Masha Trebukova | Celebrating Color


After several years of restrained, highly engaged and austere figurative paintings, collages and monotypes, the Dutch-Russian artist Masha Trebukova (Moscow, 1962) returns to the 'freedom of imagination' that recalls her first sensational and successful exhibition at Kunsthandel M.L. de Boer in 1990. Thirty years later, the exhibition CELEBRATING COLOR at BorzoGallery is in many ways both a retrospective and a future perspective.
     In a particularly clear and narrative essay included below, Ted de Boer outlines Masha's career since leaving Moscow and settling in the Netherlands in 1990. Cinematographer and son of the artist, Pavel Ananich, filmed his mother in the studio, following her also when installing the exhibition in the gallery and lets her tell.
     The essay by Ted de Boer in written form and the short filmed portrait by Pavel are both perfect companions for this new exhibition by Masha Trebukova at BorzoGallery.

The exhibition can be visited from May 27 through July 4. Advance appointments are encouraged.



The versatility of Masha Trebukova
By Ted de Boer  |  translation Jane Hall


When a group of Dutch artists visited Moscow in 1988, Masha Trebukova, more or less coincidentally, met the sculptress Heleen Levano who invited her to the Netherlands to stay with her and her husband Eric Claus for a couple of weeks. This led to her first visit to the Netherlands in early 1989. Claus and Levano introduced Masha to my father, the art dealer M.L. de Boer, who bought a number of her drawings, gouaches and etchings and promised her an exhibition. This was held in the spring of 1990 and was an enormous success. A total of 91 works were sold. This must have influenced Masha's decision to finally leave Moscow and settle in the Netherlands. Which she did a year later in 1991.


Since then I have come to know Masha and her work very well. It was that same year that my father died and I consequently became responsible for the policy of his gallery. Masha was one of the established exhibitors, and remained so, even after I had decided to only organise one exhibition a year, in collaboration with BorzoGallery, still in Den Bosch at the time. The first of these annual coproductions was the exhibition Invitations in 1997, for which Masha invited her fellow-artists Evgeni Dybsky and Simon Adjiashvili. In 2007 it was repeated with Invitations II, after which Gallery M.L. de Boer permanently closed its doors. Masha had a total of seven exhibitions at De Boer, some of which in collaboration with Borzo, and an additional six at Borzo, quite apart from the art fairs where her work was presented on the Borzo stand. 


Over the years I have been struck in particular by the versatility of Masha's art. That first exhibition at De Boer in 1990 showed not only oil paintings, but also drawings, gouaches, pastels, etchings and lithographs. There were various 'diptychs', even an 'enneaptych' and various 'double compositions' in pastels. Yet more techniques would be added later: monotypes, matter paintings, kakemonos, collages on paper, jute or linen. In the mid-nineties the graphic element in her work gains greater dominance resulting in compositions with an interplay of lines similar to etching or symbols reminiscent of calligraphy. Thereafter comes a time during which the paintings and collages have a distinctly scenic quality - something made increasingly explicit in titles such as Morning LightHill, StormVistaCanyonWalk or In the mountains - but the idiom remains non-figurative. In this period the palette changes from sober grey and blue to exuberant yellow, red and green. Trips to India and Italy later give rise to the addition of soft pink and ultramarine and the earth colours of Tuscan frescos. However, when the bibliophile publication Out of the Void comes out in 2013 the colours are significantly more subdued and the graphic element undeniably predominates. 


The book is the prelude for a series of projects that again confirm the versatility of the artist Masha Trebukova. It starts with a 'biblical suite' of abstract monotypes produced between 2008 and 2012 and presented in an empty chapel in the province of Groningen in 2013 as an installation entitled Creation. This is followed by the project Cathedral, inspired by sculptures Masha had seen in Romanesque churches in France and Spain. For this project, she made more than a hundred monotypes in various formats and combinations, which were shown as an installation in the ascetic surroundings of the Emmaus Priory on the Doornburgh estate in Maarssen. As a result of the carborundum technique she uses here, the colour range is reduced to black-brown on a yellow-white background. But I was especially struck by the transition from abstraction to figuration. A long time ago I had seen etchings by Masha showing a tree or an empty road lit by streetlamps, but these dated from the Russian years. Since then her work had made no reference to tangible reality and there were certainly no recognizable human figures. Cathedral, however, is a cavalcade of highly recognizable characters: kings, prophets, angels, musicians, dancers and entertainers, portrayed in a style that is directly reminiscent of mediaeval examples. 


Human figures also populate the drawings for the installation Columbarium, shown in the Moses and Aaron Church in Amsterdam in 2019 as part of the Stations of the Cross project. Here, images from the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine formed the source of inspiration for a 'column of urns ' consisting of drawings on newsprint. The project Anywhere, Anytime arose as a consequence of this: six 'books' comprising magazines painted with depictions of war and peace. While the majority of figures from Cathedral radiate cheerfulness and innocence, the characters in these drawings are surrounded by an aura of menace, despair, loss and grief. 


Yet another form of expression can be seen in the drawings shown at this exhibition of Masha's recent work. We see no human figures here, but only empty streets and canals: Amsterdam cityscapes during the corona crisis. Prominent in some of the drawings are the lit streetlamps taking us back to the print of a Moscow street from 1987. Have we now come full circle seeing Masha's return to figuration after having produced abstract work for almost three decades? Certainly not, as proved by her other work currently being exhibited at Borzo. Most of it was created during the last year, after CathedralColumbarium and Anywhere, Anytime. At first sight they are all non-figurative paintings and collages, most of them with a distinctly scenic character. 


But the longer one looks, the better one perceives what is being expressed here: memories of a reality the artist -either consciously or subconsciously - once experienced. In Masha's own words: 'My paintings refer to places to which I can never return, but of which I still retain memories'. These memories can be real, such as the memory of the murals in the Indian town of Bundi in the painting Indian blue, but also imaginary, derived from a musical or literary source. The monumental painting Naxos, for example, was inspired not by visiting the Greek island - Masha has never been there - but by the stories in Greek mythology about Ariadne, left behind on Naxos after having been abandoned by Theseus. The shades of blue used in this painting refer to the sea washing up on the island's shores, the cloudless sky above and perhaps even to the typical blue and white of the Cycladic architecture. 


Seen in this light, all the paintings at this exhibition are representations of reality as the artist has experienced it, and therefore no less realistic than the 'figurative' works I mentioned earlier. Masha's versatility should thus not be measured by the variation between figuration and abstraction in her work - a meaningless juxtaposition in any case - but by her ingenuity in visualizing her own reality, an ingenuity demonstrated through her choice of techniques, materials, colours, surfaces and layering, in every imaginable combination. 


I have now known her work for thirty years and Masha continues to surprise me with new ways to express herself: a fresh perspective, a new concept, a new combination of colour, technique and material. The new ideas and expressions may well look very different from her previous work, but after a brief moment of unfamiliarity one cannot fail to recognize the unmistakable hand of Masha Trebukova. I think this is the best proof of her versatility, which this exhibition confirms yet again. I warmly invite you to come and see it for yourself.


The exhibition can be visited from May 27. Advance appointments are encouraged.