On July 20, 2013, artist, musician and all-around arbiter of style in St Petersburg, Georgy Guryanov passed away, after months (and, really, years) of health problems.
Guryanov – who also went by “Gustav” – is best known, perhaps, as the drummer for Russia’s seminal rock band, Kino (whose frontman, Viktor Tsoi, died tragically in a car accident in 1990, at the tender age of 28.) As best embodied in the last scene of the campy, Perestroika epic ASSA (a film whose ludicrous plot was conceived as a cover to score the federally-mandated employment slips for a critical crew of Leningrad’s unofficial artists and musicians), when Tsoi coolly rejects the Soviet bureaucracy over the course of an unsuccessful job interview, storming out of the office and onto an arena stage, where he promptly belts out to his thousands of fans: “Change, our hearts demand change!”
Kino made some of the most definitive statements in an era of complete uncertainty, but Guryanov was also part of another related movement, arguably just as influential. Through the mid-80s, Guryanov painted neo-expressionist works (including posters for some of the first raves in Russia) as part of the “New Artists,” a group of rowdy young Nonconformists headed up by Timur Novikov. In 1989, under Novikov’s direction, these artists found a way to be even more radical: reverting to Classicism. The so-called “New Academy” celebrated the classical ideals of beauty and physical perfection. Guryanov was a NeoAcademist par excellence, creating heart-stoppingly beautiful drawings and paintings of athletes, sailors and soldiers that recalled Deneika at his most raw and erotic.
One aspect that kept the New Academy politically charged was its deliberate flirtation with sexual ambiguity and homoeroticism. While Guryanov was guarded about his private life (and more pointedly, his own sexual orientation), his paintings were quite explicit in their cataloguing of homosocial situations – particular those aboard ship. Guryanov was a perfectionist, demanding the same precision in his execution as in the bodies that he was depicting. At the same time, Guryanov had a sly sense of humor about his subjects, often substituting the heads with those of his friends and bandmates – or himself. (For instance, in the much-loved – and much re-worked- painting Argo, Guryanov painted himself at the helm of the vessel.)
As for his own image, while – as we noted – Guryanov could tend to be guarded, he was certainly aware of his place as a tastemaker, one of the last true dandies of Leningrad. Everything he did, he did exquisitely, from the fabled dance parties at his mansard on Liteiny, to the accessories of a new suit, to that shy way he had of smiling that made those around him feel like they had pleased a particularly finicky deity.
In short, Guryanov was loved and will be much missed (as will his comrade-in-arms, Vlad Monroe, who died earlier this summer.) We wanted to end this brief post with one of our all-time favorite photos of Georgy, taken by the Leningrad chronicler Evgeny Kozlov. In the snapshot, Georgy is captured mid-dance with the filmmaker Ivetta Pomerantseva. The two are jubilant and young, the picture of promise of the Post-Soviet Petersburg. This makes us all the sadder to think that, at the moment of his death, the city that so loves Guryanov, and that Guryanov so loved, has outlawed much of his imagery, potential “homosexual propaganda.” But for now, we just want to celebrate a very deserving soul, a truly beautiful man.