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Curator Emeritus
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts
Fine Arts Museums
of San Francisco

On the night of October 15-16, 1987, a freak extratropical cyclone with hurricane force winds descended on the British Isles with devastating force. Because it came through early in the morning hours, there was thankfully few lives lost. However, the damage it inflicted to the landscape was extensive felling an estimated fifteen million trees throughout the U. K.

I arrived in London the following day and on October 18th, I met with the artist, Lucian Freud, as I was organizing an exhibition and co-authoring a book on him. After greeting him, I then went out of my way to express my condolences at the destruction wrought by the hurricane. To my surprise, he replied, “I thought it was splendid.” Sensing my obvious distress at his remark, he immediately corrected himself and said that, of course it was terrible what had occurred. However, he said in the aftermath that he had visited and marveled at the once stately ancient trees uprooted with their roots starkly exposed against the sky in Kew Gardens in London. As an artist, he couldn’t help but aesthetically experience the deadly but strangely beautiful force of nature.

So it is with the avalanche paintings that Valentin Popov has created in 2020. Like forest fires, avalanches more often than not occur naturally but are sometimes triggered accidently by the carelessness of man. As in fires, they begin almost imperceptibly then, in short order, escalate into something raging and uncontrollable.

Popov has captured on canvas the momentous power of the avalanches he envisions. With an icy restrained palette of blacks, whites, silvers, and blues, his paintings not only affect our visual sense but also trigger within a sense of temperature
[cold] and a sense of sound [ the roar of the descending avalanche we imagine hearing].

The painterly brushwork of these compositions distance them from the mere recording of nature. Like Freud’s candid observation of a hurricane’s aftermath, Popov’s avalanches are both beautiful yet tragic. Although man is not present in any of these paintings, one cannot avoid imagining the deadly implications of being caught in the path of such a descending white maelstrom.

It might not be a coincidence that Valentin Popov turned to this subject matter during the time a raging pandemic threatens the world. In painting them, he might be seeking to extract beauty out of the terrors that nature can ,at times, bring down upon mankind

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