famous for his mixed media collage paintings, triptychs and object installations. Through his practice Yankilevsky expresses his understanding of the world and explores such themes as human existence in time and space, and the relationship of man with the universe. From 8 March until 11 April the Aktis Gallery in London is holding an exhibition of Vladimir Yankilevsky Early Works 1957-1961. The show consists of drawings and paintings from 1957 to 1960 which have never been exhibited before. It’s not the first time that the gallery director and curator Iana Kobeleva has organised a Yankilevsky exhibition in London. The first show Anatomy of Feelings took place in 2010 and was a great success. When asked why the works in the current show had never been publicly displayed Yankilevsky explained that at the time he didn’t think that the works were ready. However today one cannot deny the importance of these works, which mark the most important period in the artist’s career – the start of the development of Yankilevsky’s artistic style and concept.

Tryptych No. 4: A Being in the Universe (Dedicated to Dmitri Shostakovich) 1964. Oil on metal and fibreboard, 118x409. 5x22 cm Image from

Vladimir was born in Moscow in 1938. His father was a commercial artist who began to notice Vladimir’s talent at an early age. Saying this, Vladimir was never pressured into following his father’s steps; he made this decision himself and his family gave him all the support he needed. In 1950 Vladimir entered Moscow Secondary Art School – the only art school in the whole Soviet Union. The education at the school was very conservative, mostly covering artists of 19th century Russia and the classical style of painting. But Vladimir wasn’t interested in realistic drawings, he didn’t see the point in drawing what was already there, and he wanted to express his feelings in relation to what he saw instead. Towards the end of his education at the Art School Vladimir began to experiment with new ways of painting, moving away from traditional techniques. In 1956 after finishing school he had a one year break from studying, which he dedicated to creating works the way he wanted, experimenting with new ways of painting and searching for his own artistic language.

Still Life-7. 1957. Oil on cardboard 48.5 x 36 cm. Image courtesy Aktis gallery.

In 1957 Vladimir entered the Arts Department of the Moscow Polygraphic Institute. This choice was carefully calculated – studying at the Institute allowed more freedom of expression owing to the Institute’s focus on design and illustration, the approach to which was much more liberal, and owing to the minimal number of lectures, which allowed Vladimir to spend more time working on his paintings. This was also the year when Vladimir met his future wife Rimma – his muse and the subject of many works. After graduating from the Institute, in 1962 Vladimir took part in an exhibition of Russian nonconformist art at the Manege. The works were exhibited on the first floor and marked the 30 year anniversary of the Moscow Artists Union. According to Vladimir the whole event turned out to be a setup, organised by the Institute in order to provoke a reaction from the government to the liberal movement. Nikita Khruschev came to the event and was furious with what he saw. He launched a crude cursing tirade against the works, which he called “dog shit”, and the artists, whom he called “homosexuals”. Although he was a nonconformist artist, Vladimir was not trying to prove a point to the government, rebel against it or cause trouble. He wasn’t particularly interested in politics at all and tried to withdraw himself from it, avoiding crossing paths with officials unless required. Of course, it can’t be denied that Vladimir’s life in Soviet Russia influenced his works, but so did many other things: everyday occurrences, his childhood, his wife and friends, music (Vladimir is particularly fond of classical music), poetry, other artists, such as Picasso, and many more. The aim of his works was not to shock and provoke a reaction from the government, but to express strong, real emotions which a realistic style of painting was unable to translate.

Still Life by the Window. 1958. Oil on canvas, 64 x 75 cm. Image courtesy Aktis gallery.

One of the most outstanding elements in Vladimir’s paintings is his use of colour. Harmonious and poetic, the colours bring his works to life. When I asked Vladimir how he decides which colours to use, he said that for an artist to explain this would be as difficult as for a poet to explain the use of certain words in their poetry – they come from the soul. Vladimir only started using colours at school in attempt to express certain conditions. Colour helped to add a new dimension to Vladimir’s work; it doesn’t serve a decorative purpose, but just like shapes and forms, it acts as a transmitter of thoughts and feelings, revealing on a canvas what is kept within.

Composition. Nature vivante-10. 1958. Oil on canvas 43 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Aktis gallery.

Perestroika in the1980s allowed new opportunities for travelling and exhibiting abroad. In 1988 Vladimir had his first exhibition in New York. After that he also exhibited in Germany and France. Work-related travels made Vladimir and Rimma decide to settle in Paris, where they live to this day. Vladimir continues to work at his studio and create new pieces. In 2010 Vladimir was contacted by Iana Kobeleva and asked to exhibit his works to mark the opening of the Aktis Gallery. Iana and co-director Anna Chalova were convinced that the London public would welcome and appreciate Vladmir’s work. They were right; the exhibition attracted a large number of visitors, ranging from well-known collectors to young people. Since then the gallery has continued to represent Vladimir Yankilevsky in the UK. To find more information on the current show please visit the gallery’s website To see other works by Vladimir Yankilevsky and for more information on the artist visit his official website By Alina Grigorjan