Poliakoff fled Russia during the Bolshevik revolution and immigrated to Paris in 1923, where he studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and earned a living playing the balalaika (a triangular stringed instrument) in Russian cabarets. Initially he was closely associated with the “Nouvelle École de Paris” (New School of Paris), which emphasized a neutral, restrained color palette, but he began to stray from its principles as he started creating brighter pieces that experimented with forms.
Bold but serene, the “Silent Paintings” series is at once raw and meticulously executed. “When a picture is silent, that means it’s worked,” said Poliakoff, who admitted that these paintings were very difficult to complete. Featuring irregular, geometric shapes and the color palette of the old masters, the “forme unique” compositions are what Poliakoff has become best known for. In works such as Composition Abstraite (1968), he juxtaposes vivid primary colors, layering pigments to create depth; other works such as Composition abstraite (1964) feature translucent, softer hues that add complexity to his stark forms.
“Silent Paintings” also includes a small selection of his earlier works from the 1940s—that focus on lines and monochromatic shapes—to illustrate the metamorphosis of his career.
“Silent Paintings” is on view at Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, Jan. 14–Feb. 21, 2015.