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A Creative Hurricane Of Painterly Invention BY BRUCE HELANDER.
It makes good sense that closely following an artist’s development provides a unique viewpoint of valuable clarity in which to not only increasingly appreciate the minute details and basic compositional structure of new work produced, but enables one to decode and ultimately fully comprehend the narrative inventiveness and accompanying energy behind its particular surface imagery. The end results often become more obvious when a painter has challenged himself to explore new visual territory and assume the accompanying risks of trial and error as pushed by spontaneity, which provide a necessary, positive edge to an ever-expanding palette. Therefore, as guest curator, it is a privilege and a unique opportunity to have organized this first major retrospective of the work of Russian artist Sergey Fedotov for the Coral Springs Museum of Art.
"The American Dream". Installation in the Central House of Artist (Moscow, Russia).
I first discovered Fedotov’s captivating and somewhat strange hybrid mix of abstract expressionism and integrated narrative components during an art fair in Naples, Florida. The multiple layers of oil-based medium of his brightly-hued canvases immediately drew my attention, and I was compelled to walk into the booth for a closer look. After a careful inspection of the works on display, I decided to dig a bit further by asking about the artist and his career, and I learned that Fedotov was a physicist before he became an artist, with a childhood passion for painting that eventually won out. For nearly twenty years, Fedotov has continued to produce wondrous, idiosyncratic works that magically splice together bits and pieces of a recognizable subject surrounded and intertwined with energetic, swirling brushstrokes that push and pull the composition, creating an illusionistic fluidity of constant movement. Fedotov’s methods of applying paint are a bit similar to the tropical storms that form off the shores of a distant continent, energized from the warm waters of the Atlantic as they drift towards the Florida coast. A developing hurricane system, like the aggressive, twirling, brushstroke gestures of the artist, begins to spin and grow, outwardly affecting air pressure and churning faster and faster as it eventually rotates tightly into the “eye” of the storm, forming an intriguing meteorological composition recognizable only from a satellite’s aerial view. Fedotov harnesses the same kind of kinetic energy, like a provocative tropical cyclone stimulated by a natural creative force, which allows his painterly surfaces to flow in all directions until they surround the center point with an ambulatory current that often highlight a key subject.
One point that a visitor can quickly decipher from this ambitious survey at the Coral Springs Museum of Art is the deliberate employment of a remarkable common denominator; a personal signature actually made of marks and gestures that the artist regularly employs. During Fedotov’s determined albeit circuitous journey during the last decade to find and secure a suitable equilibrium and aesthetic, a private, pre-arranged marriage ceremony takes place in his studio that cleverly binds an unrelated odd couple of the abstract and the identifiable. Once an observer examines this work it can be easily recognizable as a genuine Fedotov though in a different context or environment, whether at an auction preview or at a show in some distant geographic region. The remarkable consistency of this artist’s style, coupled with an impressive appetite for exploration, guarantees that the work will remain fresh and vibrant while still holding on to the basic design principles for which he is celebrated.
Sergey Fedotov was born in Moscow in 1968, and graduated from the Physics faculty of the Moscow State University in 1993. His lifelong passion for painting continued to pull him into several professional directions at once, where he was able to create a balancing act of a commitment to both disciplines. Fedotov certainly is not the first to juggle and incorporate two opposite disciplines like science and art into an ongoing career. Leonardo da Vinci is a particularly glowing example of an artist who would not put limitations on his creative explorations to satisfy his appetite for invention and resourcefulness. In one of Leonardo’s sketchbooks, a viewer can discover classic sketches of renaissance figures and animals positioned in the margins, while on an adjoining page scientific, mechanical-like drawings can be found of predicted, advanced concepts for as yet to be named helicopters, submarines, and a variety of novel theoretical ideas for industry. So it is not entirely unusual for an artist like Fedotov to have multiple, if not unrelated, interests in a variety of fields whose ultimate success depends on ingenuity and innovation.
There is, of course, a long and distinguished creative history emanating from Russia that began hundreds of years ago. Many of those artists from long ago offered outstanding contributions that changed the world and the way we see it. Russia is a country that has had its share of notable artists and art movements, whose groundbreaking approaches to modern painting have guided generations of artists. Fedotov brings to this noteworthy exhibition an undeniably unique painting style based on the history of modernism and the significant breakthroughs of artistic movements from his native country, such as Cubo-Futurism, Constructivism, Socialist Realism, Neo-primitivism and the highly influential Russian Avant-Garde, which brought together poets, intellectuals and writers who studied and promoted new objectives. This was a valuable period for a new type of illustrative articulation, particularly for visual artists who created new surface-plane texture in a Neo-expressionist style.
