MEL THEOBALD: Russian and American Artists (Portraits)

MEL THEOBALD: Russian and American Artists (Portraits) :: view now thru 6/18


Mel Theobald sees artists across boundaries into their essence. I am truly honored to be included in this collection of contemporary highly regarded artists. It is, to me both striking and shockingly the best capture of my artistic being I have ever seen. very insightful!

Here is what he wrote:

“Nancy Bechtol in Her Own Image” 2016 ©Mel Theobald

“Given all the artists I’ve had the privilege of knowing, it constantly surprises me how many of them were at one time my students in the brief 10 year I spent teaching. Nancy Bechtol was in the Interdisciplinary Arts Program for the Consortium of Colleges and Universities when as a young professor I was its coordinator. This experimental program was later picked up by Columbia College and has expanded the concept of fine arts to include all aspects of visual thinking while integrating performance, writing, music, movement and image making into a holistic art form. Nancy was in those early classes and later launched her career into photography, film and video. As a freelance journalist for the American Press Association, her investigations into social justice and artistic liberty led her to such documentary features as “Free Speech & the Transcendent Journey of Chris Drew, Street Artist.” Never letting go of her creative independence, she became a voice for all artists and has had numerous exhibitions exploring various media. This photograph was taken at the opening of her exhibition at August House. Using computer technologies, she and her husband David explored the boundaries of digital imagery and conventional photography. Nancy is seen here in the light of her own creation.” (Note: taken at the Marya Veeck -August House Studio. Chicago. at the show opening this was a window projection/ 3 min. video by Nancy. “Real & Surreal” was a 2 person Show of Nancy Bechtol & David Bechtol)

Photographs by Theobald of 36 artists on exhibit now thru 6/18 at the Westville campus of Purdue University Northwest thru June 2018. Each photo of which he has additionally written a personal bio/connections to including: Sasha (Alexandra) Semenova, Andrei Dillendorf, Anna Chugonova, Annegret Reichmann, Barbara Crane, Bruce Thorn, Carole Harmel, Gennady Troshkoy, Hadji-Marad Alikhanov, Igor Obrosov, Tim Tansley, Roger Boyle, John Kurtz, Judith Geichman, Karl Wirsum, Kathleen Waterloo, Lee Tracy, Lev Kropivnitsky, Lialia Kuchma, Lidia Romashkova, Marina Schusterman, Mary Bourke, Nancy Bechtol, Naomi Maki, Natalya Nesterova, Olga Semenova, Oscar Romero, Philip Pearlstein, Ron Gordon, Ronne Hartfield, Rosa Timchenko, Sergei Pishchugin, Sergei Semenov, Todd Kursel, Vera Lebedeva

Text for the Exhibit by:::  MEL THEOBALD: Russian and American Artists

Although everyone has a certain mystique, nobody stirs the imagination quite like artists who are in a realm of their own. The general sense of what an artist does captivates people, not because they make art, but because they touch upon something that is at once penetratingly personal while being simultaneously universal. From them we learn to alter our view of reality. Some connect with the masses and some do not. No matter the nature of their work, artists share a common thread in that what they create might change the way others see themselves and, in my opinion, contribute to the betterment of the world in which we live.

           In that context, it is my experience – even my belief – that each of the people represented in these images is above the fray of normal politics, histrionics and economic outreach. They do what they do because they must. They are smart. They are introspective. And, they are visionary.

           At the invitation of the Russian Ministry of Culture, I had the extraordinary good fortune of curating two painting exhibitions in 1990, one of which would be sent to Chicago and the other to various locations throughout Europe. An unexpected consequence of being in Moscow was the introduction to dozens of artists with whom I would develop a continuing relationship. A handful of them have visited Chicago while I, in turn, have returned to Moscow nineteen times, spanning the end of the Soviet era to 2016 which marked twenty-five years since its collapse.

           Early on, it was apparent that the artists of Russia were being thrown into a capitalistic torrent of galleries and collectors with little understanding of how those systems functioned. No longer receiving the benefits provided under a socialist system, they turned to foreign countries who were clamoring to see their work. Under intense competition they entered into the unfamiliar domain of marketing and critical evaluation that had previously been regulated by academic and political operatives. Many fought as dissidents against a debilitating and restrictive system of propaganda while others endured unimaginable hardships and survived in their struggle to liberate themselves from the draconian limits of free thought imposed by their government. Following the now famous Sothby’s auction of Russian art in 1988, the government began exploiting its artists by exporting them and their products to foreign countries in hope of harvesting foreign currency. In that environment, I began taking box loads of art supplies, brushes, paints and fine papers as gifts to the studios of Moscow. If there was one element that unified us, it was the sense that art rises above the barriers of language and ideology.

           Most of the dissident artists had become expatriates, leaving behind the more conventional artists whose brand would define the future of Russian art. Having met and befriended so many of these creative minds, I came to believe that whether Russian or American, we are all engaged in the same pursuit. Although my interest in art was constant, my level of cultural exploration was diverse. As a painter I was focused on imagery, but as a person I was engaged in the significance of the individual. My circle of acquaintances included painters, writers, musicians and arts administrators. The earlier photographs from the 1990s were more documentary than narrative, but with the evolution of digital photography, I pushed for something much more profound: the varied stories of the artists were as much about their personalities as their creations.                                                            Having reached this conclusion, it was only a matter of time before I began juxtaposing those artists I knew in Russia with the artists of Chicago. My lifelong commitment to the Chicago art community stretched back to my years as a student and conservator at the Art Institute. During the mid-1990s, I was engaged in an alumni scholarship fundraiser at the School of the Art Institute, where my direct association with artists expanded even further. It seemed only natural that my growing collection of artist’s portraits would include both Russians and Americans.

           There are currently over 125 artists included in the series and it continues to expand. This exhibition offers only a partial look at the many brilliant and daring people who form the nucleus of those groups. Sadly, too many of them have died, some before I had a chance to capture their images. Still, it is my hope that after viewing this exhibit, there will be a greater understanding that there are no borders between artists. We speak an international language that is meant to elevate human consciousness. It is in that place that I find the mystique of artists to be as important as the work they produce.

To see the full collection, or contact, visit Mel’s website at: Artists Portraits by Mel Theobald

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