Amanita: Russian Alphabet or ABC of the USSR

Opening tonight an exhibition by the Moscow-based artist Amanita, entitled Russian Alphabet or ABC of the USSR and co-curated by Eleesa Dadiani and Sasha Markvo.

gorbachev-2014-china-ink-rapidograph-and-soft-ink-pen-on-paper-60x80cm
Gorbachev 2014 china ink radiograph and soft ink pen on paper 60x80cm

The show is comprised of two series that make up a major part of Amanita’s oeuvre, the Russian Alphabet and the Chiefs series. Each series reveals the artist’s highly idiosyncratic engagement with the world, which is simultaneously fantastical, surreal and darkly satirical. At first glance the drawings look like medieval illuminated manuscripts. This is no accident, for just as those artists inveigled hidden meanings into their work, so does Amanita. His images form a unique world – replete with elements of Soviet and post-Soviet cultures.

The Alphabet series consists of 29 sheets (33 being the number of letters in the Cyrillic alphabet, however some letters have been united in the same sheet) and presents a new version of the famous genre of ABC illustration. Amanita’s alphabet images are tightly connected with Russian-Soviet turning points in politics, science and culture.

The Chiefs series is a representation of key figures of Russian history, from Nicholas II, the last Tsar, to the current president and prime minister. The characters are accompanied by multi-layered symbolic images and ornaments. Each work gives a peculiar abstract of the chief’s importance in history.

The exhibition will also mark the launch of Amanita’s first UK publication, The Russian Alphabet Colouring Book, in collaboration with FUEL Publishing. An introduction to the Russian alphabet, each drawing in the book depicts a word beginning with each letter from the Cyrillic alphabet, also shown in English, giving a light-hearted guide as to how the letters look and sound. The subjects of his illustrations are wide ranging – from political leaders: Lenin, Gorbachev; to inanimate objects: Tupolev aircraft, Sputnik; via Tsars, cosmonauts and Constructivism – these classic Soviet themes are interwoven from one page to the next, all rendered in an abundance of detail. His amazing and skillful images define a previously unimagined graphic landscape that takes the humble colouring book into a new dimension.

Says the artist:

‘We all learned to read and write from the Alphabet. In the USSR we had a phenomenon: the ‘Soviet – English language,’ with its own special words. It’s funny – it was as if an English speaker learned Russian from the ‘Soviet Alphabet.’ So I wanted to illustrate the USSR from A to Z, with all the history of the achievements that are associated with my country. Not without smiles and irony, of course.’

4th October – 30th October 2016 Dadiani 30 Cork Street dadianifineart.com

2012-indian-ink-on-paper-60-x-80-cm
?,?, 2012 indian ink on paper-60-x-80-cm

About The Artist
Amanita (née Alexander Erashov) was born 1972 in Ermak, Kazakhstan. He attended the faculty of graphic design at the Pavlodarsky Arts College from 2000–2004, specialising in book and editorial illustration, caricatures, typography and poster design. For many years he worked as an engineer in an electric power station in Kazakhstan, only drawing in the evenings. He told FinBuzz magazine that this habit was his way of escaping reality: ‘I didn’t grow up in an artistic milieu, I grew up without any museums, without the internet; I was always on my own.’

His first exhibition was in 2005, at the Aina Gallery in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan. The following year, he held the Graphics exhibition at the Regional Arts Museum of Pavlodar, and the Mukhomor exhibition at the Ular Gallery in Alma-Ata, which featured a series of illustrations of popular Kazakh fairy tales. He exhibited at the Ular Gallery again in 2007, where he held the Mayevka exhibition, then in 2008 with The ABC of the USSR. In 2009, Amanita came to wider attention when he took part in the ‘Galleries parade’ project in Alma-Ata. He also exhibited his works at the international art fair Art Vilnius 09, in Vilnius, Lithuania. He published his original book of drawings, The ABC of the USSR. Amanita also features in the ‘Kazakhstan Contemporary Art’ catalogue. In 2010, he exhibited his ‘Sports Calendar’ collection at the Ular Gallery and contributed to the international LIBIDO project at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. In 2011, Amanita appeared again with his Window collection at the Art Vilnius 11 art fair and the State Museum of the History of Theatre of Lithuania. In 2012, he took part in the ‘From Utopia to Dystopia’ international project at the Art Hall gallery in Kiev, Ukraine, and in the ‘Art of the Nation’ project at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. In 2013, he took part in the Art Budapest international art fair. Since then, he has exhibited in London: at the Phillips Auction House’s pre-auction exhibition (2014), and at the international ‘Works on Paper’ art fair at the Royal Geographical Society (2016). Recently he held highly an acclaimed solo show Encyclopaedia at Shapero Modern (June 2016).
Amanita’s work Solar System was exhibited at Pushkin House in the group exhibition Russian Contemporary: Drawing. No Limits (2016).

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the founder and editor of FAD magazine, a curation of the world’s most interesting culture, and Creative Director of FAD Agency, a strategy & creative agency working with brands to solve business problems using cultural tools. In 2008 following his passion for art he founded what has grown to become FAD magazine. FAD magazine is internationally recognized as a key figure within the emerging and contemporary art world, and has been selected as official partner by organizations as diverse as Moniker Art Fair, START, Volta and Christie’s. In addition Mark is a columnist for City Magazine.