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Borisov: Rooted in Russian tradition, embracing Western art

— September 2014

Associated media

Left to right: Phaton, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 77 x 82cm; The Ball, 2000, 20 x 26 x 10cm; Black Square with a Human Face, 2006, mixed media, 90 x 60cm

Leonid Borisov: Lessons in Geometry’ opns 18 September

'Lessons in Geometry', at Gallery Elena Shchukina, is the first ever UK exhibition of Leningrad born artist Leonid Borisov (1943–2013).

Borisov’s work spans five decades of artistic production from the Soviet to post-Soviet eras and is influenced by American abstract art as well as Moscow’s conceptual art scene. Like many of his contemporaries, Borisov’s style is also directly linked to that of Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935),the founder of the Suprematist movement.

Borisov admired Malevich’s unique vision for 20th-century art as well as his relationship with Russian icon painting and symbolism. Malevich’s Suprematism denotes an abstract art based upon the supremacy of pure artistic emotion rather than on the visual depiction of objects. Suprematists used conceptual art to subvert socialist ideology. Malevich's Black Square (1915) – a black square on a white background – is one of the most well-known Suprematist paintings.

Borisov was a contemporary artist who embraced the new Western art movements and tendencies whilst remaining a deeply Russian artist rooted in traditions of the Russian avant-garde. He established himself within Soviet Nonconformist Art (1953–86) through his articulation of the geometric aspects of the historical Russian avant-garde. This led to his participation in the first exhibition of unofficial art at the Nevsky Palace of Culture, St Petersburg in 1975. The exhibited artists were nonconformists who worked outside the rubric of Socialist Realism and rejected Stalin’s policy of unifying aesthetic and ideological objectives.

He is an artist renowned for geometric abstraction. He creates distinct geometric icons with a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, collage and photography that are at once playful and revolutionary.

His first encounter with the genre was in 1957 at the age of 14, when he visited an American abstract art exhibition in Moscow. However, it was not until the early 1970s that Borisov decided to become an artist upon meeting the underground, self-taught artists Alexander Leonov and Dmitry Plavinsky.

Borisov’s works featured in all significant St Petersburg exhibitions from the 1970s onwards. However, his passion for geometry made him an ‘outsider’ in his hometown of St Petersburg and put him more in line with the Moscow arts scene than the St Petersburg school. He looked towards Moscow Conceptualism of the early 1970s–1980s for inspiration, rather than Soviet Nonconformist art itself, which was at that time more preoccupied with quasi-modernist painting techniques.

Alexander Borovsky, head of the Department of Contemporary Art at the State Russian Museum describes Borisov’s artistry:
There is no mathematics behind his geometrical compositions as with Richard Paul Losche; his three-dimensional objects are not based upon aerodynamic calculations as with Max Villa; his sculptures and boxes nailed together lack the industrialism of Donald Judd, but it is his geometry, his volumes, his roughness, irregularities, naiveté.

Even when Borisov’s works appear to echo the work of Western and other Russian artists alike, their particular energy infuses these with an element of originality within the geometrical tradition.

About the artist

Leonid Borisov graduated from the Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute of Communications in 1968. He associated with Vladimir Nemukhin, Eduard Steinberg and members of the Dvizhenie in the second half of the 1970s. He was also a member of the International Federation of Artists (1992). Borisov died of a heart attack in 2013 whilst leaving his St Petersburg studio on Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Selected solo shows include the Nadezhda Krupskaya House of Culture (St Petersburg); Gallery 21 (St Petersburg); State Russian Museum (St Petersburg) and Moscow Museum of  Modern Art (Moscow). Group exhibition include the Nevsky Palace of  Culture (St Petersburg).

Borisov’s works can be found in numerous collections including  the State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow); State Russian Museum (St Petersburg); State Hermitage Museum (St Peterburg); Moscow Museum of  Modern Art (Moscow); Bar-Gera  Collection (Cologne); Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection / Zimmerli Art Museum (New Jersey); Kolidzei Art Foundation (New Jersey).

Leonid Borisov: Lessons in Geometry’
Gallery Elena Shchukina

10 Lees Place

18 September 2014 – 16 January 2015

Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9:30 - 17:30, Saturday by appointment only

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