Artist: Georgy Guryanov
Date: 1994
Media: Acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions: 150 x 110 cm


Three main sources constituted the formal basis of Georgy Guryanov’s compositions. These are Soviet photographs of the interwar period, scenes from Abram Room’s film A Strict Youth (1936) and his own photoimages.

Guryanov valued Soviet photographs as objects of the cult of an athletic body – physical culture. A Strict Youth is the most antiquated monument in Soviet art and the artist stylises his paintings after the most stylised stills – the scenes at the stadium (throwing the javelin, running and even chariot racing).

Guryanov was extremely selective in the subjects of his pictures, generally depicting sportsmen, sailors or self-portraits. The faces of the sportsmen and sailors are often based on his own physical appearance; several of the characters in the one composition often incorporate elements of self-portraiture.

Georgy Guryanov is both the painter and the model – the object of his own cult. He once demonstrated himself as a sportsman and pop star, as the presenter of a pirate television programme called Spartacus. The artist also presented a version of bodybuilding ennobled by memories of Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un Faune and a video cover from Andy Warhol’s silkscreen flowers.

The self-portrait kinship of his heroes creates a strange effect; the facial features lose the mimics and dissolve the individuality of a concrete person, recalling Soviet park or garden sculptures or an ancient kouros. There is much more of the latter – the youths with the oars are stamped, expressionless blockheads, whereas the kouroi seem to bear some heavy effort; their bodies are fraught with the attempt to throw off the chains of form and “merge with the world of beautiful, perfect plastics, the world of light body movements”.

The same strange, archaic, frozen glances and poses are typical of Guryanov’s pictures; his sportsmen seem to have fallen asleep at the height of the physical tension. The murky, monotone colourlit of the painting – brown, violet or grey-blue acrylic – borders on the style of Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, where the action takes place in the evening or at night and the handsome heroes, brought together by the air of crime, compete with one another in their constant hunger for freedom, love and physical perfection.

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