TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE January 17 2015
There’s no denying it, I have a Russian soul. Not in the way Dostoevsky described “…the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything.” but for the fact that, all of my life I’ve been drawn to the time in history when Russians were at the height of their strength in creative expression and dominated every corner of the art world.
It started when I was eight. I had been taking ballet lessons for three years when I discovered the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. She became my heroine, and over the coming years I read every book I could find on her life. I learnt about the Ballets Russes , founded by Sergei Diaghilev, and from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise. I was introduced to the culture of the 1920s and earlier, yet at the time had no true understanding of the incredible breadth and depth to which this knowledge would affect me in later years.
If I look closely at where my prominent influences have come from - the artists, textile designers, writers , composers, stage and costume designers , who played an enormous role in putting Paris on the creative map in the early 20th century – the Russians were there. Many were paramount to the social changes that happened in Europe at that time and they did it through their art
These are my favourite: Tamara de Lempicka (ok I know she was Polish but she pretended she was Russian), Wassily Kandinsky, Leon Bakst, Marc Chagall, Lyubov Popova, Marie Vassilief, Igor Stravinsky, Anna Pavlova & Nijinsky, Dostoyevsky, Rodchenko and his role in Constructivism, El Lissitzky, one of the most important figures of the Russian Avant garde and known for his typographical art any graphic designer of today would be inspired by.
I continued taking ballet lessons for eight years in total but was forced to stop at the age of 13 by my step-father. I was devastated. I turned to the Surrealists for comfort and so continued my self-education and life-long devotion to the artists living and working during the fertile years between the wars.
But the dancing inside me has not stopped. Two of my best paintings to date are portraits of Principal dancers with the Australian Ballet, Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello. The background of Lana’s portrait is undoubtedly of Russian influence, and the painting of Daniel makes obvious reference to “L’Apres Midi d’un Faun”, the ballet in which Nijinsky performed the leading role at the premiere in Paris 1913
There’s no denying the Russians have left an indelible mark on the Art Deco period, and bestowed on me a life time’s supply of inspiration.