Archive for the ‘Playground of the Autocrats’ Category

RUSSIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS opens at the Mooney Center Gallery

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Russia Through the Looking Glass: Terror, Humanity, and Geo-Politics through History opened Oct. 26, 2014.  DARLING GODSONNY STALIN, a complex mixed media piece 9′ x 6,’ went on display for the first time.

The exhibit will run at the Mooney Center Gallery through Nov. 16, 2014.

For closeups of each piece below, please click on its image and scroll down.

DARLING GODSONNY STALIN . Acrylic paint and digital images on canvas and board . 2014

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Viewers were very engaged in the art (though touching is not encouraged!)

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Viewers read wall text for DRESS IT UP IN RESPLENDENT CLOTHES Oct. 26, 2014

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Mooney Gallery Oct. 26, 2014
Visitors to opening of RUSSIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

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Mooney Center Gallery, College of New Rochelle

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Viewing HOME SECURITY AT ANY CRAZY PRICE.

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Character Designs for DARLING GODSONNY STALIN are on right.

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Visitors discuss Ivan IV, the “Terrible.”

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Viewers read explanatory wall text for THE MOST EXPOSED TERRAIN ON EARTH.

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Viewers get up close and personal with Ivan the Terrible.

For more about Ivan the Terrible, click here.

 

DARLING GODSONNY STALIN is now a triptych ….

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Darling Godsonny Stalin is now a triptych (on its way to becoming a 5-paneled piece).  Please scroll down for closeups of the center panel of this large, detailed artwork.  Details of the two side panels are here.

Visitors to opening reception for “Russia Through the Looking Glass: Terror, Humanity, and Geo-Politics Through History” view DARLING GODSONNY STALIN

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DARLING GODSONNY STALIN . Currently 9′ x 6” .  Acrylic paint and digital images on canvas and board .

Darling Godsonny Stalin is narrated in song by “fairy godfather” Ivan the Terrible.  Ivan gives his infant “godson” Stalin the blessings of Russia’s past and “advice” on how to handle his 20th century future.

Ivan instructs Stalin to follow the example of Ivan’s own 16th century terror against individual members of powerful clans, portrayed in the central onion-dome of the artwork.  (For more about Ivan’s terror, click here.)

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: entire central panel . 42″ x 75″

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DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Ivan sings his “advice” to his infant “godson” Stalin.

The left side of the triptych’s large onion-dome portrays Ivan’s Oprichniki (his private army) throwing Novgorod clan members off a bridge, then pushing anyone who surfaced back down under the ice.

Detail of middle onion-dome of Darling Godsonny Stalin – scene of Novgorod massacre described in historical sources.

Historians today all agree that Ivan the Terrible killed thousands of his own people during his terror.  But – due to the skimpy historical record – historians continue to debate exactly how horrific Ivan’s methods were.

The right side of the artwork’s central onion dome portrays the members of powerful clans whose land was expropriated, and who were exiled to live on estates in Ivan’s newly conquered territories around Kazan.  For more on these exiles, click here.

Right side of onion-dome, middle panel of Darling Godsonny Stalin

Stalin’s 20th century purges, remarkably similar in many ways to those of Ivan in the 16th century, peaked in 1937-8.  Stalin executed virtually all of the Bolshevik leaders who had led the revolution (Lenin had died of repeated strokes in the early 1920s).

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Most top Bolshevik leaders were executed.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Trotsky’s assassination.

 

Trotsky – who Stalin viewed as his most threatening rival – was expelled from the USSR.  Trotsky’s sons had both been killed at Stalin’s behest, and Trotsky knew the noose was tightening around him as well.  He was living in Mexico when he was assassinated, by means of a mountaineer’s ice pick,  in 1940.

Other Bolsheviks – whether careerists or dedicated, hardworking idealists – were arrested and transported on trains to slave labor camps in Siberia and other locations across the Soviet Union. Some died of starvation, thirst, or illness while being transported thousands of miles.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Prisoner transport to GULAG slave labor camps.

