ALEKSANDER & LYUBA
Published in conjunction with an exhibition of new work at Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX, September 28 - October 22, 2012
ALEKSANDER & LYUBA TITOVETS Fall 2012 text by Judith Taylor
ALEK SA NDER & LY UBA TITOVETS I first met Lyuba Titovets and her husband, Aleksander, in 1996. The occasion was the Denver Artists of America show, a national invitational at the Colorado Historical Museum. Lyuba had the countenance of a storybook Russian princess. Petite, with flowing dark hair, she had a graciousness about her that said, “I am very comfortable with who I am.” The crowded festivities did not faze her. Close by, Aleksander was enjoying the camaraderie of the other artists around the table. Jovial and animated, he had the ruggedness of a man used to the harsh Russian winters.
ACROSS T WO CULTUR ES This summer, I visited with Lyuba and Aleksander at their home in El Paso, Texas. From the balcony of their spacious second story studio, we could see Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. Scanning the panoramic view, Lyuba pointed out the man-made wall that defined the border between Texas and Mexico. Barriers, whether they are physical, political, or economic, are part of any immigrant’s story. By 1992, the political climate was changing in the Soviet Union and that spring, the Titovets, along with Lyuba’s parents and grandmother, were able to leave St. Petersburg for the West. The conditions under which they were allowed to exit required them to leave Russia permanently, taking only a few personal items and twenty five dollars each. They arrived in El Paso, where Lyuba’s uncle lived, not knowing what to expect.
Aleksander Titovets Evening Light oil on canvas 30” x 40”
Over lunch I asked both what they valued most about coming to the United States. For Lyuba, “It is the opportunity to be yourself and pursue your own path.” Under the Soviet system, artistic policies were restrictive, and there was no market economy for art. Artists were employed by the state and unable to paint to their own taste. Aleksander added that “being respected and accepted” was also important. He expressed his gratitude for the people of the border, “Here, at the crossroads with so many immigrants, no one ever made us feel awful with ‘oh, you are Russian!’ People were eager to share their culture with us.” In the U.S., they found opportunity and support. Their adopted community warmly embraced them. Within a few short years, the duo had established themselves professionally. Now, twenty years later, the classically trained artists are nationally recognized and highly collected.
Lyuba Titovets Spring in the Studio oil on canvas 30” x 24”
VISUAL STORY TELLING Lyuba grew up in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) amidst the city’s cultural richness. The only child of two engineers, she describes her parents as Russian intellectuals known for their love of culture. She says, “I was surrounded by it. At five, I began my first art classes; at ten, I began art school. My dreams were different from those of my friends. For me, creating art was almost like breathing.” Lyuba earned her BA and MFA at the State University of St. Petersburg’s College of Fine Arts. Exploring a range of creative ventures, she worked in stage and costume design, illustrated books, and was involved with the development of an art history program which integrated history, philosophy and the arts.
Lyuba Titovets / End of Spring, oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
As a painter, Lyuba’s talent lies in her visual storytelling. When she first arrived in the U.S., she captured and shared her homeland’s rich cultural heritage in folkloric paintings. These festive village scenes conveyed universal themes, community traditions, and social interaction. Today, Lyuba finds joy in everyday happenings and regional customs– everything from small town Fourth of July celebrations to country western dancing. One of her favorite places to visit when she’s in Austin is The Broken Spoke, a local institution. The country western dance hall, which brings together people of all ages, provides a Western counterpoint to the festivals that she recalls from Russia.
Lyuba Titovets / Winter Tradition, acrylic, 10” x 8”
Lyuba Titovets / Night, oil on canvas, 30” x 24”
Lyuba Titovets Early Spring Splash oil on canvas 24” x 30” Old Story oil on canvas 40” x 30”
â€¨ Lyuba gravitates to the simple things in lifeâ€”enjoying a cup of tea with a friend, as we always do when I see her, or gathering an armful of pomegranates from the trees in her backyard. She is acutely aware of her surroundings and sketches constantly. A bowl of peaches or a shawl draped casually over a chair might catch her eye. On canvas, artistic harmony takes hold as she distills and arranges these elements from her environment to create grounded, yet vibrant still lifes.
Lyuba Titovets / Miniature Roses, oil, 20” x 10”
THE L AST LIGHT OF DAY Like Lyuba, Aleksander received his MFA from the State University of St Petersburg. It was there they met. A large portrait of the two on campus, painted by Aleksander, hangs in their home as a reminder of their student days and early years of marriage.
The decision to emigrate was a difficult one, especially for Aleksander, who left his family behind. He grew up in a cabin in the woods of western Siberia, the youngest of three boys. He reminisces, “We did not have much, but we had a big family and were very happy.” His work is derived from his childhood experiences within that environment. “Watching the last light of day, [I felt as if I] could melt into nature.” These recollections continue to resonate as he gravitates to what he calls “quiet paintings” which express a sense of solitude as well as a reflective spirit. His strong, confident brushstrokes and harmonic use of color create inviting warmth that dominates even his signature winterscapes.
Aleksander Titovets / Evening Light, Night, oil on canvas, 24” x 24”
Aleksanderâ€™s painterly style reflects the Russian School of Oil Painting, a genre that combines a powerful realistic element with the soft, lyrical looseness of impressionism. By moving from areas of detail to less literal imagery, he achieves a rhythmic complexity and a sensitivity rarely seen in landscape painting.
Aleksander Titovets Twilight oil on canvas 16” x 20”
Aleksander Titovets Harbor Lights oil on canvas 11” x 14”
Memories of the Russian countryside dominated his work in his early years in Texas. â€œLike all artists, I am most comfortable painting what I know,â€? he admits. As his connection to his new environment became stronger, he added regional imagery to his repertoire. He found similarity, and perhaps comfort, in the forested areas of New Mexico. With an endearing sense of irony and humor, he told me that he had never encountered a bear in Siberia as he has on several occasions near Cloudcroft. The twinkle in his eye assured me that his emotional ties to his adopted home are strong.
Aleksander Titovets / Beginning of Spring, oil on canvas, 24â€? x 30â€?
Aleksander Titovets / Red Sunset, oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
Aleksander Titovets Tapestry oil on canvas 16” x 20” Winter Glow oil on canvas 11” x 14”
A N OPTIMISTIC SPIR IT Back in the Titovets’ spacious studio, I had a chance to preview new work for a fall exhibition which will celebrate the couple’s success in their adopted country. As Aleksander lined the walls with paintings, I was immediately drawn to one of Lyuba’s canvases, “Spring in the Studio”. The jeweltoned vignette is an inviting composition depicting a vase full of crocuses, a bowl of orange fruit and a figure seated in the background. The artist’s placement of the figure and a partial banister establishes perspective, pulling our eye into the scene. A balance of textures, shadows, and a vernal palette convey the comfort of home, and a sense of serenity and warmth.
Propped on the opposite wall was “Hushed Treasures,” Aleksander’s evening view of the city of El Paso. His impressionistic interpretation of an expansive evening sky, glowing above mountains dotted with city lights, seems a world away from the last light of his homeland. Both of these new paintings represent the life the two immigrants have built in the U.S. I was reminded of an observation made by one of Aleksander’s former professors. “You got your education in Russia, but you became an artist in the United States.” The remark summarizes both Lyuba and Aleksander’s artistic accomplishments. They arrived in the United States two decades ago with few possessions but an innate artistic talent. With that talent, and optimism as bright as the sunlight that shines on their studio walls, each has used their rich visual language to communicate their experience of a new culture.
Aleksander Titovets / Hushed Treasures, oil on canvas, 24” x 48”
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