Category Archives: Soviet Russia

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Flight into Space

On this day in April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space. This event was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century and is still remembered fifty years on.

Soon becoming a celebrity to the people of the Soviet Union and the rest of eastern Europe, Yuri Gagarin was then one of the great figures representing the Soviet Union at it’s height. In honor of the 50th anniversary of this momentous achievement, below is a postcard collection dating from 1969 showing photographs from various parts of the cosmonaut’s life.

The writing on the inside of the cover reads:

“We knew him in his modest daily form as a military pilot. He turned out to be worthy of his huge fame. Everywhere and anywhere he remained himself: friendly and fun-loving, with a charming smile, an eloquent testimony of the broadness and richness of his soul, and at the same time ready to instantly prepare and focus for the task ahead. These are exactly the qualities to possess for a hero who first opened the path to space for humanity.”

For a man who has attained such a groundbreaking achievement, the life and legacy of Yuri Gagarin will hopefully continue to be remembered for another fifty years. Furthermore, below are several articles of interest in relation to the 50th anniversary of the launch of Vostok 1.

See What Yuri Gagarin Saw in Stunning High-Definition Film

Vostok 3KA: Tribute To The Craft That Carried Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin’s Brave, Brilliant Leap Into the Dark

In Space, Nice Guys Finish First


New Russian Classics

New Russian Classics ( is a website which seeks to promote and sell works by modern Russian artists in the genre of realism. While the site doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2009, the paintings available on it are worth a look, the majority of which are shown in this post.

Aleksandr Yurievich Averyanov is an artist famous for painting Russian battle scenes such as the Battle of 1812. Born in 1950 in the town of Lopasnya, Averyanov graduated from the M.I. Kalinin Moscow School of Art. Inspired by the works of his teacher, Sergey Prisekin, Averyanov is known for his paintings displaying Russian scenes of war, placing him at the forefront of traditionalist art revival during the 90’s. Averyanov’s simulataneous depiction of the chaos of war and nature of the lands in which they are set in have earned his works a place in several museums and private collections.

The site’s second artist is Aleksey Vitalievich Yevstigneyev, a landscape artist who depicts scenes of both the past and present. Born in Moscow on 1955, Yevstingneyev graduated from the Surikov Institute of Art and in 1984 became a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR and has been recognized by the American Biographic Society and the Russian Academy of Arts for his works. the majority of Yestigneyev’s works depict various places of Europe he has traveled to, although he has made a number of historic works as well.

Vasiliy Dmitrievich Yezdakov was born on 1929 and was a member of the Union of Artists of the Soviet Union. Vasiliy Yezdakov’s works are scenes of naval and fisherman life, possibly leading him to become an influence on his son, Oleg who is also featured on the New Russian Classics site.

Oleg Vasilievich Yezdakov, a painter who has created works ranging from landscapes to portraits of military officials. Born on 1959 to a family of artists in Moscow, Yezdakov also became a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR after graudating from the Surikov institute of Art. Yezdakov’s works are mostly comprised of nature paintings although his interest in the history of the Russian Military led to creation of several dioramas displayed in the Central Moscow Exhibition Center in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the USSR’s victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War.

Kira Sergeyevna Ivanova was born on 1928 in Samara. Graduating from the Moscow State Institute of Art, she too had become a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR and has participated in much of the union’s exhibitions. Her paintings, several of which have been created with her husband, Vasiliy Dmitrievich Yezdakov are mostly scenes of still life, historical battles, and the sea. Currently living in Moscow, she has since produced over 250 works, many of which have found places abroad in Western Europe.

Aleksandr Ivanovich Kurochkin was born in 1948 and attended the Oryol State Pedagogical Institute. In addition to teaching art he previously held a position as director for the Serpukhov Museum of History and Art. Kurochkin’s paintings which range from landscapes to still life, are found in various State museums in Russia as well as abroad in other countries.

Born in 1957, Aleksandr Sytov also attended the Surikov Institute of Art and been involved in various projects in art including the restoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for which he was awarded the Order of Honour by President Dmitriy Medvedev. Several of Sytov’s works, which are primarily landscapes and portraits have been displayed at exhibitions in America as well as Russia.

Leonid Lvovich Shtrikman was born in 1968 in Moscow. Shtrikman attended the Moscow School of Art and later worked as a restorer of paintings for a state memorial in Kolomna. Like others here, Shtrikman’s works are mostly portraits and landscapes of various Russian figures and places.

Lastly is Sergei Nikolaevich Prisekin, arguably the most well-known of these artists. Born in 1959, Prisekin attended the Surikov Institute of Art and has since become an accomplished artists, today holding the position of Academician at the Moscow Academy of Arts. Prisekin’s travels to various parts of the Earth such as Latin America have added to his bright career as an artist, several of his works are even located within the Kremlin Palace itself. Primarily an artist of portraits, he has created several historical works dealing with periods such as the War of 1812 or the Great Patriotic War, possessing intricate detail, comparable to the likes of Ilya Glazunov.

The Paper Architecture of Brodsky and Utkin

Aleksandr Brodsky and Ilya Utkin have today become known in the Russian art world for their intriguing works of architecture, ranging from everything such as a sculpture to a artistically repurposed building or shed, but what they are probably most known for are several copper plate etchings they created displaying fantastical archictectural designs, a product of their lives and experiences as architects in a time when reform was present and ideas were ever-changing. Their story and the inspiration behind the drawings is probably best said in the book written on these drawings:

“In 1957 Kruschev declared socialist realist architecture the “over-decorated” style and abolished the Academy of Architecture. the notion of a critically assimilated cultural heritage (i.e. the reuse of classical forms to serve modern ideological ends) was replaced by a doctrine of unadorned utilitarianism. modern technology, especially prefabrication, was exploited to produce the urgently needed mass housing and aesthetic discourse of any kind was considered unnecessary and immoral. faceless functionalism continued to dominate throughout the Brezhnev years as economic constraints, a hopelessly tangled bureaucratic procedure, a dearth of building materials, and a shrinking body of skilled laborers exacerbated unimaginative planning. this scenario confronted Brodsky and Utkin and their classmates at the moscow institute of architecture in the mid-seventies.

many of the more creative young Soviet designers abandoned the exasperating professional situation they found themselves in while others like Brodsky and Utkin began using international competitions as a creative outlet.

as Brodsky and Utkin and a dozen or so other friends began to produce such projects in evenings and weekends over the next few years, the group assumed the title of “paper architects” – a derogatory epithet applied to avant-garde architects still producing radical work after the socialist realist clampdown of the thirties.

Brodsky, Utkin, and the others began producing visionary schemes in response to a bleak professional scene in which only artless and ill-conceived buildings, diluted through numerous bureaucratic strata and constructed out of poor materials by unskilled laborers, were being erected – if anything. as such their work constitutes a graphic form of architectural criticism, an escape into the realm of imagination that ended as a visual commentary on what was wrong with social and physical reality and how its ills might be remedied.”

If anything, these drawings had been originally made to criticize Soviet architecture at the time and no doubt a way to express frustration at the challenges architects and workers in other fields were forced to endure as a result of sudden reforms and decisions from the government.

Because of paper shortages and lack of proper materials, the Paper Architects created etchings on plates of copper, yet one may still notice the careful attention to detail in every drawing, probably one of the reasons for their popularity. The drawings themselves depict everything from bleak cityscapes to unwise decisions in design, and are most likely metaphors understandable only from the perspective of a Soviet architect or perhaps just someone who has lived in the USSR (as one does not need an education in design to understand the all-too-common flaws of industrialized Soviet construction).

Today, the two have pursued their own interests, choosing to split up in 1993 and while Brodsky is generally the more active of the two, their work among the Paper Architects is nonetheless a profound example of their ingenuity, which ultimately turned their misfortunes as architects into success as artists. Below are several of these famous etchings, presented in great size and detail (If I am correct, these are scans and had originally come from the book published on the Paper Architect’s etchings).




Tattoos of the Russian Mafia

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the life of the vory v zakone (or thieves in law, members of Russian organized crime) has become a subject of great interest. From life in prison to the stories of individuals, this almost secretive organization has been receiving attention from westerners to the Russian  people themselves, as evidenced in movies such as Western Promises and Bumer. But perhaps no detail is no more interesting than the tattoos the vory wear. Since the original prisoners in the gulag began Russian organized crime, it’s members have become known for the plethora of tattoos that cover their body. These tattoos tell one of the wearer’s life, his views, his desires, and his rank in the mafia hierarchy.

The Russian criminal underworld has several common tattoos which all display some aspect of the wearer’s life as a criminal. Most commonly, a church similar to that of St. Basil’s Cathedral may be found on the chest or back of a vor, the number of steeples on the church either signify the amount of times he has been incarcerated or the number years he has spent in jail. Stars on the top chest or knees represent rank and honor in a criminal and means he follows the thief’s code, usually these would be gained by reaching a certain position in mafia. Also, barbed wire across the forehead means that the wearer has been given a life sentence without possibility of parole.

One of the most famous people who brought the meanings of these tattoos to light was Danzig Baldayev who has been reproducing tattoos from prisoners during his life as a guard in Kresty Jail and his later job as a detective with the Leningrad police force. Compiling about 3,600 designs from different parts of the country, he has recently made many of these public in a three-volume publication with explanations of their meanings. Below you may see several of the tattoos drawn by Baldayev, many of them offer a view into the lives and minds of the members of the mafia, perhaps in a way one not see from the member himself. This collection of  skulls, swastikas, demons, political figures, cats and everything in between makes up the rebellious, untamed, and strange culture shared by the members the Russian mafia.


More information and images of tattoos found at the links below:

Sketch of a Welder

The piece of artwork you see above is actually another drawing by Mikhail Maiofis, this is one of man’s few non-illustrative works so I thought it would be interesting to share. Drawn sometime in the 60’s, here, Maiofis sketched a typical Soviet welder (bearing a striking resemblance to Russian singer Vyacheslav Bobkov) but in an art style quite different from what was previously shown. It might also be interesting to note that Maiofis produced several more drawings of this type, but they are at the moment in the possession of private collectors and will most likely not be seen by the public for some time.

The Illustrations of Mikhail Maiofis

A while ago, several bloggers happened upon a man who had made several illustrations for various Russian children’s books in the 80’s, that man’s name was Mikhail Solomonovich Maiofis. Maiofis, who has drawn for a wide breadth of publications, recently garnered attention for the unique style of art he used when illustrating children’s books, probably best described as whimsical.

However, to actually find any of Maiofis’ artwork is indeed a challenge, even more so due to the fact much of his work is rarely found on the internet. Fortunately, a number of sites have made some of his works available. One of the few works shown were a number of drawings that accompanied a 1987 children’s book version of Aleksandr Pushkin’s Tale of the Golden Cockerel. As you may see below, Maiofis’ style of art was simplistic as many were for this particular type of book, yet he presented it in a way all his own. Perhaps for this reason he is remembered so fondly by those who grew up with his work.
Another book is Sapsan by A. I. Kuprin which is a story from the point of view from a dog. Among the books illustrated by Maiofis, this probably one of his more realistically drawn works.
Maiofis was also involved in a 1976 version of K. Chukovskiy’s Doctor Aybolit which featured full-page illustrations by him.
The last full book to be shown is another work by Pushkin, this time the so try being The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda which is a story based around a priest and his hired laborer.
Another one of Maiofis’ famous works included the famous Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen. The artist himself, who was born in 1939, is still alive to this day and currently resides in Los Angeles after emigrating with his family to the United States in 1989. One account of his life mentions his struggle to be an artist in a country with such different views on art. Although despite this he was able to continue his work as a painter.
See the rest of Maiofis’ work at these links:

Soviet Book Design

One staple of the culture of the USSR is it’s distinctive approach to art and design in society, where the Russian perspective of futurism and the invention of the Constructivist art style was prominent at the time. Being a man of literature myself, I have amassed a sizable collection of Russian-language books, many of which were published in the Soviet era. What is most interesting I believe, is the simplistic cover art these books displayed.

In this post I hope to show several examples of how the Soviet Union’s constructivist methods had combined with modern designs of the early 20th century and how it evolved over time by showing several examples from my personal collection, which are mostly textbooks used in Soviet universities and various works of fiction.

It is interesting to note that by the second half of the 20th century the rest of the world began to use a more photograph-oriented standard on book covers and other media, while the USSR continued it’s minimalist design with it’s publications until almost immediately after it’s fall where the lack of government regulation allowed for a greater array of design and most importantly, the content of the book itself, you may notice this change in format in the books published in the late 90’s.