Erik Bulatov - BRIC London Thursday, April 14, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

     Acquired from Private Collection, France by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, l’Hôtel de l‘Industrie, Moscou Paris 1960–2000, 15 March – 15 April 2007

  • Literature

    Moscou Paris 1960–2000, exh. cat., Paris: Éditions le Minotaure, 2007, p. 31

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Through my paintings I wanted to express ‘that’ reality and life we were submerged into.The space we inhabited was entirely deformed by our frighteningly aggressive ideology. But because people had lived all their lives in this space, they had begun to perceive it as normal, as natural. I personally wanted to show the abnormality and unnaturalness of this normal space.”
    Erik Bulatov
    Bulatov has seen his singular style develop into a staple of modern European and international contemporary painting. His work of continues to inspire collectors, curators,  and close colleagues, such as his longtime peers Ilya Kabakov and Oleg Vassiliev, both of whom, like Bulatov, started out as illustrators of children’s books.
    Producing images for a provided writer’s text allowed for both work in one’s field and a means of making a living, (a given studio and art materials were part of membership in the ‘official’ Artist’s Union). However, in his serious painting, done for himself, Bulatov paradoxically began to experiment with the use of letters, words, font, double entendre, to say nothing of literary theory, as a driving force to better colour and compliment his visual approach and semiotic ideas.
    ‘Unofficially,’ as co-founder of the Sretensky Boulevard Group, an informal gathering of artists who would meet and collectively share their work – there was no art community of critics and connoisseurs in 1960s Moscow; anything not pro-Establishment was considered subversive; anything abstract was banned – Bulatov’s style took on political and social connotations in the guise of figurative, seemingly random landscapes and everyday urban scenes. Strikingly original, his became a world examining power and control, colliding ever so slightly with the lasting impact on the individual, and ultimately speaking for a broader, lost world.
    In La Russie a Paris (Russia in Paris), from 1992, this theme is made evident by the provocative effect of ‘parallel play’, a dance of contrasts between the tricolour vertical stripes of the French flag and the return of the same coloured, horizontal strips of the Russian flag blowing in the wind. This flag – outlawed after the October Revolution of 1917 – was not made an official national symbol of Russia until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Used for the first time here by Bulatov, and flown in Paris for the first time to commemorate a visit by President Yelstin the same year, there is also a personal association at work. The artist moved to France during this period and there is no separating Bulatov’s Russian/French duality from the larger visual context being employed.
    In the painting, we see patterns, relationships, stylistic design cues, that on the surface evoke photorealism, but in fact, are deeply expressive. One flag switches to the other and then back. One line of departing ‘Western’ cars contrasts with the oncoming line of Soviet-era Ladas as they pass Paris’s lavishly adorned Alexander III Bridge (completed in 1900 to honour Russia’s relationship with France). And the very idea of bridge-as-metaphor prompts our understanding of Bulatov’s role as a crossover, émigré artist with new freedoms, and a new audience, even while he remains rooted in his systematic approach to universal symbols and their sometimes false representations.
    Here, the viewer is presented with an overt exclamation point, a staple of both ‘warning’ and ‘welcome’ signs throughout the USSR and used, by means of its very absence, to great ironic effect in paintings from his Soviet period, specifically in Welcome, 1974 and Danger, 1975. However, this time the symbol is soft, white, and muted and its dot doubles for a rising sun that illuminates an overcast sky that could easily be mistaken for Moscow. A positive sign of moving ahead, Bulatov consciously chooses optimism over fear and the idea that hope can triumph over suspicion. It is the beginning of his French period.
    We catch another motif of previous work: the worldwide ‘Do Not Turn Right’ sign, which, is placed in the composition in a playful way, as if to add a minor political aside to his famed paintings Entrance/No Entrance, 1976, and Do Not Lean, 1987. This is Bulatov of a new vintage, self-reflexive, with a more humorous tone. Like the cars on their way to his ubiquitous horizon, so too is the artist off in a new direction. Perhaps, as they are, happily passing the cherished Grand Palais on the left.
    Mark Kelner


Russia in Paris

Oil on canvas.
220 × 154 cm (86 5/8 × 60 5/8 in).

£300,000 - 500,000 ‡♠


14 - 15 April 2011