ILYA KABAKOV (b.1933)
Under the Snow, No.7
Signed and dated 2005 on the reverse
Oil on canvas
160.5 by 249.5cm
The Family of the Artist
Deweer Gallery, Otegem, Belgium, The Thaw, 4th March – 2nd April 2006
Museum Am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany, Under the Snow, 21st October 2007 – 27th January 2008
Sara Hilden Art Museum, Tampere, Finland, 23rd February – 27th April 2008; CAC Malaga, Spain, 7th November 2008 – 15thFebruary 2009; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria, 2009.
Ed. By Petzinger and Emilia Kabakov, Ilya Kabakov Paintings 1957-2008, Catalogue Raisonne, Bielefeld, Kerber, 2008, ill. P. 244, cat. No. 507
Cat. Otegem 2006: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Thaw, Otegem: Deweer Art Gallery, 2006, pp.17 & 25 (ill.)
Cat. Dortmund 2007: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Under the Snow/Unter Dem Schnee, Dortmund: Museum am Ostwall/Koeln: Verlag Koenig, 2008 p.25 (ill.)
Many artists have a colour which has become associated with them through respeated use, such as Yves Klein’s blue and Christo & Jeanne Claude’s saffron orange. With Ilya Kabakov the colour which most defnes his artistic practice is white. From the mid 1960s, when he began to make his conceptual paintings, the use of white becomes the single most important, defining element of the composition. In a large body of work produced over several decades ‘white’ even occupies most of the surface of the painting, interrupted only by applied objects, texts or images which seem secondary to the expansive white field on which they are placed, in many cases they are relegated to the edges of the canvas.
It was perhaps then inevitable that Kabakov conceived a series of works around snow the most white of all materials in nature. The title of the series ‘Under the Snow’ focusses our mind to what might be concealed under the snow rather than the aesthetic properties of snow itself. In this case we can see glimpses of images through ill-defined patches where the snow has melted away. These images appear to relate to the past, presenting glimpses of public life during the Soviet times as well as snippets of autobiography: here in No. 7 we see the anxious face most likely of the artist himself as a little boy; as well as a fly, an insect which features in many of his works. Kabakov was a prodigious artist, who decided his future vocation at the age of 9.
Snow itself is rich with symbolic meaning and for the artist it has a personal resonance. Most of Kabakov’s life until he moved to the USA was spent in the Ukraine where he was born and Russia where he studied and built his career as father of the Moscow conceptul school. Both countries which endure long, harsh winters, are often associated with snowy landscapes both in the popular imagination and through historical depictions of their epic landscapes by famous artists of the past. Despite its beauty, snow can be seen as a cold, repressive gloss over reality; the thaw at the end of a long winter, can be seen as a symbol of resurrection, of life coming back after a deep sleep.
The ‘Under the Snow’ Series, created over two years in the mid 2000’s, and to which some twenty three canvasses belong has proved to be one of his most appealing, most of the large works are today in important private collections throughout Europe where they were exhibited.