Some prisoners were executed and buried in mass graves.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Execution and mass graves.

Political prisoners were put to work building large-scale infrastructure projects: canals, mines, and cities in the far north (such as Norilsk).  Soviet Russia was overwhelmingly non-industrialized, so much of this labor was done by human power with non-mechanized equipment like picks and wheelbarrows.  Inadequately fed and clothed, this was a devastating experience for many who had once been leaders of the new young country.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: political prisoners excavating a canal and removing the soil with wheelbarrows.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: prisoners lumbering in Soviet Russia’s far north.

 

The push for rapid industrialization required construction material.  The heavily-forested far north provided an unending source of lumber.  The cold, tens of degrees below zero, was unbearable for prisoners whose ragged clothing couldn’t protect them.

Roads had to be built, and lumber was plentiful, so they were used.

 

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: building a log road in the far north.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: Prisoners in Magadan, in the far northeast, mined gold and diamonds using wheelbarrows.

 

 

 

The rich gold and diamond fields of the USSR’s far northeast were mined by political prisoners using wheelbarrows and picks.

 

 

Prisoners were housed in freezing barracks.

DETAIL of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN: interior of political prisoners’ barracks.

 

 

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PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS Gallery Addition

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I’ve just completed Panel 2 of Darling Godsonny Stalin – which will eventually be a very large 5-panel piece, 14 feet wide.  Images, including close-up details of parts of the panel, are below.  For close-up details of Panel 1, please scroll down to previous post.

Check back soon for more information on the content and meaning of Panel 2 (The Bolshevik Clans).  Meantime, you can read about Panel 1 (Ivan the Terrible’s Noble Clans) here and about other polyptychs in my PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS series here.

DARLING GODSONNY STALIN, Panels 1 & 2 of what will be a 5-panel piece. Size of 2 panels combined: 67 x 74. Medium: Acrylic paint and digital images on canvas and shaped board.

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DETAIL Panel 2 Darling Godsonny Stalin.

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DETAIL Panel 2 DARLING GODSONNY STALIN

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DETAIL Panel 2 Darling Godsonny Stalin – Far Left Side

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DETAIL of Bolshevik Clans, DARLING GODSONNY STALIN Panel 2.

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DETAIL – Panel 2 Darling Godsonny Stalin – Peasants

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DETAIL Shaped wood top of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN, Panel 2.  Map portrays Russia’s Civil War in the years following the 1917 Revolution, including White Armies and invasion routes.

 

Please continue with the following post to see the complete PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS gallery.

PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS Gallery

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Please scroll down for images from 4 polyptychs in my series PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS.  Click on any image for more information and closeup details.

Panel #2 of what will eventually be a 14-foot wide, 5-panel piece, DARLING GODSONNY STALIN (IVAN THE TERRIBLE ADVISES THE INFANT STALIN) . By Anne Bobroff-Hajal .  Panel 2 is 64″ x 32″.  For close-up details, please click on the image, then scroll down.

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Detail of Panel 2 of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN

Home Security At Any Crazy Price

“Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal . 36″ x 40″ . Acrylic and digital images on canvas and board . 2009

 

Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.P.s

Artist talk about Panel #1 of what will eventually be a pentaptych, “Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin)” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail, Panel 1 of Darling Godsonny Stalin

Detail 1, Panel #1 of “Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin)” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail 2, Panel 1 of “Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin)” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail 4, Panel #1 of “Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Panel 1 of “Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin)” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Catherine the Great Character Design

Character Design for Catherine the Great, who will appear in several polyptychs. Her personal triptych is “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Stalin in Sheep's Clothing

Stalin character design as he appears in Panel 1 of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Gallery Talk Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes

Artist talk: “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal . Acrylic paint and digital images in layers on canvas and board.

