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Painting (MA)

Katya Granova

Katya Granova(b.1988) is an artist and curator from St Petersburg, Russia, who currently lives in London. Her first degree was obtained in Social Psychology at St Petersburg State University, then she gradually changed her career to art practice. Granova also holds MA Art&Space Degree from Kingston University London, a Certificate degree from Paris College of Art, finished the ICA Moscow course “New artistic strategies' ' and received MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art. Recent exhibitions include Signature Art Prize Gala, London (2020), New Painting, Galerie Dutko, Paris (2020), and Act 1. Scene 5. Room in the Castle with Smirnov-Sorokin Art Fund in Moscow (2021). Granova is a current member and a co-founder of the APXIV art collective, which has had many exhibitions over the last 4 years in Moscow, St Petersburg, Budapest, and Copenhagen.

She has held residencies with the Dukley Art Residence in Montenegro, Art Residency Normandy in France, Smirnov-Sorokin Fund in Moscow, Russia, and the Kunstarhuset Messen residency in Alvik, Norway. Granova was shortlisted for the Bankley prize 2019, Bridgeman Studio Award 2020, Art Rooms Award 2019, longlisted for John Moores Prize 2020, and has won a Signature Art Prize 2020 in the painting category. She is represented by Dutko Gallery (France), Castlegate House Gallery(UK), and ArtFlood Gallery(Russia).

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Painting (MA)

The wish to penetrate the past, to rebel against the irreversibility of time - this is what fuels my practice.  I use vintage photographs as a means of launching my painting. And photographs are my Orwellian time machine. They allow me to have a window into the past, but this window is cut by the person behind the lens, so it is biased and selective. Photographs tease us with a glanced moment but they do not allow the moment to be entered into. So as a time machine, the photograph is rather flawed.

Why do I have this desire to enter the past in the first place? Being born in the USSR just prior to its collapse, I spent my childhood in the ruins of its cultural paradigm. The oral narratives passed down to me by family recounting the Soviet era were rather contradictory, my school history textbooks were being altered and re-written in front of my eyes, so my generation learned early that history cannot be trusted. They say to know the future one must know the past - but what happens if you have no past, what happens when you’re born at the point of a fissure, a crack, a departure?

In my practice I alter, abstract, and fictionalize transferred photographic images, either of my family or found in flea markets, leaving an imprint of my own bodily movement in them through my gestured marks - and this movement driven by the desire to reclaim the past.  By translating the sign of “oldness” into a painted image I can control the visual dynamics of the photographic image, start to impose my own subjective position, organize a formal space and think through painting. The large formats of my canvases allow me to feel them not as a window, but rather as a portal to the past, through which I can insert my presence. I seek to disrupt the linear spatial perspective of the photograph, so I deliberately destroy the relationship between the foreground and background, mixing them into a single pictorial mass of slimy paint. 

Therefore, my painting is a way to enter into some sensual interaction with the reality from the past, captured in images, driven by my protest against the subjectivity of history.

Woman, her daughters and a doll — 145x210x4cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Woman, her daughters, and a doll (detail) — oil on canvas, 2021
Zinovii's kids (detail) — oil on canvas, 2021
Zinovii's kids — 130x195x3cm, oil on canvas, 2020
Chess players — 155x200x3cm, oil on canvas, 2019. Private collection
Boiling crayfish — 250x200x4cm, oil on canvas, 2019 (with Dutko Gallery)
Posing for a photograph — 240x200x3cm, oil on canvas, 2019. Private collection
Posing for a photograph (detail) — oil on canvas, 2019

The majority of my works are based on various family archive pictures - both from my own family archive and from some unknown family pictures I bought on flea markets. The past contained in family archives is peculiar. It involves people we knew or have heard a lot about, who were witnessing different historical times. We can see familiar faces even in this world that we have never been to nor could ever go to. It makes the past feel closer and more intimate. Family pictures are informal, sometimes silly - but, as Barthes states in "Camera Lucida", they all contain catastrophe, as these children in the picture are probably old now, and the adults may have died. It's pausing a moment that is long gone. My impulse to jump into and intrude on the moments in the photographs is fueled not just by the desire to see a historical past with my own eyes and form an objective opinion, but also by my protest against an oppressive linear-time perspective, where we are nailed to a current moment at all times and cannot go and join our young grandparents for some party.


