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Monday, March 9, 2015

Grigoriy Myasoyedov

The Burning of Avvakum, 1897, Grigoriy Myasoyedov
If a painter wishes to become a successful professional artist, he or she must, somehow, stand apart from the crowd of likeminded other painters. I suppose that principal applies to any number of other professions as well, but especially those involving the arts. No one ever told me this, but I guess, as an Ohio University art student back around 1970 (forty-five years ago), it was intuitive. I began creating large-scale paintings, one a kind of giant chart tracing the changes in a face from a one-year-old child to a 64-year-old man. I called it How to Grow a Man in Sixty-four Easy Lessons. I haven't displayed it in decades, but back when it was fresh off the easel, it was rather startling and even garnered me some press coverage. In a similar vein, I started doing what I called "collage paintings"; not an actual collage with paint added, but a painting utilizing a collage as its source material. My first such work using that concept contained several recognizable American faces plus a number of others which were merely symbolic. I called it The Real America (bottom).

Busy Time for the Mowers, 1887, Grigoriy Myasoyedov
Grigoriy Myasoyedov Self-portrait
I didn't invent this "startle the viewer" concept; far from it, in fact. Painters, sculptors, writers, architects, and all manner of others have been using it for centuries, at least back to when Michelangelo switched from carving naked giant slayers to painting ceilings. It worked for him. You would think, after forty-five years, I would have had more success with such a ploy. Maybe I didn't stick with it long enough, or didn't startle quite enough. The Russian Realist painter, Grigoriy Myasoyedov, was familiar with the "startle the viewer" concept too. It's not often you see people being burned alive at the stake as in his The Burning of Avvakum (top), from 1897. Myasoyedov was born in 1834, making him sixty-three by then, so it didn't exactly make him a household name (which only a Russian household could have pronounced, anyway). Maybe, like myself, he didn't startle enough, or often enough, or (in his case) soon enough. I mean, his Busy Time for the Mowers (above), from 1887, is a nice enough painting, but startling it's not.

The Escape of Grigory Otrepyev from Inn,1862, Grigoriy Myasoyedov
By the way, for those like myself not all that familiar with Russian history, Avvakum was a Russian Orthodox protopope (almost a pope) who bucked the church establishment when they tried to introduced liturgical and doctrinal reforms in the early 1600s. The church first imprisoned him for fourteen years in Siberia before resorting to the scene Myasoyedov painted. After Siberia, Avvakum must have welcomed the warm spell...for a while anyway. Myasoyedov was a product of the Imperial Academy of the Arts where, in 1862, he received a gold medal and an all-expenses-paid tour of the art capitals of Europe for his The Escape of Grigory Otrepyev from an Inn (above, a scene from Pushkin's Boris Godunov). Okay, this one is a little bit startling. He visited Paris, Florence, Rome, and Spain before returning to Russia in 1870 when he was elected to the Academy. Shortly thereafter, he became one of the many founders of the Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions.

The Yalta Harbor, 1890, Grigoriy Myasoyedov
Sower, 1888, Grigoriy Myasoyedov
In 1861, while still a student, Myasoyedov had married a Russian pianist named Ekaterina Krivtsova, but divorced her shortly before a son, Ivan, was born claiming the child was not his. Even after his second marriage to artist, Kseniya Ivanova, he refused to have anything to do with the boy. Only after Myasoyedov became wealthy and the boy became a man, did the two have any contact. In 1889, having acquired a large manor house in Poltava, complete with a park, ponds and gardens, Myasoyedov resigned his teaching post with the Academy (protesting their teaching methods). From that point on, until his death in 1911, Myasoyedov painted only what he liked and when he liked, concentrating mostly on religious subjects and genre scenes of peasant life similar to earlier works such as his Sower (left) from 1888, or his The Zemstvo at Lunch (below), from 1872. None of them were particularly startling.

The Zemstvo at Lunch, 1872, Grigoriy Myasoyedov.
The Zemstvo was sort of town council made up of five economic classes.
These are the peasants.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Real America, 1970, Jim Lane
That's me in the lower right corner. (Startling enough?)


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