Review -Apocalypse Now

Ilya Gaponov: Erarta Galleries London

Gallery Director and exhibition curator Dr Diego Giolitti explains that the current show at Erarta Galleries London,Undiscerning Appetites by Ilya Gaponov, is inspired by the memento mori (Latin for ‘remember you must die’) style of still life painting. This idiom emphasises the brevity of all earthly delights. Gaponov has adopted a passage from the Book of Revelations as his main inspiration. Verses 2:18 to 2:29 state:

18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. 20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. 24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. 25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. 26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

The message speaks of Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, whose name is associated with the Apocalypse, heresy and depravity. Jezebel is significant to the artist as a symbol of contemporary society. Gaponov’s work, like the biblical passage, captures the pre Apocalyptic condition of our own world.

Born in 1981, his world began in Kemerovo, an industrial town in the Novosibirsk region. Gaponov graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts aged 23 and continued his studies at the acclaimed Mukhina Academy in St Petersburg, graduating in 2007. He continues to reside in St Petersburg. The large scale of Gaponov’s work recalls the epic revolutionary paintings of his compatriots of last century.

He brings intense originality of subject to an ancient message and traditional medium. In place of the handcrafted luxuries in embracing domestic interiors of a typical 17th century still life are objects of consumption – a Starbucks coffee here, McDonalds fries there – against stark backgrounds.

But a commonality of message uses symbolical codes warning against indulgence, waste and greed. The skeletal animal forms are a reminder that our cheap fast food comes at a price, confirms Giolitti. Undiscerning Appetites may be more dramatic than its forerunners but the message remains the same: life is short and can end at any moment. Take heed.

Gaponov’s allusions to the tradition of the memento mori reveal both the depth of his immersion in the history of still life paintings and paradoxically how he has broken free to create art resonating from his own distinctive cultural background.

Notable private collectors of his work include Sir Elton John, Evgeny Lebedev and Kirill Serebrennikov. It hangs in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Lebedev says,

“I admire Ilya Gaponov’s paintings not just because they present a cogent commentary that is increasingly valid to our contemporary society, but also because I find the paintings hold within them something of the Russian soul. The use of Christian iconography and mythology is deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche.”

Seeing Undiscerning Appetites we are faced with the reality of our deeply complex relationships with the world of objects, whether secular or religious. Gaponov’s still life paintings present an invitation to dwell on these relationships, how they are formed and what they reveal to us about our moment in history. Apocalypse nearly.

Ilya Gaponov,Undiscerning Appetites, Erarta Galleries,  London  Till 9 June 12

Words Stuart Blakley

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