How do we perceive the city that we are visiting for the first time, or for the dozenth time? Or the city we live in? Wandering around narrow meandering alleys or wide avenues drowning in sunlight, our eyes glide over the surfaces of urban architecture as we try to inhale as much city energy as possible, to feel its special rhythm on our skin, to distinguish the unique assortment of scents. We are regarding it simultaneously from the outside and from within, us a part of the urban ecosystem, as we attempt to mentally grasp its entire structure all at once, as if to see it from a bird’s eye view. Our perception of a city is often determined by our personal experiences that engage different optics as well as the different senses. This unique ‘sensory map’ is linked to the background of events we have experienced in a given location, of impressions engrained in our memory, concrete fixations on seemingly minor stuff. All these fragments, like beads, ultimately make up a memory record of certain images that we associate with particular locations. As an architect, Sergey Kuznetsov’s primary mode of perceiving the city is through its architecture. Most of his artworks feature architecture as the main protagonist or at the very least the main setting. The important thing, however, is that the architecture in his watercolours exists in a strong symbiotic link to humans. It is the human presence that imparts the architecture with the dynamism of life, with new meanings. This symbiosis is what makes his outlook on the city as an artist that much different from his outlook as an architect. When designing a building, the work is focused on an object that is yet uninhabited. It is when a building is completed and occupied with people that the crucial decoupling from the author occurs as its role and function change. Through the watercolours, Kuznetsov contemplates architecture as it is when already full of human presence and alive. Sergey Kuznetsov’s optics in his watercolours is extremely personal, even sensual. They are a sort of a visual diary where he records perspectives that appeal to him, that stand out with their atmosphere, the fleeting beauty of how the light falls, a combination of colour nuance. The hundreds of his works take us on a journey to locations all across the world, committed to paper with light brush strokes. The artist does not set out to make a document of a scene or capture it in all the detail. The focus of his attention is completely elsewhere, and he is free to enhance the composition as he sees fit. Kuznetsov’s watercolour practice has emerged from the desire for free artistic expression, for creation of art unencumbered with the strict mandates of functionality. His watercolours are particularly light and immediate in their execution. Unlike architectural drawing per se, they are free of linearity. Constructed with blots of colour and the contrast of light and shadow, Sergey’s compositions are still unfailingly precise. His sense of perspective is flawless, a product of many years as an architect, and as an artist he captures virtually everything there is. At the same time many of his works are marked by some seemingly deliberate unfinishedness, which leaves it up to the viewer’s mind to complete the image. Kuznetsov’s works offer a variety of vantage points. Some elevate us above the cityscape, others — quite like first-person shooters — place us down in the crowd among the pedestrians that see the buildings from the familiar point of view. A block of works stands out where we are presented with fragments of buildings that one sees only when looking up. The central mode of expression for Kuznetsov is through lighting. A masterful wielder of shadow and light, he creates not just a stunning illusion of depth and volume but also conveys a unique atmosphere of an arrested moment. The effect can be described with the words from Sergei Daniel’s Nets for Proteus: ‘chiselled, carved out with contrast, with ample chiaroscuro, these forms produce the effect of ‘perturbation’ in the space of their environment.’ Light brings genuine primordial magic into his works. The plane of a sheet literally dissolves as, behind it, the viewer is faced with a light, airy atmosphere, a breeze, a glimmer on the windows, a shimmering buzz on the water, fluttering shadows on the asphalt, slight coarseness of the building surfaces. Here are gusts of salty Venice wind in a palazzo bursting the window blinds right into the street. Here are swirling shadows in the fast-paced waltz of cars on the Garden Ring. Here are cosy Paris café visitors under warm soft rays of sun. Here are cars ploughing through the midday haze near Belorussky Railway Terminal. That same amazing effect of transformation under a ray of sun, which follows the brush in Sergey Kuznetsov’s hand, is also described by Marcel Proust in his essay A Ray of Sun: ‘My window opens to an ugly sight: through the bare autumn trees there is seen a wall painted in garish pink, covered with yellow and blue posters. But then a ray of sunlight shines and lights up all the colours, it unites them and takes the red of the trees, the pink of the wall, the yellow and blue of the posters and the blue of the sky, gleaned momentarily between the clouds, to erect a palace as enchanting and as wonderfully colourful like the entire rainbow, as bright as Venice’. There is nothing as magnificent and expressive for Sergey Kuznetsov as beautiful sunlight. And as a true artist, his works not only convey this impression but also allow the viewer to see and feel this incredible effect with their own eyes. This is the magic of art.
Curator: Polina Mogilina Assistant Curator: Artur Knyazev Exhibition design: Agniya Sterligova/Planet 9 Сontributors from Kuznetsov Art Project: Ekaterina Shalina, Irina Kuznetsova, Maria Ulyanova, Ekaterina Perventseva