Thursday, August 31, 2017

Political Cartoons of the Week, No. 104

Neglected Important Artists, No. 39

Georgy Kurasov was born in 1958 in the USSR, in what was then Leningrad. He still lives and works in the same place, but now the country is Russia and the city is called St Petersburg. Without any effort on his part whatsoever, Georgy seems to have emigrated from one surreal country to another.
Georgy spent his childhood on the Petrograd Side, to the north of the city, in a tiny little flat with windows that looked out onto an even tinier courtyard. As far as he recalls, he modeled things in plasticine and drew resting on the vast wooden windowsills. Not so much aesthetic pastimes as compensations for the grey minimalism of everyday life, the absence of light and bright colors. 
At thirteen years old, his mother put him in the art school attached to the Academy of Arts. At the interview it was politely explained that there was nothing for Georgy in the painting department since he had a total lack of feeling for color. So, they suggested Georgy Kurasov join the sculpture class. In some way he was pleased, since all the painted images they showed him seemed terribly boring, and Georgy had great interest in form.
In 1977, Georgy Kurasov entered the sculpture department of the Academy of Arts
He spent six years in the vast studio of a building erected during the time of Catherine the Great, in the late 18th century. Those gloomy, narrow, incredibly high vaulted corridors, the vast, cold, grimy studios, everything was inhabited by the ghosts of long dead masters of ages past, whose influence was far more real than the insignificant apologists of Socialist Realism and of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics. The Academy was a solid amalgamation of temple to and prison of the arts. Yet, those years in the Academy were the best years of his life. Nearly all Georgy’s friends and colleagues date from those years.
The circles he moved in were intellectual, talented, young  which meant free, with the exception of the one or two informers that were simply an obligatory element of life in those years and did little to alter the overall picture. It was then that Georgy met Zina, who was later to occupy nearly all his space, both physical, in his life, and creative, in his works.
Almost immediately after receiving his diploma, Georgy Kurasov was called up for army service, but even there he was armed not with a rifle but with paints, since he was lucky enough to be appointed Court Artist to his general. However, in 1984, Georgy Kurasov was at last demobilized and was free. 
Over the next few years he took part in all kinds of exhibitions and competitions in order to score the Brownie points necessary to gain membership of the Union of Artists, since that was more or less the only way of being allocated a separate studio. 
It was not the easiest of times. In order to take part in exhibitions you had to have something to display. And in order to create that something to display, you had to have a place in which to create it. Georgy had nowhere.
At last, however, he managed to join the happy ranks of members of the Union of Artists, was allocated his tiny studio, and thought he was at the very peak of happiness. All around him the country was in turmoil, at the very heights of Gorbachev’s ‘perestroika’, people passionately quenching their thirst for information whilst battling with a hunger of somewhat more concrete physical nature caused by food shortages.
In general, things were now difficult for artists, particularly as far as sculpture was concerned. Sculpture, as is well known, is an art form for either rich or totalitarian states. The totalitarian state had ceased to exist but it had not become rich.
Georgy Kurasov started to paint, but it soon became clear that selling his pictures for any acceptable price was going to be impossible, and so he had to feed his family by producing small pastels which Georgy sold through small galleries dealing mainly in souvenirs for foreign tourists.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. By that time Kurasov had put together a large body of paintings, but had absolutely no idea what he was going to do with them. The future looked bleak.
Then, in 1993, his works were first exhibited in the USA. Since then, Georgy Kurasov have exhibited and sold his paintings exclusively in North America.
It has been many years since he dropped out of the world of sculpture in Russia, and he never formed part of the world of painting there. Kurasov knows there are plenty of people who, noting the absence of his works at Russian exhibitions, think he has emigrated.
Americans see Georgy Kurasov as a Russian artist, Russians as an American artist. Painters think he is a sculptor. Sculptors are sure he is a painter. And when Georgy Kurasov thinks of it, he rather like this borderline existence. Perhaps it what makes it possible to be himself, to be unlike anyone else.
Works by Georgy Kusasov

Little Known History: World War II Spy Jeannie Rousseau

Using charm and cunning, she helped uncover Nazi plans to build deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets.
In 1943, British intelligence analysts received alarming information about German plans to build V-1 and V-2 rockets at a testing plant in Peenemünde, a region on the Baltic coast. Britain deployed 560 bombers to attack the facility, temporarily derailing the Nazi program and saving thousands of lives. The vital intelligence about Peenemünde had been transmitted by an unassuming, but fearless young French woman named Jeannie Rousseau, who died last week, at the age of 98, reports William Grimes of the New York Times.