Oil on canvas
Andromeda and others — 225x280x4cm, oil on canvas, 2020

This work is based on P.P. Rubens’ painting "Perseus and Andromeda" from the Hermitage museum. My practice is normally structured as a dialogue between myself and old photographic imagery, animated by my desire to interrogate the deliberate representation of the past contained in them. This painting, on the contrary, is based on another painting. The original work of Rubens for me contains not only a portal into the historical past -  we cannot read it the way the artist's contemporaries did, cannot quite see how it was received -  but also a portal into my personal memory. I attended the Hermitage school and have a long history with this painting from my childhood, I was growing, it was remaining the same. I have a certain relationship with it, but how can you perform these relationships, if your interaction with the painting is purely visual, you cannot touch or talk to it?

In my own work based on Rubens, I explore the materiality, the slimy nature of the paint along with the physicality of the body involved in the painting process while reflecting on my personal relationships with the Rubens piece. Painting over transferred painting of an old master of it is a way of communication, which involves touch, gesture, or even intrusion.


Oil on canvas


Actress Komissarjevskaya playing Nora in Ibsen’s play ‘’Doll house’’ — 145x200x4cm, oil on canvas, 2020
Mendeleev and his colleagues before expedition — 210x170x4cm, oil on canvas, 2020, private collection
Komissarjevskaya's theatre — 150x200x4cm, oil on canvas, 2020. Available via CastlegateHouseGallery
Exhibition view

This series is dedicated to the work of the Russian-Montenegri female photographer Elena Mrozovskaya from the early 20th century. She was close to the celebrities of the time and collaborated with the theatre scene a lot, taking photos for theatre advertisements. These advertising photographs on their own are interesting, as actors are playing their roles just for the camera, so the camera (which was still a relatively new invention) replaces the whole theatre audience. I took several pictures created by Mrozovskaya, mainly dedicated to theatre, and explored how a certain staginess within my painting relates to the subject of theatre, exemplified by the deliberate posing of the photograph's subject.

Surgeons — 260x200x3cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Pediatric surgery 2 and 1 — Left: 165x200x3cm, oil on canvas, 2019; right: 155x200x3cm, oil on canvas, 2019, private collection

The subject of surgery is very close to me because I come from a dynasty of surgeons and grew up surrounded by photographic depictions of surgeries and anatomical atlases. My approach to painting can be seen as a speculative effort to bring a dead photographic image to life with the help of my body and its dissecting gestures of my brush strokes just as surgery does, and I like this metaphor as it brings me closer to my family. Therefore the subject of surgery is very prominent in my practice, and these works are based on some of my family archive pictures.


Oil on canvas
Scene with Gertrude — 180x160x4cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Scene with Gertrude (detail) — oil on canvas, 2021
Scene with the scull — 180x160x4cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Scene with the scull (detail) — oil on canvas, 2021
Feast scene — 220x180x4cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Exhibition view

This project was embodied in the residence I’ve undertaken in Moscow with Smirnov-Sorokin Fund in collaboration with the artist Anna Tagantzeva-Kobzeva. We were accessing the aesthetics of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and I got quite deep in researching Hamlet as a character. The photographs which I used were the photographs of the old Hamlet stage performances (with Lawrence Olivier, Sarah Bernhardt, John Gielgud). I was thinking about Hamlet is a character sewing centuries together, and the vision of him in different times document more of these times than the actual play story - so accessing other times via changes in the representation of someone who is constantly present last 500 years was interesting. I got fascinated with Hamlet’s pretentious behavior and melancholy, that he is always doubting and never can come up with anything, that he knows some truth from the ghost, but he is hesitating to act openly and do what he is supposed to. I thought it’s a position of myself as an artist – I’m always doubting what is right or wrong in my work, what should I do or avoid. My work is quite expressive, but every gesture is planned, so this expression is a bit theatrical - like the whole Hamlet's behavior. So while doing this body of work I was diving into this personality in its various aspects.


Oil on canvas