German Egoshin "Tram."

Mystery and vagueness

By Sarah Hurst

When one looks at Herman Yegoshin's oil paintings, it is immediately obvious that he lives in and loves St Petersburg. The canals, monuments and buildings in the city form much of his subject matter.

This contemporary local artist is currently enjoying an exhibition of his works at the Russian Museum alongside the works of another local artist, Leonid Borisov.

Like Yegoshin, Borisov was born in St Petersburg, but his mathematically meticulous geometrical forms are inspired more by his studies at the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute of Communications than by anything that exists in the world around us.

Yegoshin blurs his colors, experiments with textures and rarely delineates objects or figures clearly. Borisov's colors are stark and monotone, pale enough to seem sickly, painted on flat blocks of wood or plastic. "The Pair" (1992), for instance, consists of a narrow perpendicular strip of wood painted black and a keyhole-shaped piece of metal on a light brown rectangular board.

Following the tradition of the post-revolutionary Soviet painter Malevich and emulating today's computer-aided designs, Borisov's priorities are accuracy and precision. Much of what he does is symmetrical, the two halves of a painting differing only in their shades of grey.

The only two human beings in Borisov's section of the exhibition are wood and metal sculptures entitled "Lady" and "Cavalier" (both 1992). "Cavalier" is a pole with triangular silver wings and a hollow cube for a head, and "Lady" is a pole with semicircular wooden wings and a spherical head.

As the bemused old woman who sits watching over the paintings commented, "These might look right in an office, but they don't mean anything to me."

Together in one room, without a relevant context, the works fail to stir up any thoughts or emotion. Several works are described simply as "Composition."

We see what looks like the end of a hospital bed in "The Bed" (1977), represented by some metal tubes on a green background. Slightly livelier is "The Train" (1975), a set of brightly-colored pieces of flat wood reminiscent of a child's building blocks.

An off-white enamel object with shapes cut into and protruding out of it could be the inside of a telephone. It is called "White Mechanism" (1976).

Yegoshin's paintings impressed me as being far more absorbing.

The mystery and vagueness that permeate these works encourage the observer to spend a considerable amount of time in front of each one.

For Yegoshin sky and water are as fascinating as people and buildings, and all are painted with the same broad brush-strokes. The figures are featureless, appearing as an integral part of their environment rather than the central and most important element.

In "The Philharmonia" (1986) the musicians in evening dress are puny in comparison with the spectacular organ and glittering chandelier that loom over them.

Yegoshin finds beauty even in St Petersburg's concrete blocks of flats. "New District" (1993) portrays them in soothing, if somber tones -- greens, blues and purples but no greys.

Yegoshin's style has become progressively more relaxed and freer over the years. In the 1960s he used thicker layers of paint, darker colours and more detail.

"Self-Portrait in Antique Costume" (1967) is dark and even heavy-handed in comparison with the later work. The "Boy on a Velocipede" (1965) is more endearing.

There is something of Van Gogh in Yegoshin's painting, especially "Verandah" (1988), in which windows and table are crooked as in Van Gogh's picture of his bedroom. But the dreamy pink, purple and turquoise light on the window panes is pure Yegoshin.

Besides the oil paintings there are also watercolors by Yegoshin on display. One is the remarkable "Concert of Old Music" (1980), painted in beiges and browns. A piano quintet sits in a tight circle, so close together that they are like a single indivisible entity. The watercolor enables Yegoshin to blend the figures into each other.

© 1995 St Petersburg Press