This is a comprehensive exhibition of work by Russian artist Timur Novikov (1958–2002), co-curated by his step-daughter Masha Novikova-Savelyeva. Very influential in Russia during the 1980s and 1990s, Novikov is best known for his distinct style of appliqué – whereby fabric motifs are sewn onto larger pieces of cloth – at once formally simple and beguiling.
Like many progressive artists of his generation in Russia before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Novikov worked underground, first with a collective known as the Fellowship of Experimental Fine Art (1981) and then in his own group, the New Artists. They were postmodern in many ways, combining fine art with music, costume design, cinema and performance, associated in particular with the band Kino for which Novikov was a designer.
Coinciding with the Perestroika years (1980s), Novikov’s textiles at this time reflect a youthful pop optimism which gained him international recognition: a large scale series of them were exhibited at the World Financial Center in New York in 1997. Flaglike, they convey ecological and antiwar sentiments with subtle humour often derived from his response to the sewing and patterns in the fabric. Two tractors make their way along diagonal stripes, while three kayaks negotiate the rapids of all-over paisley curves. Novikov often makes explicit reference to an horizon, using the line formed by the seam of the two main pieces of cloth as basis, for example, for the sun setting or a city skyline.
In 1989 Novikov invented ‘New Russian Classicism’; an artistic movement that set itself on a course against popular culture, preferring to follow old masters such as Raphael and da Vinci and searching out classical music and rare books. Dressed as dandies, with frock coats and velvet dresses, the artists’ commitment to the movement was total and achieved international acclaim. It gave rise to the New Academy which organised many exhibitions during the 1990s featuring the work of like-minded St Petersburg artists with Novikov as the pivotal figure.
From the late 1990s, with his sight lost due to illness, Novikov continued to develop his aesthetic propositions. His interest in art from the Far East is evident in his Euro-China series (2002), 13 works which combine embroidered thread and beads with Western old-master reproductions on tasselled satin. Similarly, Seven Pictures on Rice Paper (2002) were drawn in Chinese ink to convey trees, houses and boats against mountainous Chinese landscape. They are the output of an artist at the end of his life yet still at the height of his imaginative powers.
A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, priced £10. It includes a foreword by Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director, and the artist’s autobiography.