Made as part of Feral Neighbours, a cycle of drawings and paintings from 2016 inspired by childhood memories of Moscow, Sanya Kantarovsky’s three compositions are relatively spare drawings of graphical precision, and like scenes cleaved from an unbelievable dream, these are uncanny compositions where meaning is elusive and reality is never fixed. Kantarovsky’s subjects read, pose in the nude, lounge, receive CPR, and look aghast and angry all in rich tumbling lines. One of the drawings, in which a man intensely reading fails to notice the legs of a naked man overhead, is a study for the painting Bubbles. These are figures who feel magically and mysteriously unresolved, set within indecipherable landscapes; as Kantarovsky himself said, ‘It’s like a moment that never existed but that you feel you’ve seen before’ (S. Kantarovsky quoted in R. Cembalest, ‘Sanya Kantarovsky’s Literary Drive’, W, April 30, 2015, p. 2). Although seemingly familiar, the three drawings refract and exaggerate the recognisable to create a mirror world of an exaggerated reality.
Kantarovsky is fascinated by narrative imagery in all forms, an interest he developed when he was a young child exploring the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. At ten, Kantarovsky and his family immigrated to Brooklyn, and his unique and arresting visual language is filtered through the lineages of both Old Russian Masters and Western Modernism. His practice is a blend of inspirations that traverse time and space, and Kantarovsky’s works have also cited cartoons, fairy tales, children’s books, and Soviet propaganda imagery, among others. Certainly, the black humour that overflows from and suffuses these works looks to the Soviet magazine Krokodil, a satirical publication that lampooned capitalism and Western bourgeois values; the periodical remains an enduring aesthetic touchstone. For Feral Neighbours, Kantarovsky reflected on the countless blocks of identical flats, and against this backdrop of restriction and regulation, private dramas and dreams played out, which the artist probes here. For the artist, humour is ‘radically literal, the idiomatic expressions made real’ and what underpins his compositions (J. Fiduccia, ‘Highlights: Sanya Kantarovsky’, Kaleidoscope, vol. 14, Spring 2012, p. 36).