"Scenery is fine - but human nature is finer."
-John Keats, letter to Benjamin Bailey, 1818
The most recent work of Valentin Popov is the visual record of his continuing confrontation between optimism versus hopelessness, tradition versus radicalism, and object versus idea. Russian born, Popov, who recently became American citizen, was trained in the rigidly formal structure of the Soviet art establishment. They gave him the technical skills to paint and draw with consummate skill. Their intent was to have him serve the state; to render their ideas but to have none himself. Bad miscalculation. Popov turned the tables on them by using his state subsidized skills to question and subvert that very society then on the brink of exhausted collapse.
Now in his adopted country, Popov has seized the newness, crassness, abundance and glamour of American culture. Like a very hungry child in a giant supermarket, he wants to taste everything. His recent art reflects this manic appetite for the visual imagery and spoken phrase that now infuses his work.
It was understood prior to the influence of Marcel Duchamp in the early twentieth century that art needed both the skill of execution coupled with originality of idea. Post-Duchampian art however has created an atmosphere of entitlement where idea often reigns supreme. Skillful execution of ideas into compelling art is thought by many in the self-reverential, avant garde to be no longer necessary. Hence the dismal array of floating basketballs, bug zappers, and blow-ups of inane color snapshots that pass for serious art these days.
The skillful art of Valentin Popov however is a mix of the academic and the anarchistic. His beautifully executed illusionistic renderings of water and sky are poetic. From a distance they are soothing. It is only on closer examination that Popov adds an unnerving poetic commentary across the works often but not always camouflaged within the surface. In taking in the totality of Popovís conception, the visual seduction of what one sees and feels confronts the cerebral issues of what one reads and thinks. These works simultaneously massage and aggravate; they reassure and despair.
Valentin Popov is on an artistic journey. Enjoy these paintings and monotypes. Savor their artistic view because soon his curiosity and creativity will pull up stakes and move on to God knows where.
Robert Flynn Johnson
Curator in Charge
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco