Vika Begalska @ Gridchin Hall
My conversation with Vika Begalska focused around her current retrospective at the Gridchin Hall The exhibition which is on until September has 29 large paintings (largest 1.50 x 1.20 meter) which embrace two periods within her decade – long art making practice. The exhibition was curated by Anatoly Osmolovsky who made a fine choice of the key works by Begalska.
Begalska is only in her mid thirties but her output is prolific and she has produced a number of paintings, videos and performances that address the convoluted position of women in Soviet society. Begalska sums up her views in the title Shame which can be viewed in several ways. Either shame as a reference to the repressed position of women, or shame as it relates to our past history, filled by lies and immorality, which affected women. By including these references, Begalska treats shame as the attitude of a painter to her medium.
Born in Ukraine she was educated at the State Academy for Design and Art in Kharkov, In the Ukraine Begalska was attached to traditional painting ( under an influence of a strong Kiev school of painters) However later Begalska rejected the representational approach, reinforced by Academy and adopted a freer style which draws on the early Russian avant-garde ( Goncharova, Liubov Popova) and German Neo Expressionism of 1920s. (especially Kirchner).
But due to the very strong influence of Academic Realism, Expressionism was never accepted by the Russian audience, who considered gestsural execution rather messy. From the contemporary Russian artists Begalska is almost alone who works in this style.
From about 2004 through 2009 her paintings featured women who were not ashamed of their femininity and freely exhibited it response to the wake of liberalism which Russia underwent in mid 2000s. The artist cites an encounter which prompted her in these works. Valia who was her model, already in her 50s, posed freely nude and told the young artist the story of her life in an honest intention to break through her loneliness.
Unfortunately these subjects of women’s self-revelation were perceived as overtly erotic.
Her more recent painterly reflections on the theme of gender have become more expressive and exploratory than direct in the visual language of paint.
From about 2009 Begalska started to paint rather abstract images reflecting on the subjects of nature and inner emotions. She pushes the boundaries of style and texture and is almost alone as a woman working in this expressive manner. She counts her art historical references as starting with Kirchner, Immendorff and the Russian “New Wild’ of the 1980s, such as Valery Chtak. But all of them men.
The “I’d like to Dig You” performance was fist shown at the Guelman-Gallery in Kiev in 2004. Seven years later Begalska repeats this performance in Moscow. The avant-garde gesture is the same: throwing mud on a video-projection until the projection disappears under the cover of black earth. This time the artist rebels against the reality around her here and now: capitalism, personified by the oligarchs, and the growing racial and ethnic inequality fostered by Russian nationalists. In her metaphysical revolt, the artist wants to evoke the “absolutely nothingness” emerging from the Black Square. Like Malevitch she wants to believe in the artistic sun of a new culture, which should rise on the day after the mystical night.