Mariya Zherdeva Mural

Site-specific painting: 24 Septembe 2015



24 September 2015

The silhouette of long thin leaves
In the blue velvety night – glimpse, glittering stars.
I like the snake shaped ivy curling, in the ink blue…
These girls you have loved are slowly decaying

Wonder through a garden of temptations and delights. Marvel at the light, filtering through thick foliage, and how it takes on a blue-green hue. In the sleepy twilight are revealed large flat tropical leaves, hanging vines and delicate plant tendrils. Flowers and fruit weigh down boughs, red red roses, and burgeoning, bleeding pomegranates, pregnant with juice, drip down in bloody rivulets. Sometimes the vines transform themselves into snakes, twisted and coiled leviathans in green, reminding us that even in Paradise, temptation and danger await. Don’t bite the apple you’ve plucked off the bough; don’t read the words that form themselves as your eyes focus, coming at you out of the gloom. Don’t read the words that will break your blissful, innocent reverie. Pools of grey bring to mind murky ponds, or stark white backgrounds show plants shrivelled, alone in the sun.

In the large-scale paintings of Russian artist Mariya Zherdeva – either painted on vast expanses of unthreaded canvas or directly onto walls – the human condition is explored in all its delicate, aching beauty and desire. Her practice spans the most basic elements of what make us human, often exploring notions of love, loss, beauty (and its transience), as well as death and our desire to overcome it. She probes and questions our understanding of desire and sexuality, and asks us why something can be beautiful and yet repulsive at the same time.

“I think my interest in the ‘human condition’ has risen from my own dislocation and uprooting of my body,” explains Zherdeva, who was born in the Arctic Circle of Russia near the Kara Sea, moving briefly to Moscow, then Prague, before moving to England five years ago. “I treat painting as a form of a camouflage of a missing piece, a lack,” she continues. “I believe that painting comes from an emptiness – the artist creates not because they have something in excess, but because they are missing something, and it is in this excess of touch and gesture I achieve a temporary satisfaction, which, is also inevitably transient.”

Zherdeva draws her inspiration from nature – and in the urban landscape of London, she is still able to find it: in the spaces between buildings, sprouting through the tarmac, sitting on windowsills and taking over the backyards of houses. “I find these environments fascinating, because they encompass the sublime that landscapes possess, yet it is hidden, between the foliage and the banalities of daily routines, such as drinking, spending time, killing time, and simply living.”

Through her oeuvre, Zherdeva creates a sort of synesthesia. By combining words and painting with elements taken from literature, Greek mythology, Russian folklore, pop music and more, she weaves together a physical expression of the sensory experiences taking place within her imagination. The titles of the works themselves often bear reference to female cultural icons such as Persephone, Flora, Eve and Snow White – at once fragile and tragic, strong and magnificent. “The symbolic fragments taken from these myths and tales describe the swallowing of fruit or flowers, such as pomegranates, apples and roses,” she says. “Embedded within layers of paint, these symbols tell a story, a contemporary mythology.” Zherdeva amplifies this by applying the paint itself in a seductive way in order to both lure and repulse the viewer. “The painting is a sugar-coated pill to be swallowed; it describes the lushness of the excessive lives we live, the excessive whiling away of the boredom that seems so integral to humanity. It challenges our obsession with hyper-saturation of our senses and why it is never enough.”

Zherdeva’s piece at CABIN gallery takes over the entire span of the exterior wall encircling the gallery’s garden. In fact, the process of creating a public mural such as the one at CABIN feeds directly into elements that lie at the heart of her practice, and the daily interactions we face within our lives, such as falling in love, loss, sexuality and the transience of time. “The residential area of the gallery wall is positioned in the heart of people’s daily lives,” explains the artist. “Their daily routines, taking place around me and the mural immerses it into the ideas I am interested in.”

The experience of painting in situ and al fresco has also brought with it new challenges. “The difference is drastic,” says Zherdeva. “Making a piece in the privacy of a studio space allows one to stay with it for a long time without making any changes. The process becomes an endless dialogue between the piece/pieces and the artist. When working outside, one has to act and react faster, it is more dynamic and somehow less forgiving. Also, painting in the studio is quite an ego-centered process – you are painting for yourself. When working outside you realise that the piece doesn’t belong only to you and that is an odd feeling, yet really cool.

The finished product brings to mind the bruised tones of Millais’ famous Ophelia, using images of rotting fruit and flowers to focus on the transience and fragility of beauty. “The consumption of 'deathly fruit' and 'soporific flowers' is a representation of our excessive way of living: excessive drinking, excessive consumerism, excessive ways of camouflaging the absence or the attempt to overcome our mortality,” says Zherdeva. “I also really like the fact that the wall is concealing a garden, where amongst the foliage of leaves one attempts to find the sublime, but always fails to do so, because the present has already been lost and is therefore already nostalgic. To me, backyards represent the Garden of Eden, where one searches for the divine and where one can feel like they belong to somewhere. It serves as a veil, which provides the viewer with the promise of something that is beyond it, yet at the same time flips back to always remaining paint on the wall.”

1 Line borrowed from the Pulp song Blue Girls