Contributed by Jason Andrew / Spend anytime out in the rural West, particularly the plains of southwest Texas, and you’ll discover the daunting challenge of repelling dust and dirt. At some point, you just have to accept a little discomfort as a small cost of the region’s wondrous horizons, desert winds, and moonlit nights. Returning from a coveted residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, painter Yevgeniya Baras incurred that cost and returned with a lighter palette and a renewed sensitivity to form in her new process-oriented paintings, on view in “Seam, Scar, Sign” at Nicelle Beauchene through May 26.
I came to know Yevgeniya and her work in the trenches of Bushwick circa 2010. She and a lovely group of artists founded Regina Rex around that time, and I included her work in a 2011 exhibition at my gallery Storefront, then on Wilson Avenue. Muddy, dark, and moody with thick impastoed surfaces and a synthesis of diverse subjects that allude to modern psychoanalytic theory, these paintings drew me in.
While the new set of paintings move beyond their mysterious predecessors, they remain deep image painting– a concept I derived from the unexpected juxtapositions and surrealist leaps made by poets of the 1960s. It’s well suited to Yevgeniya, whose raw imagery conjures a world that floats between the real and the dream and inspires symbolism and mysticism.
Eleven paintings, all made in the last two years and all untitled, make up the exhibition. While the works are easel-sized, existentially they scan way bigger. Acutely attuned to the human condition and imagining the canvas as an extension of the body, Yevgeniya has continued to layer her surface (often heavy burlap) with impastoed oil paint, rocks, bits of wood, and paper pulp. Though she remains alert to darkness, optimism prevails in the new work by way of frothier, fresher, and looser composition. Dusty pinks, lighter blues, and even patches of white have fostered a new approachability.
“At Chinati I was alone,” Yevgeniya explained via email. “There were no other residents when one is invited to make work there. The time for me was a very focused time. I walked a lot in the landscape and I felt that my color palette shifted towards the sandy tones. I did a daily walk to my studio experiencing the open areas and observing the color of the plains and desert scrub.”
Time equates with labor, which is important to these paintings. “There are two surfaces in the show which were begun seven years ago,” Yevgeniya told me. The work accordingly embodies both the durational and the performative: layers framed within a proscenium. In this connection, Yevgeniya’s intent is not unlike that of Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova (1881–1962), who designed sets for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and anchored modern set design by utilizing abstract patterns and introducing decorative flatness. She grew up just hours away from Yevgeniya’s hometown of Syzran, Russia. Like Goncharova, Yevgeniya draws heavily on the palette and character of Old Russia through her stylistic references to Russian icon painting and lubki prints while placing them in a dynamic context.
Yet Yevgeniya’s work is far more than cultural tribute and synthesis. It is as expansive as it is reflective. Each painting is made up of an unorthodox matrix of structures that crisscross the surface in raised relief. Think seams and scars: topographic records of the damaged and repaired. “These are ways for me to draw three dimensionally,” says Yevgeniya. This conceptualization allows her to deepen the open-ended symbolism of her work with an additional stratum of content, hinting at what might come next. In some instances, raised fragments form letters of the Roman and Cyrillic alphabets. We recognize the script but its meaning, placement, and purpose remain unarticulated.
In one piece, Yevgeniya paints a still-life on the verso of a painting stretcher, as she has elsewhere. Wood stripes further animate the radiating meatiness of a group of dark-violet chrysanthemum-like flowers stuffed into a pink vase set on a green table. The painting thus riffs on cubist arrangements and demonstrates her ability to address art history with a painting vocabulary that is at once personal, innovative, and forward-looking.With a slew of recent solo shows on both coasts, Yevgeniya has arrived as one of the outstanding painters of her generation.
“Yevgeniya Baras: Seam, Scar, Sign,” Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 327 Broome Street, New York, NY. through May 26.
About the author: Jason Andrew is an independent scholar, curator, and producer who co-founded and directs Norte Maar, a non-profit organization that creates, promotes, and presents collaborative projects in the arts. He can be followed on Twitter, @jandrewARTS.
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