Naum Medovoy’s career spans four decades. He was mostly a documentary filmmaker until he began printing stills from his films, applying oil sticks and black and white ink to their surfaces. The resulting works serve as platforms for expressive and perceptual experimentation, which are often self-referential in nature; Medovoy’s photo-documentary collage paintings are rooted in his childhood memories and previous work. It is this strange appeal of Medovoy’s work – which straddles the line between beauty and grotesqueness – that gives it is lasting influence and afterlife, that “grips” our throat; or, as George Stevens once declared in talking about film, that bounces off the page and into the viewer’s mind, like something alive and changing. The same thing can be said about Medovoy’s art; it lasts with you long after you’ve left it.
Among formal elements of Naum’s work, line predominates over volume and plane. His works are fleshed out by those colored contours, the rest being subtly suggested by the outlined spaces. The varying texture of the brushstrokes speaks now of speed, now of solidity, controlling the dynamism of the evoked form.
Since his arrival in America, Medovoy has been fascinated by abstract expressionism. He was exhilarated by what he calls the “liberating ease of that bold and desperate art”. Medovoy (speaking of the work of his friend od half century, the prominent non-conformist Oleg Tselkov) declares that the power of art is in the conveyance of the emotional states. His own work realizes this intention, lines bearing just the right thickness, weight and color, beginning and then breaking off at just the right points to evoke a clearly-felt mood or emotional tone. Part of this is artistic instinct and sensibility – Robert C. Morgan, professor at the Pratt Institute’s School of Fine Arts, connects this with choice of materials. “Naum’s works are mostly painted on paper,’ he points out, “and I think that paper is for him a very important medium, because it allows him to work more freely, instead of being pressured by something that is going to look permanent, and I think the more freedom that he allows into his work through the materials, the more successful the work becomes”.
Yet this does not mean his works do not manifest consciously artistic strategies. Medovoy often uses social artifacts in his own work, particularly archival news materials or pages from newspapers and magazines. NBut historical photographs or rigid rank and file of newsprint, with their claims to objective truth, are set off by the eminently human, individual and personal lines, the curves and colors drawn on brushed by the artist. As another Medovoy’s close friends and artist-colleagues – Vitaly Komar, the founder of Sots-art – says, “in Medovoy’s work, fragments from documentary video art and black-and-white photographs from the second World War enter into a moving dialogue with the colorful “explosions” of his bouquets of expressionism”. In the spirit ok Komar, Medovoy uses such apparent oppositions for his own purposes. Confronting the seemingly objective truth of the lens with the ultimate subjectivity inherent in expressionist art, he creates a form that manifests a personal visual truth, a form he has christened “postdocumentalism”. The expressionist overlay imprints the photographic image with the authenticity of lived experience. It is a conceptual and painterly stamp that validates the historical image, like hallmark impressions upon ingots of gold.
John William Narins