Born in St. Petersburg into a family of artistically-driven people, Gregori Maiofis inherited what was surely a genetic disposition to the visual. This inclination could only have been enhanced by a childhood influenced by his grandparents –both grandfather and grandmother – were architects, and his father, a well known graphic artist and book illustrator in Russia.
From his earliest years Gregori Maiofis – as most children do – loved to draw with pencils and crayons. The difference is that his artist-father keenly observed, appreciated and guided his young son’s efforts. His father’s studio became the playground for a young boy where his fantasies and imagination took flight and everyday objects were transformed into magical impressions. The raw materials were provided, a variety of graphic techniques were available, and the young Gregori had the run of the kingdom with the permission and blessing of his artistic parents.
At the age of sixteen, Gregori Maiofis had the benefit of academic drawing and painting lessons, based on the study of old masters, by a teacher (unknown to the West) but who set his talented young student on a new course of inquiry. With discipline and devoted study, Gregori Maiofis began formal training at an arts academy in St. Petersburg. He persevered for two years before deciding to pursue independent projects. One suspects that he was a restless, talented and energetic teenager who wanted to taste, test and try everything.
The year 1989 marked the beginning of what Maiofis considers his real artistic activity. When his family moved to the United States two years later, in 1991, Gregori Maiofis realized that the questions and concerns that confront sentient beings had no geographic boundaries or location, and thus began his artistic journey and his identity as artist. As an outsider in the foreign yet multi-cultural city of Los Angeles, the 21-year-old, Russian-born Maiofis continued to paint. The five years spent in the United States brought an awareness of issues and considerations that stayed with him as he returned to live in St. Petersburg. There he began to integrate his American experience and artistic ideas with his Russian heritage and education.
To produce the images that convey his fatalistic and ironic approach to life, tinged with hope, he needed the environment and knowledge of Mother Russia, oiled with a bit of bribery to certain circus trainers. Enter the Great Russian Bear, the personification of Russia for the last several centuries, onto center stage and into his studio. The bear is recognized as both brutish and cute – Misha was the mascot for the 1980 Olympic Games - and has remained a symbol of Russia since Tsarist times. In 2009 it is the symbol of the United Russia Party.
Maiofis began to create his series of “Proverbs. “ Sometimes a bear is other than a bear. The photographer convinced a circus trainer to bring his 400+ pound bear to his studio, a task which involved transporting the large animal to the eighth floor in an elevator. Once in the studio, Maiofis staged tableaux in which the bear becomes an almost mindful being; a participant in the conceptual dance.
In an early photograph, the bear sits in a chair, facing a full-length mirror and flanked by a man in a bear costume. The bear seems to look beyond his image, seemingly more intelligent than the man in the silly costume who is clearly trying to be something he is not. The piece is entitled, “Know Thyself.”
Another photograph features a (very trusting) woman sitting on a bed , her chin resting on her hand in an attitude of resignation. The bear (Mother Russia?) sits beside her, his paw with enormous claws, resting gently on the shoulder of the forlorn woman. The image is startling in its stark contrasts – the white of the woman’s skin and nightdress against the dark fur, the disparity in size and species of the two creatures, and the absence of any cultural or other artifacts in the setting. It is as unbelievably poignant as the title, “Adversity Makes Strange Bedfellows.” In a second image, the bear sits alone in the middle of the bed, a single pair of high-heeled women’s shoes resting on the floor in front of him. They are the only other evidence of a presence in the room. Maiofis draws the title, “Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows,” from an old English proverb, for in Russian there is “no mention of bedfellows,” states the artist.
In another remarkable image, the huge bear sits at a table with his paws poised on either side of an upraised book, seeming for all the world that he is completely engrossed in a good story. The book is by Lenin, and Maiofis titles the piece, “Lenin’s Science Makes One’s Hands and Mind Stronger,” a saying derived from a dictionary of Russian folk proverbs that was published in the mid-1950s in the Soviet Union.
