“We have many years of recorded experience coming from the male perspective—the aspirations, the desires, the struggles of what it’s like to be a man. The female component to that is largely missing,” Yana Payusova said last year of her ceramic vessels that are now on view in the exhibition “Revolutions” at Boston’s Howard Yezerski Gallery.
“This work is my attempt to record what it’s like being a woman today,” the Tucson-based artist said. “…These are everyday women. They’re not ‘perfect.’ They are confident, however.”
Payusova grew up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in what was then the Soviet Union. “Some of the most prevalent memories I have of my life in the USSR was standing in lines with my brother and mother,” she writes on her website to describe “The Queue,” a lineup of stoneware people that she began sculpting in 2015 to depict the community formed up to buy winter boots, bananas, bras or books.
She moved to the United States at age 17 and studied at Lake Forest College in Illinois and at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She then lived in Boston from 2006 to 2016, making narrative paintings crowded with little girls, a ballerina, couples, a woman with three breasts, a two-headed woman, a man with a TV for a head. Her characters roamed gritty cities, busy markets, stuffed kitchens. The scenes suggested uneasy, sordid late 20th-century urban fairy tales.
Her new exhibition offers ceramic vessels, slowly rotating atop pedestals, and ceramic tiles hung up the wall. These picture book scenes done in red, black and white (echoes of Soviet graphics) are frank, and saucy, raw and bawdy.
“Complications” shows tongues licking a lollipop and cherries, a woman carrying playing cards and a tray of wine and an ashtray, a pink vulva, hairy arms caressing and grabbing smooth legs and bellies, red lips and gold teeth opening to reveal a naked lady lounging on a couch reading a newspaper.
“Faster, Higher, Stronger” depicts nearly naked women running or doing a synchronized dance in a pool among rabbits and spiders, a pole dancer, a gymnast dancing with a ribbon, a bored woman fucking.
“Archetypes” is a tall vase showing a woman in bath with eyes closed, a bottle of booze perched on the edge of the tub. A red-haired woman with glasses lies upon pile of newspapers and magazines. There are harpies, medusa, a couple in bed.
“The tropes and allusions presented in the works cannot be separated from the ongoing debate over female body rights,” Payusova writes on her website, “concerning birth/abortion, circumcision, body coverage/exposure, contraception, and obligations within matrimony.”
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