Just like the title of the show – You are Not an Evening – nearly all the titles of the works in Sanya Kantarovsky’s first institutional solo exhibition feature the personal address ‘you’: You Become a Pattern, You Expected Objects, You Are the Occasion (all works 2013). These friendly statements may seem rather cryptic, but as gestures designed to lure the observer in, they correspond perfectly with the intimate imagery that characterizes Kantarovsky’s canvases.
The tone of his paintings is private and personal, seductive in a cold, melancholic way; smart, humorous, and enveloped in a mist of nostalgia. With strong echoes of abstraction, his figuration is as light as a feather; utilizing a flat formalism strongly suggestive of illustration, and, in You Are Not Someone Here but Something, for example, particularly reminiscent of the gawky-chic style of the New Yorker. Children’s books and fairy tales have also been cited; the GAK curators also point to the influence of Soviet propaganda images from the 1930s. All in all a pretty unusual mélange of evocations, the individual elements of which Kantarovsky synthesizes with such elegance that his compositions appear simply, laconically ‘well done’. It is all too easy to overlook the painterly sophistication that goes into his pictures; for example the way in which his figures develop from an abstract starting point while simultaneously defying the association. Or how they are brought to life on the canvas with grotesque, overstretched shapes and diagonal lines. And how finely-tuned sequences of colour repeatedly serve as counterpoints to the otherwise softly differentiated palette.
For many, however, these details will take a while to emerge, thanks to the initial impression of tasteful lightness. It is exactly this interplay between subtlety and simplicity that gives Katarovsky’s work its character‑istic ambivalence: elegance is provocative calculation, stylization is strict strategy. The aim to use the methods and means of painting to achieve the greatest possible subjectivization through strongly graphic images.
This is clearly manifested in You Become a Pattern, a work that oscillates between abstraction and figuration: a stylized figure reclines casually against a clumsily sewn cushion, one arm hanging down at an impossibly sharp angle, a hint of the other arm peering into the picture from the left-hand edge of the canvas, the hand supporting the back of the head as in a relaxed reading position. Yet the fact that the head is suspended neckless in mid-air is both comically surreal and compositionally far more compelling: if you view the picture as a free interplay of shapes instead of a representative image, this surreal interruption enhances its coherence. The gawky protagonist becomes an abstract composition and, by distorting his figures, Kantarovsky achieves an astoundingly harmonious abstract composition.
The Untitled installation (You Are Not an Evening I–V) ultimately combines paintings with spatial mise-en-scène to produce a result typical of Kantarovsky’s humour: five screens suspended from the ceiling in the shape of oversized men’s clothing serve as exhibition displays. Each correspondingly features a painting, integrating them as a piece of jewellery, or as a pocket handkerchief, for example. But it isn’t until the legs of a visitor accidentally appear behind the screen that the penny drops – the use of the exhibition space to create real, slapstick figures.
Translated by Camilla Leathem