Chepik Retrospective – Mall Galleries

Sergei Chepik (1953-2011) is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest painters, which made me want to see a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Mall Galleries in central London. I was not disappointed.

When I was in St Petersburg a few years ago, I visited both the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. I found I preferred the distinctive, intense works by native painters in the Russian Museum to the European masterpieces on show in the Hermitage. I am not, and never have been, someone who is knowledgeable about art, but I just found the Russian art more… interesting.

Chepik’s work could easily belong in the Russian Museum. It is visionary, beautiful and distinctive. The artist painted religious scenes, images from his native Russia, and pictures inspired by his later home of Paris. His religious images are bleak, almost fantastical, unsettling, and moving even to an atheist (which he was himself). Many of them were based on or evoke events from Soviet Russia.

Chepik also drew on folk tales for some of his works: a painting I particularly loved showed the puppet-figure Petrushka (the Russian representation of autumn) surrounded by Russian folk figures. Other images covered sinister clowns and other circus characters, book illustrations (including for Bulgakov’s The White Guard) and portraits.

This exhibition was free and I’m so glad I went – it seems Russians still make the most awesome art!

‘The Ship of Happiness’, Sergei Chepik

The ‘Autobiography of a Really Good Man’

On the Guardian website a while ago I came across a list of 1000 novels everyone must read. Now obviously, there’s no ‘must’ about any to-read list (unless it’s for study purposes) but I’ve always liked a challenge, and I’ve been dipping in to the list whenever I’ve been stuck for something to read. One of the titles is actually available online, and it’s a little gem that deserves to be more widely read: Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man.

This short satirical novel was written by the well-respected doctor Sir Henry Bashford, and first published in 1924. It recounts the adventures of Augustus Carp, religious prig and resident of south London. Influenced by his over-indulgent father, Augustus is an obnoxious child who grows to be an even more irritating adult – and has no idea how annoying he is. My favourite part of the book was when a bunch of actors got him drunk on port by telling him it was a fruit juice drink called ‘Portugalade’ – I think I might start calling it that! Another favourite moment was when Augustus’ mother rejected his ‘kind’ offer to come and live with him and his new wife and act as an unpaid skivvy, informing him that she’d been saving out of the housekeeping money all along and fancied a holiday! Naturally dear Augustus wasn’t too impressed.

Accompanied by vivid illustrations, this is an entertaining satire in a similar vein to the classics Diary of a Nobody and Three Men In a Boat – if you liked those, give this a try.

Dry January

I did it! I gave up alcohol for a whole month. It was surprisingly – worryingly – difficult. The hardest thing was not being able to have a glass of warming mulled wine or cider in the cold – I was really craving that stuff when I went to Stratford-upon-Avon! However, I achieved it!

Of course, having done it, I never need to do it again. I’ve proved that I can – I just don’t want to.

Republic of the Moon – Bargehouse

Bargehouse
Entrance to the Republic of the Moon

In the Bargehouse near the Oxo Tower, The Arts Catalyst embarked on a rather odd project called the Republic of the Moon. It incorporated lunar-based works from a number of artists and was designed to explore our relationship with the Moon.

This was an odd experience to say the least, particularly the dark and silent room created by Liliane Lijn who plans to project the word SHE onto the surface of the Moon. Moon Vehicle was an interesting project based in India, where students designed their own lunar vehicles.

I really liked Leonid Tishkov’s Private Moon, which was a series of beautiful images showing him and his own small Moon in various settings. My favourite work, though, was Katie Paterson‘s Earth-Moon-Earth. Paterson sent messages in Morse Code which were reflected from the surface of the Moon and then received again on Earth. Some parts of the messages were lost, absorbed by shadows or vanished into craters. One of the messages she sent was the score of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata – the resulting score plays on a self-playing grand piano. Listening to the result is eerie: it is recognisable as the famous sonata, but with unsettling differences.

The top prize for weirdness has to go to Agnes Meyer-Brandis and her documentary Moon Geese Analogue: Luna Bird Migration Facility. Inspired by bishop Francis Godwin’s 1638 book Man in the Moone, in which the protagonist flies to the Moon in a chariot towed by migrating ‘Moon geese’, Meyer-Brandis has raised eleven geese from birth, given them astronauts’ names (one is called Neil!) and embarked upon a training programme designed to prepare them for travel to the Moon. This was one of the strangest things I have ever seen, and the documentary was oddly compelling.

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See – Serpentine Sackler Gallery

I visited a very intriguing exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery at the weekend. Jake and Dinos Chapman are artists who work in a variety of mediums, creating models, sculptures and images that comment on consumer culture, morality and past art. Their exhibition Come and See incorporates many of these, and is absolutely fascinating.

I loved the miniature scenes of carnage and war, incorporating dinosaurs, skeletons, Hitler and Ronald McDonald. The detail of these models was incredible.

Hitler with balloons
Hitler with balloons
Crucified Ronald McDonald
Crucified Ronald McDonald
Creepy figures and a spaceship
Creepy figures and a spaceship
Skeletons and burnt-out cars
Skeletons and burnt-out cars
McDonalds characters on a boat
McDonalds characters on a boat

The exhibition also had some rather frightening sculptures, like this one of a familiar figure.

Ronald McDonald
Terrifying!

The Chapmans also create paintings and other images. Some of them, painted over pages from books, reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s films.

Painting over a page of a book

Others were inspired by the craze for portraiture among the upper classes of several hundred years ago, and comment on the futile quest for immortality these people sought.

Two children in formal clothing
Some of the other items in the exhibition included cute little figures and even dinosaurs, like these ones below.

Model of a lady in a wheelchair Models of people and dinosaurs

Sadly the exhibition has now finished, but I will certainly be looking out for more of the Chapmans’ work in the future.

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery opened in 2013. It is located in a former 1805 gunpowder store, divided from the original Serpentine Gallery by the Serpentine Bridge, with an extension by Zaha Hadid. Both galleries showcase temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

FACTS

Address: West Carriage Drive, London, W2 2AR

Website: serpentinegalleries.org

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Tues-Sun, plus bank holidays

Prices: Free