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Geometry Becomes a Universal Language in the Paintings of Russian Artist Elena Kozhevnikova

The Mechanism of Senses, Paintings 24 x 31.5

In her new paintings, Elena Kozhevnikova transforms the wide open spaces of the Russian landscape in which she grew up into tightly organized compositions, suggesting a more fluidly allusive contemporary update of Constructivism.
    Kozhevnikova’s complex approach to color can be seen in her acrylic on canvas “Random Thoughts I,” where compartmentalized geometric forms are overlaid with subtle hues that lend the substantial rectangles and circles an intriguingly contradictory lighter-than-air levity. Here, her colors have a deeply burnished beauty that is enhanced by surface modeling which gives the two large overlapping circles on the right side of the composition a sense of movement suggesting spinning wheels. The mechanistic quality also enlivens the more rectangular shapes in the same composition, the surfaces of which appear reflective. At the same time, there is a translucence to her paint application that imparts a sense of ethereality to her shapes, suggesting an inner world in which mechanical and organic elements are often interchangeable.
    The degree to which Kozhevnikova transforms abstract ideas internally can be seen in the composition intriguingly entitled “Mild (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming),” in which the most salient feature is four precisely drawn semicircles nearly submerged in a vibrant flurry of semitransparent red pigment, applied in a freely-brushed gestural manner. Here, as in other compositions, the artist stabilizes her forms on the picture plane with an irregular grid of faint white lines, even while creating a sense of spatial ambiguity that defies the sanctity of flatness in modernist painting. Taking such liberties with space appears to be a postmodern tendency to which Kozhevnikova subscribes wholeheartedly.
    Consummate colorist though she can be when she cares to, Kozhevnikova also likes to limit some of her compositions to monochromes. One such grisaille painting in a subtle range of grays is the composition entitled “Cognition.” One is tempted to impose a literal mental pun which the artist may or may not have intended on the title of this work, suggesting the manner in which the word “cognition” alludes to the grasp of ideas toward the animation of thought, given the dominant circular shapes at the center of the picture, which could suggest actual cogs in the process of turning.  On the other hand, “Insight,” another grisaille painting, also based on a state of mind, is a much less precise composition of freely brushed gray forms and  lines with no sense of mechanical association whatsoever. Conversely, “The Mechanism of Senses” (yet another painting that could be classified as monochromatic if not for the one exquisite area of red glowing along the edge of one of her circular silver-gray forms like heat emanating from metal) refers directly to the metaphysical connection the artist often makes between the body, the mind, and the machine. Here, too, the round forms project a kinetic energy suggesting spinning wheels.
    One of the great pleasures of Elena Kozhevnikova’s paintings is that every viewer is free to interpret them in any way he or she chooses; for as the artist says, her spaces are “symbols of an open mind, of the life with no borders.” Her most gratifying experience, Kozhevnikova once said, was when she discovered that “It’s not me who creates, but my subconscious.” 
                                                                                                                                                                                        –– Wilson Wong

Elena Kozhevnikova, Agora Gallery 530
 West 25th Street, October 4 – 24, 2013
Reception: Thursday, October 10, 6 – 8pm

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