Russian Folk Art from 1905 Defines Me April 14 2020
“This decoration, which appeals both to the eye and to the fancy, lies in the fact that it deals more with color than it does with line, and, with rare exceptions, deals with simple subjects simply treated. It seeks its inspiration in the very heart of life - in nature as seen through the eyes of the peasant, who is free from all the conventionalities of civilisation, and whose eye is unspoilt by the constant contemplation of the ugliness which is so unsparingly distributed around us. The real poetry of life is the peasant's birthright - he is in ceaseless intercourse with the splendour and mystery of ever-changing nature, therefore his art is spontaneous, sane, vigorous and serene.”
This long quote is from Netta Peacock’s article about Russian Decorative Art written in 1905 for International Studio magazine. I was fortunate to win a box of these magazines at a recent farm auction in SE MN and have been pouring over them since. This paragraph of Netta’s, speaking about the Russian peasant decorating their farmhouse, had me staring into the middle distance for minutes, amazed that she said what I’ve been trying to articulate for years. I’ve struggled, as most do, to define why I do what I do. And after reading it the third time to make sure I read it right I said ‘Self, that’s about you.’
The line ‘whose eye is unspoilt by the constant contemplation of the ugliness which is so unsparingly distributed around us’ makes me wonder what Netta would think of any American suburban commercial corridor, especially the inner ring ones built in the 1960s and ’70s with their strip malls and parking lots, drainage ditches and inhuman proportions unfit for walking or civility. Designed for cars and speed and convenience they suck psychic energy without us even noticing why we’re tired all the time. It takes a lot of energy, at least for me, to just slog through the hell that Robert St S in Saint Paul MN, my local commercial chaos corridor. So what about eyes that are spoilt, absolutely ruined, by the ugliness that is distributed around me. The Russian peasant made his art to glorify his surroundings, I make mine to escape it.
Luckily my neighborhood proper is syrupy Rockweillian with tree-lined streets and well-tended gardens and kids on scooters. I do seek out and make sure to surround myself and family with nature and flowers and pretty and weird things so we can rebuild our energy for the next time we need to suffer the onslaught of modern life. And I hope my art can be that pretty and weird and refreshing thing for others when they need to recharge.