“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean? The term suggests an expectation of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.
Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.
The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response. Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors must circle and observe. There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater. Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round theatrical performance of obscure significance.
Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork. In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting. Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you. The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf? A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:
Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world. At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.
Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting. The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.
I also liked the portraits of two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.
Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.
Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.
Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017. For more information about gallery hours go here.