Ksenia Bogemskaya, Nadezhda Musyankova

Magazine issue: 
#1 2004 (02)

Yekaterina Medvedeva’s path in art has been far from easy, and she would not consider herself an artist even in her wildest dreams, while a personal exhibition at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum would be in the realm of pure fantasy. Katya has had to pass through many hardships in life, and her path since childhood has been a very varied one: when only nine years old, she lost her parents and was sent to an orphanage in Azerbaijan; later she worked as a weaver in Baku, then returned to her native village, but did not stay there long and went further in search of a better life.

Yekaterina Medvedeva. Nicholas II and His Family Assassinated. 2002
Nicholas II and His Family Assassinated. 2002
Oil on canvas. 200 by 284.8 cm

She started painting rather late, at the age of 39, when she was working as a prop designer for an amateur theatre in Kislovodsk, in the North Caucasus; only six months later her first solo exhibition would open in the same venue. Her first public shows in Kislovodsk, Belgorod and Moscow won Medvedeva unexpected attention from admirers and collectors, among them many foreigners - a fact which naturally aroused envy among her colleagues who, like the artist herself, were amateurs. But recognition from foreign collectors of contemporary art, as well as the praise of respected painters and art critics at home, set her apart from other amateur and even professional artists.

Her singular talent has made Katya Medvedeva's name widely known in the artistic circles abroad: her pictures have been exhibited in many countries. Once, in Nice, France the famous Marc Chagall is said to have noticed Katya's paintings remarking: "she loves colour as much as I do".

Katya Medvedeva's work belongs to the school of naive art, which used to be thought marginal and insignificant but which is now being recognized as an essential part of Russian culture. In the opinion of art theorists it is associated with a broadening of the very idea of what must be considered artistically significant, involving a shift in aesthetic ideals as a whole. The contrast between "naive" and "highbrow" art was typical of artistic thought of the turn of the 20th century among avant-garde painters who saw the naive as a source of renewal of the painter's manner. Thus, Ilya Zdanevich, Mikhail le Dentu, Mikhail Larionov, Natalya Goncharova, Vasily Kandinsky, Alexander Shevchenko and many others are counted among the discoverers of naive art: they found it in the Russian lubok folk pictures, in painted stained-glass doors and in works by the Georgian primitive Niko Pirosmanishvili, as well as in the aesthetics and design of town shop-signs.

In a country with a strong agrarian past like Russia, the majority of naive painters were likely to come from peasant families. Katya Medvedeva was born in a small village, but her work has not been based on memories of traditional Russian art and folklore, but rather on the impressions of a first-generation city-dweller. Her work is uniquely identified by its freshness of perception of a sort which looks customary for an intelligent city- dweller. A major motive in Katya's work is its femininity, made up from the judgment of a woman artist on the world surrounding her. Her own personal experiences have contributed to various images of women who embody the painter's ideal of perfect inner beauty, and the harmony of inner life and reality.

Yekaterina Medvedeva. A Dance Pattern. 2002
A Dance Pattern. 2002
Arcylic on cloth. 60.60 by 80 cm

She became interested in ballet as a subject for her work after reading the autobiography of the world-famous ballerina Maya Plisetskaya; it brought a realization to her that the ballet dancer's life is the hardest of all. "Now I know that ballerinas, as well as children, are living angels. They only walk on the earth," she believes. Her numerous variations on "Romeo and Juliet", "Giselle" and "Swan Lake", pictures of ballerinas in rehearsal and in front of the mirror - all comprise a kaleidoscope of dancers in exotic costumes which resembles the work of Edgar Degas. This is no act of copying, however: Medvedeva has approached and studied this subject, sincerely and artlessly, in a unique and personal way. She features women whom she has encountered at different moments of her life - high-featured ladies of the upper-class, brides in folk costumes, and the mother and child. One of her canvases bears the words: "Motherhood and talent are a very hard burden". Katya's favourite saying is, "happiness has never been easy to bear." The burdensome destiny of the mother and the demanding fate of the painter have combined so intricately in her own life that it is difficult to separate one from the other.

"Pictures painted by a soul stripped bare" - that is how Grigory Pelman, who together with a businessman from Iceland, Stefan Wathne, has assembled the biggest collection of Katya Medvedeva's paintings, has defined her work. Some art historians think that amateur artists who take up painting do so as a kind of self-therapy, an attempt to control the interaction of personality with environment. The lives of many naive painters, such as Henri Rousseau, Pavel Leonov, Yelena Volkova, Tatyana Yelenok, justify this by the fact that their creative work had helped them to solve some vital questions. In this sense Katya's life is no exception.

A personal exhibition in a museum venue is supposed to be a path into world art history. Thus, the interest shown to Katya Medvedeva's work by one of Russia's best museums is very important not only to those who truly value naive art and primitivism - but also for those who will visit the exhibition and discover something of the secret of Katya Medvedeva's inner world.

Yekaterina Medvedeva. I’m Healing My Nerves. 1999
I’m Healing My Nerves. 1999
Watercolour on paper. 20 by 15 cm
Yekaterina Medvedeva. Lilac ballet-dancers. 2001
Lilac ballet-dancers. 2001
Cloth, mixed media. 125.9 by 119.3 cm
Yekaterina Medvedeva. The Bride. 2003
The Bride. 2003
Acrylic on canvas. 83 by 58 cm
Yekaterina Medvedeva. Upper-Class Girls. Girl No. 4. 2003
Upper-Class Girls. Girl No. 4. 2003
Oil on canvas. 46 by 57 cm
Yekaterina Medvedeva. A Bride from Kasimov. 2003
A Bride from Kasimov. 2003
Cloth. Mixed media. 80 by 68 cm
Yekaterina Medvedeva. The Angel Alina. 1989
The Angel Alina. 1989
Oil on canvas. 192 by 142 cm





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