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The Arts

Art and Cars in Synergy
Sophie Larder
Walking into the Citroen car showroom can be a disconcerting experience for those not briefed in the most innovative new partnership in Moscow today. The cars, as expected, are new and shining examples of the cutting edge of car design. Yet they are by no means the main attraction of the single white room. Breathtakingly original modern art hangs on the walls. The Art-Salon is the brainchild of Sergei Nichiporenko, the Citroen dealer’s VP marketing, who in conjunction with the ASTI Gallery of Moscow has brought this new concept to life.

Natella Voyiskunskaya, Art manager of the ASTI explains how the cars themselves bring movement to the static nature of the paintings. In turn the paintings complement and enhance the artistry of the car design on show as they become installation pieces in their own right. The next exhibition, even more daring, will cover the showroom and the cars themselves with photographs printed in metal. Natella hopes that this continuing project will provide a new stage for her artists, and in turn breathe new life into the way people perceive modern art.

Oleg Safronoff, the artist whose creations adorn the walls, presides over the showroom. He was born in 1955 in Moscow. To date more than two hundred and fifty of his works reside in museums, corporate and private collections from Spain to Japan, as well as in his native land. Safronoff’s pictures span a wide range of genres and are realized through his imaginative use of a spectrum of artistic techniques. They range from the classic ‘oil on canvas’ of the masters to glorious use of mixed media, most strikingly realized in gold in his works at Citroen ‘cosmos’, and both of the ‘decorative motif’ images. Representative of Safronov’s ‘Ornamental’ period of work, the Italian relief paint conjures up images of glowing Orthodox Icons, and seem to shimmer as the light catches the gold and silver, reflected in the shining metalwork of the cars. They contrast sharply on the salon walls with the peace of the landscape painting. Both the paintings, Summer Landscape and Winter Landscape, Safronoff tells me, were inspired by his experiences of the arrival in Spain after a Moscow winter. Abstract and simple in form, using only the spheres of water, cliff and sky yet with Dali-esque vibrancy of colour they hang in between the Italian gold relief and seem to represent the sublime stillness of a single space in time.

Safronoff himself is fascinating both as an artist and person. When talking to him you get the sense of an individual not willing to fit into a box. Each painting is a signpost to a memory or a feeling. Early religious influences, that Safronoff explains came from his babushka and dedushka,, are encapsulated in the iconography of painting such as the Black Madonna. The abstract Ascension with its overtly Christian message hangs opposite the ornamental Cosmos, Safronoff’s musing on Buddhist ideas of reincarnation. The ancient world is represented with the relief Babylon and his Lion creations could be mosaics taken from a floor in the Roman Empire. Safronov’s work has taken him from Israel, with his abstract representation of the streets of Jerusalem in City to a Serbia recovering from the aftermath of the war. In the Museum of Contempory Art in Belgrade his Orthodox Triptych Old Russia stands on display, a gesture of solidarity between two nationalities closely tied by religion and yet another piece in the jigsaw that is Safronoff’s personality.

As an artist he is daring in the wide range of techniques he has used. In the ASTI gallery his creations hang side by side, one an abstract landscape given a mirage — like sense of mist by using thin layers of natural tones; the next a simple colour pencil drawing of the leaves of an orange tree in Barcelona. Natella explains this recurring theme as a method of drawing people deeper into the eternal dialogue that occurs between the artist and the viewer. When they see two completely contrasting paintings and then the realization dawns that they are in fact both creations of the same person, they look deeper into the recurring themes beyond the outward differences. “Even those in Moscow who know and admire Safronoff’s work have told me the exhibition made them see him in a completely new light,”Natella proudly admits. Whether the new marketing direction has the same effect on Citroen’s car sales remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it can’t be disputed that prospective customers are being given the opportunity to see the artistry of car design through a new and most original perspective.

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