Veron­ica Smirnoff's evoca­tive works con­jure up shifti­ing, fan­tas­tic­cal tales.

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Veron­ica Smirnoff ’s ethe­real vis­ual fairy tales

At first glance, the Rus­sian-born artist Veron­ica Smirnoff’s dream­like paint­ings have an al­le­gor­i­cal qual­ity to them. Yet Smirnoff ’s art turns out to be far more com­plex than the fig­u­ra­tive style it re­calls. She may draw on the tra­di­tion of Rus­sian icon paint­ing – a pe­riod of art his­tory with which she has a deeply per­sonal con­nec­tion – but she el­e­vates an es­sen­tially im­i­ta­tive style to one that is in­tu­itive and open-ended. By strip­ping her fig­ures and ob­jects of sym­bolic mean­ing, she in­vites an emo­tional, rather than an in­ter­pre­ta­tive, re­sponse. In this re­gard, her artis­tic nar­ra­tives are closer to folk sto­ries than al­le­gories. ‘The lan­guage of fairy tales en­thrals me,’ she says. ‘It has the scent of nov­elty and mystery, a re­minder of the fact that the mirac­u­lous is ever closer than we know.’

That sense of mystery is pal­pa­ble in Smirnoff’s lat­est body of work, on show at Lon­don’s Jes­sica Carlisle gallery next month. The choice of wa­ter as a uni­fy­ing theme for the new pieces re­flects the artist’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the ideas of dis­place­ment and meta­mor­pho­sis. Her paint­ings are ‘fluid’, she ex­plains, not only in their ten­dency to elude def­i­ni­tion, but also be­cause of the un­pre­dictabil­ity in­her­ent in their phys­i­cal con­struc­tion. Smirnoff’s eggtem­pera tech­nique, which in­volves ap­ply­ing ground pig­ments com­bined with a yolk emul­sion to wooden pan­els, is a la­bo­ri­ous process she de­scribes as ‘dif­fi­cult to con­trol, like wa­ter’. Thus, even the most painstak­ing act of crafts­man­ship en­tails an el­e­ment of chance, re­flect­ing what Smirnoff calls ‘the ar­bi­trari­ness of nature’.

‘Veron­ica Smirnoff: the Greater and Lesser Ways’ is at Jes­sica Carlisle, 4 Man­dev­ille Place, Lon­don W1 (www.jes­si­, from 8 Fe­bru­ary to 4 March.

Left: the artist Veron­ica Smirnoff. Her works, clock­wise from top left: ‘Eternity is the Most Dangerous Rioter of All’; ‘Chron­i­cle of Peril’; ‘Here be Dragons’; ‘Cross­ing’ (all 2013). ‘At­lantida’ (2009)

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