So we’ll go no more a roving so late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright.
The late night rovers in Byron’s poem are lovers, but Eugenia Vronskaya does her night walking alone. Over the past few years she has got into the habit of taking nocturnal rambles around her home in the Scottish Highlands, surrendering to the embrace of the dark. Like other women artists and mothers distracted during the day by domestic tasks, she has become a creature of the night.
Artists need time alone not just to paint but to dream, and nighttime is the traditional time for dreaming. Sometimes she walks with her dog, sometimes a neighbour’s horse, too old to ride but in need of exercise and companionship. On the eve of major changes in her life, with her sons growing up and a planned move back to London, the nocturnal ritual has become a sort of leave-taking.
From her first solo show in 1989, Vronskaya has stood out for her effortless technique acquired during six years rigorous training at Moscow Fine Art University. She has made a name for her portraits and still lifes, but complains that painting objective reality is too easy: “I don’t question, I just paint. It’s not enough.” She wants more, and she has found it in the alternative reality of the borderlands between waking and sleep.
There is a Symbolist streak in contemporary painting, discernible in the dreamscapes of Peter Doig and Chris Ofili. But while Doig and Ofili set the scene for the viewer’s reverie, Vronskaya directs the performance. Her monumental Dreaming Head informs us that it is she who is doing the dreaming: when we enter her paintings, we enter her dreams. We follow the tall figure in the long flapping blue coat and top hat as she wanders barefoot like a sleepwalker through snowy woods, paddles through water phosphorescent with the reflected starlight or battles through rain that lashes the picture plane like a windscreen. Sometimes the paint is thick and lustrous; more often it is dispersed in drips, dribbles and efflorescent blooms of solvent. Occasionally it is so thinned that it just stains the canvas in passing, like a photograph lifted from the developing fluid before the image is definitively fixed. As much as journeys of the imagination, these new works are adventures in paint and print.
In her magician’s costume, Vronskaya could be a conjurer about to produce a rabbit from her hat. But painting is more difficult than magic: rabbits aren’t provided, they have to be caught. The Night Walker series lets us share the excitement of the chase and the romance of the artist’s solitary journey into terra incognita while the rest of the world is asleep.