ART / Burnt offerings: Robin Dutt discovers an Eastern attitude to life, mortality and tragedy as seen through the eyes of the Uzbek artist Igor Kufayev

Contemporary art often seems to leave the majority of people out in the cold. Current values suggest that it is chic to be minimalist and intellectually superior to attempt shock tactics. The more this kind of art worries and perplexes, the better for its creators. Given this scenario, it seems folly to seek inspiration from the past - suicide, in fact. If so, Igor Kufayev has committed it cheerfully.

Kufayev is one of a rare breed of artists who believe in going back to go forward. He also feels that art is a strange and bizarre thing which involves paint and canvas rather than offal and formaldehyde. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1966, he studied at the Tashkent School of Art, where his early love of drawing was honed and refined, for four years. He had, in fact, been drawing professionally since the age of 12, and was recognised as something of a prodigy.

At first meeting, he projects a certain aloofness. He cuts a classically handsome figure, with a body honed to perfection by military service and heirloom cheekbones. He found the military experience, which lasted two years, useful. He has almost 20/20 vision and was a perfect shot, although he never had to put this skill into practice; his army title was 'sniper'. 'But I was too good just for the army,' he says, without a hint of pride. 'Because I could draw, I was set to make and design propaganda posters for the army - images of powerful Russian warriors, monumental works.'

Kufayev might owe the army a good deal: the discipline to which he was forced to knuckle under seems obvious in his work. The themes he chooses have nothing to do with propaganda now, but they are monumental - if not in size, then certainly in spirit. He is intoxicated by the simplicity and the grandeur of the human figure - stripped bare, both curiously vulnerable and powerful at the same time. In shades of Titian red and sepia, he paints figures that seem to float in mists or clouds, their lines occluded here, sharp there. Sometimes, humanity is partially abstracted, which should come as no surprise when one learns that he used to create purely non-figurative works.

His zeal to perfect drawing technique led him to move to St Petersburg and The Academy of Fine Art and, independently of his studies, he began making numerous copies of the great Western masterpieces hanging in The Hermitage. The artist Ingres, who once said that drawing was the true test of art, would surely have approved.

Kufayev's figures have an unapologetic, antique feel about them. They might be dancers from an Etruscan ewer or maidens from a Roman funerary slab. The whole of his show, Burnt Earth, is redolent of archaeological finds - the secrets masquerading as treasures only a few feet under the surface. Blood and earth are unified in Kufayev's vision, emphasising our origins and our certain end. 'I'm interested in the eternal process of things,' he says. 'In the West, one does not address such questions, generally, but in the East it is understood. We all go back to the earth. One can't escape death, but there is beauty, even in that.

There is also a sense of living tragedy in the work - figures appealing to unknown gods, begging for release. Kufayev lost his daughter at a painfully young age. This show is dedicated to her memory. 'I'm not trying to be tragic,' he says. 'People have asked me about the pain in the work, but it is not the driving force. I didn't have time to do anything for Laura when she was alive, so this exhibition is for her. I feel her spirit everywhere - all around me.' The strong portrait of a girl, bathed in cornelian light and carrying a lyre, needs no explanation.

Igor Kufayev's 'Burnt Earth' is at Base, Cork Street, London W1 (071-734 9179) until 20 July

(Photographs omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones