Fourth Day - St Petersburg 2019

The final day dawned and we had appointments at the apartment with Alexander Kirilov who is promising us 6 exquisite new canvases,  and Olga Simonova who has been very busy with the renovations to her new house which is towards the Finnish border.  She shows us photographs of the beautiful mosaic floor she has laid herself in the entrance hall – a tree whose branches echo its roots.  This isn’t DIY this is art creation!!

Boris Anikin bounces in looking incredibly hale and hearty – the alfresco lifestyle he lives from May to September at his Dacha 40kms away obviously suits him.   He shows us pictures of lakes, fishing, his garden studio and his trees which are Christmas trees but which he prunes into a round ball as he doesn’t like triangles.  He shows us video of his son Denis mowing the grass and we get an update on how his business is going – Denis has planted acres of new fruit trees on his organic apple farm, and though, his is almost like a cottage industry compared to the monolithic farms in Russia, he is doing well.

Lucy reads him a message that we received from someone Boris worked with back in the 90’s – a portrait artist called Stan Hurr.   When Stan was overwhelmed with commissions, Boris would help out and Stan recalled “I was in awe of his work, we were both using pastels and I loved to watch him work.  He was living with his wife near Eastbourne.  He spoke hardly any English, listening to Russian radio as he worked, despite that, we got on well.”   Boris was delighted to hear from Stan, and we were able to give him contact details for him as Boris said he thought about him often.  He remembered those times with great fondness, and how he would have to paint portraits from tiny and terrible photographs.  He was also bemused by English people’s tendency to have their animals painted. 

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He would like us to have some new work, but everything he paints at the moment sells out, so he will plan to get some work to us when his son Denis visits his other son Daniel who lives in Eastbourne, in November.   We applaud him on his two fabulous sons, and he says he was a bit stupid to only make two to care for him.  We ask if we can take his photo and he has to put on his lucky cap that he bought in London in 1996 … he says he doesn’t smile in photos but we make him laugh, and capture a little bit of his super spirit.

After Boris dashes out, Anastasia Bazanova dashes in, on a mission to St Petersburg to deliver a precious cargo and to set up an exhibition of her work for White Nights.  She usually lives with her parents Alexey Bazanov and Liubov Bazanova in Kaluga, to the south of Moscow, and with her is her young son who is very shy and who doesn’t want to come into a room to see these strange ladies so he waits on the landing instead.

Anastasia Bazanova with the painting of Lucy’s daughter Libby painted by her dad Alexey Bazanov

Anastasia Bazanova with the painting of Lucy’s daughter Libby painted by her dad Alexey Bazanov

The precious cargo was an oil painting of Lucy’s daughter Libby – a gift from Alexey to commemorate her 21st birthday.  The generosity of spirit that this gift conveyed, and how beautifully he had captured her, made receiving it overwhelming. 

We had recently received a new collection of work from Alexey by post which features in our latest Quarterly Collection 2, and we asked Anastasia if it would be possible to see work from her as well “if you would like to” was her modest reply.

Later that evening we managed to visit the impressive private art museum called Erarta which houses work from 300 artists from across Russia, and walking into the main gallery space on the 5th floor we saw a familiar sight – the huge and powerful oil painting called “Opposition” by Alexey.   It forms the focal point to a collection under the title “Save the Individual” – Joseph Brodsky’s Nobel Lecture said “A work of art forms a direct relationship, devoid of any intermediaries, with an individual.  This is why art is so unloved by the zealots, the rulers of the masses and the heralds of historical necessity – for where art has trodden a path, they find that unconditional consent and unanimity have given way to individual reflection and multiple opinions.”  Alexey’s work illustrates that most beautifully, and his personal gift gives even more strength to the individual bonds that tie our two families together, working for the greater good.

Making our way down through the museum we came across another familiar sight – Anastasia’s work “Morning” looking glorious in this very special museum space.  Lucy found a magnet of Anastasia’s picture in the gift shop, so of course had to take it home – pictures by father and daughter will be in her house

We had arranged to meet Anna Shcheglova and her daughter Sasha at their apartment and we fell upon the feast that Anna had prepared for us – our first hot meal in a week!!  Most of Anna’s output is going to China at the moment and she gave us a great lesson of whether a painting can be classified as Feng Shui or Non Feng Shui … so we have asked her to send 4 paintings that are all certifiably Feng Shui!  It was wonderful to see Sasha’s latest work too and how her skill has developed since we last saw her two years ago.  25 year old Sasha is just finishing her fourth year at the Repin Institute of Arts and has a further two years to complete.  

Sasha Shcheglova

Sasha Shcheglova

The magnificent painting of cows has been purloined by her professor – they are famous for commandeering work that they admire for the Institute’s collection.  She remonstrated with them that it was such a large and important piece for them to take, and so they sent her on a trip to Rome as some recompense.   She was telling us how students know all sorts of tricks to ensure that their professors don’t keep their work, putting in deliberate mistakes so that their professor’s point out what is wrong and ask them to correct it, and therefore they can take them home.    She has won first prize this year and the year before for her work, last year she had a study trip to China provided by the Institute and she explains they said “Sasha, you are a good student and you can go to China again this year to study”.  She really is a star.

Sasha with her gold medal for this year’s work.

Sasha with her gold medal for this year’s work.

They took us to the Museum of St Petersburg Art because there was an exhibition by an artist close to both Anna and Sasha’s heart - Tatyana Nazarenko.  With superb timing it happened that Tatyana and her husband Igor Novikov, who was also exhibiting, were at the Museum and it was lovely to watch Sasha and Anna engage with them and the Museum’s director.  Sasha showed us one of her favourite paintings – a woman carrying a cross and crying, and Sasha says she feels that this represents the lot of female artists in Russia - that it is hard for a woman to succeed in what is considered a man’s profession.  She says that Tatyana Nazarenko is a pioneer for her, and she loves the way that she paints from the heart rather than the head, as the tendency in St Petersburg is to intellectualize everything.

What a perfect note to end our trip on – with Sasha Shcheglova embodying the next generation of artists shining bright with true talent and passion … we cannot wait to one day present her work in the UK.

Francis IlesComment