Ella Kruglyanskaya, Fancy Problems, Thomas Dane Gallery, London

4 September 2015 By

Thursday night and the ‘back to school’ September vibe was felt everywhere with a slew of openings across town. After dark, Mayfair buzzed with the traffic between galleries, snatches of conversation about where to go next and a sense of relief that life is getting back to normal after the holidays.

Ella Kruglyanskaya is having her first show at Thomas Dane Gallery, joining a distinguished group of female painters represented there that includes Caragh Thuring, Cecily Brown and Amy Silman. Kruglyanskaya last showed in London at Studio Voltaire in 2014 and had the cover of Frieze magazine’s November issue last year, so it is little wonder that there was a big crowd at the opening last night. She has an unmistakable style, combined with a subject matter that recalls the strange all-female world of 1950s fashion illustration. Kruglyanskaya’s paintings feature imaginary females, in exaggeratedly vampish costumes, animatedly acting out some scenario from which their super-flat images have been clipped out and dropped into highly coloured backgrounds. White Columns (2015) is a case in point, with one figure in a tight brass-buttoned coat with upturned collar apparently hiding behind one of the said white columns as a second figure in azure trench, fishnets and scarlet ankle boots runs away fast against an almond pink ground. The paintings have a highly seductive graphic facility and this is very much a practice based on drawing. One of Kruglyanskaya’s regular devices is to paint a preparatory drawing into a painting, as in Puppeteers with a Big Face (2015), where the drawing is reproduced in oil stick, held up by two black-clad figures on either side. Just when you think you have got the hang of the almost cartoon-like two-dimensionality, the artist throws a work like Drawing of Nude with Lemons and Fish Trivet (2014) at you, where the oil stick outline drawing of a female nude sports trompe l’oeil  lemons over the nipples and a fish-shaped dish over her sex. It’s not quite the knowing ‘fna fna’ of Sarah Lucas’ famous Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab, but you have to laugh.

What lures you deeper into the large-scale canvases are the micro-dramas being played out. Theatrical, Mad Men-style rivalries smoulder, expressed in the arch of perfectly pencilled eyebrows and the mean girl set of a cupids-bow mouth. In the fabulously camp Painter, Exhausted (2015) the artist appears in a picturesque state of collapse on a designer chair – a black silk slip worthy of Blanche Dubois riding up her paint-spattered thighs as she looks over her shoulder at the viewer, at once coquettish and sour.

This show is as good a way as any to kick off the Autumn/Winter 2015 season.

Caroline Douglas

Thomas Dane Gallery, 3 & 11 Duke Street, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6BN. Exhibition open until 3 October 2015, Tuesday to Friday 11.00-18.00, Saturday 12.00-18.00. www.thomasdanegallery.com