My first teacher in art painting
Our fate depends on so many things: place and time of birth, family, natural abilities, and the people we encounter on our life's path. The most consequential event in my life was meeting the painter Evgenia Erofeevna Bogdanova (“E.E.”) and the many years that I spent as her student were some of my most formative.
When I was 12 years old, my mom decided that the time for regular drawing lessons had come. I loved drawing from my early childhood, as many children do, especially if they are not discouraged at an early age. Colors and brushes were always present at home because my father, a mathematician by profession, was also a very good amateur painter.
To implement her plan, my mother, an associate professor of the Art History Department at the University of Leningrad, introduced me to her colleague Evgenia Erofeevna Bogdanova. At that time E.E. taught painting, drawing and composition to the future art historians.
E.E. was a slim middle-aged woman with Eastern features in a dark blue pinstripe suit, composed, with a piercing gaze and precisely measured movements. During our first lesson, which was held in an empty classroom, she placed a basket made of birch bark in front of me and had me draw it with a pencil to learn hatching. I was surprised by the simplicity of the first task, but it turned out to be rather complicated. Further lessons took place either at our home or in Evgenia Erofeevna's apartment. At first I drew plaster casts, baskets, stools, masks and still lifes. Then – finally - she began to allow me to paint in watercolor.
E. E. was first and foremost a painter, not a graphic artist, in me she found an enthusiastic student, as for me the color was always more important than the line. Even now, it is always a pleasure for me to go from the obligatory sketches to the colors. After the still lifes, came portraits and sketches of human figures, which I had to do as homework. I tortured my friends and relatives, who had to sit for me for a long time in various poses. At that time, my pencil would not have been called nimble.
A favorite of my teacher, herself a student of well-known Russian landscape painter Rylov, was "landscape painting". I remember rare trips into nature for painting. The first time was when I went with my father and my mother's colleague V.Y. Brodsky, to the Gulf of Finland's shore near Leningrad. Father and V.Y. cheerfully painted the scenery while I agonized over trying to draw some pine trees and sand dunes. I was surprised by V.J.Brodsky saying, "I will come home, put my sketch facing the wall and look at it in two weeks. Then I will understand if I like it or not. " That reminded me of the Evgenia Erofeevna's remarks on aerial perspective - how to change colors depending on the distance. Even now I hear the words of Evgenia Erofeewna about the purple shades of the pine bark. Throughout my life I remember what she told me, for example, "If you are undecided about how you can tackle a picture, take your paints and brushes, prepare your workplace, check out all of the painting utensils and the rest will start as if by itself! ". Or, "In order to assess the correct extent of the illumination of an object in still life, to properly assess the differences between the light, shadow, half shadow, and the reflecting light within the shadow, squint your eyes, then you will see the most important things."
During our studies, especially those that took place in her small apartment at the beginning of Tchaikovsky street near the Fontanka river, I learned a lot about art as well as life in general. About colors, "Compare, always compare. It is not just “-red-”, you need to know how this red looks next to the adjacent color." Or, "Life is three times shorter than you think. Try to have time to do what you want."
I can remember the following conversation between my mother and Evgenia Erofeevna. Mama, who specialized in Russian realists of the second half of the 19th century (although Vrubel and Somov were also a subject of her research), compared the French impressionists with their Russian contemporaries. She thought that the French "shone, but gave no warmth". She meant, that besides the aesthetics of light and air in their paintings, the impressionists did not pose any social questions or imply any psychological problems. But Evgenia Erofevna replied: "Yes, they continue to give the warmth." She was so popular among students, because she taught them to look at paintings as pure art, ignoring historical, psychological, and social considerations. She placed great emphasis on the theory of color, at colors' nuances, the contrasts of colors next to each other. This approach to teaching was unusual at the Institute of Art History, especially in the USSR in 1950s and 1960s . The Impressionists were "rehabilitated" only after Stalin's death.
It was Evgenia Erofeevna, who believed in me and was the first who told me that I could be a painter. I was pretty shy in my youth and it seemed to me that becoming an artist was something unattainable. I was learning to paint and draw, but I also took private music and German lessons. "Would my humble talent be sufficient for such an excellent profession as a painter?", I asked. "Of course, you can become a painter. Why do you come to me, if not for this? "- answered Evgenia Erofeevna. I would like to mention that I never heard this from my parents. My dad was a mathematician who thought I also was gifted in Math. He worried that if after the eighth grade I would go to the art school at the Mukhina Academy then I would get a bad general education. He should not have worried - the teaching was of a high standard in all subjects, in no way different from a regular high school. Having graduated from this art school, I entered Muchina Academy, where some professors were famous artists, but none of them had influenced me nearly as much as Evgenia Erofeevna had.