Igor Aleksandrovich Popov (1927-1999) was a Soviet artist who passed away a decade after the dream of communism was laid to rest in Russia. Fairly unknown in the West, Popov’s art expresses the theme that a true understanding of one’s country exists only if one knows his nation’s history and if he is deeply aware of such concepts as “parental home” and “native land.”
By the end of the1960s, Moscow as a theme had become the painter’s major artistic quest. But rather than painting the teeming city he sought the quiet places of Moscow, contemplative environments that fostered meditation. More and more he painted his studio with its ascetic furnishings as a representation of his own spiritual world. Unfortunately, very few of these paintings are available online.
In 1970, Popov was awarded the prestigious Silver Medal from the USSR Academy of Arts for the series of portraits, Fishermen of Galich. Galich is a town in Northern Russia. Igor Popov went to Galich to do sketches together with Vladimir Stozharov.
Our Yard by Igor Popov, 1964
This is the yard of the apartment house reserved for artists in Bryanskaia Street in Moscow. Popov was keenly aware of social space and how it was used in the Soviet Union. Social planning, much like the current trends in urban development, focused on shared social spaces in which people could interact and cultivate communal ties. The standard design of many Soviet apartment buildings included an inner courtyard with grass, a few trees, several benches, and perhaps some swings for hyperactive children and their exhausted mothers. Over the course of 24 hours, different generations would make use of the courtyard for different purposes. Our Yard depicts the use of this planned social space in a positive light.
Before Work by Igor Popov, 1966
My favorite painting by Popov is the one above, which also depicts a use of social space on the way to work in the Moscow subway. There is a loneliness that hovers between the passengers, whose newspaper act as defenses against human interaction, reminiscient of the way in which our iPhones stand between myself and my neighbor in the grocery store check-out line.
View from Vorobyovy Gory, Moscow by Igor Popov, 1960’s
The kids and I looked at Popov’s paintings and discussed them. Then Max wanted to watercolor his own map of Moscow, a “Moscow that I love” map.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- What does Popov seem to say about the relations between city people in his paintings? How does he say this?
- What colors does Popov use in Before Work and to what effect?
- How does Popov present Moscow? Why?
- How does the View from Vorobyovy Gory make you feel? What does Popov communicate as far as feelings are concerned in this painting?
- How might an artist reveal affection or specific feelings in a still life or landscape painting?
- How do Popov’s paintings ask questions about what humans need to exist and thrive? What answers, if any, does Popov provide?