Among his best bear images are those with shocking contrasts. In three images, Maiofis pairs a ballet dancer, her long limbed frame elegantly clad in classic tutu, with the lumbering, furry bear. Their pas-de-deux is performed on a rough, paint-spattered floor and framed by a wall bisected by electrical wire, but the palpable connection between the beautiful ballerina and her incongruous admirer overshadows the environment. The bear sits on the floor and gazes at the ballerina, whose slipper and tutu touch his ursine body. In another image, the seated bear looms in the foreground watching as the ballerina fixes a dazzling smile upon her audience of one.
In one of the photographer’s most touching images, the bear lifts his paw in seeming imitation of the ballerina’s uplifted arm, philosophically entitled, “In Time, Even a Bear May Be Taught to Dance.” This image is, in a sense, an allegorical representation of the dualities that have defined the Russian experience: great music, ballet and literature have been spawned by the same people that for centuries were ruled in harsh conditions by brutal dictatorships. Maiofis would probably reply, “It could be, or maybe not.”
Other “Proverbs” in which Gregori Maiofis uses a circus monkey as subject seem all too human. The monkey holds a violin, his eyes closed as though in rapture to the music: “If You Have Nothing to Say, Say Nothing,” is the message. Another image featuring a monkey seemingly casting his vote in a ballot box is entitled “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery,” an ironic commentary on the spread of democracy. The monkey is dressed like a human and willing to do the right thing, but he cannot be trusted completely so a guiding hand is there…shades of recent elections over the last several years? With a heavier hand, Maiofis frames a small monkey holding a dumbbell, towered over by a dominatrix.
“God Makes the Back to the Burden” perhaps symbolizes the endurance of the Russian people and the philosophy that has helped them to survive centuries of hardship.
The photographer’s artistic influences, both of father and grandparents, as well as his own training as a painter, are evident both in subject matter and in the photographic prints themselves. In the series of images with the ballerina, a painter (in two cases the photographer himself) sits at his easel, translating the scene into a painted image. In “Figurative Painting” the artist renders the bear and ballerina as porcelain figures, objects that were extremely popular in the Soviet days. In another, Gregori Maiofis takes witty aim at high art. Orchestrating a performance amidst the clutter of his studio, Maiofis frames an artist painting at his easel as the ballerina strikes a pose from the ballet Swan Lake, her leg elegantly extended with toe pointed and arms gracefully outstretched. The viewer is privy to both the pose and the painter’s interpretation on his canvas -- a feathered swan swimming in water.
Some of Gregori Maiofis’ photographs directly reference his Russian heritage. While the focus of “Two Heads are Better than One,” is on a grinning two-headed skeleton, a monument looms in the background, crowned by the double –headed eagle that has been the symbol of many great empires, Russia among them. Other work embraces broader philosophical issues that reach beyond geographical and cultural boundaries. In “Half Truth is a Whole Lie,” a middle-aged woman seated at her dressing table is revealed in a three-part mirror. Half of her face is reflected in each of the left and right sides of the mirror, but the viewer cannot see the view reflected in the center.
Two nude women, except for high boots on their feet, dance in tandem, lost in a sublime moment. “Those Who Do Not Hear the Music May Think the Dancers are Mad,” observes the photographer. In a painterly image, a Van Dyke photographic print with applied watercolor, a classically-posed female figure holds a water ewer on her shoulder. Arrayed only in chromatic color, the young woman seems rooted in place like a statue, no doubt dreaming of elsewhere. “Blue Are the Hills that are Far Away,” the photographer opines. This image is the only one in Maiofis series of “proverbs” that references another artist’s work, in this case Rene Magritte’s painting entitled, “Les bons jours de Monsieur Ingres.”
In the image “House is Burning, Clock is Running,” a watch repairman bends to his task, his attention intently focused on a pocket watch before him. With a loupe affixed to his eye and his special tool poised over the watch, he is oblivious to everything around him: the clocks argue the time, with only two in agreement, the television reflects the horror of the twin towers burning in New York, and the light outside his cubbyhole suggests a conflagration in the next room. In a sense, this proverb summarizes Maiofis’ philosophical approach to his art-making as he combines an ironic sense of humor with a fatalistic approach to life.
