8 February - 30 March 2019
Although social media has much to answer for I can however, give thanks to the beguiling (addictive) charms of Instagram for introducing me to the artist Flora Yukhnovich. Her pastoral compositions defined by saturated pastel colours and theatrical mark-making made her a compelling follow and I was thrilled to learn that she was having a solo exhibition at Parafin gallery, London.
Inspired by the fête gallante scenes of early 18th century French Rococo, Yukhnovich’s large scale paintings explore ‘a series of binary positions: feminine and masculine, low and high culture, good and bad taste.’ Having recently seen Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s most famous painting ‘Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette or The Swing’, 1767 (a consequential ‘poster child’ for the Rococo) alongside other artists from the period at the Wallace Collection, London - it was a pleasure to see Yukhnovich embrace all the elements of the Rococo, whilst maintaining an original and contemporary voice.
Although Parafin’s long and narrow floor plan made it difficult to stand well back from the generously scaled paintings, it did encourage a closer inspection of Yukhnovich’s rich and fluid brushwork. Described as navigating ‘a terrain between figuration and abstraction’, it is clear that the artist has a solid understanding of the human figure - most notably the female. Within each ample mass of swirling colour there is a glimpse of a reclining form or voluptuous limb. Her style evokes contemporary comparison with the expressive and ‘figural’ works of Cecily Brown. However, Yukhnovich’s paintings seem more refined and romantic. For me, the dynamism of these works are shaped by the thoughtful placement of colour rather than the physical and impulsive mark-making found in Brown’s work.
‘As an artist working in the twenty-first century the works of Fragonard, Boucher and Watteau and the cultural freight they carry become a vehicle for her (Yukhnovich) ideas…’
In particular, I found there were natural parallels between François Boucher’s ‘The Rising of the Sun’ 1753, located above the main staircase at the Wallace Collection and Yukhnovich’s ‘Both Sides Now’ 2019 (see images). Originally, one of the designs for a diptych tapestry commissioned by Madame de Pompadour, the depiction of dramatic skyward atmospheres are emphasised in Boucher’s painting by contrasting blue hues. The figures and their swathes of drapery, inspired by the Mythological god Apollo and the nymph Thetis, follow the powerful waves of cloud, sea and wind in a circular motion, revealing the clear sky in the centre of the composition. Yukhnovich’s painting seems to reflect Boucher’s sentiments. It sensitively suggests the naiads and plump putti within the fluid movement of the rushing sky, providing a central respite of light blue.
Scattered throughout the exhibition small preparatory oil studies on paper are displayed in simple white frames. Ripped edges and unpeeled masking tape at their corners - these works are a collection of uninhibited moments of creative exploration and when they are included in the curation of a show they give the viewer an insight into the artist’s process. Described as ‘pared down responses in the historical canon by Fragonard, Boucher, Tiepolo or Pater’, the spontaneous application of paint varies in degrees of figuration and abstraction. They have a presence and for me, to view such intimate work comes close to physically visiting an artist’s studio.
Described as ‘tastelessly florid’ and ‘feebly pretentious’, the Rococo’s negative connotations have debatably overshadowed the efforts of the 18th century artists. Yukhnovich’s paintings are dynamic and strikingly contemporary in approach, successfully revitalising this era of ‘bad taste’ and reenergising my interest and love for the Rococo.
Parafin Gallery: http://www.parafin.co.uk
Flora Yukhnovich: https://www.florayukhnovich.com
The Wallace Collection: https://www.wallacecollection.org