Moscow Residency Part 1: A City of Irrepressible Spirit

By Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015)

"Russian people are altogether spacious people, just like their land, and extremely inclined to the fantastic and disorderly" – from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

It’s a bit difficult to grasp how so much has been given to us for this residency.  I’m in awe of the opportunity organized by the incredibly generous and well-connected Nikolay Koshelev (MFA 2014).  To be completely honest I’m a little apprehensive about the responsibility that this opportunity implies.

The day that Nikolay first introduced us to our studio space it was our second surprise of the day.  The first surprise was the castle of an apartment building we are going to live in during our stay in Moscow.  Our apartment is in one of Moscow’s ‘Seven Sisters’, a Stalin-era skyscraper built in gothic and baroque style and more reminiscent of a castle than any apartment building I’ve encountered. Next he showed us our studio which was the old studio of Aleksandr Deyneka, a Russian social realist painter whose name is well known to every Muscovite we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and who’s works decorate Moscow metro stations.  It's in an inconspicuous building on a street Nikolay dubbed the "5th avenue of Moscow." Once we arrived, we rode an elevator to the 9th floor and were soon greeted by the cheerful wild-haired artist lending us the studio for the month, and behind him, an astounding panoramic view of Moscow.

Inline image 3While soaking in the sights and sounds in our new cozy and lived-in studio, we received a welcome interruption to our reverie from Nikolay who introduced us to artist friends he had invited.  Not long after that, we were all sharing food and conversation at a French café, followed by a nighttime stroll through the monumental Red Square – an open rectangular stretch of cobblestone surrounded by the Kremlin, the State Historical Museum, an absurdly large department store, and the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral. The grandiosity of the scenery, coupled with the sudden familiarity and comfort brought by our new friends, gave these moments what I felt to be a distinctly Russian sense of frivolity, bound by a mutual understanding of comradery. How naturally we fell into a comfortable group dynamic, bridging a cultural gap thousands of miles long. The moment we finally arrived back to our castle apartment around 4 in the morning, the sky was turning blue, and our conversation focused intently on how lucky we are to be here. 

Last Monday, we had our first visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, a museum stocked with the most beautiful and emotive landscape paintings I’ve ever seen, and we can copy any painting we choose on a weekday when the museum is officially closed, but seemingly entrusted to us. Soon we will make a trip to St. Petersburg to visit the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest museums in the world, with the largest collection of paintings.

After settling into our new surroundings we’ve begun to make a habit of working in the studio every day, slowly but surely building momentum that I hope will culminate in a series of paintings that accurately reflect the air of grandeur and whimsy that permeates this city, and the generosity and open soul of its people.

Inline image 1Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015) is joined by Sarah Issakharian (MFA 2015), James Raczkowski (MFA 2015) and Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014) in Moscow.  These four students are spending their summer taking in the sights and creating work on an Academy-sponsored Artist in Residence Program.  Throughout the summer, their adventures will be documented on the Academy's blog. Stay tuned for more.

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