creativity begins when you feel the power
of that merciless "tiger" inside yourself…"
I remember the very first time I met an artist. I
was 5...it was summer... Russian South... in a little
town called Evpatoria... Black Sea splashing green
waives on a pebbled beach.
cracked, asphalt driveway, covered with crawling shiny
snails, leads me to a small plywood shack. I look
into the half-opened door. A man with a beard was
sitting on a small chair. He was painting something
I was amazed by his ability to paint, to make things
and faces with only strokes of a brush. I liked the
smell of the paint. I thought that the artist was
a magician, even though he was only a poster-maker,
working for the local movie-theater. But, I didn't
know that. He could paint - that was the most important
thing to a little boy.
The desire was awakened inside of me. I wanted to
be like him - to draw, to paint, to be a magician,
to make tricks with colors and lines. At that moment
I learned something about myself - I am an artist
too. That ordinary meeting with the local poster-maker
was a very important event leading me to the future.
spent first three years of my life living in the territory
of a St'Petersburg mental institution named after
Mr.Skvortsov-Stepanov. My Grandma worked there as
a nurse. She was taking me to her work very often.
I was small and could not understand what was really
going on in there.
I remember a big fish tank with greenish water in
it. Within the tank, fat striped Scalars Fish, with
distorted proportions, swam silently in slow motion.
Strange taciturn people were stumbling along the corridor.
My mother, Grandma, Dad and I were living together
in two small rooms in a big two-story building. Quite
often, my memories carry me back to that house. I
hear the sound of big trees rubbing against each other
in the wind, and the sharp noise of black crows. I
can see people in their gray hospital uniforms taking
walks in the yard. The aura of an unreal world was
behind it - dreams, desires, passions, and strange
that has happened to me in life seems now to be continuation
of this mental image.
My ancestors were priests, church community leaders,
peasants, and Dukes Levasovs but only one of my ancestors
had a hidden passion for painting. My great grand
father was an icon painter (or "bogomas"
as Russians would say). He was good at mural paintings
and made frescos for the church of Ostashkovo village.
That church was leveled in the Second World War. However,
by some miraculous circumstance, people saved one
icon, painted in his workshop. I have that icon hanging
on the wall in my studio.
Mom and Dad didn't have a talent for painting, but
they were taking me to the Hermitage and Russian Art
Museum in St'Petersburg very often. My imagination
was completely taken by art works of the Russian artist
Aivasovsky. I was looking at his pictures of the sea
and waves for hours. I was particularly fascinated
by one huge green wave. It was ready to fall on me
and take me to the depth of the sea. Aivasosky's pictures
reminded me of big fish-tanks. The only thing missing
in them was big-striped Scalar Fish. Soon, I got my
own aquarium. I was sitting in front of it, looking
at the silent and flowing movements of the fish. The
world of water was fascinating; pulling me closer.
was 1974, the year of the Tiger. One day I came back
from school. I didn't see my aquarium in the room.
The hundred-liter vessel had fallen to the floor and
was broken. It was considered as a sign of misfortune.
But I didn't know that. In a couple of days my friend
and I went to swim in Sunny Bay ("Solnechnoye")
not very far from St'Petersburg. I remember that place
very vividly. It was a children's playground with
a small lake, and a castle with strange looking statues.
They reminded me of those from the Easter Island.
Almost thirty years passed since then, but strangely
enough those statues are still there.
It was a hot sunny day. I wanted to swim, so I jumped
into the water. I remember a greenish yellow turbid
light coming through the thickness of water above
me. I was under the water and I could not move. I
was looking at the rays of light, and could hear people
laughing on the shore and music playing. But all that
was happening on the other side. I was observing the
world from the other side. I wanted to breath, but
I couldn't get up. And there was nobody to help me.
I realized that it was the end. I saw the face of
my Mom, Dad, and Grandma and felt such pity for them.
They will learn soon that there is no more me. But
surprisingly enough, I didn't feel horror or fear.
The feeling of sadness was flowing.
And I died.
I was born. It was different life even though still
mine. I woke up from hearing the shrill screams He
drowned! My friend got me out of the water, to the
shore, and to the island with strange looking statues.
Somebody leaned me against one of the idols. The images
of these statues are imbedded in my memory.
I went into oblivion.
spinal cord was broken - complete and total paralysis.
From my hospital bed I saw the faces of my doctor
and nurse above me. My Mom was crying. My Dad's expression
was dark and ashen from sadness. All this was like
an hallucination. It was like a dream from which I
could not awake. The only real thing for me was the
ceiling of the room with cracks and water spots.
This ceiling was the only thing I could see. I was
looking at it for hours, trying to find fairy landscapes,
cities, people, and animals...anything! One pattern
reminded me of the tiger trying to jump. A fantastic
crystal ship was floating on the other. I wanted to
get up, to go up the stairs, to swim away from this
bad dream. My parents were told that there is no hope
for me to survive.
But some Force Above us holds the strings of our lives.
Someone from Above looked at
me. Within several months I started feeling some movement
in my legs and hands. I asked for a pencil to be tied
to my fingers and tried to draw. I wanted to draw
the Tiger I saw on the ceiling, but could only produce
Many years passed and I went to West Berlin to have
my personal exhibition. I saw another tiger there.
I was invited to see the circus show. It was very
nice. I cannot say how it happened, but suddenly I
found myself very close to the tiger the real tiger
with my hand in his jaws. My fingers could feel his
hot palate, his rigid tongue, his fangs, his warm
breath. His cold merciless eyes were staring at me,
but I felt no fear whatsoever. His black eyes were
telling me: Remember that I'm here, very close to
you. My fangs are ready. You have to be worthy of
my gifts. I let you go. And he let me go.
Real creativity begins
when you feel the power
of that merciless "tiger" inside yourself!