SHADES OF PALE

APRIL 17, 2014

by E. S. Jones

EMPTY STREET, RUSSIAN VILLAGE

‘It all begins with an unclear but somehow obsessive visual idea.’
Intention and Realisation, Oleg Prokofiev
Artist Oleg Prokofiev was born in Paris in 1928, moving to the Soviet Union at the age of seven with his parents and brother. The second son of Spanish singer Lina Liubera and composer Sergei Prokofiev, he grew up in the strange world of Stalinist Russia. In this hostile environment he witnessed his father’s fame and later demise- and his mother sentenced for eight years to a labour camp.

Studying at the Moscow School of Art at the age of fourteen, Prokofiev disliked the Soviet ideal upheld by his teachers of 19th century realistic Russian painting. He had started his studies as a student of sculpture but longed to be a ‘pure’ painter like the impressionists. When Prokofiev was seventeen he met the post-impressionist painter Robert Falk, out of favour with the authorities, who took him under his wing into a world of underground art. Falk was a founder member of the Knave of Diamonds group and his passion for Cezanne appealed to the young Prokofiev who stayed under Falk’s tuition for three years. He learned the serious discipline of building up a painting according to colour theory and the detailed observation of nature. Both artists shared the belief that art should be a reflection of the world as it appears, and a taste for modernism.

‘I began to move into a world of imagination… It reflected pretty perfectly well my very private life, full of repressed feelings and dreams mixed with fantasies about some magic deliverance from it.’ 
The Evolution of My Work, Oleg Prokofiev

This particularly volatile time in Russia formed a backdrop for meeting Camilla Gray, a young English dancer and art historian who had come to Moscow in 1961 to work on her book. The Russian Experiment in Art was a revolutionary study into the history of the Russian avant-garde, putting it in the context of pre and post war society. Camilla brought elements of the sciences, philosophies and modern culture together with the stories behind the brilliant personalities who instigated them. Camilla’s triumph on publishing her masterpiece in New York was short-lived: Due to the political mood of the time the authorities made sure she would be refused entry back into Russia, whilst Prokofiev was forced to remain.

For six years Camilla was not allowed into Russia, and Prokofiev was not allowed out. This period of uncertainty led to the artist producing an unusual collection of works, depicting his Russia fading into whiteness as he peered into the unknown. The distancing is deeply felt in titles such as Dissolving, Moving and Covered. His paintings take on the melancholic hues of limpid lilacs and foggy ochres, his paths lead in and through, disappearing over the horizon.…
This extract is taken from an exclusive new biography that will be published in association with the exhibition:http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5097357-from-east-to-west
You can follow the rest of the story at Hay Hill Gallery’s retrospective of Prokofiev’s paintings and sculpture. Featuring over sixty works, the show brings together two major stages of his life; before and after he left Russia. This exciting exhibition leads us from the 1960s USSR period into the popular ‘white-on-white’ canvases of the 1970s, his revolutionary sculptures and last paintings. 
Oleg Prokofiev: ‘From East to West’
31st March- 26th April 2014
Hay Hill Gallery, 35 Baker Street, London W1U 8EN
Tel: 020 7486 6006 http://www.hayhillgallery.cominfo@hayhillgallery.com 
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 10.30-6, Saturday 11-5

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