Anguish, diurnal and nocturnal
Alexander Zinoviev's pictorial art is symbolical: it conveys ideas, in a plastic mode. Vodka, Cry, Cancer, Infinity, Fear... Are these then literary depictions: No, they are first and foremost paintings: concepts transposed into the world of forms. By their spirit and presentation they call to mind a Magritte-like vision or that of a Delvaux-Zinoviev's interest in Delvaux's art has already been pointed out by some critics. His paintings also have similarities to a whole artistic movement of realistical fantasy, of which there has been consistent evidence in the history of mankind since the dawn of ages: the figurative symbol, whether painted, engraved or sculptured, seeks to throw a most metallic and yet most mysterious light.
Zinoviev's tonalities - they are often muted, sombre, "cold", chthonic - express another world, a distorted, occasionally ironical, at times profoundly bewitching, at times obsessively disturbing world. Certain paintings, such as the boldly composed Destiny, or Germany with its hieratic monumentality (both are built from purple-red, yellow and black) convey even better the mineral solitudes of an expanse forsaken by man. And when men - or women - do appear, they stand erect, motionless, their eyes turned on an infinite and invisible horizon, captives of the immutable. Add to that a baroque, albeit often manneristic emphasis created by the juxtaposition of contrasted colours of a bitter-sweet quality, and the physical distortions of humans and animals, especially horses, whose bodies are given the clean, plastic elongations to which Picasso was partial (Guernica).
Hands with very long, claw-like fingers, anthropo- i morphic monsters, aquatic or plant-like beings from some murky deep; tight masses of frightened faces,;
eyes wide open... these paintings have a visionary! power that fires both the soul and the mind.
The world has become a set of situations to be ' fathomed, and the key is given by an uncovered tragic vein which is rooted in the inmost depths of Alexander Zinoviev, a Russian living in the West, in exile. After the fashion of his "novels", which are infinite variations on a series of recurring, intertwined motives, his paintings describe a tragi-comic universe which must be deciphered on two levels;
the form says what it represents and also reveals what lies in the inmost depths of each one of us, as we confront all sorts of ideological systems: our diurnal anguish, our nocturnal anguish.
'Corrosive', did you say?
It may seem difficult to give an opinion on paintings by a giant of fiction, especially by a writer whose lampooning invites debate. One may not share all his theses and views on the world's affairs, but is that reason enough to refrain from comment? Definitely not - and one should not dread the wrath of narrow minds incapable of separating the works from the life of those whom they venture to judge.
If The Yawning Heights and The Radiant Future hold in store for the reader pleasant moments of high, often grating humour, utterly comical episodes, Voltairean stances alongside Socratic-like dialogue, then what's to be said of Zinoviev's paintings and drawings?
As I see it, their themes, nearly all of a polemical character, breathe oppression and harshly emphasize an ugly, base and wretched society with which the artist has broken. One feels this rift in the near-obsessional search for the system's real or imagined flaws. There is something grotesque in the sardonic, merciless satire of events which could as well have occurred elsewhere, even in the United States or France. Thus the compelling vision of Chernobyl: the evocative power of this apocalyptic composition goes far beyond the accident and calls into question the whole of uncontrolled science.
The sharp, sparing lines formed without excessive flourishes, are sometimes deliberately brutal and vulgar so as to reflect more clearly the absurdity and derisiveness of a closed world. The choice of colours is willingly limited, moving through a few dark, aggressive shades, marked here and there by
despair and nihilism. Opposition of intense reds and blues reinforce this oppressiveness of a penitentiary world where pessimism withers even vague hopes and dashes hints of cheerfulness.
Zinoviev fantasizes greatly even in the very lifelike and vibrant portraits of his friends Ros-tropovitch and Askenazy. These faces are extremely meaningful. The human warmth, the softness even, which they give forth stand out against the mocking depictions of the Nomenklatura's distinguished representatives. To some, this conveys an aversion, to others, the thwarted hopes of one who loves and therefore spares not the rod.
It's up to the enthusiast to judge this actively involved art and to decide whether Zinoviev expresses as adequately in his paintings that which he so brillantly describes in his books. On all accounts, these are powerful, symbolic and thought-provoking works. The message is clear and unqualified. By his pictorial parables and compositions one can better appreciate the weight of irony and the pathetic in The Radiant Future.
A valuable testimony!
• 1981 Lausanne, Galйrie Chexbres
• 1984 Munich, Galerie der Zeichner, Villa Stuck
• 1985 Milan, Villa Borromeo (catalogue)
• 1986 Geneva, Galйrie des Platanes (catalogue)
• 1988 Orange and Avignon, (Alexandre Zinoviev Festival)
• 1989 Milan, Palazzo della Permanente
• 1999 Moscow, Press House
• 2004 Moscow, Fitil Gallery
• 2007 Moscow, State Literature museum