The Artist Transporting Figures from Art History into Modern Life
Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Alexey Kondakov’s images for snapshots of contemporary life. His subjects daydream on subways, make out on buses, and suntan in the buff. But a closer look reveals the Kiev-based artist’s delightful stunt: These figures aren’t 21st-century commuters—they’re characters pulled from classical paintings and seamlessly Photoshopped into present-day scenes.

The idea for the series, dubbed “Art History in Contemporary Life,” struck Kondakov in late 2014. He’d hit a creative impasse during his day job as an art director and began surfing art blogs for inspiration. He came across an image of Nymphs Offering the Young Bacchus Wine, Fruit and Flowers (after 1670), by 17th-century Dutch painter Caesar Boëtius van Everdingen, which depicts a decadent gathering: Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture, wine, and fertility, drinking happily in the company of three semi-nude nymphs.

“I thought, ‘These guys party like we do,’” Kondakov recalls. “What if I put them in our time—in modern landscapes?”

Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

Photo by Alexey Kondakov, via Facebook.

A few days later, Kondakov Photoshopped the figures from van Everdingen’s masterwork into an image he snapped of a cold, snow-covered street in Kiev. He posted the concoction to Facebook, and after positive feedback streamed in, he decided to keep going. Since then, he’s created countless digital collages for the series, many of which he shares with his 30.9k Instagram followers.

At their best, Kondakov’s images provoke double takes; he shoehorns figures from age-old paintings so deftly into contemporary settings that you barely notice the anachronism. But self-identified art history nerds can treat the collages like a game.

In one, a young man wearing a pageboy cap sits alone in a graffiti-covered Naples pizza shop. With a distinctive haircut and flamboyant outfit, he resembles the typical creative, college-age millennial. But a closer look belies frippery that’s clearly of the 16th century. It turns out Kondakov lifted the figure from a Hans Holbein oil painting: Portrait of the Merchant Georg Giese (1532).

In another collage, a couple kisses in the back of an auto body shop, their lusty faces spotlit by an overhead light. They are not 21st-century teenagers, as their surroundings suggest, but figures from Romantic painter Frank Dicksee’s 1884 depiction of Romeo and Juliet. (Appropriately, Kondakov posted the piece on Valentine’s Day.)

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Kondakov also has a knack for nodding to pop culture and current events. He embedded a female figure from a 1887 painting by Theodoros Ralli into a photo of a car taken on a street in Sicily. The woman lounges on the passenger seat, smoking a cigarette and wearing a fabulous getup. Kondakov chose her due to a marked resemblance to model-cum-reality TV star Kendall Jenner.

“All of my works show day-to-day situations that many people experience,” explains Kondakov. “But hopefully, by adding elements from old paintings, they’ll allow people to see these scenarios in a new light.”

Kondakov’s works also encourage new readings of the historic artworks he draws from. Take a recent piece that uses Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (c.1500) as its base. The painting recently made global news when it shattered all previous art auction records by selling for over $450 million. Kondakov doctored the composition by adding a glass of white wine and a cigarette into each of Christ’s outstretched hands. He drove his message home with a brief but poignant caption: “When you get a successful art deal #450mln #art.”

Alexxa Gotthardt is a Staff Writer at Artsy.