During the ten years that I owned and operated my private art gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, I had the privileged opportunity of meeting hundreds of talented artists. I visited them in their studios and got to experience firsthand the environment in which these men and women followed their inspiration. I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Each in their own way revealed to me their unique and more often than not fantastic stories that time and again challenged anything that the western mind could possibly conceptualize.
It’s true that an artist living behind the Iron Curtain enjoyed the advantage of state funded studies at the art institutions, co-ordination of art exhibitions within the Soviet Union as well as abroad, preferred living arrangements, lofty social status and guaranteed income but there was also an ominous flip side to this arrangement.
The artists often cursed a particular client I had who frequently came to the gallery for picture framing services. One day one of them made the comment after this individual had left:
“Not a single artist cares for him, you know.”
It turned out that he had been the designated art censor responsible for making certain that all art destined for public viewing was free from any suggestion of patriotism to the republic of Estonia such as the cherished tricolor flag, folk songs and Christian ideals. Many an angel depicted in a painting was rejected by the all powerful censor until the wings were promptly removed by the grumbling artist.
Any artist who had survived deportation camps during Stalin’s reign of terror or military mobilizations by either the Nazis or the Red Army, or both, always left me hanging on to their every word with the mind-boggling descriptions of what they had to endure in the cold, dark recesses of the Soviet tundra.
I owe each and every one of these creators of visual beauty my deepest gratitude for taking the time to explain to this naïve, “väliseestlanna” (foreign Estonian) my most heartfelt thank you for opening my eyes, my heart and my mind.