The presentation takes the form of a mini survey and is comprised of five series, ComMOONism, Revolution, Eastern Calendar, Oil and Barrels, all of which date from the period 2011 to 2016. Each series reveals the artist’s highly idiosyncratic engagement with the world, which is simultaneously fantastical, surreal and darkly satirical. Nowhere is the latter more evident than in the Barrels series.
At first glance the drawings look like medieval illuminated manuscripts. This is no accident, for just as those artists inveigled hidden meanings into their work, so does Amanita. All of the works feature the faces of well-known heads of state, leaders, writers and celebrities on banknotes called ‘Barrels’, an imaginary petro-currency. On one of these we see Vladimir Putin wearing the bland attire of a modern statesman, however the Russian President (and former communist party member) is bedecked in a purple cloak with an ermine collar, the type of garment favoured by kings and queens. Either side of him are a snowman and woman; the male wears a workers’ cap and his genitalia, a carrot, points downwards, its owner apparently unexcited by its adjacent, bare-breasted female counterpart. The viewer is left to reflect on the meaning of this.
Additionally, this series is clearly a comment on the corrupting influence of oil. Aminita was born in Kazakhstan, but as a former citizen of the old USSR he has been immersed in Russian culture from birth. For that reason he sees the country as an insider and outsider, a position which allows him to freely explore its transition from the vast and sprawling empire of his childhood, for which he admits a sense of nostalgia, into an autocratic petrostate. While it has been tempered recently, oil has undoubtedly been the source of Russia’s recent assertiveness on the international stage, as well as the source of wealth for a small Russian elite, not least Putin; inevitably this made ordinary people indignant about their country becoming what is commonly held to be a kleptocracy, not least because they feel marginalised by this oil bonanza.
The works in ComMOONism (2016) look back to the 1950s and 1960s, taking a satirical swipe at what was seen as the high tide of the Communist era, when the Soviets led America in the so-called ‘space race’. The Revoloution series, also from 2016, meditates on the nature of revolution, wryly commenting on the fact that while the instigators of change are usually poets, dreamers and romantics, these people are seldom seen manning the barricades.
While political themes pervade his work, Amanita is not a political artist per se. His drawings are wry, crackling with visual jokes and mercurial connections and associations, as well as flashes of surrealism. In a work from the Oil series we see what looks like a mammoth traversing the seas on a giant Viking barge, while walruses nonchalantly sink passing oil tankers with their tusks. Another work in this series features a row of androgynous snowman gormlessly beating on empty oil drums.
Says curator Sasha Markvo: ‘Amanita is an artist of exceptional gifts and imagination, and I’m delighted and privileged to present the first survey of his pen and ink drawings in London. While Russian influences are evident in all his work, so to are European and Asiatic which lends it a universal quality. His is a unique talent, one that provokes and delights in equal measure.’
Amanita’s first major UK publication, The Russian Alphabet Colouring Book, will be released by FUEL Publishing in September 2016