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Detail: Center Panel “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail 1 Center Panel

Detail 1 Center Panel “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail: Panel 1 of “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail of Russian peasants in Left panel of “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes”

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Detail Panel 3 “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes”

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Detail lower left panel of Home Security at Any Crazy Price, by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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“The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal . Acrylic paint and digital images on canvas . 24″ x 48″

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Detail of middle panel “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Enlarged detail of center panel: “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail middle panel “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Detail middle panel of “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

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Character Design for Peter the Great, by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. Peter appears in several PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS polyptychs.

Delightful praise from Russian historian Chester Dunning

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

After sending images of my latest Playground of the Autocrats panel, I was delighted to receive the following email (quoted with permission) from Chester Dunning, author of the wonderful Russia’s first Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty:

Wow! Thank you for sending me images of your amazing artwork.  I have been teaching Russian history for over thirty years, and your art really captures the sad, crazy quilt of Russian history and culture.  Congratulations on getting it exactly (insanely) right!

Best wishes,
Chester Dunning
Professor of History and
Murray and Celeste Fasken Chair in Distinguished Teaching
Texas A&M University

 

“Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.P.s:” Artist talk at Blue Door Gallery

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Recently, I gave an artist talk at Blue Door Gallery in the Artists’ District of Yonkers, NY.  I spoke about the newest painting in my PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS series, which tells stories about Russian history in pictures.  Below are some photographs of the talk.

Bobroff-Hajal painting, sketches of Ivan the Terrible face

Right: Audience teases “When did you shave your beard?” as I show them my sketches for Ivan the Terrible’s face, because I posed for it myself in my bathroom mirror. Left: My final painting of Ivan (Detail of “Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.P.s.”)

Bobroff-Hajal artist talk: Ivan the Terrible

Responding to an audience question about my  process of creating this panel, “Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.Ps.”

Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.P.s is the first panel in what will become a 5-paneled work – a pentaptych – entitled Darling Godsonny Stalin (Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin).  The completed pentaptych will playfully tell the tragic story of Russian rulers’ recurring terror against their own people, from Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible) to Stalin, who caused the deaths of upwards of 20 million innocent Russians.

I believe the past is godparent to the present, and that landscape and environment are godparent to all.  One way I visualize this in my art is via my fantasy of Ivan the Terrible as one of Stalin’s godparents.  You can see Ivan singing to the infant Stalin in the top of the panel above.

Your Grasping, Scheming V.I.P.s is about Ivan the Terrible’s relationship to his nobility before he began his terror against them.  (For more, see Ivan the Terrible: Madman or Crazy Like a Fox?)

Detail Bobroff-Hajal: Ivan the Terrible & noble clans

Ivan the Terrible lived within a “spider’s web” of noble clans, whose “aristocratic pretensions could not fail to come into conflict with the autocratic aspirations of the first Russian tsar.”

To become a true autocrat, Ivan had to cut his way free of a “spider’s web” of powerful aristocratic clans.

Russian Nobility under Ivan IV

Russian noble clans sometimes formed marriage alliances and sometimes fought each other as they vied for influence with the tsar.  Detail of my painting “Your Grasping, Scheming VIPs.”

Sweet dreams, baby Stalin….

Bobroff-Hajal painting: Ivan the Terrible & Stalin as infant

Stalin’s godfather, Ivan the Terrible, flies on a broom topped with a severed dog’s head – both Ivan’s symbols of his Terror against his own people.

Playground of the Autocrats in Terrain.org

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Playground of the Autocrats: The Russian Empire and How Terrain Shapes Society

A wonderful article about my Playground of the Autocrats Russian history triptychs was published in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Terrain.org, A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments.  It boasts lots of images and even audio recordings of the original lyrics I wrote to the tune of Kalinka, probably the most popular folksong in Russia.

There are separate hypertext selections about each of my triptychs:

Most Exposed Terrain on Earth: Portraying Human Vulnerability on the Endless Steppes

Home Security At Any Crazy Price: What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year For Centuries?

Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes: Stalin Builds on the Flatlands Past

… and other sections about the vast Russian flatland (steppes), which made the Muscovite state vulnerable to Mongol invasions and the massive trade in Slavic slaves, giving rise to a garrison state:

Landscape Form and Military Defense

The Immense Russian Flatland

Mongol Occupation and the Slav Slave Trade: the “Harvesting of the Steppe”

Terrain.org.While you’re there, please check out all the other great articles in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Terrain.org, whose editor-in-chief is Simmons Buntin.  Terrain is, in the words of its wonderful About page,

a twice yearly online journal searching for that interface—the integration—among the built and natural environments that might be called the soul of place.

It is … a celebration of the symbiosis between the built and natural environments where it exists, and an examination and discourse where it does not.

The literary, journalistic, and artistic works contained with Terrain.org are of the highest quality, submitted by a variety of contributors for a diverse audience, including some of the finest material previously appearing in Terra Nova: Nature & Culture. The works may be idealistic, technical, historical, philosophical, and more. Above all, they focus on the environments around us—the built and natural environments—that both affect and are affected by the human species.

Terrain.org strives to be both a resource and a pleasure, a compass and a shelter…

 

 

What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year for Centuries?

Friday, July 15th, 2011

“Home Security At Any Crazy Price”

Long before 9/11, I had written early drafts of lyrics for what would become one of my mixed media artworks about Russia, Home Security at Any Crazy Price.

At the time I thought my theme was very specific to Russian history, a bit too esoteric for most Americans.  It was about Tsars building their dictatorship by taking advantage of popular fears from centuries of brutal enemy onslaughts.  I planned to paint Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great singing to each other:

Darling Ivan, our Founder (Darling Peter, my Scion),
How fortunate it has been
That the Russian populace is deeply traumatized
‘Cause barbarian onslaughts lay waste their paradise.
Now folks want home security at any crazy price.         (Continued below image)

“Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal . 36″ x 40″ .  Acrylic and digital images on canvas and board . 2009

Then came 9/11.  Many Americans’ response – their sudden willingness to give up personal freedoms if the government could only keep them safe – revealed that a similar dynamic to Russia’s can play out wherever people come under attack and feel profoundly threatened.

All at once, my planned artwork seemed absolutely current and relevant to the US today.                                                                                                                    Continued below image

Detail of center panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Americans have relaxed a bit since 2001, having experienced no further attacks on the scale of 9/11.  We’re no longer as ready to trade our civil liberties for a strong government to protect us from seemingly imminent terror.

But what if…

Detail of right panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Haja

But what if the US had had repeated assaults every year since 2001, in which thousands of Americans were killed?  And if yearly onslaughts continued indefinitely?

What if we lived in a land so vulnerable that we had a 9/11 every year for over five centuries?

Then what kind of government would we be willing to tolerate?  One that abridged our personal freedoms constantly in order to keep us ever-mobilized and battle-ready?  Would we accept our entire society being organized like a military hierarchy, with a single tsar at the top commanding us into position to survive our unending state of emergency?

What can our 9/11 experience help us fathom about Russia?

Few Americans are aware that Russia was born and forged in terror: constant devastation by enemies and the kidnapping into slavery of hundreds of thousands of Russians, from the 13th century till the 18th.

Detail: Right upper panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

First, ferocious, brilliantly-skilled Mongol raiders pillaged, sacked, brutalized, and occupied Russia for a couple of hundred years.  For centuries after that, the Mongols’ descendants, the Tatars, swept across Russia virtually every summer, abducting 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 or more people each year to sell in the Black Sea slave market, a straight shot across the steppes to the south.

In fact, our word “slave” derives from “Slav.”  No population in the world other than Africans have been enslaved more than Slavs.  (For more on the reasons, see “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth.”)

In short, Muscovites were traumatized by terror, as were New Yorkers on 9/11.  But  Russians were terrorized again and again for hundreds of years.

Well, haven’t all countries been attacked throughout history?

Every country in history has been repeatedly attacked.  Their people too have had to drop normal life to run inside inside the walls of their local castle for protection.

What was different about Russia was the frequency of assaults.  Slave raids occurred not once in 10 or 25 years – but every year.  Every member of the Russian gentry was responsible for military duty at the frontier for one half of every single summer to protect the vast southern border against raids.

