Kings Road Gallery (I)

Such is the inherent complexity and multifacetedness of Konstantin's work, it is hard to make generic statements that summarize the content or import of the works in a sentence or even a paragraph. What is beyond doubt is that an erudite, highly sophisticated mind is operating behind his work, which is cerebral and witty and both allusive and elusive.

The exploration of man's tastes, foibles, dreams and fantasies is conducted through humour, irony, parody and satire. There is always something vaguely disconcerting about the works (like catching one's uncle in frilly knickers and high heels or like a teenager voyeuristically peeping into a strip-club) but they remain totally compelling.

Complex in composition and recondite in iconography, the paintings pose an intellectual riddle: indeed, part of the challenge and the pleasure resides in identifying and disentangling the motifs and sources of inspiration. One senses that the cultural well from which Konstantin draws is a deep one: from opera, Berlin cabaret, vaudeville, burlesque, cartoons, newspapers to theatre and costume design. Even the artistic sources of inspiration are multifarious and multilayered: Russian icons, cartoons, ex votos, old master portraits, still life's, trompe-l'oeil and allegorical painting (from Titian to Vermeer, the Fontainebleau School to Matisse, Bosch to Brueghel, Chagall to Picasso). Moreover, the theatricality and parabolic narrative imply affinities not only with Bosch's Ship of Fools but also Hogarth's Rake's Progress.

The literary kinship if not inspiration is similarly complex: from the Old Testament to Erasmus (In Praise of Folly), Brecht, Kafka, Beckett, Ionesco and of course the Masonic libretto of The Magic Flute.

It is perhaps Konstantin's love of opera or maybe Russian propagandist art or just awareness of the delights and ambiguities of language (traditore traduttore) that leads him to incorporate words or texts into most of his works: sometimes these are legible and have an explicatory or narrative function, often they are indecipherable, half-erased and bewilderingly opaque, so for most viewers they have only a decorative or aesthetic function - as tantalizing as a fragmentary manuscript. The words can be in the form of printed text, or can be meticulously written, sometimes in a period hand, sometimes scrawled like graffiti or a doodle or a child's scribble - or all combined like a palimpsest. There are libretto texts, ex voto type titles, legal texts, propagandist slogans - and to make these even more enigmatic and inscrutable, they are in Russian, Latin, English, French, German, Portuguese or Chinese.
by Terence Rodrigues - Art Historian, Critic & International Art Consultant


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