Spotlight

Spotlight artist Veronica Smirnoff

Championed by Darren Jones
The Wick - Veronica Smirnoff 
The Painted Veil, 2024
Above  Veronica Smirnoff The Painted Veil, 2024
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The Wick - Spotlight artist Veronica Smirnoff
Above  
Interview
Veronica Smirnoff
23 May 2024
Interview
Veronica Smirnoff
23 May 2024
There’s definitely something mystical and otherworldly about Veronica Smirnoff’s paintings. Before a painting even begins, her materials are imbued with a quasi-spiritual treatment, using an arduous and ancient process of art-making. First, Smirnoff makes her paints: gesso and pigment, ground from semi-precious stones and mixed with egg yolk and white wine. Then, layer by meticulous layer, she works on oak wooden boards, sourced from Russian monasteries where they are made, and individually blessed, before Smirnoff receives them.

Born in Russia in 1979, Smirnoff trained in the UK, and has earned a worldwide reputation for her mastery of egg tempera – one of very few contemporary artists still practicising the tradition. Since her first solo show in 2008, she has presented solos in galleries in Milan, Moscow, Paris, Berlin, New York and London – and was included in the 58th Venice Biennale, and the 4th Thessaloniki Biennale, among other prestigious international exhibitions.

Smirnoff’s paintings are enigmatic, detailed figurative scenes, montages of myth and folklore from various cultures and time periods that evolve at times out of drawings – they are apparently symbolic, but often misleading the viewer. A contemplation not of myths and narratives but their effect on us. They address, Smirnoff has said, the pictorial dichotomy between material culture and the spiritual, irrational human experience. In Requiem (2022), a group, seen from above, dressed in bright red robes, huddle in a group embrace, perhaps in prayer; Troyka, (2018) pays homage to a Russian cultural icon, with three animated horses. Solitary, somnolescent female figures gaze dreamily into the distance in Camelе and the eye of a needle, (2021) and Mary of Egypt, (2020). They represent, perhaps, the spirit of the artist.
Smirnoff’s champion for The Wick is critic, curator and educator, Darren Jones. Jones believes “Smirnoff has an exceedingly rare intuition for extracting the most compelling elements from her encyclopedic array of sources—art historical, humanistic, philosophical—then distilling them into a visual language that exudes preternatural magnetism.” Jones pins this ability to a “combination of Smirnoff’s avid intellectual curiosity, reverence for the natural world, and a commitment to the tradition formulation and technical potential of the lustrous egg tempera that is a hallmark of her practice. The artist’s generosity and openness toward the autonomy, or value, of the viewer’s phenomenological responses to her work, only enriches its effects.”

Jones adds that Smirnoff’s paintings are of “such emotional charge and ethereality that one longs to step through them and be consumed within their beguiling atmospherics. At the very heart of her subject matter—vast skies, deep forests, oracular figures—is the relationship between individual and cosmological, and to the unseen filaments that connect the mystical and quotidian. Smirnoff divines an enigmatic arc that we can trace from artist, to audience and beyond into the possibilities of uncharted plains, both terrestrial and astrophysical.”

Veronica Smirnoff’s latest exhibition, Blue Sky Red, at Candida Stevens Gallery at Cromwell Place, showcases a new medium for the artist – tapestry. These collaborative pieces translate the enigma and awe of Smirnoff’s egg tempera paintings into a tactile new language, still steeped in a long, international heritage and craftsmanship. This is the way Smirnoff communicates both past and present in her works, with what the artist has previously referred to as the “abiding sense of art history is ever present in my work.”

“I have always been interested in the construction of the iconic, the “Icon” as the object of worship and its relationship to “popular art” with a wide repertoire of signs: the flat moulding of figures, schematic linearity and cut-out two-dimensional quality, the abstract effects of colour, flatness and tilted depth.” Smirnoff has said.

Smirnoff’s magic is in daring to depict a rich interior imaginary, free and fantastical, and her willingness to challenge and interrogate, by the same hand, the logic we try to hold up to understand and analyse our surroundings and “incomprehensible things that sooner or later find meaning and teach us something about the real world.”

About the champion

The Wick - Darren Jones

Darren Jones is a Scottish-American art critic, curator and educator. He is a frequent contributor to Artforum, and is the US editor-at-large for New Art Examiner. He is a recipient of a Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.

“At the very heart of her subject matter—vast skies, deep forests, oracular figures—is the relationship between individual and cosmological”

Place of Birth

Moscow, Russia

Education

BA from the Slade School of Art and a post graduate diploma from the Royal Academy of Arts

Awards, Accolades

John Moores Painting Prize UK (2010), Alumni Award, Royal Academy of Arts (2008)

Current exhibitions

Blue Sky Red, Candida Stevens Gallery

Advice

Consider the process and subject of painting of the foremost importance; the rest is secondary as all that matters is achieved in the act of painting.


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