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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

The Way It Is

Artist in Residence
John Harrison

On a busy weekday afternoon at the end of March, I took some time to visit artist Davina Garrido de Miguel in her studio. It is a short walk up behind the red brick wall monastery on Petrovka, past some old buildings which are being refurbished, into a beautiful, old part of Moscow. This is Davina’s creative base, and where she holds art classes.

“Come up,” Davina said cheerfully. Minutes later I was enjoying a nice “cuppa” in an extensive gallery/studio. Davina was in the middle of painting a large pop-art style picture of a Stalin block with a cartoon character from the Soviet era “Cherabarushka” on top it. I asked her to carry on, saying I would ask some questions whilst she was painting.

How long have you been here, in Russia?

“Since 2009, about a year and a half.”

You’re an artist?

“Yes, all my life.

“And you’re from London?

“Yes, I’m half Spanish though. I think of my work as being a bit of a mix, I don’t really think of myself as being British. My work is also quite Latin in temperament.”

Do you manage to sell any work in Moscow?

“Yes, quite a lot. I sell a lot of my sketches of Moscow faces, mostly of people in the Metro.” Davina shows me some intriguing sketches which are half drawings, half paintings. “It is fun doing these, although sometimes it is difficult. One day I got on the Circle line, I like that line because you can go round and round on it. This guy stood right between me and the person I was drawing who was sitting opposite me. Then somebody else who saw my predicament, politely, but firmly nudged him along, gave me the thumbs up sign and let me carry on. Imagine that happening in London on the Underground! I sell a lot of these to ex-pats who want to know what Moscow is all about. These are reasonably priced, so they’re good souvenirs.”

Then Davina pointed to a large pop-art painting she was working on. “I’ve sold about four of these. The first one I did was for Moscow Museum of Modern Art. The word got out, and now people want one for themselves. They go for $3000 to $4000 each. In the summer I have very little to survive on, as all the ex-pats leave. Moscow becomes a ghost town, so I really need commissions like these. This one’s going to Stockholm. So this is bread and butter stuff, and when I can, I do my own stuff, which is more abstract, like Moscow walls, paintings similar to icons, and more figurative work. So I go from one thing to another, depending on my mood actually. That’s the problem with galleries actually: they like you to stick to one thing.”

Do you have more than one main style?

Before answering this question, Davina showed me into a store room, and pulled out some fantastic, large figurative works.

“This was commissioned by a very nice man called Nikolai, who owns a gallery. He was great, but all he wanted me to do was things like this. Large scale works, very academic, well executed. But I don’t want to do this every time! He said: well we can’t put an exhibition on then, and I said fair enough. So I decided to do it on my own, which is what this is. A lot of artists nowadays move from one style to another. Why should you be fixed into just one way of looking at the world?”

We went back to the main room. Davina started painting again.

“Do you work in acrylics?” she asked. “Do you like them?” I answer, no, not a lot. Davina agreed. “The way they darken, I find them harder than oil, it drives me crazy.” We talk about using acrylics in comparison to oils for a few minutes.

“The thing about Moscow is that it isn’t a bright-colour place. Even in the summer, what did we have last year: the smog! I was staring at the sun, it was a dirty little orangey disk; it was amazing. I did a painting during that time which is in going to be exhibited in London, but it should have been a bright blue sky with sun that you couldn’t look at.”

So you manage to sell things on a regular basis?

“I sell one large painting once every couple of months or so, but I sell the sketches regularly, at least two a month. They go. It’s only been the last three or four months that this has started to work out, where I can pay for the studio and pay for lots of other things. I have to say that the ex-pat community helps me a lot. They all know about me; they’re all very friendly.”

Who do you sell to?

“Mostly to ex-pats. But I’m getting some Russians coming in now, and more Russians to the classes too. They’ve mostly been taught very academically, so they’re quite hard on you. It’s really like the marriage of the two: the ability to use technique, but also the freedom. I remember when I went to art school, it was like: anything goes. They didn’t have life models. I had to fight for one, they said: ‘Oh, we don’t do that anymore.’ It was all about what are you thinking about in relationship to the universe. I mean what does the average 18 year old know about the meaning of life? What can you possibly say that is going to be meaningful to somebody of that age? All I wanted to do was learn how to look and draw. In the end, I did print making. I love print making. My next venture will be to set up a print making room. A proper press, etching, acid bath, and do some etchings, because they’re great fun. Have you ever done any? They’re lovely. You put it through the roller, you never know what you are going to end up with.”

So how many students do you get, is it very seasonal?

“Yes, in the summer it is dead, there is nobody here. I hold an open studio then, when people can just come in. I keep the Saturday morning class going for children. I keep one of my classes open on Wednesday evenings. There are more Russians attending that class, people come in from work. I also keep a life drawing class going for teenagers, because it is really difficult trying to find places to do life drawing in Moscow. I’d like to do a summer workshop here for some of the schools. The rest of the year I hold classes for all ages, for people aged 4 to 65. We do drawing, painting, sculpture, and intensive courses, even for professional artists who don’t want to be told what to do. We hold master classes and invite other artists in, it’s great, and it’s alive. Everybody is welcome. For the Russians, I am teaching art and also English. I explain things in English.

“The other big thing I do here is hold exhibitions. I really want to help artists get established. Galleries charge an awful lot here, sometimes 50%, I don’t charge anything like that, so this means something to people who are starting out. The next big exhibition coming up here is at the end of May. There’ll be all the students’ work and some of my work.”

“Artists command respect here, that is something that I find incredible. I mean it mean something to be an artist. I am glad that I live here, and don’t see myself going anywhere for a few years.”

You can find out more about Davina’s classes on:
ул. Петровка, 26, +7 (495) 694 553

EXHIBITION COMING UP! 28th May to 4th June.
11am-8pm. Private view on the 28th of May

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