I see my red door and it has been painted black
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facin' up when your whole world is black
(The Rolling Stones, «Paint it black»)
The latest exhibition of Kirill Lebedev* (b.1984, lives and works in Moscow) establishes the artist in a new point, critical in his relationship to the place within his own system of coordinates, the path he has traveled and his selected mode of artistic production. His painting retains the trademark, high octane color palette and his always lively lettering style, but it is now filled with a deep regret and even mourning for the streets, whose role as an instrument of counterculture has disappeared before our very eyes, never to return again.
This new series of work is brought together by the artist's sense of guilt for abandoning the streets, which had been a free form of expression and now has suddenly, rather unexpectedly turned into a corrupt, monstrous façade, manipulating a compliant population under the banner of independent art.
"I can't not do this, and for a long time I shut off the possibility of operating in any environment other than the streets. But the streets themselves have undergone an extremely traumatic change. For example, there was this situation with the façade, that I couldn't find the strength to fight." From the beginning, the artist had recognized the place of street-art in the context of all the other street practices, and that what he was doing was somehow different from the nickname-style tagging and he immediately understood that if he had developed into this kind of mainstream street art for the masses, than his work would not have had any political agenda, it would not have had any problems with development or content. There would only have been the question of which surface he needed to paint over. But this seemed to him too basic and too boring, and he took the opposite stance from tagging, methodically battling with the soulless letters.
As it turned out, the worst was yet to come. Today, his enemy has transformed, now grown up into a monster, but the gap that isn't occupied by name tagging has been commandeered by thriving political propaganda. Now you can't even call conceptual street artist an endangered species: to encounter it in its natural setting is all but impossible. It's now an illustration in a red book with some sort of edifying content, without any kind of public voice. Images by street artists are painted over with lighting speed under the pressure of public services, virtually eliminating any natural existence or experience of these works within the fabric of the urban landscape. The possibilities for street art as a form of free public conversation have been exhausted, the walls have become the medium for political statements, and the artist is not able to reverse the situation. This type of open conversation has disappeared from the streets, migrating entirely to the social networks. The wall as an artistic statement has ceased to be an urban object and has instead become an Internet phenomenon, existing only through screen shots and photostreams. All that's left of works from the street is the process of drawing itself. Any contact with the result has to happen within a very limited timeframe, so that the work barely exists at all, and even within that limited time-frame, it can not change anything. It's helpless, dead on arrival.
Fueled by his ambition, Kirill takes on a very special role. He feels personally responsible for the current situation on the streets. As someone who earlier was quite active and uncompromisingly involved in the educational, artistic, and curatorial activity in the bosom of the street art scene for several years over the formation of its institutions and structures on the national stage, he has in many ways defined street art's significance and popularity, securing its high status. It is partially due to his efforts in this field that now, using street art as a kind of uncompromised mouthpiece for truth (or simply under the guise of street art), those with power broadcast their slogans and announce the values most dear to them. This is how street art became the most reflective media; in practice, it also turned out to be the most vulnerable towards the pressure from the leviathan of propaganda, booting the artist from the very means of communication that he invented.
This feeling of despondency and the lack of hope for any change can be read into everything, including the black background dominating these works, but in reality, the artist meant nothing of the sort and didn't pack any additional symbolic significance into this base coat. The association is merely a terrific coincidence. Retaining all the codes that Kirill used on the streets – the colored background and colorful lettering – he covers a canvas in black, a gesture that is nothing more than an aesthetic act, which intensifies the effect of the colors and gives the letters their radiance and glow. It would seem not all is lost…
* Lebedev insists on using his family name instead of "Kto," as the latter is not a pseudonym, but more a kind of status that has be attained, which this recent body of work does not necessarily strive towards.