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Faggionato Gallery is delighted to present a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Oleg Vassiliev, stretching from 1967 up to the last works created before his recent death in January 2013. The exhibition includes a number of never before exhibited works, such as Lusja with Tulips (1967) and The Aisle (2004).
Following on from Faggionato’s solo exhibition of work by the artist in 2008 – his first major solo show in London – this retrospective broadens the scope to include some of the artist’s final works.
Widely known as one of the leading figures of the Soviet Non-Conformist Art Movement (the “unofficial” Russian Art Movement) originating in the late 1960s, Vassiliev is regarded as one of the most significant Russian artists of his generation, alongside his friends and contemporaries Erik Bulatov and Ilya Kabakov.
Vassiliev’s artistic visions were in constant opposition to the ideologies of State-endorsed Socialist Realism. Instead, Vassiliev’s paintings have been known for their inimitable quality of uniting the formalist innovations of the early 20th Century Russian avant-garde with the humanity, lyricism and realism characteristic of Russian painting of the 19th Century. In essence, what Vassiliev did was to return to the image a visual narrative – his paintings communicate impressions, memories and recollections through an exploration of light and space.
By extracting, elevating and transforming a personal, intimate selection of visual images from both past and present, Vassiliev captures something more universal, something common to all human memory. In pictorial form, the artist creates an analogy of the very process by which memories become incorporated into the mind’s consciousness; the viewer sees memory as a landscape:
“Memory is capricious in its choice of subjects. Often, one recalls something quite unimportant; at first glance, it seems incomprehensible why memory retains some things and lets others go. Apparently, it is not a matter of the event or the object. Most likely, these latter have been preserved in an incidental way, immersed in the stream of light that saturates the past. That light is the very essence of remembrance. … The deeper one delves into the past, the more powerful the stream of light. And somewhere over there, beyond the boundaries of the discernable, it turns into a river of golden light. In that river my life drowns, and everything that was before lives.” Oleg Vassiliev, On Memory, May 1980
The earliest work in the exhibition, Lusja with Tulips (1967), notably depicts a friend of the family, but is also significant in the integration of “spacial” (spectral) constructs – the human figure and still life. Painted twenty years previous to the other works exhibited, Lusja with Tulips demonstrates Vassiliev’s stylistic fusion of realism and abstraction.
The evolution of this idea is evident in – and intrinsic to – works created later in the artist’s life. Space and Landscape is a powerful example, combining themes of consciousness – symbolized in landscape, horizon and the road motif – with those of memory – visible in the form of the silver birch, a key symbol in Russian art and mythology and one recurrent in many of his works. In these “Space and Light” paintings, we see a crystallizing of a complex notion central to Vassiliev’s practice: that of “the light of consciousness”.
“To me, the visible and tangible world is more a thing of remembrance than of perception of reality. The present is saturated with the past as a live sponge is saturated with water. Through the workings of memory, light comes from the past and illuminates, snatches out of the dark that which is not of this moment.” Oleg Vassiliev, On Memory