Thursday, October 17, 2019

abundance

In one of my facebook art groups, I discovered the contemporary Russian painter Viktor Lyapkalo.

He paints mostly nudes: buxom women, nude, at home, perhaps with their husband or lover, also nude, hanging out at the samovar, enjoying some tea, and the warmth inside their apartment, and their easy familiarity, and their own physical presence...

The women are clearly objects of the painter's desire, but the paintings aren't at all pornographic — they are instead deliberately kitsch, wry celebrations of their physical bounty, of the intimate satisfactions of domesticity, of an uninhibited and easily carried femininity, of unproblematically satisfied sexuality. The women in the paintings often have the proportions of the small "Venus" statuettes that were probably ancient fertility talismans, and in a way this is what they must also be: representations of vital abundance, of the good things in life.

One feels that instead of women, the painter might have represented, say: a table set for a mighty feast, in a small, overheated Moscow apartment, spilling over with all of the good things that you want to eat... In fact, in one of the paintings below, you can see him making fun of his own appetites — heartily digging into a whole baked turkey... He is a painter of primal satisfactions, but seen from their sunny, civilized side. Of course, we are merely human, and mortal — but if we are lucky, we can expect to be reasonably happy and sated, for a while.

The colors are pastel, and the manner very painterly and academic: the impression is one of lightness and energy. The flesh is rendered in a kind of impressionistic realism, without masking the small blemishes and folds of fat and cellulite — but the artist's gaze isn't unflinching and imperiously possessive like Lucian Freud's for example, or morbidly fascinated and monumentalizing like Jenny Saville's; it is instead loving and whimsical and celebratory.

What the paintings most remind me of are, obviously, Anders Zorn's chubby Dalecarlian nymphs: Lyapkalo's women are unselfconsciously appetizing in the same way. But Zorn celebrates only youthful beauty — girls in their first bloom, whereas Lyapkalo celebrates all women, younger and older and skinny and fat, pregnant or barren. They are also reminiscent of Renoir's loving nudes — because of the colors and the impressionistic rendering (these ample, soft shapes; this skin shimmering with purples and blues in natural light... ), but also because of the love.

These women are all the objects of a kind of wholesome fascination: by representing them, the painter seems to be cultivating his own life force, which he replenishes with the help of these formidable tits and rumps and dignified, welcoming, elegant, generous, funny, disarming, invigorating female presences.