Lives of the Artists VI

Norton T. Dodge, an American economist, travelled around the USSR on the pretext of gathering information for a book on Soviet women. He would then sneak off to meet unofficial artists, those who had been ignored or abandoned or ostracised by the powers-that-be, and smuggle their works back to the United States. John McPhee wrote about this unlikely moustachioed professor in a 1994 book. [1]

The artist who captured Dodge’s imagination more than any other was Evgeny Rukhin. Rukhin’s story runs through the course of this short but rich book, which includes color plates of a small sample of his prolific output: brooding squarish paintings on canvas or burlap, heavily textured, sometimes imprinted with a face from an icon, or collaged with a ragged bundle of broom bristles. Like many of the unofficial artists, Rukhin was supported by his wife, Galina Popova, an officially sanctioned artist who supplied him with materials. Before this, he had sometimes locked himself in public toilets so he could paint on the towels. She also put up with Rukhin’s many affairs, although an American professor who was one of Rukhin’s lovers describes an encounter that began when Popova attacked her with a knife, and ended when she threw the American woman’s handbag, containing her money and passport, into the lions’ den of the Leningrad zoo. [2]

[1] John McPhee, The Ransom of Russian Art, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994.

[2] George Wisner, ‘Book Review: The Ransom of Russian Art‘, Harvard Post, February 3, 1995.

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