Here I am having a cognac with colorful Russian artist and cold war cartoonist, John Kudryavtsev.
I just got back from a week in Vladivostock, on the Pacific coast of Russia. I did a joint exhibition with Russian artist and political cartoonist John Kudryavtsev. See some photos from the exhibition’s opening here. I spoke at some universities and I had an opportunity to meet with local newspaper editors.
The trip and exhibition were sponsored by the US State Department. Vladivostock is rather exotic; I’ve never been to Russia before. The city is on the Pacific coast, close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. Vladivostock was closed to foreigners all through the Soviet years, making it all the more mysterious.
Vladivostock is the home of the Russian navy and submarine fleet in the Pacific, and the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway that runs across Russia to Moscow. There was a snowstorm while I was there and everything was icy. I was told that “there is no cold weather, only cold clothing.”
The exhibition featured John's Cold War cartoons from the 1980's, with lots of evil America bashing. It was a funny contrast to my cartoons, which weren't about Russia at all.
My cartoons are quite foreign to a Russian audience, but all of the college students were enthusiastic and we had a great crowd at the opening of the exhibition.
Everyone asked me, “What do you think of Russia so far? How are Russians different?” What strikes me is that Russians have plenty to complain about, and that they pass off big problems with a shrug; for example they’ll say, “Oh yes, our old mayor is a mobster and he’s on the run from the law now … oh well.” Or, “Yes, our beaches are all polluted, but just drive five hours south and we have some lovely beaches.” Maybe it is because Russia has such a rough, terrible history that Russians have some perspective on today’s problems.
The people in Vladivostock like to complain about traffic and I drew the cartoon below, comparing their complaints to our traffic complaints in Los Angeles. The local newspaper ran the cartoon across their front page and it was a local topic of conversation. Some Russians told me that I’ve got it wrong, and Russians are the champion complainers.
I drew this cartoon about Los Angeles vs. Vladivostock traffic jam cursing, which made the front page of the local newspaper, above the fold.
I spoke to one group of students at a the prestigious Far Eastern State Academy of Art, where the art students do only realistic oil paintings. The six year college has six instructors, and each instructor shepherds a class of twelve students through the entire six years of instruction. The students enter their portfolios into a contest for admission to the college and their tuition is free. When they graduate, they have the inside track on joining a prestigious Russian artists union, which seems to be an important goal for all of them.
I was struck by the realistic style that all of the students and their teachers shared. A committee judges their common style to let them into the school, then the students study under teachers who share that style, then the students aspire to join a union of artists who paint in the same realistic style. I asked the dean of the art school if any of the students were cartoonists, her answer was, “no.”
The realistic oil paintings were very nice - just so similar. One student came up to me after my presentation and gave me some impressive editorial cartoons he had drawn; one of his cartoons is posted below, and I regret that I didn’t get the young cartoonist to write his name down for me. (To the talented, young, Russian cartoonist, please leave your name in a comment, I’d like to give you credit here and I apologize for being so rushed at the end of the lecture.) It was great to see that there really was a cartoonist at the school.
Here I am on the local TV news, along with a university class where I gave a lecture (they call it a “master class”) and a clip of cartoonist John Kudryavtsev with Yuri Volkogonov who curated the exhibition.
This trip was quite an adventure. I’d like to thank the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostock for their efforts in making all of this come together, especially Sylva Etian, Zhenya Diamantidi and Dmitriy Motovilov. A special thanks to Yuri Volkogonov for putting together a great exhibition and for dinner with his lovely family.