Pogorzhelskiy says that it’s easier for him to paint what’s right before his eyes. And, generally speaking, that formula is sufficient to mark an artistic position, a relationship with the world: simpler – to him (subject); before his eyes – at him (object). But “simpler” does not mean easier or faster; that is a reference to the structure of his brains and, consequently, of his eyes. “Right before our eyes” is not what we think, or imagine, or position, or postulate. It is a direct obviousness, a zone of intense visual contact; everything in the surroundings, everything that happens, that is pre-consciously real for a person, is momentarily accessible to his sense organs and thus steeped in emotionality. Right before our eyes is where that dense medium of our existence called ordinariness is formed and, in art, has also given us both the everyday genre with its celebrated thematic shallowness and by no means all of the main revelations of the great masters. Which, if we think about it, is completely unsurprising, since ordinariness is that solitary screen on which the movie of reality is shown to us.
Aleksandr Pogorzhelskiy began exactly with shallowness of theme — in program and character. In program and character if only because that had been taken for granted for a long time already: to appear on the artistic scene with an already thought-out role, with an announcement of a conceptual specialization. And Pogorzhelskiy did think it out, not badly in my view. His personal theme is, on the one hand, his own artistic life (what could be simpler? — any art, they say, is a self-portrait of its creator), while on the other hand (and here is a witty inversion, discarding romantic pathos) — not an artist’s but the most common and everyday life.
Well, or, shall we say, partly everyday. In one of his earliest paintings he depicts himself as an artist in open air: enormously foreshortened below, looking intensely to the right and upwards to the invisible horizon. Meanwhile on the artist’s easel we see a small canvas with the sketched contour of an atomic explosion. This painting was followed by images of nuclear mushrooms themselves, inscribed into various landscapes. And then the remote visions of nuclear apocalypse began to influence his everyday horizon, triggering a wave of behavioral mutations in the protagonist: he was portrayed for butchering hog carcasses and the massive extermination of flies. And again, the self-portraits were accompanied by still-lives with meat and flies. Then it seems that disaster nevertheless struck, as it follows from the fact that everything described above gave way to paintings populated exclusively by characters from computer games of the day. But even the games in “pixelized” paintings did not last long, although it was exactly these, together with the “nuclear landscapes”, that brought the artist his first fame...
This whole early, role-playing, seemingly youthful story was overturned almost in midsentence. Pogorzhelskiy says that at that moment it became clear that everything comes up to photorealism — that all this is secondary processing of already existing forms of reality or is an illustration of a thought-out program, and why bother with it, when it is simpler to paint what is right before one’s eyes, what is directly presented to one’s view. To a large extent every character-programmatic portrait was really about one’s look, one’s orientation, limits, what’s inside. Now the time has come to look, and to transform the portrait into a recollection of the look.
The first thing that happened then was a sharp reduction of the viewer’s distance — almost to the distance of an outstretched hand. The eye, as if coming even with the hand, became one with it as a tool of active tactile viewing. But “tactile viewing” is the foreground, the first plane. While landscapes are associated with the distant plane and the everyday genre with the middle plane, this foreground is for portraits and still lives. Pogozhelskiy’s portrait (or rather self-portrait) dissolved into a subjective view and was turned into a sort of stop-frame, and the still-life became a picture of the world, the direct “meat of reality”. The meat of reality is a symbol of matter that has not yet been divided into things, not yet individualized from the world; a screen blended with the film. It is not by accident that one of the portrait series of that time is called “Entrails” (2005). Works in the series again portray “meat”, but computer meat, not organic: metal and colored plastic in such big chunks that one cannot make out the object that they belong to. Or rather, the object itself is a conventional abstraction; in reality something entirely different is presented to the viewer. The tactile view of the artist divides the world up in its own way, without looking back to a different experience: everything that falls into the circle of repeated everyday actions (mowing the lawn, taking a shower, shopping, engaging in sports) is gathered into combinations visible only to him, into new and strange things.
The polyptych “Meat” (2007) is the evidence of an acute need for an independent visual articulation. Here again a cut of meat is shown, but here with methodically laying out the phases of eye and hand, joined in the movement of the knife. The images of hands and eyes (though the eyes, as it happens, are hidden by the hands) appear also in other series. here they become an integral part of the agglomeration of objects, as if hinting that we immediately see the “new thing”, and its vision-touch-image (thus in ancient hieroglyphics the sign for vision or work was created by means of a joining of the conventional drawings of eye/hand and an object).
The next level of articulation is the series “Provisions” (2009), including images of bags of food brought home from the supermarket: a fish, vegetables, fruits, and packs of cigarettes. The semitransparent colored plastic of the bags fulfills what previously was coming to the eye: it separates the visible and makes the boundary of the composite objectagglomeration obvious. It may be by chance or not, but it was right after this series, where a painting of the close-up world first showed fully formed volumes of composite objects, that two painting cycles appear (“Beach Volleyball”, 2010, and “The Gym” / “The Dressing Room”, 2011), with depictions not of his own body but of other human bodies. The painter’s view seemed to be gathering strength, enough to increase the depth of the visible world. But at the same time it does not go so much beyond the limits of the sphere of “tactile vision” as it pushes those limits outward. An expansion of the horizon does not occur: the eye is working as a zoom lens — it just brings what’s visible closer. And we see up close the living meat of human bodies, ardently merging with the iron of the training machines in hybrid biomechanisms.
Pogorzhelskiy’s latest portrait project decisively complicates the logic of form in the above. It even seems that they all can serve as a foreword (or commentary) on the fact that the present begins to happen only now. This is the three-part cycle of “Civilization”, one part of which is dedicated to medieval knight’s armor (mostly helmets); the second, to African ritual masks; and the third is an assemblage composed of museum pieces and faces of viewers. The plated helmet is a symbol of the human head and simultaneously is a dead metal mask, which eliminates the need for the human face. The ritual mask also eliminates the face, but the other way around, it greatly exaggerates its details and leads to an intensity of a nonhuman sacred order. In these cases both the former and the latter are objects imitating vision. Vision arises in them not from within but is imparted from without, when they, in the context of a museum, are transformed into exhibits. They can no longer be used for their intended purpose; they cannot even touched by hands. They are objects exclusively for viewing, contemplation, and this is their destiny. The third part of the project is dedicated precisely to contemplation of such a space or objects of contemplation. Thus the portrait of Pogorzhelskiy is returned to the earlier idea — depiction of a vision, but in a completely different way: not in the form of an illustrated story but in the form of a view, a self-sufficient visual form. That is, of vision into vision, forming a field that coincides with the format of the painting.
It is natural that such a painting includes other, not colorful portrait material — that which ceases to be a means to a realistic image, turning into an expressive and emotional object — drawing everything before our eyes into the substance of vision — solid and simultaneously semitransparent, blending the contours of objects and transforming the colored spots, lines, and all their multiple combinations into an unbroken flow saturating our vision.