VASILY SHULZHENKO (RUSSIAN B. 1949)
The Road, 1991
oil on canvas
132 x 168 cm (52 x 66 1/8 in.)
signed and dated lower right; signed, dated, and titled on verso
Although Shulzhenko was born in Moscow, where the artist lives and works, much of his oeuvre features that which is - both literally and figuratively - marginal. The subjects of his frank and often graphic paintings are situated in transitional spaces: the street, the village, the public restroom, and, most obviously, the verges of society. Simultaneously, the artists` works, imbued with a Bacchanalian facetiousness, are equal parts inflammatory social commentary and light hearted gag joke. Shulzhenko's men and women are conventionally unattractive, their bodies and faces as frequently distorted by alcoholism and anger as they are by lust and laughter. While heavily featuring the grotesque, the artist frequently comments on and subverts conventional artistic narratives.
"The Road" is one such example, drawing perhaps on the well-known 1871 "Hunters` Camp" painting by Russian Realist Vasily Perov or the works of Dutch and Flemish masters, such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder`s 1565 "The Harvesters", the genre paintings of David Teniers, and the portraits of Frans Hals. Here, the artist stages a group of men, drinking, within a vast, lush landscape. Seemingly unaware of the viewer, the subjects` communication to the audience and one another (in spite being grouped so tightly and so close to the edge of the picture frame) is convoluted: one man has fallen asleep, another is ready to gulp down the contents of an empty glass, a third is seen toasting to no one in particular. Existing independently of our amusement or judgement, the men will continue on their "Road".