The circus drawings:
Lately I have been drawing vintage circus scenes–people in costume and animals. Usually, I wish I could have been there, been part of their private lives behind the scenes, watching them train, watching them prepare for shows. And in the process of researching these old circuses, I usually learn something about an interesting personality or two. I became enamored of Vladimir Durov, an iconic figure of the Russian circus. Over the years he began to disagree with the practice of using dangerous and exotic animals in shows. He trained farm animals instead. I wish I could have seen his miniature railway, complete with a train station and all sorts of railway-related props: Monkeys played the engineer and the dispatcher; geese, the Red Caps; a duck, the Station Master; a goat, the train conductor; and the passengers were guinea pigs. They were prompted into their motions by an ingenious system of rewards hidden behind doors, in passenger cars. Is has been said that he revolutionized animal training. I suppose there is a part of me that wishes I could go back in time, travel to Russia and attend his circus at the age of eight or nine. Or illustrate a book about him. Vladimir Durov’s family history is quite fascinating, and includes another famous female personality: Nadezhda Durova, remembered in Russian history as the Cavalry Girl, was Vladimir’s grandaunt. Dressed as a man, she enrolled in a cavalry regiment to fight Napoleon’s advance in 1812. She is said to have received a medal from the hand of Field-Marshall Kutuzov, the man who defeated Napoleon. Celebrated by Pushkin, Nadezhda eventually became a successful writer. Naturally, she has been portrayed in my series of costume drawings.
I have always loved Halloween and costume parties. There is something about putting on a disguise that is thrilling and exciting. You temporarily suspend your own personality, which is understandably less dramatic and much more practical. Becoming someone else for a short period of time is liberating, at least for me. And I tend to find the older vintage costumes more charming, more tastefully designed. So imagine Nadezhda as she put on her ornate uniform for the first time and looked at herself in the mirror as a man, as an officer. I wish I could have seen her at that moment. The wish to become an animal or a supernatural being of some kind pervades most of our dreams. I guess there is something refreshing about returning to primitive instincts and to sinister impulses. Theatrical and dramatic, costumes allow our fantasies unabated freedom, let us temporarily escape from life’s inevitable petty squabbles and mundane chores.
As a child, I was shy and inverted. I lived in the world of my imagination. I drew pictures and invented stories of all kinds. I read voraciously about magic and all things supernatural. I convinced myself that I possessed some of these darker powers, and secretly cast spells on people around me. Now I find these attempts (of my own and of others) simply amusing. I especially enjoy studying the supernatural esoteric world at the turn of the last century, back when séances and levitation were nearly taken seriously, when people practiced automatic writing and crystal ball reading. Some of these things were en vogue, and some were downright strange. Some people documented these events in photographs in an attempt to confirm their existence. I have based my drawings on old vintage photos, many of which are aesthetically pleasing in their own right. But in drawing, I can add color or delete shading and just focus on the lines and contours, shadows and theatrical effects.