Muscovite Painter Elena Shorokhova-Gayun Honors a Tradition Spanning Many Centuries

Violinist, Paintings39.5 x 47

To paraphrase W. Bruce Lincoln, author of “The Romanovs,” Russia is a land uniquely suspended between East and West, past and future. So many of us who grew up in the States during the Cold War period were so preoccupied by the political implications of this rival Superpower as to be woefully unaware of its vast cultural riches.
    Unlike many other Russian artists today, who follow art world trends to the exclusion of the aesthetic treasure trove that is their national legacy, Elena Shorokhova-Gayun, a painter based in Moscow, assimilates elements of medieval Byzantine iconography and Russian modernism into her singular artistic vocabulary.
    One of the most impressive works in Shorokhova-Gayun’s New York exhibition is “East Harem, East Bazaar Diptych,” in which the precise architectural forms, a multiplicity of tiny figures,  intricate patterns and brilliant colors bring together many of the diverse facets of Russian iconography in an almost dizzying mix. Its compartmentalized composition calls to mind the complexity of the 1550s masterpiece “Icon of the Church Militant,” commemorating  the storming of Kazan and Russia’s advance into Siberia. However, without the pressure imposed by Ivan the Terrible upon artists to celebrate Russia’s greatness as well as the glory of God, Shorokhova-Gayun is able to indulge in a secular fantasy of Orientalia evocative of “Tales of the Arabian Knights.”
    Other works in oil and mixed media on canvas by Shorokhova-Gayun explore the possibilities of the folkloric vein, with single mythological animal  figures, such as “Unicorn,” “Syrin Bird,” and “Grif,” painted in a few red, orange, and blue hues in the bold manner of Heraldic banners. The artist traces her inspiration for these works to a childhood interest in “double-headed eagles, coats of arms, ornamental compositions” and other emblematic elements from early reading experiences. Her love of animals, particularly dogs, which she breeds in her own kennel, also plays into her choice of subject matter, which for all the fancifulness is always intimately related to her daily life as a contemporary Muscovite. 
    Another painting by Shorokhova-Gayun called “Violinist” combines Byzantine intricacy with the brightly colored geometric forms reminiscent of the Russian Constructivists. Here, too, the semiabstract silhouetted figure of the musician, filled with wavering red and black diamond-shapes of varying sizes and set against a grid of checkerboard red, black, gold, and white slightly askew squares, suggests the frenetic patterns of notes in a vigorous violin solo.
    More organic forms, akin to art nouveau arabesques, flow and swirl over the surface of  Shorokhova-Gayun’s “The Master and Margarita Diptych.” The artist interprets Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic modern novel about a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union in abstract terms. Her palette consists of subtly harmonized deep mustard yellow, blue, green, and tan hues. The more sensual biomorphic  shapes  ––  some suggesting verdant vegetation; others, ornate blue waves after Hokusai –– are set against, and grounded by, a more schematic arrangement of geometric color areas that firmly anchor their rhythmic vivacity. Thus she marries two-dimensional Byzantine decorativeness to the modernist picture-plane in her own unique manner.
    The influence of Russian tapestries, stained glass windows, stone carving and metalwork also add to the richness of expression in other works by Elena Shorokhova-Gayun, a painter who contributes considerably to the national heritage she reveres.    
–– Maureen Flynn

Elena Shorokhova, Agora Gallery 530 West 25th St., July 23 -  Aug. 13, 2013
Reception: Thursday, July 25, 6 - 8 pm.

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