I recently came across these striking works by New Zealand based, Russian-born artist Ilya Volykhine, whose paintings combine text with bold, emotive human figures. Volykhine merges disparate elements of Russian iconography, re-inscribing strange and often obscured meanings into normative narrative structures reminiscent of comic strips and advertising. Emerging from behind the iron curtain, Volykhine's paintings and works on paper capture the underlying forces that dominate and determine the conditions of the human psyche. Being a fellow Russian-born émigré, it is no surprise that these works captured that part of my own identity.
Volykhine continues to develop his approach to collage, drawing and painting in his current works, which evoke earlier established themes rooted in various sources, including movies, cult icons, literature, television and personal history.
This broad range of historical references not only foregrounds Volykhine's own interest in appropriating past visual and literary styles, but also invokes the schizophrenic and pathological impulses at work in the Russian imagination.
As the use of color has played an increasingly central role in his more recent works, so has the formal concern for surface, space, and technique, resulting in densely populated and fragmentary images that further articulate Volykhine's refusal to offer conventional narrative logic. Often at once perversely funny and poetically contemplative, Volykhine's power lies in his ability to occupy multiple positions at once, and ultimately to implicate text and image in a slippery production of meaning.
Since emigrating from Russia, Ilya Volykhine has lived and worked in New York from 1991 until 2000, after which he left for Australia, and has now settled in Queenstown, New Zealand. Volykhine has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout New Zealand and abroad, including the New Zealand Painting & Printmaking Award Exhibition, the Walker & Hall Art Award Exhibition, the Archibald Prize Award Exhibition in Australia, the Jacaranda Drawing Prize Exhibition and the Blake Prize for Religious Art. His work is held in public and private collections worldwide.
All images courtesy of © Ilya Volykhine