Andrei Karpov, new paintings from Moscow, on view through Sunday at the Davidson Galleries, 313 Occidental Ave. S. 624-7684. Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m."At the age of 4 I actively began copying classical works. By the age of 7 I copied all of Rubens and Van Dyke. I was best with Leonardo da Vinci. It was the end of my artistic career," writes Russian artist Andrei Karpov.
Featured in a show this month at the Davidson Galleries - one that opened nearly two weeks late, courtesy of shipping delays - Karpov shows none of that early devotion to classicism. His paintings are peopled with the chunky, simplified bodies of cartoon children caught in bizarre scenarios.
A fish in an exercise suit instructs figures in "Gymnastics." In another canvas, a man dressed for a day's business floats horizontally over a city street planted with blue trees.
With a drawing ability that seems to have been arrested at about age 12, Karpov depicts bodies that resemble clothed balloons, on people who have mouths like black O's, and awkwardly placed noses, and fingers like small, fat bananas. Yet there is something compelling about these dark-eyed, unsmiling figures who appear to have the gift for transforming humdrum experiences into something magical.
Like many other contemporary artists, Karpov is longer on ideas than skill. Looking at his paintings, I kept being reminded of other artists - and they weren't Rubens and Van Dyke. The bodies are from Botero. Some scenes suggest Chagall; others - those containing mutants - summon thoughts of Gaylen Hansen, a Northwest artist whose work Karpov is unlikely to have seen.
The most intriguing of Karpov's canvases, titled "Metamorphoses," depicts six rows of heads, in a cross-section of something broader than humanity. Men and women, fish and ducks (clothed, of course), wearing horns or looking like a pear with eyes, they are lined up shooting-gallery style, coming and going in alternate rows. The title suggests that all are, at base, the same; they simply metamorphose into successive forms.
A catalog that accompanies the Davidson show, written by Serguey Kuskov, characterizes Karpov's paintings as "primitivist grotesque." The final page, which illustrates a figure sleeping on the grass under a sky filled with dirigibles, contains a quote that is unattributed, but presumably comes from Karpov:
"Artist is not a serious profession. military man is a serious profession./ but artists are all crooks."
If you say so.