Russian-born artist Sergei Isupov investigates binaries in human relationships — male and female, good and evil, beautiful and grotesque. Using clay as both a material for three-dimensional expression and as a canvas for his illustrations, Isupov capitalizes on all properties of what he finds to be the most open medium. He sculpts human and animal figures, and then adds illustrations in glaze. The paintings diffuse into the clay’s surface, like tattoos on his sculptures’ skin. Taken together, the two- and three-dimensional elements of his work establish a compacted but powerful scene of emotions and narratives.
While Isupov pulls from real experiences and moments in his life, these only provide inspiration for the little details in each piece. His works possess a much broader universalism as they are not meant to capture a specific person or time. The identities of his figures remain anonymous — they serve as allegories for general human emotions or themes in relationships.
In their ambiguity, the narratives are remote and uncomfortable. Bodies lie on the ground and embrace in unnatural positions. Animals talk eye to eye with their human counterparts, leaning inward and speaking in hushed tones. The influence of the Surrealist movement on Isupov’s work is obvious. Proportions are perverted and exaggerated. He invents his own outlandish creatures, usually monsters. Although there is something off-putting in his work, his figures evoke empathy and a feeling of comfort.
His piece The Challenge depicts a man embracing a brown bear. The man has bloody scratches on his back, clearly inflicted by the bear, but they are thin and difficult to see. Isupov establishes a scene of danger, but also creates a tender moment. An arm extends around the back of the bear and a paw extends around the back of the man. They are nearly equal in height, and their positions mimic each other. The complexity of Isupov’s work extends beyond his distinct aesthetic of layering media to the feelings his work elicits. As the viewer, we are unsure whether to feel calm or uneasy, at peace or in a state of anxiety.
Sergei Isupov’s work is on view through November 1 at Kasher Potamkin in New York City in the group show “Intangible Beauty: Beautiful Women and the Endless Void.”
Photos by John Polak.