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How I Became an Artist

I refused to go with my father to the District Pioneer House to enroll in an artist's club.  I decided that it would be boring and, more importantly, I did not want to sacrifice my friendships in the courtyard.  Shortly thereafter, two friends - one, my former tormentor - suggested we join the club together.  I was very surprised when they explained that they would wait for me in the hall.  Such attention from my peers overcame my fear of boredom.  The accompanied me again to the next class, heroically keeping vigil at the door for more than an hour.  I suspect that my father secretly conspired with my friends.  I should say that my friends always liked my father.  He was sincerely interested in our activities, knew how to listen, and enjoyed going with us to the pond at Sokolniki to fish for crucian carp.  In so doing, he received no less pleasure than we did.

Later, I went to the studio alone.  Although classes followed a schedule, we managed to visit the studio almost every day.  The door could be opened easily with a penknife; a cleaning lady who appeared at the door now and then would leave upon seeing us drawing.

I remember our teacher well.  His name was Pyotr Petrovich (his last name does not remain in memory).  Apparently, he was among those who were not favored by the Soviet authorities.  Our District House of Pioneers was his place of refuge.  Tall and a little slouched, he was always dressed in a black suit with a narrow black tie.  His sleeves and lapels were shiny from intensive cleaning - like those of my father.  He always analyzed our work with a smile and never berated anyone.  In a conversation about me with my father he said:  "He has a God-given talent as a landscape painter," by which I was very flattered.

I grew to like going to the studio.  New friends there talked about books and music.  Everything was fresh and engrossing.  among the studio-goers, a spirit of "obsession with art" reigned, which many of them maintained for a long time.

Soon Pyotr Petrovich disappeared from the studio.  A young energetic man took his place.  He ordered a new lock for the studio door.  Now one could only draw during the established days of the schedule.

About that time, my father and I went to Moscow Secondary Art School for consultation and to show my drawings.  I was advised to enroll in the studio of Alexander Mikhailovich Mikhailov in the Central House of Pioneers.  The studio was very crowded and the teacher did not pay sufficient attention to most of us.  He was seriously engaged by a few, while others settled for infrequent comments.  I was among the "others."  I complained about this at home.  My father came to talk to Alexander Mikhailovich, asking whether it was worth my studying there.  At home, Papa retold the unexpected answer:  "Your son," he said, "is already smitten by all of this, and one way or another will be around.  So, do not worry, father.  Let your son study further."  

At that time and, subsequently, after I had already enrolled at the Moscow Secondary Art School (entering in the fourth grade of an eight-grade intermediate school, losing a year), I did not think seriously about the profession of being an artist.  I was convinced of the impossibility of an ordinary person doing something comparable to that which I loved in the Tretyakov Gallery, where, incidentally, we students spent a lot of time when we skipped classes in unspecialized subjects.  Levitan and the young Serov were our idols.  Secretly, I continued to love Shishkin.

After the Moscow Secondary Art School and an unforgettable summer practicum in Polenovo, there was no way out - I had to be an artist!  I selflessly rose at dawn to paint studies.  A forest, a field, fog from the Oka River or distant quarries became dabs on a piece of cardboard.  The world was seen from a distance - like in the studies of Polenov, Korovin, and especially Levitan.  It was easy to paint, since colors, vegetation, and sky appeared as the phenomena of one natural order.  I walked around covered with paint and was not aware that I was happy.  A sketch of The Oka River, 1949, is one of the few remaining works from that happy time.  As a reflection of that time later I made a painting 1949 in 1999, depicting gray reality with fear hanging in the air, accompanied with a text.  The text reads, "I didn't know that I was happy."

I dreamed about the Painting Department at the Surikov Institute but was accepted to the Graphic Arts Department instead.  After the third year, I attempted to switch to the Painting Department.  Director Madorov had promised to transfer me if I got all "A's."  I got the "A's" and had an exhibition of my works, mainly summer oil studies, in the auditorium of the Painting Department.  But I was not transferred.  Madorov said:  "It's OK!  Now you'll be a great graphic artist."

I stayed with the Graphic Arts Department.  Evgeny Adolfovich Kibrik was the head of the studio.  The atmosphere in his studio was drastically different from that to which I had become accustomed in the first three years.  For my thesis project I chose to do a series of linocuts, with Moscow as my theme.  Retrospect reflection of the diploma work are my paintings Conductor of Crows, 1988, and Performance 88, 2000.  I made the guache sketches easily and received the approval from my Professor. And then, I got lost.  Evgeny Adolfovich said, in his usual way, "Look, everything is so simple!"  But advice and instruction did not help.

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