I’ve loved Sanya Kantarovsky’s snarky, morbid and scatological paintings since I first encountered them, in his 2018 solo show at Kunsthalle Basel. So I was really excited to see this London show of his woodblock prints, set in frames from French painter/sculptor Camille Blatrix.
The thing that struck me about Kantarovsky’s work, then and now, is the balance between the serious and the silly. These prints have hideous subject matter - in one, a robed, bloodied figure kneels by the surf; in another, a child and his mother are molested by a bony hand - but are cartoonishly-drawn, in zanily bright colours. That poor wounded man is watched by a perky seagull. And there’s something funny about that molesting hand’s absurdly long fingers, each knucklebone popping out like a toffee apple on a stick.
Cataracts Encased (detail), 2021
It’s a creepily absorbing fairy tale, with both artists contributing to the atmosphere. In Basel, Kantarovsky used a wide range of source material, from his own childhood trauma to Yves Klein’s blues to Bulgakov’s fantasy classic The Master and Margerita. This time around, the images seem to come direct from his own imagination.
Blatrix’s spotless white plastic frames are hinged, meaning the prints pop out at angles. According to the show notes, they’re intended to look like a bivalve shell, and will be moved around during the exhibition’s run. The Frenchman works in marquetry, and his painted wood can be seen through holes in the plastic.
This way, the two artists work together towards a whole: two staring, elongated eyes regard the figure on the beach; another shadowy pair (Kantarovsky) is accompanied by a blue-flamed candle (Blatrix).
(l-r) Cataracts Encased, Curtain Encased (both 2021)
The combination is deeply satisfying. Two like minds are joined across the ocean: Kantarovsky was born in Russia, but is based in New York; Blatrix lives and works in Paris. What a nice pair of considerable talents to encounter, back in the west end for a Mayfair gallery binge after lockdown.
Sanya Kantarovsky & Camille Blatrix: Will-o’-the-wisp is at Modern Art Bury Street (London). 23 April - 22 May 2021