There is an enchanting and intimate connection between the human and non-human species in the magical paintings of Ilya Zomb.
SCENE OF PASTORAL YOGA IN ORANGE COUNTY 2013, 41x51 cm Oil on Canvas
His phantasmagorical works delight and draw us into a bizarre narrative. The gestures and 'eye to eye' engagement - rhinoceros to ballerina, acrobat to Kangaroo, moose to dancers with pumpkins on their heads! Zebras, elephants, giraffes, birds and the elegant Italian Greyhound are absorbed in playful and gentle communication with Zomb's plump ballerinas and acrobats.
At times it's a penetrating gaze. At other times the protagonists are in triumphant dance in defiance of gravity, a balanced interplay between monumental fruits, beasts and creatures in idyllic landscapes. It is all quite zany and delicious!
DELAWARE WATER GAP 2013, 61x51 cm Oil on Canvas
At another level it is an emotional engagement. Nuanced and meditative, it takes us to a fantastical place, suspended in time, in which man, beast and nature are in perfect harmony.
SYNCHRONIZATION OF SUSPENDED TIME 2008-09, 56 x 91cm Oil on linen
FRAGRANCE OF THE LEMON PEEL 1997 96 x142cm Oil on canvas
THE SUBTLETIES OF BLUE DANCERS 1998 61x152cm Oil on canvas
DEVOTED TO THE RUBY RADIANCE.1998, 97x152cm Oil on canvas
I have tussled with the temptation to identify Zomb's giant fruits with the Surrealism of Magritte, his nymphs with Dega's ballerinas, his muse with the stillness of Early Renaissance portraiture, his lighting with the sublime mood of a Vermeer, even his imagination with the Romantic visions of William Blake.
There are a myriad of iconographic and stylistic references that suggest that he plays with the very meaning of art itself.
MORNING THROUGH MAGNOLIA PODS Limited Edition Print Size 22 x 17
His themes - 'Outdoor Realities', 'Indoor Realities', 'Overcoming Stillness', Metamorphosis of Stillness, 'Largeness of Nature', 'New Myths' - suggest an artist who is preoccupied with questions of 'art and artifice'. His is consciously using forms, fantasy and allusions to historic styles. It is an intellectual, technical and creative pursuit in a Post-Modern world.
BALANCE ABOVE THE WAVES. 2007 86 x157cm Oil on linen
CROSSING THE RIVER 2005 91 x 142 cm Oil on linen
Ultimately the paintings have an emotional quality that teases and draws one into Zomb's delicate utopian world where art meets nature.
EXERCISING IN BALANCE. 1996 66 x 127cm Oil on canvas
Ilya Zomb is a Russian immigrant New Yorker who has spent time living in Manhattan's upper west side. I imagine him strolling into Central Park, the great Natural History or the Metropolitan Museums, foraging through the rich repositories of the exotic and the exquisite - a form here, a landscape or lighting effect there - collecting motifs and subjects to re-contextualize into his vivid, imaginary world.
TRANQUILITY OF LONG ISLAND'S SHORE 2004 - 2006 102 x152 cm Oil on linen
He alludes to regular excursions with his wife in his current New Jersey habitat where "we collect various odd objects, like seashells, feathers, old glass bottles, pine-cones, seedpods – anything at all which seems interesting – and bring all that stuff to my studio. Some of them later appear in my paintings."
ORDINARY MORNING FOR GATHERING CURIOSITIES 2012, 117 x 81 cm Oil on Canvas
These fragments of art and nature are the perfect subjects with which exercise his prodigious technical prowess.
ORNAMENTED WITH GRANNY SMITH 2006, 96 x 147 cm Oil on canvas
Ultimately, Zomb is a unique contemporary painter who has assembled a quirky cast of benign characters - human, animal and ephemeral - that inhabit his theatrical paintings.
PLEASURE OF WALKING ON WATER 2006, 112 x 127 cm Oil on linen
"I am a 'pseudo-realist'. Every element in my paintings is real, and the composition can be possible under certain circumstances."
FRAGILITY OF DISTURBED REFLECTIONS 2008-09 122x107cm Oil on canvas
The exquisite detail and technical virtuosity of his work is a testament to a lifetime of training and 'self-education' which began early. At the age of eleven in his Ukrainian birthplace, Odessa, his parents had hoped for his future as a pianist in the concert halls of Europe. Instead, a perceptive art teacher recognized his talent for drawing and he was sent off in the early 1970s to an elite children's art school where he began his professional art training. He completed his Fine Arts studies at the Odessa State Art College in 1979.
This, according to Zomb" laid the foundation for his professional life." He paints slowly, he says "with careful attention to details, creating multi-layer paintings with brushes," that take him several months to finish, producing eight to eleven paintings per year. His move to the USA in the late 1980s appears to have liberated his imaginary realm.
"It allowed me to rise above the political pressure and Socialist Realism that was the mainstream, and that only allowed and recognized an official form of art in the Soviet Union."
DAY'S SUBTLE MOVEMENT 2008-2009 97x127cm Oil on linen
Zomb's work draws me to the Classical Baroque paintings of seventeenth century French artist Poussin. (Major examples of Poussin's work reside in the Metropolitan Museum New York and in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Australia.)
Not only does Zomb's work capture something of the revelry of Poussin's nymph's and shepherds and the idyllic bliss of Ancient Arcadia but his protagonists perform in a geometrically proportioned landscape complete with luminous and billowing storm clouds and topography every bit as timeless and classic as a Poussin.
His technical virtuosity enables him to make skilled references to the great master painters of the past giving his work a unique and highly seductive quality in a post-modernist era.
MUTUAL ADMIRATION TO POMEGRANATES 2005, 86 x 137 cm Oil on linen
Zomb is philosophical about contemporary life but acutely conscious of the past and the realism of change and evolution.
"Like everyone who lived before me, I have a perception that the world is getting worse....In reality, I understand that this is not so, otherwise there would be no progress, and we would still live in caves."
AMID THE LUMINOUS WAVES 1999 86 x 142cm Oil on canvas
Zomb brings sharp wit, imagination and extraordinary technical skill to the making of contemporary art. There is a freedom in his work and his eclectic style. It transcends too much formal analysis. It moves us beyond the sentimental to a dreamlike world where we are suspended for a time in a heavenly and blissful place where art and nature are at one.
WITNESSES OF SILENCE 2009-10 46 x 97cm Oil on canvas
JOMO (Jo Moulton) July 2018