Illustrations of Oleg Grigoriev’s poetry – opinion by G. Rishkus


I would like to share my thoughts about the exhibition of illustrations of Oleg Grigoriev’s poetry at the Library of book graphics. The works are by Vadim Gusev, Valeriy Dmitrjuk, Gennady Yasinskiy, Alexander Florensky, Olga Florenskaya, Ira Vasilieva, Vladimir Yashke, Nikolay Voronzov, Irina Zatulovskaya, and Svetozar Ostrov.

Taking into account all these names, it may seem strange to see, upon arrival at the exhibition, illustrations made by children. They are placed in a graffiti-like pattern, as if on a fence. “the poetry of Oleg Grigoriev is neither hokku, nor sonnets, but tattoos on the body of time, graffiti on a fence” – may it be this phrase of Mikhail Trofimenkov which prompted the curators to this idea? The works are in black and white, which would seem to me a result of a task set by the curators, have I not known these illustrations were created two years before the exhibition. Either way, this introduction magnificently plays off the “mitki” primitivist works displayed in the next chamber. This suggests thoughts of the nature and character of the city folklore, of which Oleg’s verses have become an integral part.

A slight drawback of the exhibition is that a full immersion is possible only in the chamber with the “adult” works, because not only there are the illustrations, but also the drawings of Grigoriev himself, his childhood photos, and an audio recording of the poet reading his “Football” poem. Out of all this emerges a proper context of that generation. “He was beloved by the “mitki”, considered one of them and illustrated. Grigoriev was a true “mitek”, the one who does not want to overpower anybody, who always suffers, but never has a grudge against life” – this is how Mikhail Trofimenkov explains the connection between “mitki” and Grigoriev. The small size of the gallery (two chambers, each roughly 20 sq. m.) only benefits the exhibition, by referencing the nonconformist tradition of exhibitions in the communal flats.

The second chamber is a little bit disappointing – the illustrations of children’s poems are all in different styles, and there are no efforts to create the context which were so fruitful in the first chamber. There could have been several possibilities to achieve this, for example, one could move Grigoriev’s childhood photos in this chamber, or, on a deeper level, somehow explore the story of persecution of Grigoriev for his children’s book “Vitamin of Growth”, initiated by Sergey Mikhalkov, a powerful Soviet poet. This could properly accentuate the curators’ attempts to formulate the problem of a poet stuck inbetween adulthood and childhood. “Under all of Grigoriev’s masks there is a vulnerable, endlessly mistaken, and at the same time childishly playful author – a child and an eccentric” – writes Mikhail Yasnov, an outcast like Grigoriev.

The exhibition of illustrations of Oleg Grigoriev’s poetry at the Library of book graphics is a good example of an extremely low-budget exhibition, which achieves its modest aims. The curatorial statement is mostly evident in their distribution – both spatial and conceptual. The children’s drawings are placed in a graffiti-like pattern, and the “adult” works are displayed in a regular, museum-like pattern, even though they are executed on irregular bits of paper. And the walk starts at the children’s drawings, passes through the “adult” ones and ends at the “children” ones. The quotation marks are a must here, because both the poet and his illustrators are somewhere inbetween children and adults.

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