Semeon Agroskin does not chase after the latest trends, he doesn't aspire to be like all the rest, doesn't wish to change himself for anyone. He remains in a former, better age, in quiet, half empty apartments, in an existence that doesn't change overmuch. With such a background, the only real treasure for him is painting. In AgrosKin's 'List of My Possessions' there is nothing extraordinary: windows, doors, empty wardrobes, vegetables, a set table, a chair, a stepladder covered with paint stains. It is an unexceptional world which any hermit would envy, one in which there is nothing special, nothing particularly bright, and this makes it possible to concentrate on that which is most important. The artist is interested in the most simple, personal living space. Images of a deserted beach and of Moscow at night testify that AgrosKin chooses for his work not the bright, beautiful images that any color photo could capture, but rather he pursues unpretentious, true values, that holiday which is always close at hand.
Like masters from the past, he doesn't reproduce borrowed treasures, but creates new ones himself with the paint, on his canvas. Looking to the past, as everyone who takes up a brush must, the artist doesn't try to imitate another's experience, doesn't aspire to become a diligent apprentice or a thankless rebel. He simply continues the tradition in which beauty is earned through hard labor of perception. This complex space doesn 't reveal itself to everyone, but even a passing superficial glance will find pleasure in the glimmer of the colors.
The modest choice of subjects is matched by an ascetic color palette. The only luxury the artist allows himself is the art of painting itself: delicate, tender harmonies; intricate, laborious structures; traps for light. Silent, modest, imperceptible and irrelevant objects - the latest heroes, deserving of a truly old-fashioned portrait which is not drawn. not composed, but painted, created anew every time, drawing an image forth from the paint itself.
For Agroskin, as is the case for many other artists before him, art is a direct act, too complex and emotional for simple explanations and commentary, too personal and too sensitive to follow the latest fashions. He doesn't seek justification of legitimation. He sets before himself the classical problem of classical art: to show the fragments of a «damaged life» to tell o the defeat of a man'by the powerful and sovereign language of the victorious artist with his thick, pasty brush strokes and watercolor halftones, his multilayer glazing techniques and decisive attack «a la prima».
Semyon Agroskin Solitude
The lessons of conceptualism – now passing away from the art scene -are clearly felt at this exhibition though Semyon Agroskin is not at all a conceptualist. But in his recent exposition of self-portraits at Marat Guelman's gallery as well as now at the Manege he insists on a central idea running through the whole, though expressed by plastic means. In his «Solitude» that central idea is seen in the unpretentious details of the passing but still lingering way of life deliberately captured on canvas – the old wooden or stone stairs, battered doors, crumpled mattresses, shabby coats ready to turn into rags. There is no naturalistic gloating, no scaring views of the Soviet way of life, but rather poetic and refined in color meditations on time, on how «the new» comes to be «the old».
By using shades of gray, blue, and green Agroskin renders the live vibration of the thing he paints. His method is not cold rational «observation», but experience, almost identifying himself with the old things which demonstrate their amazing vitality. In his best works Agroskin achieves artistic ease and simplicity.
He also meditates on space. His endless vertical lines – of stairs, doors, houses – are not mere chance. He finds in the world of old things an upsurge above, to heaven. The old stone steps run up into the shining white space, the black holes of open doors and windows contrasting with pale walls hint on unfathomable zigzags and vicissitudes of being. Thus, the absolutely unpoetic things provide material for a romantic saga of human life.
The experts have been telling us for a long time that the painting has died, and that painting is no longer fashionable. So what about Agroskin? Doesn't he know about this? Yes, he probably just doesn't read magazines and he doesn't keep up with art criticism enough. So is he a simple person? A simple artist? He is simply an artist.
His work is essentially studies and sketches of models. One is seated, the other is standing, the third is turning round. These are depicted in the dirt, with plastic bags. But the most important thing is that the artist is not afraid to be bold and has pretensions to producing work of a high standard. And not without reason. The artist is trying to open new horizons. You won't find any of the beauty that makes you immediately want to buy a picture and hang it up on the wall. Nor is his work so striking, that it makes people want to publish articles about it. But it is unmistakably fine art; it is art and exists independently of what people say about it.
