FEATURE: 3045 Variations on The Feast of Venus

By Maryam Philpott

The modern world is obsessed with communication, with being in touch constantly and, digitally at least, sharing every aspect of our lives on social media platforms. Yet major cities like London have never felt lonelier or more isolating and, as someone who has gone through the process of moving and building new relationships in several cities both in Russia and Europe, talking to artist IngaKrymskaya at the launch of her latest exhibition, reveals an interest in creating a community built around collaborative art that seeks to address the contradictions of 21st Century life.

Variation #17
Variation #17

In December last year at the Hay Hill Gallery, Krymskaya exhibited a number of pieces inspired by Rubens classic painting The Feast of Venus, taking individual sections as well as the entire work, and reinterprets it using a variety of techniques and materials. Some of those pieces are included in her latest exhibition at the Dreamspace Gallery between the Barbican and Old Street alongside new works by Krymskaya and a variety of other artists. This is the second stage in a larger project to connect with the wider artistic community using Rubens’ painting as a basis to explore notions of collective creative energy which she hopes will encourage more people to share their ideas and participate.

“I firstly got introduced to the particular painting of Rubens during a lecture of the art historian and curator Ben Street,” she says. “Ben was talking about the Baroque masters and presenting the idea of how common it was at that time to make copies of each other works, a thing that was mostly done for educational purposes.

“Particularly Rubens, who copied The Feast of Venus from Titian translating it in his own way. The idea of continuing his legacy with my translation fascinated me. Joy, of course, and celebration of life, although depicted in a different way.”

Krymskaya’s work is incredibly beautiful, striking and technically impressive. On display again is the tapestry version of the painting (Variation #11) with additional text-speak bubbles. Largely in black and white with coloured text, close up it is so skilfully made it looks like a blurry photocopy while viewed from the across the room it is a detailed reproduction given new meaning with the Lichtenstein-esque speech bubbles. Also reshown is Variation #5 a stunning electric blue and bronze triptych on acrylic glass that blends the aged and classical nature of the original with a sinister and dramatic feel created by the colours that give a darker edge to Rubens’ lascivious scene.

Variation #1 was exhibited previously but in a slightly different formand is composed of a number of oblong panels of various sizes each depicting a separate section or person, imagined in a reflective silver and blue effect reminiscent of etchings. Originally in 14 pieces, here some of the sections are pulled apart and displayed as three distinct works, which changes their meaning considerably, implying the fragmented nature of modern life and the difficulties that poses for communication, but at the same time forcing you to focus on the individuals hidden in Rubens’ overall effect. The L-shaped piece on the floor and wall in this position seem darker than the rest, even perhaps implying a descent into hell, which brilliantly subverts the original intention of the painting and emphasises how focusing on small sections is quite different from the overall effect of the larger work.

Renata Kopac' Rubens meets Lichtenstein'
Rubens meets Lichtenstein

Joining Krymskaya in the gallery are pieces contributed by several other artists inspired by Rubens’ painting. Lauren Jetty Howells-Green motivated by Krymskaya’s own tapestry has produced two embroideries, one of eyes and nose (Screenshotcherub #5) and a tiny version of the entire painting (Miniature Mistresspiece #9) both created from photographs and using a digital technique to allot colour and then cross-stitched. Renata Kopac also exploits Krymskaya’s association with Pop Art with Rubens meets Lichtenstein, creating a collage of magazine-like colour cut-outs of the dancing women with speech bubbles and comic-strip characters thinking about love.

“I found interesting the interpretation of Bex Massey. She made a sculpture of books, grapes and a balancing takeaway box. All of the items were chosen for their satirical associations.”

Lucy Andrews takes the central figures by the lake and uses acrylics on aluminium to create a watery effect that has an abstract and fluid quality that fits nicely with the communication theme, while Mark Timmins has created a striking acrylic painting entitled Stone Venus that has a calming art deco quality using soft lilac, white and green to capture a sculptural shape within the painting. Interesting to see is that Krymskaya’s work that has been almost as inspiring to these artists as Rubens.

Krymskaya continues: “These works are playing with the relationship between the past and the present, recent history and art history, creating a new narrative and generating a dialogue about the contemporary issues. “This playful blend of the two epochs are, for example, visible in the interpretation of Rubens that I made in tapestry. In this variation, I’m using the texting bubbles of our mobile devices but again using the traditional way of weaving for the production. So the choices of materials are very important to present this connection. This marriage [of techniques] allows me to use a little humour which was missing from my early works.”

Many of these pieces focus on specific characters within Rubens’ larger scene and as this new exhibition hopes to prove there are endless ways to creatively reimagine this classic work. Looking around the room at all these interpretations, materials, approaches and techniques, focusing on so many different sections of the original painting, Krymskaya wonders “Who am I today”, clearly inspired by the collective creativity she has encouraged and the opportunity it has afforded the artists to connect with one another and share ideas. In fact, this concept of the changing context of communication feeds into her next project looking at abandoned houses. A book, sculpture and short film entitled Dialogue in Darkness are to follow, which explores how different they feel once the people have left, changing them, as she has changed Rubens’ painting, from what they were into something quite different but no less beautiful.

• This exhibition is at the Dreamspace Gallery. Please note that while this is a public exhibition open Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm, visitors must use the door buzzer to gain entrance to the gallery.

Runs until 13 May 2016 | For more information, go to www.ingakrymskaya.com

The Reviews Hub - Features

Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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