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Monday, 24 June 2013
Record-Smashing Artist Celebrates Romanovs
Topic: 400th Anniversary

Shpanin staning in front of one of his paintings in which two conflicting historic scenes are connected by shape

Stass Shpanin's paintings can be found in the private collections of major world leaders, including the President of Azerbaijan and former U.S. President George W. Bush. His works have been exhibited worldwide on numerous occasions.

This Wednesday, he will give a talk at the Moscow International Festival of Art in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, at which he will present "The Royal Family Through the Eyes of an American Artist."

This year, more than 300 artists from over 20 countries, including the former Soviet Union, Europe, India, China, and North America, will participate.

Shpanin will be discussing the paradoxes of pre-revolutionary Russia at the tail end of the Romanovs' reign and presenting a painting based on their final days.

The Romanov treasure trove of diamonds and jewels that helped to formally identify the last ruling family of the dynasty after their murder in Yekaterinburg in 1918 inspired Shpanin to produce a new painting entitled 'Diamond' for the occasion.

"Looking at the history of the 19th and 20th centuries is particularly interesting now. Only 20 years ago, it was kept under lock and key,"  he stated, acknowledging the severity with which Imperial Russia was treated under Soviet rule.

The notoriety of his recent works and passage of his early artistic development is all quite striking when you realize that Stass Shpanin is only 23 years old.

Born in Baku to a family of Russian and Azerbaijani descent, Shpanin began training as an artist at the tender age of four. At seven he had his first solo show, and at 12, the Guinness Book of World Records named him the Youngest Professional Artist in the World.

The following year his family moved to the United States, where Shpanin continued to paint and exhibit widely.

The intensity of attention he garnered at such a young age could have been a recipe for hubris, but the unassuming young artist seems in no danger of resting on his childhood laurels. "It's the history," he said, "it's past, you have to do something present."

While not belabored by his own personal history, Shpanin remains deeply preoccupied with the nature of historical memory, which will receive a heavy focus in his presentation.

History as experienced in Shpanin's works is a delicate, mutable, and highly personal process. "I definitely believe that history is being written right now by people living today, even the history of the past," he said.

In one of his earlier series, history is staged as layers of apparently unrelated images united solely by geometric elements in the composition. "We want to see history as one image, and I'm showing that it's not one image … This is the battle, the historical battle, that happens on canvas," Shpanin said.

As a student at Hartford Art School he began mining the rich visuals of 19th and early 20th century Russian history in his work.

Last year, he was awarded a Fulbright grant, which brought him to Moscow to develop his projects under the tutelage of esteemed artist and Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Arts, Tahir Salahov.

While they are meant to provoke and intrigue, Shpanin insists that his paintings are not intended to be beautiful. "Painting ideas and painting some images that might be uncomfortable for a viewer is more important than pleasing the audience," he said.

Although the fall of representational painting and rise of conceptual art have left many traditional painters dissatisfied with the modern art world, Shpanin is happy to embrace it as is.

"I definitely believe in conceptual art and I definitely believe in postmodernism," he said, describing upcoming plans for forays into video and installation art.

These typically American attitudes stand in strong contrast to the approach Shpanin has witnessed in Russian arts education. "(In Russia), in many cases, art is about process, art is about painting nice images," he said. This disconnection between Russia and the international art scene is among the factors that can prevent Russian artists from attaining a major international presence.

Despite some shining counter-examples, such as Ilya Kabakov or Alexander Kosolapov, according to Shpanin there is "a small percent, unfortunately, of artists who are very knowledgeable of what's going on in the art world outside of Russia."

Among the institutions working to bridge this divide is the major festival hosting Shpanin's presentation, the colossal Moscow International Festival of Art, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday this week.

The massive exhibition involves competitions spanning eight different media formats and the display of projects in a number of Moscow galleries, including among its aspirations "the development of cultural dialogue between countries and the strengthening of friendship between nations," according to organizers.

Ideally, relationships formed during the festival will give rise to further collaborations, strengthening cross-cultural dialogue and the presence of Russian artists abroad.

"Russian art is presented in great quantities in other countries just after this type of festival, because all the participants meet each other, new cultural relationships are established, and new projects are planned in various galleries and museums and then brought to fruition," said organizers.

Stass Shpanin's presentation, "The 400-Year Anniversary of the House of the Romanovs: Imperial Russia Through the Eyes of an American Artist," (in Russian with simultaneous translation) will take place on  June 27 at 6 p.m. at the Central House of Artists , 10 Krymsky Vall, Metro Oktyabrskaya.

© The Moscow Times. 24 June, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:21 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 24 June 2013 4:37 AM EDT
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