The 1850s were an age of remarkable creative activity in America as well as Europe, and marked a shift in the development of Russian art. During the following decade, a division emerged between what might be called the classical and modern eras of Russian art. For the first time, the power of the conservative Imperial Academy of Arts of St. Petersburg was challenged by a group of young, idealistic painters who believed in the didactic power of art to communicate social and political messages. This faction of artists existed approximately from the 1860s until the late 1880s. The emergence of this youthful fraternity coincided with the development of literary realism. Like the prose writers Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, these youthful visionaries emphasized social and political dimensions of art rather than formal aesthetic features. The “Wanderers,” as they were called, employed favorite topics such as the Russian peasantry and rural landscapes, historical events, and political and clerical figures. Fedotov often goes into the past and hand picks a specialty similar to those of the Wanderers, which he then reinvents into his own visual language.
In the early 1890s, a circle of young artists, philosophers, writers and musicians called “The World of Art,” made their home in St. Petersburg. This assembly emerged in opposition to the staid traditions of the previous generation represented by the Wanderers. The group was eclectic in nature and never rallied around one particular or concrete set of principles, thus pushing the ingenious envelope even farther from existing norms. Challenges to acceptable forms of expression were beginning to break down around the world, and gradually began gaining ground towards the turn of the 19th century, finally unlocking a metaphorical door to revolutionary and controversial ideas that both Braque and Picasso brought to life in 1910 with the birth of Cubism and Geometric Abstraction. Fedotov proudly and confidently follows the artistic and pioneering traditions of his country, and respects the illustrious, extraordinary talents of artists like Vladimir Tatlin, Pavel Filonov, Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall, to name a few.
Like so many courageous artists that came before him, Fedotov constantly is experimenting with new shapes and combinations that utilize his basic stylistic approach to painterly surfaces, while introducing new subjects that are abstract, minimal, geometric and not always connected to a narrative base. A good example of his departure from more recognizable works is his “The American Dream” series. In these bold, horizontally striped canvases, Sergey pushes the outer limits of abstraction into contemporary bands of color that bring to mind the stripes on the American flag or the distinctive juxtaposition of proud colors from a distant country. These new works also connect with art history, both in modern context and from early minimalist forerunners such as Kenneth Noland, Josef Albers, and British artist Sean Scully. These parallel compositions of wide bands of pigment also can be perceived as abstract landscapes, complete with a horizon line that fades into a distant sunset or awakens with an early morning orange sky. This series clearly is the most conceptual and spare in the artist’s oeuvre, but curiously, they also are some of the most powerful yet simple compositions in the catalog.
Another intriguing thematic series encompasses the eccentric portraits of the artist and of others around him. Fedotov’s personal forays into one of the most traditional aspects of art history utilize an entirely different approach to picture-making. His works also have a loose connection to certain influential artists in our past, such as Dubuffet and Edvard Munch, and to a lesser extent, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Fedotov attacks a blank canvas with perhaps only a title in mind or a preconceived notion of a theme, particularly with a portrait, and then lets his vivid imagination flow, allowing a universal audience to decipher only a few meandering clues to connect with the title; the more you look, the more you discover. One of the most humorous paintings in the exhibition is a portrait of the artist at the dentist’s office. Here, Fedotov depicts what we all seem to experience in the dentist’s chair: a nerve-wracking mix of apprehension, tension, pain, and perceived perpetual suffering, which the artist seems to have no trouble illustrating. The portrait of a dentist as a young man is a hilarious caricature of a scary ghost-like creature, complete with purple face and an all too familiar threatening smile.
On the serious side, Fedotov also produces wickedly charming portraits of women in graceful and beautiful poses. His reclining nude studies portray a wonderful sensibility for the human figure and an innate knack for documenting natural, abstracted, naked forms. Whether it’s a reflection of the changing seasons of a commanding forest, a simple bouquet of lilacs, a familiar street scene, or a stormy sky, Sergey Fedotov is one of those rare artists who do not have to wait for inspiration to hit them on the head. Believe me, this is a genuine artist, who can spin the bottle, in this case a premium brand of Russian vodka, in any direction, and when it comes to a final stop, Fedotov, no matter what subject it points to, can muster up his mature skills to create a painterly variety of expressionism that is as rare as it is inherently and remarkably handsome.
BRUCE HELANDER IS AN ARTIST WHO WRITES ON ART. HE HAS BEEN FOLLOWING FEDOTOV’S EXHIBITIONS FOR YEARS AND HAS WRITTEN ABOUT HIS WORK EXTENSIVELY, INCLUDING ESSAYS IN THE HUFFINGTON POST. HELANDER RECENTLY WAS INDUCTED INTO THE FLORIDA ARTISTS HALL OF FAME AND IS A FORMER WHITE HOUSE FELLOW OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS AND IS THE FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE ART ECONOMIST.
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