Detail of center panel from “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

The frequency of attacks on Russia was partly due to its lack of natural protective barriers along a longer open border with powerful enemies than anywhere else on earth.

The only geographic area comparable with Russia’s southern frontier might be the American Great Plains frontier (north/south orientation) in early US history.  But next to the US frontier lay the remnants of native tribes nearly wiped out by disease spread from Europe to the New World.  Next to the Russian frontier, in contrast, were large, flourishing, major powers of the day: the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire.

It would be as if the early United States had had the equivalent of both El Qaeda and Akhmedinezhad’s government living along its frontier.

Tsarist autocracy was military rule

The tsarist state was military hierarchy writ large (above).  The entire society could never relax from war preparations and fighting.  Centers of power independent of the tsar couldn’t develop because the military chain of command always had to be in effect society-wide.

Home Security At Any Crazy Price visualizes the impact on civil liberties of the unending threat of attack.                                                                                       Continued below image

Detail of lower left panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Why didn’t civil liberties blossom after the slave raid threat ended in the late 18th century?

Institutions which have been forged over a period of five centuries don’t change overnight.  New autocrats make use of earlier institutions – controlled press, secret police, patronage – to maintain and strengthen their power.

Detail of right panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Since the fall of Communism, Russia is again becoming more centralized.  Putin has asserted control over the media.  No non-Kremlin newspaper can garner significant circulation.  Journalists who report stories the government doesn’t like are murdered.  Real opposition political parties aren’t allowed to run candidates.

Will Russia ever become a fully pluralistic society?  I don’t know, but I’m interested in watching to see.                                                                                                       Continued below image

Detail of lower right panel, “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal.

What can Russia and our own experience of 9/11 teach us about ourselves?

The US experience of terrorism on 9/11 can help us better grasp why Russia developed an autocratic state.  A nation of people who experienced almost yearly trauma for centuries adapted to their society’s being permanently organized like a military chain of command with no insubordination from the ranks.

We can also learn from Russia’s experience the terrible consequences of sacrificing civil liberties for security over the long term.  Russian history can serve as a cautionary tale for what could happen to us if we’re too ready to trade personal freedoms for powerful government. ■

Below image are links to more posts about PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptychs.

Detail: Top center panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

An introduction to the PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS series is here.  Other posts about these triptychs are:

Portraying the Vast Flatland of the Playground

The Most Exposed Terrain On Earth

Designing the Character of Peter the Great

Catherine the Great: A Satirical Visualization of Russian History and Society

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

How I Painted and Composited Catherine the Great (and Stalin)

“The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth:” A Satirical Visualization of Russian History

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

How does an artist portray a grand sweep of centuries?

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Russian history is full of high drama.  Mongol raiders thundering across the endless steppes toward small Muscovite towns.  Human terror and suffering.  Tsarist defenses and brilliance, ambition and intrigue.  Russian culture’s astonishing splendor and beauty.

It all makes a perfect subject for art.

But how can a painter visualize a grand sweep of centuries?  What recipe can be cooked up to entertainingly portray a millenium of Russian history?

That’s the challenge I set for myself in my series of triptychs collectively entitled PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS.  The first in the series is The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth.

A detail of my “recipe” to convey this triptych’s story is to the right.  I use satire, color, action – and song lyrics (see images below).

But my most important ingredient for each triptych is visualization of a historical process.  The centerpiece of my visualization of The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth is a tsar-type figure (above) lifting his skirts to gather in lots of Russians underneath.

Hmm, the viewer might ask.  Who is this guy labeled “AUTOCRACY,” and why is he grinning with malevolent glee?  And what’s going on with all those frantic people running to hide inside his robe?

Just what historical process am I visualizing here?

