The Monstrous Feminine in Flora Yukhnovich’s Luscious Canvases at the Ashmolean

Flora Yukhnovich, She Herself is a Haunted House (detail), 2023.

Flora Yukhnovich, She Herself is a Haunted House (detail), 2023.
courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro
Flora Yukhnovich, She Herself is a Haunted House (detail), 2023.
In a New Series, the Artist Finds Dark Source Material

In a New Series, the Artist Finds Dark Source Material

courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Flora Yukhnovich, Teeth, 2023.

“Flora's new paintings evoke a sense of uncompromising form and color.”

Lena Fritsch

A rising star in the art world is British painter, Flora Yukhnovich. In 2021, her painting, I’ll Have What She’s Having, sold at auction for £2.3 million ($2.9 million). She’s 33. Currently on view in a two-person show with Daniel Crews-Chubb at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, Yukhnovich has six new large-scale paintings, created for the contemporary exhibition series, ‘Ashmolean NOW,” which was launched in the summer of 2023 and invites artists to create work inspired by the historical collections at the Ashmolean. The paintings are, in a word, gorgeous.

It’s exciting to see a young artist luxuriating in the paint. You can feel her love of oil paint by the way she applies the material thick and diluted contrasting light and dark, layering paint with loose and controlled brushstrokes. And the colors! Plump pink and rose, purple and turquoise, creamy white and blackthe colors stream across the canvas like a song. These are luminous paintings, and deserving of praise.

But all is not what it seems. Behind each painting is subtext that is curiously contradictory to what you see in front of you. All those blooms of pink, sweeps of luscious color floating and colliding before you, are conveying a dark motive. Take for instance, She Herself is a Haunted House, 2023. The painting is over nine feet wide, brimming with lush reds, rose, pinks, and dark recesses in black. While she was painting the picture, Yukhnovich was thinking about the idea of being inside a flower. In the exhibition catalogue, she said, ‘I wanted the painting to be like a red cavernous room, a monstrous womb-type place, where dark things happen.”

Eva Herzog

Flora Yukhnovich in her studio.

While painting these works, all of which are new, for the Ashmolean exhibition, she watched horror films, like Carrie, Witch, and Raw. The central female character in these films becomes dangerous and monstrous when she hits puberty. Yukhnovich’s large painting, Teeth, 2023, is based on the Venus Flytrap plant that is carnivorous, and the 2007 horror film, Teeth, about the fear of vagina dentata, the myth that a woman’s vagina has teeth and that a woman’s body, in general, contains dark secrets. The teal and dark greens dance around tongues of crimson red.

“Flora's new paintings evoke a sense of uncompromising form and color,” said Lena Fritsch, the curator of ‘Ashmolean Now.’ “Circular shapes and soft contours suggest organic growth, while glowing light and dark contrasts create an illusion of three-dimensional depth. Thick oil paint is combined with thinned down lucid paint covering the canvases in engulfing compositions, overflowing as if to continue outside the frames. Carefully rendered shapes suggestive of plants, fruits and corporeal elements are complemented by loose marks and dynamic brush strokes that convey a powerful rhythm and draw attention to the artistic materials and the process of painting. They are good paintings.”

Flora Yukhnovich, Hell is a Teenage Girl, 2023.
courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Flora Yukhnovich, Hell is a Teenage Girl, 2023.

Flora Yukhnovich, I Might Have Known it Would Be Red, 2022.
courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Flora Yukhnovich, I Might Have Known it Would Be Red, 2022.

Flora Yukhnovich, Teeth, 2023.
courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Flora Yukhnovich, Teeth, 2023.

Flora Yukhnovich, She Herself Is a Haunted House, 2023.
courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Flora Yukhnovich, She Herself Is a Haunted House, 2023.

These are good paintings. Carcass, seven feet by six feet, is like a floral display at the height of summer. There’s even a plump, ripe blueberry at the bottom, maybe a bright bluebird hiding in a flurry of deep green leaves. But flowers decay and deform. Ashmolean Museum houses a collection of Dutch and Flemish still lifes from the 17th century. Before making the paintings for the Ashmolean NOW exhibition, Yukhnovich spent time in the Still-Life Paintings Gallery at the museum. In that gallery, ninety-four paintingsa gift to the museum in 1940 from the collection of Theodore W. H. Wardhang salon-style with an abundance of flowers and fruit.

“When I decided to do the Ashmolean NOW exhibition series, inviting contemporary artists into the Museum, the first artists that came to my mind were painters,” said Fritsch. “Ashmolean NOW engages with new artistic voices, encourages critical conversations and supports early-to mid-career artists, who are based in the UK. They spend time with the collections, before creating their contemporary responses.”

Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Jan Weenix, A Vase of Flowers, 1680. Like all artists invited to participate in the exhibition series, Ashmolean NOW, Flora Yukhnovich spent time with the Ashmolean collections before creating her own paintings in response. This was among the works that inspired Yukhnovich's new paintings.

In preparation for this exhibition, Yukhnovich not only studied the 17th century still life paintings, but also collected images of the “monstrous feminine,” as Fritsch termed them, that she hangs on pinboards in her studio to reference while she paints. In this collage of ideas are images of the following: a still from the film Carrie—with Carrie covered in blood; slimy brown baked beans; a bruised arm, and Kim Kardashian. There are also piles of bridal magazines. Having as their source material both this panoply of images along with historical artworks makes for skilled, dynamic and powerful paintings.

After completing her MA at the City & Guilds of London Art School in 2017, Yukhnovich had her first solo exhibition at Brocket Gallery, London that same year. In 2018 she completed The Great Women Artists Residency at Palazzo Monti, Brescia curated by Katy Hessel. She was invited to spend a residency in Venice where she studied Venetian rococo, that resulted in the exhibition, Flora Yukhnovich: The Venice Paintings and Barcarole in 2020. Her sources for that work were the Tiepolo ceilings, the memoirs of Casanova, and music of Antonio Vivaldi. Those paintings are bluer and cooler than the fiery reds and pinks of her works at the Ashmolean. Yukhnovich is represented by Victoria Miro gallery and Hauser & Wirth.

Flora Yukhnovich’s large paintings are to get lost in. They are stunning and the viewer could leave it at that. But there is certainly more than meets the eye. This is a young artist who is already a star.

About the Author

Dian Parker

Dian Parker’s essays have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines. She ran White River Gallery in Vermont, curating twenty exhibits, and now writes about art and artists for various publications. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. To find out more, visit her website

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