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Yuliya Lanina at Figureworks


Fantastical. Alluring. Playful. Mysterious. These are just a handful of descriptors that describe the current work of artist Yuliya Lanina, on view (through April 21) at Figureworks (168 N. 6th St.). This solo show, made up primarily of acrylic paintings on paper, fills the sun-filled rooms of the gallery with equally sunny subject matter, as mythological animal-human hybrids frolic contentedly across white backgrounds, intermittently sprinkled with amusing flora and fauna forms.

The artist has an earlier body of engaging collage work which seem to have directly influenced the free and easy mélange of parts which populate these paintings; fingers connect to feathers which conjoin to flowery faces, smiling naively out at the viewer. Said to be influenced by Greek mythology as well as Russian fairy tales, this Russian-born artist’s work has brightened of late … former shadowy subtexts and psychologically unnerving undertones giving way to a warmer palette, both chromatically and temperamentally, with overall tones of unreserved optimism throughout.

Primary among these is the self-portrait, “Hostess” wherein an elegantly gloved female form fills the frame, one un-gloved hand set protectively across her sundress-covered belly. Bright red specks of fingernail polish and an elongated pelican beak on her tropical bird head, presence the legend of a mother pelican, who, in times of famine, would strike her breast with her own beak to draw blood to feed to her young. Nearby hangs “Three Fates”, where three owls, stand ins for the Greek Goddesses of birth, longevity and death, perch atop a high-heeled tree branch, googly-eyes peering out from under headwear that indicate their various functions (top hat, lotus flower, and dunce cap). Other works dispense with classical symbolism such as the tender “Love”, which depicts two elephants regarding each other placidly while grinning flowers sprout from their heads and the amusing “Daddy-o”, in which a bird-man, bedecked in Hawaiian-shirt, calmly endures the clamoring child and/or lover’s limbs that sprout wantonly from behind his neck.

My favorite work of the show “Barbershop Quartet” shows a tattooed chorus girl dancing a Fosse-like turn toward the viewer; her Prussian blue bird-head feathers ruffled and agitated like a rock and roll star. By her feet, a peacock feathered flower sways in time to her syncopated beat.

The show includes one mechanical painting entitled “Honky-tonk Belles” with whom the artist collaborated with Theodore Johnson (technical direction). Here figures from the artist’s paintings glide across this animatronic sculpture while fantastical characters from the artist’s Texan environs (a longhorn bull and blistering southwest sun) join this theatrical fray. Composer Yevgeniy Sharlat (musical score) adds an aural accompaniment that cements the early vaudevillian and nickelodeon feel of this work. The artist and her burgeoning family (twin girls and husband) spend part of their time in Austin, TX from which we can infer the “honky-tonk” title of this piece. From the joyous, vibrant colors and carefree whimsy of these works, we can infer that “Belles” or “beautiful” is a world that not only Lanina’s creations, but that the artist herself, currently inhabits and enjoys.

—Enrico Gomez