Russianness is an acquired taste, like licorice or the voice of Michael Silverblatt. I used to take great pains to avoid it, but now my expatty bitterness is finally giving in to something more patient, a deep affection for the individual, in part divorced from the country, in part tied to it closer than ever. The ten artists listed below are all excellent, regardless of the degree of Russianness their work may exhibit (some of them are not Russian at all, “Russian-speaking” is perhaps more accurate). This is not an attempt at a comprehensive list, it’s just a few names off the top of my head, mostly friends & contemporaries whose work I believe deserves wider appreciation. Anyway, the list!
It feels right to start with Victor Melamed, who’s largely responsible for the current illustration program at BHSAD in Moscow. Back in my day such things didn’t exist. He’s best known for his stylized, energetic portraits, often published in the New Yorker and other fancy magazines.
Olesya Shchukina is an illustrator/animator from St.Petersburg, currently living in France. There’s a warmth to her work that’s unlike anything I know, it needs no dissection or analysis. Olesya’s sketches and postcards are always by my desk for spiritual comforts. In short, she’s a treasure.
Peter Oumanski already has a well-deserved reputation, but it doesn’t hurt to mention him again. The fuzzy elegancy of his line is the mark of an expert artist wearing his skill lightly. Likewise, his concepts don’t parade their cleverness, it’s tucked away cozily under the tactile beauty of his aesthetics.
Evgenia Barinova is a graduate of BHSAD, now teaching there alongside Melamed & co. Her style is a tight balancing act between precision and looseness, it’s deceptively simple and impossible to copy (I’ve tried). Evgenia’s figures are unmistakably human in shape and proportion, yet always something’s off — a stifled movement in their still poses and invariably placid expressions, all looks directed inwards.
Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva’s people have a similarly disorienting charm to them — the figures tilt slightly, perspectives don’t quite fit. The disconnection is alwayssubtle, a few carefully selected elements shaken out of alignment in what could be accidents, could be design, could be accidents treated as design. We don’t really need to know.
Olya Leontieva is a young painter/illustrator from Moscow. Her style is mature beyond her years, whether in abstraction or in commercial illustration. There are hints of Klee and Miró in the prominence of the process, but Olya’s works have a life of their own, they’re like a glimpse of another’s dream.
Polina Petrouchina lives in France and draws in a beautiful, subdued style. Light color schemes, tender washes, disparate influences coming together harmoniously, great atmosphere in everything she does.
Galya Panchenko, also known as evarevolver, does both comics and illustration, and her style shifts expertly between the two. I particularly love the rough pencil finish of her personal work, there’s such a great force of movement to her lines, both gentle and direct.
Artem Krepkij doesn’t update his portfolio often, which is a shame, because his pencil drawings are phenomenal. The one above captures the demented atmosphere of the metro with haunting exactitude. Trust me.
Roman Manikhin is an illustrator/painter with a wonderfully strange vision of distorted sensuality, lowbrow tropes stretched util they implode upon themselves in howling shapes and colors.
Ten seems like a comfy number to stop, and I’m already remembering more people who should be here, but maybe I’ll just do another post in some future. Till then!