The Russians are coming…to the Back Bay and Ritz-Carlton International Cultural Festival

By Dorothy Malcolm

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Article first appeared in "The Newbury Street Guide Newspaper," February 1996, Jacaranda Publishing, Boston.
Article picked-up in "The Fine Arts Trader Magazine," September 1996 issue, Sanbro Publishers, Boston.

When Josef Stalin put the bureaucratic breaks on Soviet Russian artistic freedom, it became an era of wilderness for the passionate, Russian psyche. Despite those restrictions, “unsanctioned” works of art slowly crept into the Russian underground, then mainstreamed, and eventually bust into the public at the dawn of perestroika.

Loosely defined, the Russian word “perestroika” means new beginnings, an opening up of boundaries as well as minds. With perestroika, came breakdown of the old, then revitalization in the country’s culture and its art, along with an exodus of Russians to all parts of the globe.

Boston is indeed fortunate to have a burgeoning Russian community. Lucky we are also to have one of Russia’s most respected artists, Valentina Nekrash. Born in Siberia, Valentina studied art in Moscow and spent most of her youth rendering “official, sanctioned” works for the government. Between raising her two sons, she painted portraits of Lenin, Stalin, Pushkin, Tolstoy and the (sanctioned) epitome of Soviet life.

Now that she is free of the coerced Soviet conformism, Valentina shines in the realm of icons (primarily Saviors and madonnas) executed in oil with a deft impressionist hand. Yet she never loses that golden and refined but crackled patina, which she fashions that are so striking in original, antique icons. Her series of angels conjure up images of Dresden dolls, some in postures of ballet dancers, while others in crestfallen defeat and weariness. She manages to blend emotional imagery with the ethereal and the visceral. In addition to her liturgical arts, there are her dream images, somewhat surreal, sometimes veiled, but always vibrant.

Because Valentina is a universalist with no passion for politics, her private works were not particularly “suspect” in the Soviet era, though nonetheless provocative in their naïveté. While some of her oil paintings might have raised a few official eyebrows, what generally followed was a softening of the viewers’ perception. Most evident in her art is, first and foremost, her love affair with Russia, then man’s immortality, and the spiritual sweep of humanity.

Though her roots and soul are Russian, Valentina breathes more freely now that the turmoil in Russia is behind her. She claims her colors have become softer since she immigrated to Boston just two years ago. Several of her newer abstracts are rendered in dove grays, peaches, taupes, olives and traces of mauve and sienna. Still, numerous oils are sheathed in her signature golds, reds, yellows, oranges and sometimes gold leaf. Many of Valentina’s abstracts feel, visually, hot to the touch, while others shiver like white ice.

Some of Valentina’s works, particularly her icons, will be on display and will represent Russia at the Ritz-Carlton’s International Cultural Festival beginning February 20 through March 4. She is represented by Atelier Panache in Copley Square

All material produced and maintained by Dorothy Malcolm dba Verbatim-Ink.   Not to be reproduced without permission.