First published: Winter 2016
Alevtina Pyzhova is a mysterious character, inhabiting a world where sexuality and the body are separated from each other like church and state. Her own body, like a huge potato, paralysed in places and devoured by disease, is nevertheless permeated with sexuality, like a clay hill irrigated by rivulets of thawed ice-water.
Sexuality permeates all of Pyzhova’s imagery. A tiger hunts a doe, his eyes fixed on her perky rear as she casts him a sideways glance. The scene isn’t about hunting in the literal sense: it’s a game of subconscious desires, with one creature hoping to have its way with the other.
Animal sexuality is one of Pyzhova’s dominant themes. She told me that a dog once knocked her over in the street and tried to rape her. Her husband, who was looking on, remarked: “What kind of a woman are you? Even a dog can’t pass you by!” She loves telling tedious stories like this. She might start talking to a total stranger, and her third question would be to enquire the length of his penis.
Friendship, 2015, acrylic on cardboard
Pyzhova keeps a strict tally of her lovers – men who continue to pursue her even though she’s 80 and practically bedridden. But she also found an outlet for this sexual energy, in her art. She works for ten to 20 hours a day because painting entices her even more than sex. Her favourite subject matter is an encyclopaedia of sexual perversions, especially sex between people and animals. Many collectors criticise her for this subject matter, encouraging her towards more traditional genres like still lives and landscapes.
Pyzhova’s creativity stems from the rise of spiritual strength and sense of inner liberation that many in Russia experienced after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her subject matter would have been prohibited in the soviet period because then, we allegedly “did not have sex”, and could not encroach on the “icons” of Lenin and Stalin. And it is precisely these two areas that have become favorite subjects for Pyzhova.