I have never experienced an opium den, but I bet it feels like viewing the opulent, decadent, intoxicating illustrations of Vania Zouravliov. Without the withdrawal and risk of arrest.
“Russian-born Vania Zouravliov was inspired from an early age by influences as diverse as The Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, early Disney animation and North American Indians. Something of a child prodigy in his homeland, he was championed by many influential classical musicians including Ashkenazi, Spivakov and Menuhin. He even had television programs made about him and was introduced to famous communist artists, godfathers of social realism, who told him that his work was from the Devil.”
“By the age of 13, Vania Zouravliov was exhibiting internationally, visited Canterbury several times as well as Paris, Colmar and Berlin. He subsequently studied in the UK, and during this time began creating illustrations for The Scotsman and comics for Fantagraphics and Dark Horse in the US. His most recent projects have been for Beck’s The Information and National Geographic.” (1)
Many thoughts come pouring from these lavish lithographs, evoking connections to ancient myths, exotic locales, and inspiring artists of earlier times. I feel a little like Joseph Campbell bringing in multiple elements from –
- Japanese Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world” — especially shunga or “picture of spring,” in which “spring” is a euphemism for sex — as portrayed by Utamaro in his depictions of courtesans
- Orientalism, the mixture of languor, sex, violence, bondage and exoticism that is seen in the odalisque paintings of Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
- Traditional Persian attire, with intricate textured fabrics and layers of jewels – topped by an elaborate turban.
- Illustrative fairie tales of Arthur Rackham and Kay Rasmus Nielsen that layer delicate fantasies behind the routines of everyday life
- Costuming for ballet, as typified by Leon Baskt’s creations of beauty in motion
- Art Nouveaux, Aubrey Beardsley comes immediately to mind with his black and white illustrations against a white background and his themes of perversion and erotica. Alphonse Mucha’s blushing and haloed young women in flowing, Neoclassical robes, surrounded by a profusion of flowers.
- Gothic tales, such as Harry Clarke’s illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination
- Pin-up art, in which Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas celebrate the female form in positions to exaggerate and accentuate feminine sexual characteristics.
- Erotica, which hovers along the mutable border of respectful admiration of the beauty of sex and the pornographic perversion of submission and suffering. You will have to be the judge, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said “I know it when I see it.”
It’s all a little overwhelming – but a source of endless flights of imagination.
(1) Big Active, Illustration: Vania Zouravliov.