Oleg Prokofiev’s desire to find a synthesis between painting and the plastic arts led him to a series of works following a single line through loops and tangles. As the son of the legendary composer Sergei Prokofiev, he had grown up in the midst of creativity. Borrowing the musical idea of free expression within a set pattern, Prokofiev chose his unusual colours and forms, exactly as his father had used ‘wrong notes’ in his compositions- unexpected shifts that would resonate long afterwards. The leaping arpeggios of these sculptural works are a continuation of themes already touched on by his post-impressionist paintings: Form versus formlessness; the dynamics of creation and becoming; the oscillation between order and the need to destroy it. Tempo and mood is controlled through rigid lines as though the artist conducts an orchestra; the meandering colours stretching and bending, keeping strict time in shapes.
A trip to New York was the catalyst for Prokofiev’s transition from painting to sculpture. After the gentle European landscapes he had become accustomed to, the artist was stunned by aggressive vertical lines of looming towers, sharp skyscrapers and the hustle of a busy city. On returning to Europe he immediately began to improvise the Manhattan skyline. His subsequent ‘stripe’ series could be made of ironed out twists of coloured glass from the insides of marbles in shades of deep red, pale blue, olive green and shell pinks. Bright corals and ultramarines flicker behind watercolour glazes, sorting out the new intensities in his mind, preparing the way for surprising three-dimensional works.
One day, back in his London studio, Prokofiev stuck a strip of wood to canvas, instead of simply painting another stripe. His next work happened to be a painted relief, and after that he dispensed with the flat surface entirely. He began fashioning tower blocks and stacked buildings from ready-made planks and sticks, creating organic constructivist sculptures. With his studio right by the Thames, he would scavenge the city beach for driftwood and other washed up objects to use. The boundaries between painting and sculpture were in constant flux as he cut and assembled the wood, shaping the structures further with paint. He resisted calling these ‘sculptures’, using the term only according to strict definition, at a loss for a more satisfactory label. Using found objects such as small squashed tins, broken chair legs or pieces of machinery, he developed a magpie obsession over the accidental treasures found on the street.
Notebooks full of labyrinthine doodles show Prokofiev’s endless journeys across the paper, attempting to pin down his ideas. Spiking, curly, twisted lines end up in claws and eyes; there are glimpses of piano keys and harp strings in the centre of the hectic swarms. He considered his drawings to be only hints, the first step towards discovering the line ‘in flesh’. Detailed studies fifteen years previously into Ancient Indian art had also affected Prokofiev with its concept of the plastic arts as the continuation of nature. He referred to these creations as ‘coloured line in space’ hanging them across walls like abstracts come alive to the touch.
Later on, as more and more sculptures were created, his studio began to resemble an installation. He arranged the work in heaps and stiff lines like soldiers, hanging some from the ceiling, creating giant towers from the floor. During this time he produced some 200 works, a whole cave of stalactites and stalagmites that attempted to develop ideas and solve problems. The finished pieces appear like solid music, energetic and original, like weird insects wonkily perched on twigs. The eye wanders along painted paths and is met with a little green cog for an earring, or finely written gold poetry. Wearing bright plumes of reds and blues, the works sit around like oddly angled birds of paradise. Each piece marks significant stages of Prokofiev’s life, lucid and immediate, a testimony to the artist’s irrepressible spirit- rooted in the belief that the only reality is now.