Third Day - St Petersburg 2019
Thursday saw us meeting Andrei Atroshenko at the apartment and it was really good to see him looking so well. He had been ill earlier in the year but a good friend sent him to Cyprus for 10 days to recuperate and he set into action a schedule of exercise and good eating which he has continued on his return. As he said that our health was our own individual responsibility and that we had to look after ourselves, we tried not to think about the amount of cheese and salted Cornish butter (another suitcase essential) that we had consumed that week already. We ran through a few commission proposals with him that he was very happy to do and which we will hopefully receive in September along with a new collection of oils. He asks us to choose a complete piece of work that we hold to donate to our Art on a Postcard event and when we say how generous that is he says “You give things, the Gods give you things back.”
He wanted to take us to the Russian Museum of Art because there was a special exhibition on that was close to his heart – it showed the personal collection of three great St Petersburg families; the Naumov’s, the Berezovsky’s and the Palev’s. It was interesting to see the personalities of each collector shining through. Vladimir Berezovsky said “life goes on, and art is eternal” and this echoed what we feel about our own art collections, that we will be leaving something of ourselves behind in the pictures we leave for future generations to enjoy.
He particularly wanted to show us the work of two artists in pastel as something that he aspires to create – intense detail combined with sketchy areas that give a vibrancy and movement to the piece. Andrei and Vineta also bonded over the Durer ‘Knight, Death and the Devil’. Vineta recalled how, as a child, she saw this image on the cover of a magazine and how her grandmother got a piece of paper and drew it for her. It was the first time she realized that things could be created on paper like that, and more importantly, that she could do the same. Andrei, on hearing this recollection said ‘we are from the same family’. Same picture, same family background, same inspiration – and he wanted to shake her hand to reinforce that connection.
We say our goodbyes and head for our next studio visit – it is an impressive block provided by the Artist’s Union and houses 5 of our artists … well, currently 3 as it turned out that Nikolai Romanov and Julia Valtsefer had moved studios some time ago, but they very kindly waited for us to finish seeing everyone else so that they could take us to their new space. Olga Shirokova couldn’t be there as it was her parent’s Golden Wedding Anniversary but had given her studio keys to Anna and Sasha Shcheglova who showed us in. Getting work from Olga is so hard because she always insists that things aren’t finished, but without her there to disagree it was a doddle! We selected 7 beautiful canvases that we hope very much will wing their way to us and several large signs saying OLGA THESE ARE FINISHED PLEASE SIGN THEM AND SEND THEM!! We hope she got the message!
On a roll, we bowled into Alexei Kvaratskheliya’s studio … and lordy we rolled out some time later … a bottle of cha cha later!!
Alexei is 74 and until last year, hadn’t been back to his home country of Georgia in twenty years. But having returned, and realizing it wasn’t as painful to be back as he’d feared, he has visited a further two times. His granddaughter has just taken up Georgian Citizenship too. It was wonderful to see the photos he had taken, and the breathtaking mountain scenery, and along with his description of the restaurants, it had us signing up to go for our next trip.
His hospitality is always so generous, he explained “A guest, for a Georgian, is a gift from God”, and we tucked into delicious cakes, sweets and Georgian bread and with the treats to eat came glass after glass of Chacha.. He warned us that we shouldn’t have eaten the gorgeous, steaming hot Azerbaijan bread that we got from the side of the road the day before as if you eat hot bread it isn’t good for your digestion.
Chacha is traditionally home brewed and is around 50-60% proof. A Georgian speciality, it is drunk with numerous toasts which can follow a set list – 1 for politeness, 2 for balance, 3 for the trinity … or 1st health 2nd happiness 3rd success …Most poignantly was Alexei’s toast for peace and he described how this was so important to him having lived in a war zone - “In a warzone your human rights are completely removed, you become like a little ant, you don’t exist anymore. When we are so used to living in peace and not suffering, we don’t appreciate that, we take it for granted.”
There had to be extra ones for Nettie’s impending Nuptials … Lucy proposed a toast to Alexei which was fulsome in her love and affection for him “you’ve gone too far now” was his reply … anyway, five toasts later … it could have been six … the bottle was empty.
Meanwhile, poor Julia and Nikolai were waiting to take us to their new studio! We did a 40 minute dash across town in a taxi and of course, it was still light! Knowing what a challenging year they have had, walking into this new, incredible space was very emotional. It had such a beautiful feeling to it, and we marveled at the high ceilings and light flooding in. Julia comes from a very highly regarded artistic family, and she described how her father’s studio was the mirror image of this one, in the block next door. As a child, when she’d had enough of watching him paint, she used to play on the piece of land between the two buildings. A lovely synchronicity, and a feeling of coming home, full circle.