Mikhail Zvyagin is one of the oldest artists of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg scene (albeit currently residing in New York) who managed to express a very original view of the period between the early 1960s and the turn of the 21st century.
What distinguishes Zvyagin is his decidedly non-mainstream ethos, reluctance to embrace any shared artistic strategy. He is neither right nor left. He is a self-contained artist. His paintings, particularly those from the 1960s, testify to a very private experience and account of the world, equally distant from the standard agenda of the official and the non-conformist art. His artworks from that time seem to be permeated with the bitter air of urban outskirts, industrial fringes, red-brick factory buildings against the backdrop of white snow and winter-black water. The figurative, rhythmic and colouristic qualities of these paintings existing outside of the dominating social and artistic ideology are nevertheless markedly balanced, even contemplative, allowing for distant parallels with the works of Nikolay Laphsin and Alexander Vedernikov.
Zvyagin’s depiction of the industrial fringes has nothing of an accusation or mournful unconcern; rather, it is a kind of meditative and poetic documentary, precise and laconic, hailing from the same time as Josef Brodsky’s early verse.
Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to Zvyagin’s late expressionist paintings and sculptures reflecting the drama of the 1990s. Works from this period show grotesque characters of the time, the agony, the general sense of impending doom culminating in apocalyptic visions. The artist painfully internalises what goes on around him. “I paint what I see and what I think. My paintings are not for the faint-hearted. This is my heartfelt cry, an attempt to reach out to the souls of other people... What we see around us is a true bestiary, a monstrous carnival, a masquerade of buffoons. Freaks reign supreme, but for how long? We live in a mirror-world, in which what we are being told, what we see, and what is actually happening are three different things altogether. Ogres and guises are all around... Watch, think, and listen to the unsettling sound of the epoch. My canvasses are mirrors of my surroundings and of our times. I am but a witness of my time, bringing my art to bear to express its essence...” (quoted from Instead of a Biography by Mikhail Zvyagin).