“I painted and drew as long as I remember myself. Every kid likes to play with colors and make funny little stick men. I was making hundreds of those, from morning till evening”.
Ivan Slavinsky was born in Leningrad in 1968 and raised in a cultural and highly educated family. His father was a famous artist, the head of an “official” art movement, highly appreciated in the Soviet Union; his mother, wasan acknowledged art critic. They had high standards and did not pay particular attention to the artplay of their son. Till one day…
By Natalia Shuvalova
Photos by Lana Abramova
“I was about 5 years when I felt tired of making the same old stuff. I noticed a nice picture on the wall (a reproduction of Raphael) and decided to make a copy of it. When I finished, I brought it to my mother. She could not hide her surprise, a sort of: ‘My son is a genius!’ When my father came home, he was struck too! He did not say much but the next day he took me to art school.”
To be exact, first he took little Ivan to the Children’s department store to buy the train set Ivan had wanted so much. “He bought me two! I asked for it before, but it never worked! At that point I thought: artists have a really nice life!”
Ivan got the degree from Art School and spent only two years at the Academy. He did not see much sense in staying there as his father has always been his major teacher. He taught by his own example and attitude towards art. It is hard to define the style Slavinsky works in. There are too many different ones: surrealistic portraits and landscapes that evoke pictures from Ray Bradbury stories; or impressionist still life pictures. Ivan admits that every masterpiece, of any school, has inspired him to work. He has learned from all of them to pursue his own ideas.
“I do not think that it is the style that makes the artist recognizable, but how much of his soul he puts into the work,” he says.
His first exhibition took place in 1991, but his name was already popular in St. Petersburg. When the Soviet era ended, artists got the freedom to create whatever they loved. No longer did they have to bother about “official” art. Slavinsky believes he was lucky to start at that time. Even five years earlier, his surrealistic landscapes of St. Petersburg streets would not be have been appreciated, to put it mildly.
“At that time there were no galleries. The Academy was supposed to make an annual exhibition of young artists but their exhibition never reflected what was truly going on. Most of the artists would go to the streets (laughs). There was no negative connotation
about that phrase. We were so enthusiastic about it. We would wake up at 4 a.m. to get the best places.”
Did it pay well?
“Quite well! The paintings sold like hot cakes! Foreign tourists were so eager and hungry to get something from Russia. Soon enough I got regular clients.”
Slavinsky did not spend much time on the streets, though. Soon enough he went to France.
He planned just a tourist visit, but a tour guide in Paris liked him and his wife so much that at the end of their three day visit he said: “Why would you not stay. Let’s go to extend your visas and you both can stay with me!”
He smiles at the easy way in which the French authorities allowed him to stay. He did not come home for nearly ten years.
French experience influenced his views on art and on the life of an artist in a cultural capital. He had the opportunity to share the premises of a deserted factory, where artists lived, painting on carpets, picking up garbage and eating tins of cat-food for lunch! But he seems to have been born under a lucky star. Finally, he got exhibited in one of the galleries and gained his reputation.
Before that, his lucky star allowed him to get his money for living from Russia…illegally.
“I had paintings sold back home. The problem was that there was no way to transfer the money: no banks, no money transfers. So I had an idea. I called my friend (all the time wondering if any official was overhearing our conversation) and gave him instructions on how to put the cash into the tubes of oil-paints. He did. Then he went to the airport and asked the pilot (yes, at that time it was as easy as that!) to give the case of colors and brushes to the artist in Paris. The pilot, by the way, was very honoured to help!”
Now, when his name is recognized in France, Holland, Italy, he is living back in Russia.
“I feel that it is easier for me to express myself here. After all these years, I can say for sure that there is a cultural difference between the countries that influence an artist. Today’s western art is too much about experimenting and novelty, while the public still has the taste developed over the course of centuries. It is great to experiment, but I strongly believe that an artist is also a craftsman whose duty is to satisfy the taste of the public. I do not mean it is the only duty. Besides, most of the modern artists in the West do not posses the basic painting skills. In this respect, Russians have an advantage. We can do wild things, but never loose our roots in Repin and Shishkin.”
As mentioned before, Ivan is a fantasist in his creative work. Though he easily shifts from style to style, he is predominantly surrealistic. But he depicts his fantasies with great technical skill.
In July, he opened his own gallery in his native city. He believes that every artist needs to have one. It gives the freedom to exhibit the works, and to create something not bothering whether it will be sold. He never had problems with that, but it always troubled him what the gallery would say about his other extra large size work.
“It is a problem even to take those paintings through a doorway,” he laughs.
Recently, he has been requested to paint the interior of the Archangel-Michael Cathedral in Cannes. It is an old Orthodox cathedral with a rich history, which houses the remains of Joann Kronshtadsky, Duke Andrey Vladimirovich. Slavinsky is very honoured, happily admitting that he has already received the blessing of the Priest.
No doubt he will be traveling a lot as his work with European galleries is not over. But his main passion is his own gallery on the Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg. He is much loved and in demand at home. The opening of the gallery on the 24th of June was a grand event attended by Russian TV, cinema and music celebrities. He arrived with Renata Litvinova, the famous actress and film director, in a cabriolet, and walked up the red carpet while smiling at the numerous photo cameras.