Erik Bulatov - The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art London Friday, October 12, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Les Magiciens de la Terre, May 18 – August 28, 1989; Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Prato, Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Artisti Russi Contemporanei, February 10 – March 14, 1990

  • Literature

    E. Bulatov and A. Mitta, Artisti Russi Contemporanei, Prato, 1990, p. 41 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Clouds darken the sky. Fresh snow has fallen on the landscape but this fails to transmit a cheerful and merry Christmas mood. The sunrays are too diffused and only burn a minute structure into the clouds, as reddish-brown garland of rays transpire. The snow hill dominates into the middle of the picture with a number of desolated houses, telephone posts and a meager wood fire is discernible. There is hardly any trace of the Soviet progress élan. The telephone posts, which would have been predominantly projected into the foreground in every social-realistic picture as a sign of the successful Soviet electrification campaign, are hardly discernible in the background. A remarkable painting originating from the key years of Perestroika – what does it denote? Is a thunderstorm or a storm approaching? Does it show the extensively promised thaw, the rising sun or yearningly awaited new perspectives? It would not be a painting by Erik Bulatov if it did not ask these specific questions. He expresses these feelings by saying: “Now, as strange as this may sound, a new sensation of anxiety and restlessness invades me. I don’t experience feelings of liberty or joy, like I did during the times of Khruschev, but of fear. Still now I don’t understand why. It is exactly this feeling of restlessness and fear that I wanted to represent in the winter painting. This picture represents the dramatic essence of freedom. Anxiety. Something completely unknown and new awaits us.” (E. Bulatov and Alexander Mitta, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, ed., “Excerpts from a dialogue”, Contemporary Russian Artists, Prato, 1990, p. 42) Erik Bulatov’s reality is only produced on the canvas. It shows the tension between illusionary depths – representative of the freedom of the human spirit – and two-dimensional pictorial reality. He consciously applies landscape means such as clouds, snow, the sky and horizon lines in order to produce an in-depth maelstrom and a precisely depicted reality. This is also the case with the 1988/1989 winter depiction which expresses the ambivalence of the upheaval. As the former “unofficial” Russian artist, Bulatov nurtures a complex relationship with snow. His major winter depictions include 'Skier', 'Natascha' and 'Ageing Asylum'. 'Winter' is the most dramatic of all. In Soviet times, winter mainly had a positive connotation. Snow denotes appeasement or reconciliation with visual reality, which was implemented in everyday life by the penetrating signs of Soviet power down to the most remote cornerstone. When Natascha, the artist’s wife, in a light-coloured anorak and red glowing cheeks stands in front of the deep snowed monument of Lenin and his Datscha, this denotes appeasement. The ideologically-loaded square is hardly recognizable and the omnipresent state doctrine loses its threatening power in the presence of the lively woman and the shimmering snowed landscape. Bulatov has always drawn attention to the fact that light is the most important means of expressing his feelings in his paintings. With this approach, he is following in the tradition of the Russian icon painters who projected the white picture background as a metaphysical heavenly light. He is thereby in no way in isolation in his particular era. Metaphysics was an important topic and a saving concept in the murky and dull reality of everyday Soviet life. This is also documented by the extensive group of 'White Paintings' and 'Depictions' by Ilya Kabakov. For Erik Bulatov, painting is a possibility of perceiving the world. “C’est à travers l’art que je peux voir, distinguer quelque chose dans ce torrent tumultueux de la réalité sociale: l’image et le nom des phénomènes ne se manifestent que dans l’art.” [Art helps me to see and distinguish things in this tumultuous torrent of social reality: both the image and name of the phenomenon only manifest themselves in art.] (E. Bulatov, translated from French, Centre Georges Pompidou, ed., “Mon travail”, Erik Boulatov, Paris, 1988, p. 77). In Soviet times, Bulatov was regarded as a moral instance with his critical and courageous depictions of the times. - Claudia Jolles



Oil on canvas.
90 3/4 x 90 1/2 in. (230.5 x 229.9 cm).
Signed, titled and dated “E. Bulatov Winter 1988-89 [in Cyrillic]” on the reverse.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡♠

Sold for £412,000

The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art

13 October 2007, 6pm