Paintings by Semyon Agroskin used to look like slice-of-life in previous years. His creative work includes baskets with potatoes and most trivial beet-roots, chairs and tables, windows and stair landings, walls of houses and doors to rooms. You could hardly find any people there and even when there was a human character, meeting him did not make a viewer happy at all. Agroskin is concerned with other things. Everything he painted was gloomy and no matter how hard one might try to convince us that his color scheme is rich and sophisticated, it still never sings because it is stifled, that color scheme. Agroskin prefers to depict his subjects in hundreds of nuances of grey, reddish and brownish colors apart from mere black. In recent years the artist has been painting stray dogs.
Why are paintings by the artist exhibited in the best galleries, collected by connoisseurs and admired by art critics? This is not a rhetorical question. Agroskin somehow catches our attention, he shows something that is of paramount importance.
Life has reached a deadlock and suffered a defeat. Agroskin was not the first to find that one could show some joyless things and still please the eye. In fact, he was not the first to discover those possibilities of pictorial art. That was the point of a classical painting. A classical painting depicts a person’s defeat and that is what Rembrandt and Goya, Degas and Chagall do. But the language used to describe the defeat is delicate, rich and flexible. That is a winner’s language.
The dismal half-light of melancholy is mixed with the dusty stagnant substance of old houses, musty stairs and scabby stray dogs. One has to be a demagogue to attribute any signs of “warm-heartedness” or “earthly affection” to that wretched, evil and crippled life. Or that is a way to find solace in the face of implacable paintings: saying that the artist can see humanity in an old window sill or a shabby stool. Things like that were often said about Falk, and Agroskin will also have a portion of that well-intentioned deception – or self-delusion – from art critics.
Now he paints night. The half-darkness slightly diluted with street lighting or moonlight has become the main subject matter. We can see some buildings or depressing night car sheds or a monument to an average Soviet personality standing out in the half-darkness though we cannot make out which of the leaders, teachers or heroes it is about. All cats are grey in the dark.
We are offered to see the world through the eyes of a night driver who is rushing along deserted, jam-free roads and is able to snatch a glimpse of separate signs of the night city. And if he drives racing out to a country motorway, he will see either empty fields slightly marked with traffic signs or a remote factory whose outline resembles the superstructures of Titanic almost submerged in cold night water. That is not a sunset, not a predawn world but a numb sleep which lasts for long, perhaps forever.
There is almost nothing left worthy of moving a brush for but he is still painting again and again as if defending the last bastion of vision and the last stronghold of the art of painting. There is nothing further on. If you take away a little more, narrow down some motifs and thicken the darkness, what you get is the conceptual “nothing of painting”. Agroskin is balancing on the edge but he never steps into the “black square” dimension.
Semyon Agroskin himself is a person of a purely sarcastic mind, and with all his amenity and gentility he is far from trusting the “humanistic” interpretation of his paintings. He does not seek any justification or supreme legitimation. He sets a classical goal of the classical art for himself: showing fragments of the “crippled life” and saying about them in a slashing language of a winner – a painter skillful at impasto and a watercolor halftone, multilayer glazing techniques and a definite alla prima stroke.
His stance is an uncomfortable point next to absolute zero. His ladder or clothes line or streets are definitely close to “mere absence of any presence”. In this respect he is a religious artist, or rather he is calling to God who has flown too far away. He is calling from the deepening darkness rushing in his car along the streets of the city which is turning into a metaphysical emptiness. Heavenly Father has gone away for a long time and his creation is returning to its original state of a dark and amorphous substance. And the driver feels sad flooring the gas pedal and shifting gears and is longing for the Second Advent.
There is an only lit point in Agroskin’s nocturnal painting panorama: the artist’s self-portrait, or rather his pale monumental image, as if carved from light stone, with his clear eyes widely open. No matter how strong the reminiscence of the classical portrait art might linger in him, here we see a work which is sacral rather than worldly. The artist has depicted himself as a supplicant. He is waiting for the moment to call and pray to the Creator and Savior. The night has been too long. We are looking forward to the heavenly light.