Now on view at the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) is a fascinating collection of bas-relief paintings by Victor Khromin, a New York-based artist who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1990. Thick with texture and found objects, the paintings are whimsical and colorful meditations. Characterized by abstraction and a dash of cubism, they also tell stories of childhood, emotion, and nature.
Victor Khromin, Anticipation, 2008-2009, Detail
Born in a small town near Leningrad, Victor Khromin came from a Russian-Finnish family who nurtured and supported his artistic leanings from a young age. As a student, he participated in the underground non-conformist movement, which sought to break free from the constraints of the Soviet Union's strict aesthetic rules, though he also became a member of the U.S.S.R. Union of Professional Artists, the only organization that could sanction the career of an artist in the country. His non-conformist leanings got him into trouble with the union and the government, finally forcing him to move to a small village, called Sinicheno, after an unauthorized exhibition in Berlin got him kicked out of his position.
Eventually, Gorbechev's reforms in the late 1980s allowed Khromin to show his work more freely out of the country. In 1990, when he received an invitation to exhibit in New York, he ended up staying, moving his family Upstate New York.
The experience of viewing these paintings is an exercise in shifting perspective, of letting your focus narrow or expand depending on whether you're looking closely at the consortium of objects imbedded behind the paint -- such as belt buckles, purses, leather straps, eyeglasses -- or the birds, cows, horses, and eggheaded figures that populate the dreamscape.
Take a few steps back, and you get a better idea of the narratives occurring in the paintings: a bird in flight, childhood rumbles, a cow on its way to the slaughterhouse. Take a closer look, and you'll see the incredible detail Khromin puts into the expressions of the characters he creates.
The exhibit also contains another strand of Khromin's work that includes checkerboard pieces on paper that don't have quite the same sculptural effect as his bas-relief pieces, but allow for a different kind of abstraction that slices up images and rearranges them in interesting ways.
The highlight of the exhibit is Khromin's Bird Watcher, a 2010 work that was donated to the museum last year. Unlike the other paintings, The Bird Watcher bears no color, allowing his use of shape and texture to tell the story.