In the Crosshairs of Political and Cultural Change
Peter Liashkov’s Russian Prints, 1991-2021
David S. Rubin
In the Russian Prints produced between 1991 and 2021, Peter Liashkov employs the silkscreen process to examine his Russian roots. An extension of the Russian Album, an earlier project for which the artist used the technique of Xerox transfer, etching, and photolithography, the newer body of work continues Liashkov’s efforts to confront his thoughts and feelings about his familial and cultural heritage. As in the earlier series, each composition is composed intuitive through a process of layering photographic and drawn images, the sources of which include family photo archives and Russian cultural history. As a print evolves, Liaiashkov adds in emblematic symbols, text, or abstract elements that enhance a work’s meaning, while turning it into a form of expressive visual poetry.
Liashkov began the Russian Prints with Transit 1-7, a series in which he pays homage to his parents. Using photos of his father at different ages, fragments of sculpture from the Stalinist era, and the silhouette of Russian icon, Liashkov refers to his father’s flight form Russia as a refugee who found work in France as an auto assembly worker. His mother is represented in the series by decorative patterns referring to her role as an embroiderer. To tie disparate images together and unify them compositionally, Liashkov employs a thin red cross, with the color red alluding to Communism and the shape representing the sea that his parents were caught in the crosshairs of political and cultural change.
In several of the prints titled Corner and Red Corner, Liashkov built compositions from images of Russian icons and potatoes, references to the Soviet famine of the 1930s. The images are assembled together tor resemble an altar located in the corner of a room, a format inspired by Kazmir Malevich’s well-known installation by including Cyrillic text that translates as “Stop it or we will perish.” In later examples from the series, compositions are dominate by the color red, allying to the rise and spread of communism.
The most dramatic works in the Russian Prints series are those named for Komarovo, a cemetery in St. Petersburg where many luminaries are buried. In n several of these, Liashkov immerses an image of a church tower with traditional onion dome in an atmosphere of photo-etched lines that suggest the harshness of Russia’s freezing, snowy winters. By positioning the church tower at a tilt, Liashkov mimics the axis of Vladimir Tatlin’s design for the never-realized Monument to the Third International. Other images that appear in the Komarovo prints include a walker and a human skull with facial features intact, both of which refer to the king of a culture, a child holding an hourglass as a reference to times, and an axe, a symbol for materialism in James H. Billington’s classic interpretive history of Russian culture, The Icon and the Axe. Following Billington’s lead, Liashkov finds aesthetic and conceptual harmony by uniting references to materiality and spirituality within a single.