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Personal exhibition of Nikola Zverev

Personal exhibition of Nikola Zverev

Personal exhibition of Nikola Zverev

16.05.2009 - 16.06.2009
Gallery «N-Prospect»
St. Petersburg

The first personal exhibition of Nikola Zverev, an artist from St. Petersburg, took place in 1977 — so he states in his biographical letter. Those were the times of reaction, the period of difficulties for free arts. It appeared to be the result of the first successful large-scale exhibitions of nonconformist art (Gaz Cultural Center in 1974 and «Nevskiy» Cultural Center in 1975). The government responded by «turn of the screw» that resulted into a tragic emigration of many artists. But fresh and new artistic movements, on the contrary, became more established in the nonconformist culture. They experienced convincing example of a free artwork and a struggle for the accessibility to the public. There was also a risk of being outshined by heroic «Gaz and Nevskiy» movement. Though, the «second wave» strikingly declared itself by organization of new groups, circles and also many independent artists that blended in with the nonconformist culture. Nikola Zverev became one of the most prominent figures of the «second wave». Art-critique Natalia Barova noted in an album of a personal exhibition of the artist: «The personality of Nikola Zverev gained more and more attraction, he was nice and popular, individualistic and inimitable» (this exhibition almost clashed with the 30th anniversary of the legendary first exhibition). The exposition showed strong basics of his art as well as its time transformation.

Portrait of contemporaries is the main genre in the creative work of Nikola Zverev. Such is his personal opinion and so consider his numerous fans among native amateurs of contemporary art. We also toe in line, for not only a great number of works in this genre but heartful and intellectual background of every portrait support this opinion. The artist determines his credo as «looking behind the face», which is not just a declaration, but a manner of work, of which the most important part is the inner one. On a canvas we only are able to see its result, an aftersound captured on the surface. But this seen part allows to imagine the «hidden side of an iceberg» and to feel a fundamental strength of every image. Of course, the majority of the portraits depict people well acquainted with the artist. And that is the imperishable significance of the face of generation by Nikola Zverev. Most importantly, they are not just interesting characters. Among them many are well-known representatives of the history of Leningrad Underground: artists Vladlen Gavrilchik, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Yuriy Lyukshin, Valentin Afanasiev, Vladimir Lisunov, Kirill Miller; photographer Valentin Samarin; writers Vladimir Nesterovskiy, Arcadiy Bartov; art-critiques, collectors of contemporary art and exhibition organizers Yuriy Novikov, Zhora Mikhailov, Yuriy Gogolitsin, Victor Lavrov, Lyudmila Flyash, Larisa Ulitina... On the portraits they are quite recognizable form the first glace. (There were times when an important criterion for an unprepared spectator was «first, to paint life-like and than experiment with «abstractions»). But it is not about photographical resembling — it's about generalization of characterizing features: face expression, gesture, pose and dress style. In everyday life these aspects reflect the character of a person, his inner world. But it is artist's task to combine all of them in one single image (it is impossible for photography). Nikola Zverev tends to summarize an impression of a person and to «look behind his face». Since the old days, a psychological portrait dominated in Russian art because of its attention to the inner world of a man. This kind of painting Nikola unites with a representative portrait — front-face image and symbolic attributes, as in the old portraits (balls in «General's Wife», bats in «Publican», dead tree in «Medium»). Attributes serve not only as signs of social position or occupation, but as an additions to the image helping to reveal its meaning. Working in the genre of psychological portrait the artist develops his means of expressiveness in plasticity, color, texture and form, creating his individualistic and recognizable manner and original technique. Combination of contrasting vivid line and unemotional rhythmical structures produces an «effect of a poster» emphasized by cold coloration. Line and color reflect the character of a person. Fanciful ornament on the face of «Mushroom Picker» reminds of brush strokes of an artist Evgeniy Zhavoronkov, portrayed on this picture. Flamboyant «Cossak» renders vivid temperament of Viktor Lavrov. It must be mentioned that among other artistic means of the author the names of the masterpieces play an important role. They appear to be «wordy portraits» — short and succinct. Expressive but rather «machinery» abstract background does not distract attention from an image but merges with it in color and rhythm (for example, in «Philosopher»). Sometimes the artist places a character into a special surrounding, creating an artistic space «between genres» (portraits «Comedy Actor», «Collector», «City», «Palmist», «Ambavert»). These works reveal the author's potential in the genres of landscape and interior.

Indeed, Nikola Zverev do not work only with portraits. He also creates «portraits of trees», or, as he calls it, «associative landscapes». These canvases, filled with primitive symbolism, bring out reminiscence of the times of Druids. He also paints «contemplative landscapes» where decorativeness makes ordinary subjects an evanescent result of contemplation. And finally, the artist works in an invented genre of «Tahizdms», that signifies secret twists of a soul. It is similar to the nu genre, but it doesn't perform nude female body, — just collective erotic reflexions. Ornamentally treated, they gain symbolic meaning, looking similar to a panel painting, carpet design or minting. Name of this series suggests it as a display of unconscious instincts. Recalling doctor Freud, it illustrates a sublimation of forbidden energies, libido, in art. It is interesting to note, that the portraits of Nikola Zverev can also be viewed as a «sublimation» of even more hidden depths of a soul. Treating a portrait as an attempt to penetrate into unconscious of the Other, it appears to be a mental and instinctive psychoanalysis. Engraved on a canvas, it contains variants of most unexpected interpretations. May be, this is the reason why contemporary artists rarely turn to the portrait, and few of them dare to concentrate their art work on this genre. In recent times, when paintings were being ordered, portraits of rulers and leaders were produced in high quantities. Nowadays, prospers the craft of a street portrait. Among nonconformist artists that followed the dictates of their hearts, very few were constantly working in the portrait genre. To these belonged Nikola Zver (he signed his works in such a provocative manner — «Zver» means «Beast». It is merely a coincidence that one of the greatest portraitists of Moscow Underground also bore this last name). Among the artists of «Gaz and Nevskiy» the most remembered are the experiments of Yuriy Zharkikh, suite of «Parsuna» by Vladlen Gavrilchik, «salon» portraits by Evganiy Abezgauz... Nikola Zverev as a representative of the following wave of nonconformist culture, considerably strengthened this genre in free art and continues this work at present time.

Nikolay Blagodatov

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