I have been trading work and conversing online with Alexey Stepanov of Saint Petersburg, Russia for over a year. Last year he led a group of Russian Stuckists in weekly painting gatherings—plein air along the river, in a cemetery, on the street, or in the studio with a changing model. (Stuckism is an international art movement founded in 1999 by London painters Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting as opposed to conceptual art.) I was, and am, captivated by the Russian’s camaraderie, humility, and skill through practice. I wanted to paint beside them and suggested in a grant application to CNYarts that I could use social media (Skype or its equivalent) to “appear” in their studio for several weeks, beginning as soon as the grant was awarded. I would keep detailed records (photos, video, biographical and work progress information of painters, etc.), amass a significant body of work, exhibit it along with several canvases shipped from Moscow, and host a detailed presentation to the community during an autumn exhibition.
Well, I got the grant, and as any over-elaborater will attest, hit the project running. And I still have not stopped. I have painted with The Russian Stuckists in several sessions—not as many as I had hoped, but life happened—Andrew Makarov got married, and both he and Alexey Stepanov moved to Saint Petersburg. Lena Ulanova joined the circus, and Alena Levina kept to her genius in Moscow. Still, it all worked out, as documented in this blog. The exhibition is in full swing at present, and I’ll be wrapping up by mid-December.
It is their perseverance and skills I wish to promote to my town, especially to the young and professional artists alike, who will be inspired by their story. I believe their paintings have merit, as do mine, yet overall, I know that their story will connect. As American artists, we can learn the thrill of painting, especially as it pertains to enthusiasm and camaraderie. Avarice and atomization have been creeping in over the past two generations. There is too much aloneness in the arts.
Communion has been one of my artistic goals for as long as I can remember. Expressive painting is a very powerful connector to people. We are an image and story-loving species. To give an example of how disassociated the arts have become to the general public (and even other artists!), for the past several years, I have opened up my house to exhibit my paintings. I invite friends, relatives, college professors, art teachers, even my periodontist—I see many of the same faces year after year, and am thankful, yet I am always surprised how few “artists” attend. What truly irks me is the non-attendance of those who teach the arts. As if they tacitly agree that art only happens in big cities like New York, London, Tokyo, so why bother having a subjective opinion of the work from the prolific painter next door. He’s nobody!
I believe students of all ages will be charmed with the idea that they too can plug into social media, display recent work, learn other styles and methods, and provide solo exhibitions on their own, in person (a Stuckist prerequisite). If small town Ron Throop from Forgotten County, New York, can inspire and be inspired by a group of very talented painters of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, then others can too. There are many avenues open to artists through Stuckist philosophy. My work will speak for itself. So too will the work of the Russian painters. Stuckism is active internationally, and “of the moment”. The manifesto reads as though it was written for me. Of course, I could not foretell back in 1999, that today I would be in a Moscow flat painting with strangers whose language I did not understand. Stuckism did that. Not me. I would have continued to paint alone and unknown, in absolute quiet desperation.