Rousseau was born in Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany, in 1919. She had a talent for languages and learned to speak German fluently, according to Olivier Holmey of the Independent. In 1940, when German forces arrived in France, Rousseau’s father, a former official with the foreign ministry, volunteered his daughter to act as an interpreter for Nazi officers in Brittany.
But, Rousseau did more than just translate. She began passing bits of information to a local chapter of the French Resistance and was arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of espionage in 1941. She was quickly released, “German officers would not contemplate that their charming translator might be a spy,” Holmey writes, but the Gestapo ordered her to leave the French coast.
Rousseau landed in Paris, where she secured a job as an interpreter for French businessmen, helping them negotiate contracts with German occupiers. Soon, Rousseau took on a more significant role with the Resistance. While traveling on a train from Paris to Vichy, she had a chance meeting with Georges Lamarque, an acquaintance from her days at university. (Or perhaps the encounter was not so chance. As journalist Anne Sebba notes, Rousseau decided to go to Vichy "in a bid to find out what was going on there, instinctively recognizing that there might be an opportunity to use her knowledge but not yet knowing how.") As it turned out, Lamarque was building the Druids, a small intelligence-gathering chapter of the Resistance, and he asked Rousseau if she would be willing to help the cause. She agreed, and began collecting information under the alias "Amniarix."
During her interactions with Nazi officers in Paris, however, Rousseau went by the name Madeleine Chauffour. Using charm and cunning, she cajoled classified information out of the officials including their plans to test rockets at Peenemünde.
"I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” Rousseau said during a 1998 interview with David Ignatius of the Washington Post. “I kept saying: What you are telling me cannot be true!' I must have said that 100 times.”
Eager to prove her wrong, one of the Germans showed Rousseau drawings of the rockets. She couldn’t make much sense of them, but she had a “near-photographic memory,” according to Grimes of the New York TimesShe transmitted the plans in great detail to Lamarque, who passed them on the British. That information ultimately persuaded Prime Minister Winston Churchill to bomb the test site, Ignatius noted.
In 1944, the British decided to evacuate Rousseau to London for a debriefing. But according to Rousseau’s Washington Post obituary, also written by Ignatius, she was betrayed to the Nazis on her way to the meeting point. Rousseau was captured, and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp. She was later transported to the sub-camp Torgau, and then back to Ravensbrück and then to the sub-camp Königsberg, a new punishment camp that was a "particularly abominable" place, according to journalist Sarah Helm. In order to escape it, she and two others ultimately snuck their way onto a truck full of prisoners with typhus to get back to Ravensbrück.
Throughout, Rousseau appears to have been helped somewhat by the Nazis’ inability to properly identify her. When she arrived at Ravensbrück, she gave German officials her real name, Jeannie Rousseau. They did not connect her to the “Madeleine Chauffour” described as a spy in documents that were sent separately to the camp.
Still, Rousseau was on the brink of death when she was liberated by the Red Cross in 1945. While being treated for tuberculosis at a sanatorium in Sweden, she met Henri de Clarens, who had survived Buchenwald and Auschwitz. They later married and had two children.
In the years following the war, Rousseau worked as a freelance interpreter for the United Nations. She was made a member of France’s Legion of Honor in 1955, and was named grand officer of the Legion in 2009. She has been awarded the Resistance Medal, the Croix de Guerre, and the C.I.A.’s Seal Medal.
But Rousseau rarely spoke publicly about her wartime experiences. Her interview with the Washington Post in 1998 reportedly marked the first time that she had opened up to a journalist. At the time of the interview, Rousseau played down the magnitude of her decision to collaborate with the Allied forces, to put her life at risk.
"I just did it, that's all," she told Ignatius. "It wasn't a choice. It was what you did.”