As one of the twentieth century's masters of abstract painting, Serge Poliakoff's character and larger-than-life enthusiasm is intimately illustrated in the collected archives – both private and public – by his granddaughter, Marie Victoire.
“Serge Poliakoff, Mon Grand-Père” published by Chêne, is a lively and deeply personal assemblage of ephemera and family archives. It paints a portrait of this key figure in mid-century abstract art, known particularly for his color blocks in bold and simple forms that fit together in a puzzle-like manner.
Poliakoff fled Russia in 1919 at the time of the Revolution, settling in Paris in 1923, alone and separated from his family. He studied art formally, later meeting Wassily Kandinsky, as well as Robert and Sonia Delaunay in Paris who would influence his move from figurative representation toward abstraction. Poliakoff was a stellar success by the end of his life, with his work appearing in the drawing rooms of many Paris and New York society figures, and admired by the greatest figures in art and culture of his époque (Yves Saint Laurent featured a series of Poliokoff day dresses, alongside his Mondrian ones, in the famed 1965 ready-to-wear collection).
Marie-Victoire Poliakoff reveals in an exclusive interview with Luxuryculture.com her reasons for initiating the book project, and later leads us through its themes, structured chronologically, that frame his extraordinary lifetime. Newspaper clippings, sketches, society photographs, letters, intimate studio portraits and journal notes – some of which are shown for the first time – are further enhanced by recipes of his favorite Russian food as well as a detailed Parisian address book surrounding his favorite haunts in his time (many of which still exist today). Throughout, quotes of Poliakoff illustrate his creative and wise spirit. “They are like my bible, these phrases that are always so very right,” reflects Marie-Victoire Poliakoff.
In the sixth arrondissement of Paris, her Galerie Pixi shows the exhibition “Dans l’intimité de Poliakoff” until December 24th, 2011 which brings forth certain objects and visuals found in the book. There will also be a selection of eclectic objects for sale – perfect holiday presents – in a pop-up shop in the gallery. From this space, Marie-Victoire Poliakoff exercises the art of illustrating memory and personal meaning.
Why did you decide to do this book?
I decided to do this book, firstly, because a lot of people say false things. They may not have a lot of importance but they are nevertheless not true. I wanted to say what he did, where he had lived, what was he like, his character.
And, I did this because it’s a declaration of love. Because I had a grandfather that was wonderful and I had to say it. It was very important for me to say this, and to offer something intimate to others because in order to like an artist, today, there must be a face and a familiarization. My work is to make my grand father’s oeuvre known more and more, to defend his painting. We are in a quite particular époque. We are in a time when we forget everything; I am here to defend him. It was the first step to give him a human form so that people might be astonished to discover someone like that because people do not know who the artists are, how the artists were.
I didn’t want to make a book that was historical; I wanted to speak of my grandfather, and what I saw of him. I am not an art historian. This book, it’s an emblem. It’s a witness of a little girl of her grand father. That’s it.
What has been the response so far?
The people who did not know him and who have seen the book were very moved. They said to me, we laughed, we cried. They were very astonished, very seduced. We enter into his story a little, we appropriate it a bit.
…As we say in French it is my tribute. It was a participation. My father takes care of the oeuvre of my grandfather, my brother, and me. So, it’s my little stone that I put. I am more public relations; I make my father come alive humanly. Each person has his or her job. Me, every day I give life to Serge Poliakoff.
What do you think you learned from your grandfather?
He taught me to be happy. On the inside. Me, I am very nostalgic and melancholic. It’s not easy to be melancholic. Because life is rather absurd but there is one thing that he transmitted to me, an ardent fire from the interior.
He was so marvelous, so kind, so generous, happy; I have never met anyone like him…my grand mother was the same. Joie de vivre. The word that was repeated permanently in my family, was “merveilleux”. During my childhood, I only heard this word – merveilleux. Wonderful.
What is your view on contemporary art today relative to the time in which your father worked?
Today contemporary art is something social. That’s to say if we succeed in life, we must pass by there. People who even pass by there still might understand nothing about art. It’s an exterior sign of richness or an exterior sign of intellectualism. In this case, it’s passionless.
I detest contemporary art fairs. Ideologically, they are like a facility for people, like a supermarket. And people then don’t go to galleries. But to go to a gallery, build confidence in someone, to discover the eye of a person, is a wonderful thing…If I see one piece of art that is good I am in paradise, one good thing, and it makes me happy for a week, it’s magnificent to discover it. At fairs, people see a lot but they become blasé. They do not make the choice of one thing like that. But, it’s our époque.
Also, if somebody likes Poliakoff’s work, I can talk of him. I am very astonished that today people do not have curiosity. Today, it rarely exists, a gallery that is sustained by a child of the family that can speak of an artist. Here there are fabulous places like that, for example, the brother of Isadora Duncan who has a gallery on rue de Seine. We can go, see and talk to him, it’s incredible… and Denise René, we can visit Denise René still in her gallery today. She is almost 90 years old. She is there, she is incredible, and she can recount her times spent with legendary painters. It’s the people who are part of history. We have a little bit of this history and we have to take advantage of it because after, it will be no longer.
95, rue de Seine
75006 Paris, France
T. +33 1 43 25 10 12
PAGE 2 & 3
This is a tableau that my grandfather made for my grandmother because my grandmother had lost her first child and one day she found that painting on her wall. I found that it was good to begin with that. It’s a tableau that’s very important, very representative of the oeuvre of my grandfather.
(His childhood in Russia until his arrival in Paris)
“The important thing is the soul. The moment where your soul is born in eternity. We hold onto the nostalgia of this instant as one holds onto the nostalgia of one’s mother.” SP, 1958
“Don’t teach drawing, teach life” SP
That’s the only drawing with a Russian church. I put in things that are a bit rare; after all it’s his Russia.
“Speak, but don’t act, and when you have acted, do not speak” SP
His meeting with my grandmother is very important because it’s a marvelous love story.
She smoked all the time and she always left her lipstick on the cigarette. For me that’s the femininity, incarnated.
PAGE 45, 48-49
Two marvelous beings. Very happy. My grandfather lefts his family at the age of 17 age and never saw them again, it’s wrenching; he never said goodbye and never saw them again, except 50 years later. It’s difficult to have lived that. And he left with nothing, he had nothing. But he was happy. He was someone who was bruised but happy, gay. An interior with an ardent fire.
(My Father, His Son, His Best Friend)
“Don’t copy, imagine” SP
(A la Maison, 51, rue de Seine)
“On can find in art a richness which is without limits” SP
“It is necessary that doubt be in each painting” SP
That’s him with his guitar. He played the guitar to support himself. Up until he was 50.
He had to do something to support his family. He did some cinema, he played in the Russian cabaret, and he was a double for theater pieces. That was to earn a living. Because one did not live from their painting at this time. No one, except Picasso. No one lived from his or her painting. It was very difficult before an artist became known, 50 years of work. Today, life is not how it was then. It’s always been difficult. But today, a painter can go to big gallery, make a product. We are all products today. It depends on the gallery. If he knows all the millionaires, he will get sold but then we will no longer talk of this artist in ten years.
“In order to live, you must be useful”
“In the crowd also you are always alone”
Un Homme très elegant
“Learn to see yourself from afar”
He was very well dressed. He often went to London to get suits made. That’s a fabric that he made, that he designed. Perfume, hat, he often went to London.
I wanted to show the different outfits, fabrics, materials, that’s a bill from an English tailor.
His Minox. