Working in the medium of egg tempera on gessoed wood, Veronica Smirnoff’s paintings are highly distinctive. Inspired by profound religious beliefs, folklore, fairy tales and mythology, the artist combines references of old and new to create fantastical scenes of delicacy and mystery. Intricately depicted characters, often cloaked in ornate costume, are presented in abstracted landscapes that possess a timeless and otherworldly feel. There is a deliberate uncertainty contained within Smirnoff’s works, from the beguiling gaze of her protagonists to the uncanny settings from which they emerge, transporting the viewer to a surreal world of open-ended narratives. Employing symbols and mythologems, which like fairy tales, allude to the idea of encompassing more than reality itself.
Smirnoff’s practice is founded on her fascination with Asian tradition and Byzantine iconography. Orthodox icons traditionally feature a sacred image recessed in the ark of a small wooden panel to create a manifestation of the holy world. The female subjects of Smirnoff’s paintings are derived from a wide range of sources including self-portraiture, different historical languages, miniatures, pre-Renaissance painting and frequently contain abstract references to the Virgin Mary. Their beauty tempered by a fragility or pensiveness as they gaze beyond the painted surface.
At the heart of the artist’s practice is her choice of medium. Egg tempera is ground pigment that traditionally comes from minerals and semi-precious stones mixed with white wine and egg yolk to make the paint. Myriads of semi-transparent layers dry rapidly, creating a depth of colour and tilted perspective. Achieving a detailed finish is a time-consuming process, where small brush strokes mark the passage from the abstract to the figurative.
Smirnoff takes full advantage of the medium, using it not only to depict elements with startling realism - the individual hairs on a fur coat, feathered wing or head - but also embracing its transparency to create evocative, textured backgrounds and luminous abstract effects of colour. In doing so, Smirnoff can be seen to personalise both the technique of the icon painting and its visual culture to create her own tales of collective memory and identity as well as bring the metaphors directly into our real world.
Veronica Smirnoff is a British artist of Russian origin, (born Moscow, Russia, 1979). She gained a BA from the Slade School of Art and postgraduate diploma from the Royal Academy of Arts. She was awarded the Terence Cuneo Prize in 2004 and was selected for the John Moores Painting Prize UK in 2010 and Women to Watch UK in 2009. She has exhibited internationally in Milan, Paris, Berlin, London, and New York. She lives and works in London.