Viktor Popkov (whose exhibition I visited a few weeks ago) often visited the Arkhangelsk region of Russia. In particular, he spent time in the villages along the river Mezen, which informed some of the more introspective works of his career. It was a hard life for the villagers, not often joyous.
Popkov remembered an occasion when some friends came to visit the old lady with whom he was living in the Mezen region…
The women “sat there for a long time, recollecting the past, drinking home brewed beer, eating fermented cod and, forgetting all about me, gradually went back completely to that far-off time when life was just beginning for them. I lay on the bare floor by the wall and looked up at them. I must have dozed off or my concentration lapsed, and when I came to my senses I suddenly saw the whole scene clearly … I remembered my father, killed at the battlefront when he was just 35, and my mother’s unhappiness, and the whole tragic sense of what was taking place before my eyes. How was this possible! Why, for God’s sake, were they so alone? Where were their husbands and their children? Where was the happiness which should have belonged to them? Why had fate been so unkind towards them?”
(From the exhibition notes, Somerset House.)