People Aren’t Boring

When I was writing my proposal for the Charles Center scholarship I addressed the art and oral history aspects of my project separately. Aside from the obvious common ground of the place and people, I didn’t consider them to overlap. And yet, during my time in Russia I kept finding similarities between the principles of Realist painting and the principles of oral history. In particular, I kept thinking of an interview with Studs Terkel, which I read in preparation for my interviews.

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Kaluga

After spending a full six weeks in Vishny Volochok at the Academic Dacha, My brother said our goodbyes, packed up, and left for Moscow. But our time in Russia still wasn’t over for almost 3 weeks. We spent the remainder of our time with a painter named Ilya Yatsenko, who has been a friend of my brother for several years. Ilya spends most of the year in Moscow with his family, but during the summer often spends time at a family dacha in Kaluga. It was in Kaluga that we spent the bulk of our time. After making a trip to the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow’s biggest and most important Russian art collection, we piled into the car and left for Kaluga.

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Story Time

In my postings up to now I’ve talked about what I spent the vast majority of my time doing in Russia – painting. But no less important to my project, though it took up much less of my time was the oral history project I conducted with artists at the Academic Dacha. That’s what I proposed at the outset – to go paint with artists, and interview them about their lives and their art.

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Levitan in Petersburg

The weekend of June 13th we took a train to St. Petersburg to see an exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of Isaak Levitan’s birthday. Levitan was one of the 19th century’s greatest landscape painters. He may still be Russia’s most loved landscape painter. For anyone working with the landscape, the exhibition would be a must-see. The entire holdings of his work from the Russian Museum and loans from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, meant almost all of his greatest works were there, alongside of short sketches, drawings, pastels and prints that you can’t find in reproduction. It was additionally important for us because Levitan is a part of the same landscape tradition we were studying. A part, because his work is universally known and studied by all Russian painters, but also because his artistic lineage – who taught him, and who he worked with – overlaps with the lineage of all of the painters with whom we were studying in Russia.

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Painting in Volochok

Our first two weeks in Volochok we spent painting – in the morning, midday and evening, which during summer lasts until eleven when the sun finally sets. Our focus was on short etudes in oil – from life. For the most part we painted landscapes – in fields, on river banks and in the woods surrounding the dacha. As a general introduction to what’s involved in a typical day out painting, here’s a short list of essential Russian art vocabulary:

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