Gregori Maiofis is even in external appearances similar to the philosophers of ancient Greece. He may confound the viewer with a strange, new sense, mixing images and words, just as the debates of ancient thinkers, confronting each others' ideas, forcing listeners to stand frozen with surprise. Getting acquainted with the works of the artist Maiofis, it is impossible to avoid the trepidation and the laughter that signify the joy of discovery. Since in his best works Maiofis refers to archetypal literary subjects, to proverbs and sayings from around the world (these maxims are a fount of timeless knowledge), he can hardly be suspected to be in search of contemporary topicality. Indeed, he claims to be engaged in a struggle with the eternal: art and wisdom. Even in the illustrations of texts too old to be of known authorship, Maiofis avoids specifying the time. He does not 'age' his pictures as a matter of stylization - they do not refer to any specific epoch in the history of art, but rather refer to the history of art as such.

Maiofis is an artist. He is a painter and graphic artist by inheritance: several generations of his family have worked in the field of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Techniques, representing a terra incognito not merely for viewers or photographers (who are often far removed from classical art), but also for contemporary artists, are childhood memories to Maiofis, from when he painted in the studio of his father, a famous illustrator and etcher. Why would a young man, after studying at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and at a school of modern art in America, abandon painting, to then enthusiastically dedicate himself to the study of photography? Probably it has enriched his language as no other medium. Someone who is chasing the mobility of images, selects video, but Maiofis found a way to make the image engaging through hyper-realistic photography, particularly through straight photography, shot in a studio, not designed with later assembly in mind. It is hard to image the determination required on the part of the artist - with the subjects being the most fantastic, the execution of which require animals to model, coaxed into position by a trainer. It seems as if Maiofis is testing the limits of power - power in the most literal "animal" sense: the power of the strong over the weak, the wise over the strong. For this reason we find so many monkeys, bears, lions, elephants in his work - not simply to make for an entertaining circus, but as specific symbolic animals with a rich cultural genealogy.

Photography gives Maiofis the optical saturation of the image. Photography in Maiofis' hands defies the traditional genre of mythological paintings (where else in the history of art were allegorical images of nature so plentiful). Photography becomes a subject of the aesthetic experience of textures and tonal values, enrapturing those who grew up on Japanese prints and the paintings of the European school of abstract textures.

Maiofis holds in the scales both the plot and its execution. On one side the plot, visualized through the paradoxical thinking of the artist who is able to read the text as a set of associations. On the other side - the artistry of the photographer, working with light and composition, and the printmaker, revelling in his own possibilities, playing with different kinds of paper, printing techniques, colour, tonalities. The scales are in an unstable equilibrium. Maiofis does not like to repeat himself, and even within a single composition creates a number of prints, uniquely varied in position and size, such that the cup of aesthetics is ready to tip the balance in its own favour. But then begins the pull of the cup of the imagination, the one generating the joyous laughter of knowledge. It is said that even Aristotle saw in laughter a sign of purity, the absence of 'conflict of interest'. Laughter is cleansing. What has made Maiofis so popular (and justly so) in our day? Among other merits, perhaps it is his ability to point to the salvatory balcony, standing on which, one can enjoy the ridiculousness of life to the full - those situations in which we, contemporaries, all find ourselves.

Irina Tchmyreva
PhD, –°urator of photography at Project in Support for Photography in Russia, IRIS Foundation, Moscow