January 24 — February 24
Evgeny Dedov received a classical education at the Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design in St. Petersburg. He is often defined as a contemporary artist, while he continues to work in oil painting. Following an old academic tradition, after having finished his studies in Russia, Evgeny went to Europe to continue his education in the famous Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Currently the artist lives and works in Austria.
The small exhibition, presented at the Pechersky Gallery once again raises a question about the meaning and purpose of a painting after pictorial art. Аnd in general, the relevance of the phenomenon of painting, of depicting the picturesque as such today. Series of impersonal portraits is the result of the merging of two traditions: the conventional classical Russian tradition and the European modernistic one. According to the artist, the fact that models still pose to students during drawing and painting classes in Vienna became a true discovery for him. But these are not mere dry antiquing positions of perfectly trained bodies. In Vienna ordinary people from the street, anonymous passers-by and neighbors pose at the artists’ studios; almost the heroes of Ulrich Seidl’s films. According to the rules of the educational process, the position changes every 10 minutes. During this time the artist must detect the character of a person, emphasize the peculiarities of one or another pose, its expressiveness or the static character, grasp the essence and the gist of the character being portrayed.
At first glance, there is nothing special. This ancient scheme from the classical textbooks is known since the inception of the first Academy in Bologna in the sixteenth century. In the twentieth century there was a change of the modus of art itself. Today’s artists, including the fellow students of Dedov do not know how to draw and do not have to be able to. Musty atmosphere of a drawing class, pretentiousness of classical positions is nothing more than a tribute to the tradition and a relic of the past. But the artist who has the experience of the St. Petersburg classical school under his belt is capable to extract something bigger from these routine studies smelling of mothballs.
Dedov’s works are not simple academic studies. In them, the artist was able to overcome the thin line between amateurish sketch and a finished drawing — completed work. In turn, these drawings served as a material for paintings, that the artist had been working on in his studio. The process of transforming the preparatory drawing into a complete painting is also one of the characteristics of the academic method.
The pictorial reflex of Dedov is brought up to automatism, he is interested in the literal transfer of his artistic experiences and sensations to the surface of the canvas. The peculiar registration of feelings is expressed by the archaic media of painting. At the same time the artist consciously abandons mimesis — a simple imitation of nature. He purposely blurs the boundaries of meaning. The final product of his work is not a portrait as suchб but a kind of cast of the human, a punched card of an individual. It is the definition of the formula of a particular individual’s experience in a particular situation passed through the artistic filter.
The collapse of the artistic image characterizing the era of selfie, the constant aggressive self-representation and media exhibitionism force the artist to look for new strategies in order to extract an image of the human. Dedov does not aim to achieve an illusory similarity with the face of the model, he is not interested in the names of the depicted persons, the nature of their activities, their social status. He lines up a number of invented characters in front of the spectator, registers the process of sublimation of specific people into the symbolic figures-images. If we follow the logic of Jean Baudrillard, we can say that the characters in his paintings only simulate their presence, they pretend that they signify or mean something.
The refusal to depict the guise, i.e. specific face features, deprives Dedov’s characters of external, superficial spiritual content, inherent in the psychological portraits of the XIX century. They are just as much human as the Pompeian plaster castings made after the voids in human bodies decayed in the lava. A series of these nameless, faceless heroes is as far away as possible from the pretentious portrait galleries of prominent contemporaries that appeared under the brush of the Wanderers. Moreover, any portrait gallery in itself devalues a separately taken image making it empty and blind. However, in this blindness the other levels of cognition are being opened up, associated with the archaic ideas about the world. At this very moment painting receives a chance to stop being a servile media and once again become a competent medium.
The meeting of the viewer with the paintings takes place in a confined space of the gallery. In the second room of the exhibition the visitor finds himself being unintentionally involved in a kind of dance of archetypal images. The walls of the gallery are painted with terracotta and ochre colors that clearly refer to the paintings on Greek vases. In the ancient paintings people’s faces were always depicted in profile or in three-quarter. At the same time there is practically no single frontal image. From ancient times looking into somebody’s eyes was perceived as a sign of aggression, threat and sacrilege. The legend of the Medusa whose gaze turned people into stone was widely known in Greek mythology not for nothing. After Perseus managed to defeat the insidious Medusa, he handed her severed head to his patroness Athena Pallas. In turn, Athena placed the head on the shield to intimidate her enemies. Oddly enough, the head of Medusa on the shield of Athena is almost the only frontal image of the face in all of the ancient two-dimensional art known to us.
Commenting on the reflections of Michael Fried on the art, William JT Mitchell described the «Medusa effect” in his short essay «What do pictures want?», which the viewer can experience in contact with a painting. This effect is produced by the abilities of a painting to attract the attention of the viewer, to submit him to its will and paralyze him for some time (i.e. turn to stone). Thus a symbolic exchange is being performed: the spectator becomes an object of absorption-contemplation, at which the painting directs its gaze.
Characters of the paintings by Dedov also do not enter into a direct dialogue with the viewer, they deliberately look over or past him. Their remote glance is scattered as a look of a model on the catwalk might be scattered. With all its appearance, its artistic peacockery they express indifference. But behind this very indifference the main danger is hidden: to be under the sight, to become a surveillance object. This subject-object relationship resembles the artistic process itself, as a result of which these paintings were created. When working with models the artist does not come into contact with them, in turn the models express their full indifference towards what surrounds them. The final task of the artist is to register the feelings of one or another character. He rips them out of their usual context, reinvents and finishes them up in his own way to then reconstruct the result in his works. Therefore, all the paintings in one way or another are the agents of the artist, through them he affects the spectators, submits them to his will. With their help the artist implements his presence (literally: The artist present). Such paintings can not be simply stared at, they can only be contemplated, or more correctly — glanced over. They represent certain images-exhibits, rather than specific individuals. They can be compared with the human machines from the tales of Hoffmann, or the praying figures of the early Christian catacombs. The word ‘anticipation’ in this case is more suitable than ‘posing’, and ‘adoration’ — more than ‘experience’. Not surprisingly, the characters in the paintings of Dedov have similar features with the Fayum mummy portraits and the Byzantine icons. The enlarged heads, the extended eyes, the exalted postures emphasize their internal mimicry. If to use the term of the German Romantics, the artist changes the profile of the genre itself; instead of the traditional portraits he paints the landscapes of the soul.
When talking about the tradition, any versed art lover will pay attention to the propinquity of the paintings by Eugene Dedov and the talented German artist of the early twentieth century, Paula Modersohn-Becker. However, the characters that inhabit the paintings of Dedov consist of Oskar Kokoschka’s grins, Georg Baselitz’s bulging eyes, Picasso’s creases and the erotic sarcasm of Maria Lassnig. All of it shows the wide range of the artist who knows how to combine the opposing traditions of the routine academism, revolutionary modernism and the neurotic paintings of the new wild ones in his work.