Technically, Gregori Maiofis is a superb craftsman who has mastered difficult photographic processes such as bromoil, which requires a hands-on approach to produce unique prints. His photographs have the look and feel of old master prints, which is perfectly suited to his subject matter. His bromoil images have a painterly quality with their textured surfaces and subtle palette.
Maiofis has produced a significant number of other photographic series that are beyond the scope of this current exhibition. Presented here are images derived from and deeply rooted in the artist’s reflections on the timeless philosophical issues that confront human beings. Inspired by his study of literature and history, he ably posits difficult truths framed with wit and humor that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries. Sometimes a bear is just a (Teddy) bear and sometimes a bear symbolizes a whole culture.
Curator of Photography, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
(When citing Karen Sinsheimer's article, a reference to Barbarian Art Gallery is required)
The new liberated generation of artists from St. Petersburg unburdened from a necessity to win back the achievements of the avant-garde from the official culture, voluntarily and ironically proclaimed the classical art to be “the national style” (although one has to say this has already been done by the tourist industry and show business.) The artist Gregori Maiofis who grew up and studied in St. Petersburg, the capital of classical museum style, had to make his way from the academic art through the American school of new art techniques in order to return to classicism at a new level. This time, however, he comes back to 'age-old' staged black and white photography and 'traditional' Russian themes. The artist's favoured motifs of photography style are the ballet and animal circus - the old fetishes of Russian and Soviet culture.
The approach used by Maiofis is notable because he employs not only the “old” method of photo printing, but also the 'old' mechanism of generating meaning; he revives once more such a relationship between the image and meaning (text) that had been a taboo in the high art of photography since photography gained a status of 'high art'.
Humorous photography that depicts “entertaining stories” or illustrates in a very literal (nearly too deliberate) manner well known sayings and fables were in vogue at the very onset of photography in a form of anonymous postcards and newspaper reproductions. They had a common ancestor with comic strips—the genre of “a funny story in pictures". With the enjoyment of an antiquarian, Maiofis restores these relics of bygone naivety and reconstructs the lost “innocence” of the photography used to amuse the general public at the dawn of this genre. The artist himself names his photography “pseudo archeology.” “Pseudo”, because the artist does not see it as being his task to consistently recreate the lost paradigm. What we see is a buffoonery of disguises.
Natasha Ganahl, Barbarian Art Gallery
(When citing Natasha Ghanal's article, a reference to Barbarian Art Gallery is required)
2011 Recent works, Barbarian Art Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland Artist and Model: Ways of Reading, Novy Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
2010 #3, Marina Gisich Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia
2009 Barbarian Art Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland Artist and Model, pop/off/art gallery, Moscow, Russia DNJ Gallery, Los Angeles, California, USA
2008 Proverbs, De Santos Gallery, Houston, Texas, USA
2007 Ecce Homo Gallery, Wien, Austria Pictures for interiors, pop/off/art gallery, Moscow, Russia
2006 Studio of an Artist, One Work Gallery, Moscow, Russia Recent works, Marina Gisich Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia
2005 De Santos Gallery, Houston, Texas, USA
2004 Selected works, Marina Gisich Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia
2003 Parables, XIII International Festival of Photography central, Bratislava, Slovakia
1999 Painting as Improvisation, Parthenon Museum, Nashville, TN, USA
1998 Vostochnaya Gallery / Seven Hits Gallery, Moscow, Russia
1996 Krymsky Val Gallery, Moscow, Russia
1995 Gallery 21, St . Petersburg, Russia
1993 Metro Arts Commission Gallery, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Selected Group Exhibitions
