Exhibition: 16th March–14th April 2012. Private View:
Thursday, 15th March 2012, 6:00–8:30 pm
Erarta Galleries Zurich is proud to present Pyotr Gorban, Master and Humanist, the first Zurich solo exhibition of the Russian nonconformist artist. The selected works are representative of his style, with the human being at the center of his art and his reality.
It is not simple to classify Gorban in contemporary Russian art because he neither created his own technique nor founded his own school; he did not follow the Soviet doctrine that supported ideological art, he wrote no manifestos, nor did he protest as an underground artist or nonconformist, although that was how he was characterized. After finishing his studies at the art college in Krasnodor, Gorban started earning a living by painting assignments under the strict rules of the Soviet exhibitions committee, mostly portraits of the world's proletarian leaders. But his growing frustration with the system almost killed his creative ability, and in the late seventies the artist radically changed direction through an engagement with the history of World War II. From then onward he was inspired solely by the reality of human life.
His rejection of the mythologizing, glorifying tendencies of Russian realism in favour of depicting the reality of everyday life proved a hindrance to official acceptance. However, his increasing isolation ultimately worked to his advantage and Gorban gained recognition as an unofficial genius.
The mystification of any social class was too disturbing for Gorban as he felt that when art mythologizes it loses its innate subject matter and starts to lie. His subject is people, not castes; real people, not idols. The rhetoric of the dark past, the heroic present, and the radiant future, highly developed in Soviet art, is completely absent from his work. For him, happiness consists in the peaceful everyday life of a nation, whatever the regime. This is the good life not because of its extravagant promises and feats of labor, but because of its countless nuances of modest beauty that the artist looks for in people's faces, in casual street scenes, and in the hustle and bustle of markets and railway stations.
Everyday life becomes his "second nature" and the subject of many beautiful sketches. In Gorban's case, a frank admiration of daily life does not mean that he idealizes it. In his sketches, there is also loneliness, illness, and death. But the artist depicts these "living costs" so simply and naturally that they do not overshadow the overall harmony of his work. His everyday scenes could take place anytime and anywhere. Gorban's painting, despite its expressiveness and attraction to symbolism, grew from his immediate experience of life. His artworks express genuinely humanist and universal values. They are created out of a profound inner experience of life with an enormous power of expression and attraction.
Gorban once said: I felt the inspiration not merely to paint something, but to paint in symbols .... The chief undercurrent of my art is life, what's around us. I try to depict what I see around me and respond to events .... I often paint people ... spontaneously, when I see something I like about a person. When I start painting I try to see beauty in every model. The dominant feature of his work is people – and the lives of peoples – in the broadest sense. His people include kings, priests, prophets and whores; and his everyday life includes daily routine, holidays, wars, destruction, and death.
Why is Gorban the artist so important today and what is his place in history? His example teaches us that in addition to a continuing artistic development – the change of dominant styles, the conflict between different points of view, and a constant renewal of means of expression – there are things in modern art whose importance is not directly connected with these dynamics. Gorban is interesting not as a representative of official or unofficial art; the value of his work does not reside in its innovation or its contemporary character. He would not have been admitted to any of the existing artistic circles of his day. At some point, the painter broke decisively with Socialist Realism, since its ethical viewpoint was unacceptable to him. However, official art did not become a matter of hostile or mocking reflection for him, as was often the case with many "unofficial" artists. Furthermore, Gorban remained a Realist, inspired by natural impressions that prevented him, to some extent, from materializing the abstract ideas of his humanism.
In any case, Gorban managed to bring his simple but deeply felt philosophy of life to his art. The cornerstone of this philosophy is the value of human life, which the artist puts above the values of any epoch or ideology. Gorban is an artist of the people and he manages to convey people's real attitudes toward the milestone events of the 20th century. Gorban's historical view is realistic, sober, and, at the same time, strives for a deep and overarching understanding. This ability to combine realism and philosophy, to maintain his individuality and speak on behalf of the people, makes Gorban, in equal parts, a lonesome and distinguished artist of his times.
The art works by Pyotr Gorban shown in this exhibition can be divided into two groups; firstly the big canvasses showing the perpetually self-repeating tragedies of mankind and secondly the various flashlights shone on everyday life, on markets, streets, people meeting people at events – partly from the period when the artist was travelling around the North Caucasus, a melting pot of different cultures and religions.
Erarta is delighted to be able to present this extraordinary artist whose impressive works have already found their place in the world of art.
Notes for the editor:
Pyotr Gorban was born in 1923 in Stavropol, located between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. He studied and later taught at the Krasnodar art college. Towards the end of his life, he concentrated on biblical scenes. Pyotr Gorban died in the autumn of 1995, leaving behind him a rich heritage. His work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions in Russia and can be found in many public and private collections across the country.
Please also refer to the Erarta catalogue Pyotr Gorban: Sole Theme – Humanity written by Mikhail Ovchinnikov.
(A. Herrmann, 6.3.2012)
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