Yusef Szafki/Graham Metcalfe
Scottish painter Yusef Szafki (1950-2021) produced his colourful and enigmatic canvases over several decades. Notably influenced by the mid-20th century Abstract Expressionist school of painters, this retrospective is the first exhibition to attempt a survey across his life’s work. As such it gives us a view of his experimentation and his ever-developing concerns with form, tone and texture. The exuberance and the humour in his oeuvre are best appreciated in such a broad cross-section which allows us to follow certain themes at length, to long-term intentions -and even, obsessions – and to see how playfully he overturns and refashions them with sudden and unexpected changes in methods and materials.
Born and raised in Glasgow, the only child of a Russian emigre, Szafki was much influenced by literature in his visual artwork. In an endlessly creative life, he published two literary works, including one on engaging with the Russian/Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol (60’ N (1996) ). Arguably the bold dreamlike, exaggerated style of Szafki’s work is influenced heavily by Gogol’s character, and his writing in such famous stories as ‘Diary of a Madman’ and ‘The Nose’. The title of this exhibition Flaunting Szafki draws on and adapts from one of the pieces Szafki published in his own collection of stories Helsinki (Not the Town) (1995), and it encapsulates something of the boldness and the joie-de-vivre we see in the themes and subject matter of his paintings.
Johnny Rodger, Professor of Urban Literature, Glasgow School of Art