Sanya Kantarovsky



Not on display

Sanya Kantarovsky born 1982
Oil paint and oil pastel on canvas
Support: 1907 × 1400 mm
Presented by Stuart Shave 2017


Feeder 2016 is a large oil painting depicting a grinning Pierrot-like figure whose face is partially obscured by a large black hat, shown spoon-feeding a withered cartoon-like character with a toxic-looking green liquid. The work mixes painterly abstraction in the handling of the background with cartoonish representation, executed in bold, gestural brushstrokes and a saturated colour palette. The cartoon-like figuration is typical of Sanya Kantarovsky’s often satirical paintings that explore various social realities including complex relationships, personal anxiety, power dynamics and history.

The work was first shown in 2016 in Kantarovsky’s solo exhibition Feral Neighbours at Modern Art, London, as one of a body of works which take their subject matter from the artist’s childhood memories of a hulking apartment building in Moscow colloquially referred to as the ‘House Ship’. Kantarovsky lived in Moscow up to the age of ten, when he emigrated to the United States. A quarter of a mile long and sixteen stories high, with shops on its ground floor and an underground train station below, the ‘House Ship’ is home to some 2,000 residents. Kantarovsky’s interest lies in the living of daily lives in such an environment, and in the construction of privacy in the face of exhibitionism, voyeurism, neurosis and contamination.

This body of work builds upon the artist’s intensified interest in the dynamics of – often uncomfortable – social interaction between the characters in his paintings. While his earlier works, such as A Joke That’s Hard to Understand 2012, tended to depict individuals in isolation, multiple figures have consistently populated his works since 2013. Kantarovsky refers to these characters by the anglicised Russian word teeps:

I tend to think of my figures in relation to the type, which in Russian means something else, a kind of unsavouriness. ‘Teep’ means ‘type’. But it’s also a way of referring to an unpleasant type of individuals, as in: Who’s that type lurking around the corner? … The term implies that the type is someone to avoid.
(Quoted in Bertolotti-Bailey 2016, p.68.)

These ‘types’ are brought together by Kantarovsky in situations that are difficult to fully comprehend and which are depicted with a dark humour. The critic Scott Roben noted that Kantarovsky’s ‘characters seem to have arrived, if somewhat the worse for wear, from the world of gag cartoons’. (Roben 2014, accessed 30 January 2017). In this particular painting, the enjoyment of the feeder versus the expression of revulsion in the figure in his hands sets up an uncomfortably humorous dynamic. The artist noted that he is ‘interested in the capacity of humour to prompt a double take’. (Quoted in Bertolotti-Bailey 2016, p.68), and as such to encourage more prolonged looking.

Kantarovsky’s works belong to a developing international tendency that brings together the visual language of painting and cartoon illustration. The artist moves between both explicit and oblique references to figurative early twentieth-century modernism – including the paintings of Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Marc Chagall – in his use of colour and composition, while simultaneously using comics, Russian poster design and children’s book illustration as inspirations for his works. Kantarovsky has described the creative possibilities of bringing together these two types of practice:

There is something freeing about unabashedly turning to the world of illustration – it’s a terrain rife with complicated visual thinking and inventiveness. But it’s also complicated, of course. Illustration is usually literal by design: the quicker it communicates, the better. In addition, illustrations exist almost exclusively through reproduction and distribution; they’re images first and foremost. A painting is the opposite: it’s an open-ended proposition which unravels in the moment that it’s regarded in the flesh and continues working for as long as it’s looked at … the strength of a painting is in its delay of language, not its acceleration. I do believe that there’s real value to be gained from this acute incompatibility. My paintings … have a fast skin and a slow skeleton.
(Quoted in ibid., pp.88–90.)

Further reading
Scott Roben, ‘The Cartoon Network’, Frieze, no.167, November–December 2014, published online 27 October 2014,, accessed 30 January 2017.
Paul Teasdale, ‘What’s so Funny: How Humour Feeds Painting’, Frieze, no.167, November–December 2014, published online 3 November 2014,, accessed 10 November 2016.
Stuart Bertolotti-Bailey (ed.), Sanya Kantarovsky: No Joke, London 2016.

Juliet Bingham and Dina Akhmadeeva
November 2016

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