Second Day - St Petersburg 2019

We had meetings with Elena Bolgova, Sasha Larionova and Kirill Gorodetsky.  Kirill’s wave is high and he has been invited to show at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthday art party at his museum, along with two German painters.  We find that there is a theme to each day, and today’s is time.  Kirill is an expressive and entertaining raconteur and he describes how the week before he was a witness at a friend’s wedding – the friend had proposed to a girl at school when he was 14 and had been flatly turned down, but 40 years on they bumped into each other again and he was still single, still waiting for her, and so finally she accepted his proposal.  He says that he was always painting as a child, and his grandmother asked him to paint a picture of a beautiful woman … he did, and twenty years on met the woman in his mind that he’d painted … and married her. Friends cannot understand how he has a portrait of his wife, obviously done when he was a young boy, before they’d even met!

We also finally caught up with Pavel Antipov.  We first saw his work 3 years ago and were keen to show his extraordinary work, but nothing happened that year, and the following year on our return to St Petersburg we couldn’t get hold of him.  He brought us pictures as a gift to apologise for being a ‘bad boy’ and for not being in contact but he explained that in Russia they had a saying - that if you spend a long time to carefully harness the horse, you will have a good and fast journey, and that although it may have taken time to get where we were, and he had been very busy with commissions, he was now ready to paint a collection of pictures for us that we could have in a year’s time.  It is fantastic news, and we cannot wait to introduce his work to the UK in 2020.

Pavel Antipov

Pavel Antipov

Sasha also popped up again!  Last year he drove us to see Alla Lipatova and Nikolai Reznichenko, and then wanted to spend more time with us – introducing us to the Russian Film Director Viktor Tihomirov at his apartment overlooking the Church of Spilled Blood, taking us to jazz clubs and collecting us from the Mariinsky (no time for any such gallivanting this time!!)   It’s not often you see men running down the road to greet you with flowers, but Sasha is a real charmer.  His English encompasses four words – Wonderful, Beautiful, Tenderly, Deeply … you can woo a lot of women with those words and he is very soliticious and gentlemanly.  He has also been married five times before!   As he was taking us to see Alla and Nikolai again, we passed the church where they had married (they are childhood friends) and he was telling us the story of how one of the wedding guests had brought a watermelon as a wedding gift, but at the crucial time in the ceremony, where the crowns are exchanged, the watermelon began to roll down the aisle of the church, until it rumbled down to the altar where the happy couple were.  Nikolai Reznichenko often incorporates watermelon into his work as a result – an emblem of fruitfulness and a long and happy marriage.

It was good to see Nikolai and Alla so contented and happy in their countryside house, which is by a lake that has sauna cabins and men in very short swimming trunks when we visited.   Alla was telling us a story about how there is a bigger lake further up the road which has much bigger fish in it.  A friend had brought some fish for them from this lake, and because they didn’t want to gut the fish in their house they had taken it down to the lake to do.  ‘Where did you get that big fish?’ someone asked them, and she pointed to a clump of birch trees by the water … ‘just over there’ she said, and now anyone who visits with big fish are asked to gut them by the lake to perpetuate this wonderful myth that there are bigger catches to be had there.

Recently Alla and Nikolai got a kitten – MitzMitz, who Nettie tried to not so subtly catnap when we left, and we had to leave quickly because they had to go and meet another Gallerist to hand over two oil paintings destined for Tokyo.  We weren’t that restrained when choosing work to have ourselves ,and there is a fantastic collection on its way – the beauty of being given the privilege to go to the artist direct to select, we never take it for granted.

It is also lovely to hear how this artistic community interlink and support each other:  In Alla and Nikolai’s home, work from Andrei Smirnov and Armen & Olga Gasparian hang side by side, and Alla was telling us another story about how Armen & Olga had given them a Christmas tree in a pot as a present which they had then planted in the garden.  Their elderly neighbor remonstrated with them that this tree was going to cut out all her light when it grew … Alla had to tactfully point out that as the neighbor was in her 80’s and as you could hardly see the top of the Christmas tree over the length of the grass that the neighbor would be long gone before she was affected!

Nikolai told a story about the bicycle seats that hang on their wall – that they are from unwelcome cyclists who visit – he strangles them at night and all is left is the bike seat and their cycling glasses.

But seriously, you couldn’t find a warmer and more welcoming couple of people with big hearts, we always love our visits … and the cinnamon coffee, cake and cheese.

Francis IlesComment