A new exhibition staggers into London brandishing a bottle of cheap vodka

Mitki, the stalwarts of the underground art scene in Soviet Russia, are to present their first London show at the WhiteSpaceGallery, St Peter’s, Vere Street, from 17th April until 11th May.

During the years leading up to Perestroika, in 1986, the notorious Mitki group upset the establishment by sticking up two fingers at the unimaginative Soviet system – becoming celebrities in the process.

While government-approved Socialist Realist painters depicted a rose-tinted view of life under Communism, the non-conforming Mitki chose instead to paint ordinary people and their minor everyday troubles. They tackled these subjects with gentle, self-deprecating humour, as their slogan proclaimed; ‘the Mitki don’t want to conquer anybody’.

The group which comprised many painters, illustrators, writers, poets, sculptors, musicians and filmmakers, was founded by the legendary painter Dmitri Shagin, artist and writer Vladimir Shinkaryov and artist A. Florensky.

According to the Russian art critic, Larisa Skobkina, Mitki take their cue from the great giants of Russian culture, such as Dostoyevski, Stravinski and Malevich. Mitki take their place in the serious artistic tradition of the folk lubok (a popular style of prints from C18/19 Russia) and primitive painting of the early avant guard artists, such as Goncharova and Larionov.

Another critic, Lydia Ginzburg, said their work portrayed ‘intentionally shabby images of our crude everyday reality, with the aesthetic of hard drinking bouts and four-letter words; a game of idiocy; a language as simple as mooing; and the vocabulary of an average cannibal’.

The work of Mitki now hangs in the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as many other art collections throughout the world.

The forthcoming exhibition at WhiteSpaceGallery brings together prints, rare posters and books by the founder members of Mitki, dealing with literature, historical events and everyday life.

Exhibition organiser Anya Stonelake – a native of St Petersburg, explained: “This is the first opportunity in the UK to see some of the most startling work to come out of Russia. Their message continues to resonate by offering an alternative to conformity – whether it be in Soviet Russia or 21st Century London.”