Oleg Kudryashov

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Expressionist talent

William Packer on Kudrashov

William PackerWilliam MID ALL the post-glasnost excitement in the galleries at bringing the work of living Russian artists to the West, it is salutary to be reminded of one who has been here for a considerable time. To have been a working artist in Russia for a lifetime past has meant the compromise or suppression of instinct and talent, in complete isolation from the world at large. Even a mere 10 or 20 years ago to leave meant the complete rejection of what one had been, and all one had done.

Oleg Kudryashov, who is showing at the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery (17 Great Sutton Street ECL until April 21), is now 58. Born in Moscow, he trained in the state art schools, quite unaware of any but the orthodoxies of socialist realism. When he came over to the West in 1974, he was allowed to bring with him only what he could carry in a small portfolio, having already burnt most of his life's work. He has lived and worked in London ever since, for the most part in a self-protective seclusion that only now he is beginning to allow to be broken down. Though he has shown at intervals in Europe and America, his work remains at all familiar only to a small coterie of friends and supporters. Last year, a British citizen, he was invited back to Moscow by the Artists' Union of which he was once a member, for a major retrospective of his work, as yet the only native Russian artist to be so recognised.

He is first of all an expressionist by temperament and then a constructivist, which qualities place him directly in the great tradition of the radical Russian avant-garde of the early decades of the century. That he should have been innocent of such influence until his maturity - for only now are the Russian holdings of such as Kandinsky and Malevich, Tatlin and Lissitzky being brought out of store - and free to express it only in his exile, only makes the affinity the more remarkable. He works principally in dry point on large metal sheets, which he attacks with a direct and fierce energy. To classify him narrowly as a printmaker, however, would be quite wrong. He never editions his plates, and even a repeated proof is reworked on the paper to make it unique. The printed sheet, rather, is his material, to be cannibalised, collaged or otherwise reconstituted into the finished work. The relief is his true metier, the print as sculpture, rolled and cut, folded and crumpled, with the image on the surface at once contradicting and articulating the three dimensional reality of the piece. These objects are direct, unprecious and manifestly physical in themselves. Lately Kudryashov has taken the next logical step in the formal development of his ideas, by cutting and folding the metal itself into high relief, leaving only the colour and line untranslated. And yet the metal brings with it a whole world of change, the image heavy of itself and oddly static and monumental in direct contrast to the lightness and energy of the paper works. This is not to say that they are worse, only different - but who knows where such difference might lead.


Financial Times Weekend April 6/April 7 1991

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