Alexey Kurbatov makes bold and impressionistic images, with thick, dark angles that flirt with cubism, reducing the subjects to their elemental planes. Kurbatov, an illustrator and graphic designer based in Moscow, chooses subjects with a historical and political weight to fit the style. Trotsky hunched over his revolutionary scribbling, French general and president De Gaulle superimposed over Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, and a quietly powerful Frida Kahlo are all amongst his musings.
If Kurbatov’s great skill is to make depictions of powerful historical figures come across as intensely personal, he also infuses his landscapes and scenes of unnerving political tension. Children wander deserted, almost post-apocalyptic city scapes. Men in three piece suits stare, brooding out of apartment windows as bombers fly overhead. A couple with their backs to each to other as if in the aftermath of a terrible argument all raise more questions than answers. We’re always dropped in the middle of the story, at the edge of revelation. The visual style combines blotted, dripping clouds of color with detailed line work that evokes the confused but precise nature of a manic dream – a style that, when combined with historical themes, creates vaguely menacing atmospheres that are both unsettling and nostalgic. And the repetition of symbolic images – birds, typewriters, swirling mandalas – creates a binding string between the dissimilar scenes, hinting at a coherent universe of meaning just beyond our understanding.