‘My work is not political. I think politics is just like the weather: so temporary.‘
Russian painter Sergey Shutov. currently completing a five-week residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. is an individualist. The paintings he has been working on. which will form part of his exhibition at the Barbizon. conform to no particular style or movement. The 3-1 year old from Moscow has never studied at any art school. nor been part ofany group. When I talked to him (via Irina. his girlfriend: his English is weak) he was more interested in the Eno Byrne music playing than discussing paintings and art theory.
‘I like Andy Warhol and Kazemir Malevich (founder of the abstract Suprematist movement). who must be taken as parents: with some kind ofirony and respect. I also like the Futurists. I think my painting is in the tradition of the Russian avant garde.‘
His lavish. bright. bold use of colour certainly has more in common with the exciting Futurists than the cool. abstract movements which succeeded them. Dazzling and sensational. his paintings have a space age feel to them. capturing something of Balla‘s ‘impression‘ of speed and Malevich‘s intensity. Lines streaking across the canvas. outsize mushroom shapes full of pastel quadrangles. the broken outline of a hunched figure. zigzag linear affairs: his confident eclecticism and playful style is beyond convenient categorisation.
His paintings have already been widely exhibited. in the States and twice in London. After his New Beginnings commission he is ofro France and then to Finland. The former zoo attendant. remarkably good-looking with a very enigmatic presence. does not seem in the slightest daunted by his success. merely pleased about the freedom it accords him to continue painting.
I asked him if his recognition was leading to any shifts in direction. if travelling. say to Glasgow. had influenced his work. ‘No. I like Glasgow. nice people here. I met Brian Eno when I was down in London and he was prepared to swap some records for my picture . . .‘
Also working on New Beginnings‘ commissions in the GSS are two very different Muscovite sculptors. Alexsey Mironov and Anton ()lshvang. both of whom will be participating in the Open Days.
‘I think five weeks is nothing for sculpting'. says Mironov cheerfully. ‘a sculpture can take a year. I‘m working very fast — and enjoying it. This is a good studio. with a lot of excellent sculptors. but I keep to my own ideas.‘
These yield some very interesting and thought-provoking works. crafted from crude industrial materials and deceptively simple in appearance.
Nearby sits the extremely effective piece ofsymbolism. Sunshine. (‘omprised of a ‘cloud‘ of handmade circular chainlink (dull. thick metal)
5 The List 27 October - 9 November 1989
around which light green rods of sunshine descend to land on the surface with warm orange tips. The powerful sense ofspace and suggestion of a shadow are rendered immoveable and substantial. forcing the spectator to dwell upon elemental matters normally too elusive.
More challenging is the strategically disfigured sheet of thick metal. "The idea came to me in a scrapyard. I wanted to attempt to penetrate the space which the piece of metal occupies.‘ lmposingly large and demonstratively peculiar. the work does successfully beg contemplation.
()lshvang. who has brought materials with him. is working to an expansive theory — ‘to uncode the system ofsymbols‘.
Unfortunately. the work(s) was not finished. but his fascinating conception was firmly realised. ‘The system ofsymbols is indistinct. it exists underground. Symbols have a special sphere of influence. and not always a positive one. but after a representation in art they lose their strength. It is a matterof interpretation. Some things that exist above the earth are sometimes realised in symbols. Hurricanes and earthquakes for example relate to an imbalance between yin and yang.‘ (Stewart Hennessey)
Soviet guides to Scotland are somewhat out ofdate. Boris Belsky and Alexander Yastrebinitsky arrived in Glasgow last week with expectations of life on Sauchiehall Street culled from Dickens and Conan Doyle. My own preconceptions. sifted from the
Sergey Shutov at the Barbion
pages ofTolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. were as shadowy and as anachronistic. The mist of misconceptions lifted as soon as we met. The barriers are all in the imagination.
After their first week ofwork at the Glasgow Print Studio. the Soviet artists abandoned their notions of British reserve. ‘It is quite unusual being Russian. but even before they realise. people here are very friendly and open.‘ Yastrebinitsky sketched in the air the pictures which his visit has already inspired. and spoke with enthusiasm ofa club where they had gone to hear traditional Scottish music. ‘I expected a few pensioners drinking beer and crying nostalgically. but there were all these young people. very spontaneous and natural.‘ Scotland obviously appeals. even if for all the wrong reasons. Belsky owned up to a strong affection for Guinness. He should. perhaps. have gone to Dublin. I suggested. ‘That‘s my mistake. but then I‘d only tasted Belgian Guinness before.‘
Striding across the factory-ﬂoor of the studio. Yastrebinitsky shows off ‘our workshop‘ with the pride of a new housewife. A gentle giant in a khaki boilersuit. he explains in well-rehearsed English that in Moscow he works in a studio just like this. run by the Union of Soviet Artists who provide all their materials. food and accommodation. ‘Like an orphanage.‘ says Belsky. laughing.
Visions of state control crumble as Yastrebinitsky adds that he also has a private studio for smaller-scale work. while Belsky is embroiled in some impenetrable property deal. trying to organise his own private workspace. Their reserves of English
exhausted by this exchange. they retire behind a rumbling wall of Russian consonants. as resonant as a houseful of furniture removers.
Under seamless translation by Mary Steele. the rumblings turn into thoughtful. unreserved conversation.
Exchanges between Soviet and Western artists have become quite common in the past few years. but graphic artists are not usually the lucky ones. The chance to work abroad and to meet new artists was one they jumped at. ‘We certainlv weren't frightened.‘ says ' Yastrebinitsky. ‘It takes a lot to frighten us.‘ interjects Belsky from behind his highly cultivated moustache.
Full of praise for the organisation ofNew Beginnings. the artists consider the various exhibitions are a good representation of the main directions in contemporary Soviet art. and offer a fair retrospective view as well. ‘In former times.‘ says Yastrebinitsky. ‘the British art representatives would have been shown a selection from which to make their choice. This time they were completely free to choose.‘
The effect ofglasnost on the Soviet art world is. however. not all positive. ‘Some artists who used to follow the official line have now made a very clear and complete change ofdirection which was obviously not a genuine artistic decision. For others it has helped a process ofartistic development. It is now very confused. People are moving in many directions at the same time. It will take some time to settle down — ifcurrent trends continue.‘ Are they then afraid ofa backlash? ‘In a country like ours with no democratic tradition. it is always possible. It is something we are very concerned about.‘
Both Belsky and Yastrebinitsky live on the proceeds oftheir art and see nothing unusual in it. yet it is only recently that private individuals in the Soviet Union have begun to purchase works of art. supplementing the supporting role played by large organisations and the Ministry ofCulture. ‘I would like to say it is because the level ofcultural appreciation has increased.‘ says Yastrebinitsky. ‘but in fact it's probably because people are now seeing works ofart as an investment in the way they do in the West.‘ Capitalism aside. the attitude to the Soviet artist has changed. ‘Before they were seen as workers in the cause. propagandists working in idealogical illustration. Now it‘s becoming clear that they are creating genuine works ofart.‘
New Beginnings. the commando raid on the Scottish art world. must strike at the heart ofits target audience to spread its message abroad. Belsky‘s monumental prints show impenetrable. sinister constructions - absolutism personified in metal and rivets. Is be worried about its comprehensibility? ‘Barriers are as much with the
audience as with the work ofart.‘ he says. ‘we hope there is a desire to understand. The barriers are not just
restricted to the art world.‘ 4