2011 Crossroads: Contemporary Russian Photography. Australian Center of Photography, Sidney, Australia If Only I Knew!..., Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia
2010 COSMOSCOW International Art Fair, Red October Factory, Moscow, Russia Art Moscow, 14th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia VOLTA 6 Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland VIENNAFAIR, International Art Fair, Wien, Austria 15 Years of Russian Participation at Bratislava International Photography Festival, ROSIZO State Center for Museums and Exhibitions, Photoloft Gallery, Vinzavod, Moscow Always Other Art, Selected Works from Victor Bondarenko Collection, State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia
2009 0,5, pop/off/art gallery, Moscow, Russia inaugural exhibition, L. Parker Stephenson Photographs, New York Pingyao International Photography Festival, China Exhibition of Kandinsky Award Nominees, Moscow, Russia Art Moscow, 13th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia Frozen Reality, Holster Projects Gallery, London, UK GM&VP: Some Works, Huset Guldager, Grindsted, Denmark Photo LA, Los Angeles, California, USA
2008 Exhibition of Kandinsky Award Nominees, Moscow, Russia Power of Water, State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia Manifesto of Convictions, Barbarian Art Gallery, Zürich, Switzerland Selection Art Moscow, Moscow, Russia Young Gallerist / Young Collectors, pop/off/art gallery, Moscow, Russia Art Moscow, 12th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia Herning Art Fair, Denmark Intimate Diaries, Barbarian Art Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland
2007 Cornice International Art Fair, Venice, Italy Center of Photographic Art, 40th Gala Auction Preview, Carmel, California, USA ART-ATHINA International Art Fair, Athens, Greece Art Moscow, 11th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia BARBARIAN ART GALLERY / BLEICHERWEG 33 / HOCHHAUS ZUR PALME / CH-8002 ZÜRICH P +41 (44) 280 45 45 / F +41 (44) 280 45 47 / WWW.BARBARIAN-ART.COM / INFO@ BARBARIAN-ART.COM
2006 Moscow Photographic Collections, Gallery n.a. Lumier Brothers, Moscow, Russia Porno / facets, pop/off/art gallery, Moscow, Russia Photo LA, Los Angeles, California, USA No Eyes. Collection Dancing Bear, Musée de L'Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland Center Awards Exhibition, Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, California, USA Art Moscow, 10th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia Wazzup?, Fotogalerie, Wien, Austria Modern Photography Auction Preview, XI International Photography Biennale FotoFest, Houston, TX, USA
2005 Collage in Russia. XX Century, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia Art Moscow, 9th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia
2004 Man, Magic, Society, Borey Art Center, St. Petersburg, Russia Art Moscow, 8th International Art Fair, Moscow, Russia
2003 Autumn Photomarathon, Reflex Gallery, Moscow, & Navicula Artis Galleryy, St. Petersburg, Russia
2000 Graphic Art from the Collection of the Irbit Art Museum, St. Peterburg, Russia
1998 Art Manege, Moscow, Russia
1997 Filonov Cubed, Art Manege, Moscow, Russia Spring Art Salon, Manege, Moscow, Russia
1996 Artopia Festival, Nashville, Tennessee, USA Art Manege, Moscow, Russia
1991 Five Young Artists from Leningrad, ESEC Academy, Paris, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA
Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
Santa Barbara Museum of Modern Art, Santa Barbara, California
Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava, Slovakia
Ivanovo Regional Art Museum, Ivanovo, Russia
Irbit State Museum of Fine Arts, Irbit, Russia
Kemerovo Regional Art Museum , Kemerovo , Russia
Kurgan Regional Art Museum, Kurgan, Russia
Kursk Regional Art Gallery n.a. Deineka, Kursk, Russia
Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts n.a. Vrubel, Omsk, Russia
Penza Regional Art Gallery n.a. Savitsky, Penza, Russia
Sakhalin Art Museum, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia
Tomsk Regional Art Museum, Tomsk, Russia
Tula Museum of FineArt, Tula, Russia
Yaroslavl Art Museum, Yaroslavl, Russia
Doug March collection, Los Angeles, California
Artemy Troitsky collection, Moscow, Russia
Sergey Popov collection, Moscow, Russia
Boris Fish collection, Moscow, Russia
Andrew Schwarz, Los Angeles, California, USA
Kim Weston, Carmel, California, USA
Robert Weigarten, Los Angeles, California, USA
Melody Bostick and Richard Sullivan, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA