Racing Georgy Kurasov’s Soviet creative
DNA takes a long meandering journey
through a rich and ironic Russian history
that travels all the way back to the third
century, when icons, religious imagery often painted
on richly embellished panels of wood, were
invented. These early artist pioneers demonstrated
determination and courage in their spiritual
compositions, as producing “graven images” had its
risks from those in power who objected to
representational sacred art.

When the growing Christian movement realized
art could be utilized to illustrate and promote their
religious agenda, they found many convertible
examples in the earlier art of mysterious sects and
in the pagan imagery of the Roman Empire. It was
from here that various elements from a number of
disparate sources like Hellenic art were appropriated
for their gracefulness and clarity of a determined
composition. From the Romans they borrowed the
hierarchical placement of figures and symmetry of
design; they also incorporated large almond shaped
eyes, long thin noses and small mouths from Egyptian
funeral portraits.

Surprisingly, these very characteristics—thousands
of years old and now guarded and climate
controlled in the Hermitage as well as museums all
over the world—seem to fit comfortably into the
streamlined modernism of geometric urban inside
views that represent Kurasov’s paintings. Georgy
Kurasov’s work is wrapped in an art historical cloak
that brings an unusual intelligence to the subtle
narrative of his paintings. He’s well aware of what’s
come before him, particularly for his geographical
region (St. Petersburg) in the former Soviet Union
that allows him the perspective to mix his carefully
laid out arrangements with clear cut elements from
the past. A close examination of his style and eccentric
components leaves the viewer satisfied that they are
getting the best of a hybrid pictorial energy based
on art history and then deftly abstracted in a self-
imposed restrictive grid that he forces his subjects
to fit into.

Moreover, as art began to
spread beyond the court circles, Russian artists took
a renewed interest in the world surrounding them
instead of just admiring distant European countries.
With the rise in national spirit, genre painting,
which had always been considered a rather inferior
branch of the arts, gained strength and established
itself as a valuable part of the Russian artistic heritage,
where Kurasov continues to triumph.

The early twentieth century in Russia can be
characterized by frenzied artistic activity and creativity.
The mighty Russian avant-garde artist fraternity was
finally in the race and was actually influencing the
face and direction of modern art, eventually producing
an impressive line up of great artists, including
Kandinsky and Chagall. Georgy Kurasov is a survivor
of a national art society that was at one point on top
of the world and then at the bottom, all in a span of
less than fifty years. After the revolution of 1917 and
the upheavals of the civil war, then the advent of
communism, many artists chose to emigrate to the
West. Intellectuals and artists were forced to shape
their singular talents into objects glorifying only
propaganda for the motherland. Talk about stagnation
—the party was over for anyone who wanted to
express themselves with anything other than state
approved socialist realism until the dramatic changes
initiated by the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev swept
mediocrity into the dustbin of history.

Now some of the most interesting and inspiring
artists on the professional scene, as demonstrated
in the new works of Georgy Kurasov, are coming from
Russia. In his latest exhibition at IAG Galleries in
Naples, Florida, Kurasov shows off his unique talent
and influence from those brave pioneers who came
before him.

In the dramatically witty and engaging painting,
“Autumn Cocktail,” which seems to steal the show,
the artist reaches into a familiar bag of art historical
elements and spreads them around for an entertaining
moment in time. Utilizing simple compositional
fragments inspired by literal icons, whose original
purpose was to interweave traditions and beliefs,
the artist positions two stylized figures in the exact
center of the canvas; their message is not to deny
life, but to live it. Starting with an almost scientific
approach to the foundation for his paintings, Kurasov
meticulously crafts a beautiful, small blueprint in
graphite on paper that he perfects like a complicated
crossword puzzle where every component must work
simultaneously. Here the artist challenges himself to
fit everything together like a compartmentalized closet
holding his own personal wardrobe of stylish and
fashionable objects. Once the drawing is fully resolved,
it is transferred proportionately to a large canvas.

In the harmonic painting, “Tango Night,” two
intertwined figures dance the night away as a cafe’s
curtains frame the subjects’ frozen moment. Typical
of the artist’s textured backgrounds is a square
pattern of interlocking shapes that generates a
three-dimensional illusion of space. A closer look
reveals a large X guideline that slices through the
composition’s middle section, requiring the artist to
follow his own footsteps and dictated course of creative action.

The figure is the one common denominator
throughout Kurasov’s repertoire. Beautiful women,
who stare off in the distance, contemplating some
clandestine moment in time without ever looking at
the viewer, dominate the private interiors of
geometric environments. Like the almond-shaped
eyes and long thin noses from Egyptian hereafter
portraits that influenced early icons, the artist
incorporates the same stylized facial features in
most of his work. There is an unknown secret in their
faint smile and large, loving, mascaraed eyes.
Kurasov uses his wife, Zina, as the model for all his
figures. Even though the figurative abstraction
makes identifying the subject’s “frame” impossible,
once you meet his beautiful, former ice ballerina
wife in person, the trademark facial features are
undeniable forever.

Kurasov borrows a bit of art history here to follow
the habit of Picasso and Matisse of utilizing their
wives or lovers as dependable and unashamed models
in their studios. Perhaps it is this familiarity that was
so significant to so many important artists that
causes Kurasov to get down to the business of
painting without an introduction or formalities. The
results of using only one model for years, like
Andrew Wyeth’s now famous barn studio model,
Helga, are that the viewer forms a natural bond to a
memorable character that enhances and cements
the overall viewing experience. In the lyrical picture,
“A Bicycle Drive,” the artist inventively positions a
blue skirted rider that seems to be practicing a
balancing act on a canvas stage. It’s a sexy picture,
with the breeze whipping up her dress as the bike
rider tries to choose between saving her hat or
revealing her stockinged legs. The stage format
continues to expand with a backdrop of theatrical
props in an appropriated art deco style. In this
painting, as well as all the others in this fascinating
show, the artist promises little memorable glimpses
of life with a slice of wit and an unending lineup of
charm. IAG Galleries is located in historic Olde
Naples, Florida, on the corner of Broad & Gordon.
For more information, contact the gallery director,
Ani Zimonyi, at 239.649.7339 or visit our website at
www.iaggalleries.com. .

The gallery has an ambitious limited edition
print program of Kurasov’s images, as well as other
leading internationally known artists. For more
information on these print editions, please contact the
corporate headquarters in Fort Myers at 239.693.1980.

Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art. He first
visited the former USSR in 1987, prior to the fall of
communism, as the guest of the Russian minister of culture.
While there he curated several exhibitions of Russian art for
American venues.

April 2007 15

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