"The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth" . 24" x 48" . Acrylic and digital images on canvas

The true story behind my triptych

Detail of Mongols in middle panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Muscovy – later Russia – arose and was forged in an inferno during the 200 years when ferocious, brilliantly-skilled Mongol warriors pillaged, sacked, brutalized, and dominated it – and the centuries following, when the Mongol’s descendants – the Nogay Horde, the Crimean Khanate and others – continually raided and plundered it.

The Mongols’ war organization, tactics, and composite bows were the great military advances of their day.  “The level of organization of the Mongol army was not seen elsewhere in the Middle Ages and stands in marked contrast to that of the feuding Russian Princes.”

If Russia was to survive, its fractious princes needed to whip themselves into a unified fighting force under a single central command, and fast.

Painting the Mongol peril to Russia

To portray Mongol attacks, I painted a battle scene filled with fierce Mongols terrifying Russian peasants and nobles.                                                   Continued below image.

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

 

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

 

For the models I needed to paint from, I collected photos of present-day archers shooting Mongol-style bows from horseback, and drawings of Mongol battle-wear.

I painted Russians of all classes running for their lives, and used color to differentiate between them and the invaders: indigos, purple, blue for the Mongols, and warm oranges, reds, yellows for the Russians.  This make the two combatant sides immediately “readable” by the viewer.

I wanted to convey the tragedy and terror experienced by individual victims, so I conceived a Russian peasant woman (right) and a noblewoman (above) each holding a wounded child.  I balanced color and composition in such a way that the peasant woman stands out from the crowds of people running and shooting.

But what does that red-robed guy labeled “AUTOCRACY” represent?

The necessity for Russians of all classes to unify beneath a single commander presented the tsars with an opportunity to amass vast power and wealth for themselves. Russians of every level of society, desperate for protection against enemies, ceded independent power bases to their defender, the state.

The state leveraged this situation to its own fullest benefit.

Detail of central panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

So my triptych’s AUTOCRACY character is a satirical visualization of how the tsars as a group took advantage of five centuries of nonstop attacks on the Russian people to secure their absolute rule: autocracy.

But wait a minute…

Europeans, too, sought protection against enemies from their monarchs.  Yet tsarist dictatorships didn’t develop there.  What was different in Russia?

A land wide open to Mongol pillage and Tatar slave raids

Even after the Russians threw off the long Mongol occupation, they were far from safe.  The economy of the neighboring Crimean Khanate and other nearby Hordes was based on the slave trade: abducting and selling Slavs.  So virtually every summer, Tatar raiders rode north across the steppe into Russia, kidnapping thousands of people to sell into slavery in the Black Sea slave market.

These raids occurred not every 10 or 20 years, but essentially every year. Over several centuries, hundreds of thousands of Russians were seized as slaves.

Geographic relationship of Russia to Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire

Our very word “slave” derives from “Slav.”  No population in the world other than Africans have been enslaved more than Slavs.

Why was Russia so vulnerable to these raids?

A glance at a map (right) shows why Russia was so vulnerable to yearly attack.  There was nothing but wide open steppe between Russia and the Crimean Khanate with its slave market (and Ottoman slave-purchasers directly across the Black Sea).  Highly mobile, skilled raiders could pour across the steppes each summer, capture thousands of Russians, and head back to the huge international slave market, Caffa, a straight shot across the unobstructed plain.

Russia is by far the largest wide-open plain on earth.  Glance at the world maps toward the end of this post if you have any doubts.  No mountain barrier protected the Russians.  For their state to survive, they had to build their own human barrier.

Details of left panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

In short, Russians lived in the most exposed terrain on earth.  They could never stand down from battle-readiness.  Their society had to be permanently organized like – indeed it was – a military chain of command.

Portraying the most exposed terrain on earth

One way I’ve visually conveyed the relationship between landscape and autocracy is through painting the Mongol battle raging on a flat plain. And I painted AUTOCRACY towering in the midst of this wide-open battlefield, skirts held open to receive the terrorized Russian people.

Another way I conveyed the flatness of Russia’s endless steppes is through song lyrics “sung” by characters I designed for Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible.  I wrote these lyrics to the tune of the ubiquitous folksong, Kalinka.  Images of the lyrics are above and below.  (For more about the characters who sing the lyrics and how I designed them, please see here, here, and here.)

Detail of lower left panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

A last way I conveyed the endless, wide-open flatness of Russia – the largest on earth – was through a border around the center panel of the triptych.  I created this border from digital images of paintings by the great 19th century Russian painters called the Peredvizhniki.  You can find much more detail on my process of building this border here.

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Other posts about PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptychs

Posts about other tryipychs in the series are here:

Catherine the Great: A Satirical Visualization of Russian History and Society

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

How I Painted and Composited Catherine the Great (and Stalin)

What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year for Centuries?  “Home Security At Any Crazy Price”

The Most Exposed Terrain On Earth

Portraying the Vast Flatland of the Playground

Designing the Character of Peter the Great

Playground of the Autocrats

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

An introduction to “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” is here; the artistic process behind it is here.

"Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. Triptych is 7 feet by 6 feet.

PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS is a series of artworks that – like comic books and graphic novels – tell stories through pictures.  PLAYGROUND’s tales are about modern Russia, “narrated” in song by the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great.

My whimsical imperial characters sound off through original lyrics I wrote to the tune of the famous Russian folksong, Kalinka. The lyrics are about the “gifts” Stalin received from Tsarist history, the foundation on which he built his country’s most malevolent dictatorship ever.

If viewers wish, they can navigate their way through PLAYGROUND’s arias in sequence by following the numbers I’ve painted on each panel.

My most recent PLAYGROUND triptych, Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes (above), is “sung” by Catherine the Great, one of Stalin’s three “fairy godparents.” In Panel 1 below, Catherine gives her blessing from Russia’s past to the delighted, mustached baby Stalin.

Detail: center bottom panel (1) of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

My inspiration for this scene was my childhood memory of a Sleeping Beauty picture book.  The story began with an illustration of Sleeping Beauty as a baby princess, her three fairy godmothers flying in a circle above her cradle.  Each fairy godmother bestowed a personal blessing for some life bounty for the little princess.

This fairy-godmother memory came to me as I was originally pondering how to visualize Russia’s past as godparent to its present. So I imagined that in each PLAYGROUND triptych, my whimsical Russian “godparents” – Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great – would bequeath historical blessings on the infant Stalin.

I’ll let my character Catherine speak for herself through her lyrics in the following images, beginning with Panel 2 in which she sings:

You’ll want to bring back serfdom quick so you can reign non-stop!
But you can’t call it serfdom, Joe, ’cause that would be a flop!
So dress it up in resplendent clothes to hide the hideous facts.
I know about espousing good that veils your nasty acts!

Detail: top center panel (2) of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Catherine advises Stalin (Panels 3 and 4) that new European ideas championing the lower classes can be used to muddy popular consciousness of what the ruler is really doing (a closeup of the Russian peasants is in this post).

You’ll spout ideas from Europe
About the people’s smarts.
In my day it was Montesquieu,
In yours it will be Marx.

Detail: Left lower panels (3 & 4) of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Catherine counsels Stalin in panels 5-6 about serfdom, the fundamental economic engine of Russian society – or as Stalin renamed and reinstituted it, “collectivization.”

You’ll dub it collectivization.
You’ll never call peasants serfs.
Just bind them to the land by law
And take all their grain to your turf!

Detail: Left top panel (5) of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Collectivization was essentially serfdom by another name – with the addition of tractors, as in Panel 6 below.

Detail of upper right panel (6) of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

The last verses:

You’ll promise people’s sovereignty and say that they’ll get rich.
But then you’ll screw the people!  It’s one big Bait and Switch!

Don’t call it tsardom!  Say their boss is the mighty Workers’ State.
That so-called Worker’s State in fact is JOE, our POTENTATE!

Detail of right panels 7 & 8 of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne BobroffHajal

Details of other Playground of the Autocrats triptychs are here and here:

Home Security At Any Crazy Price

The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth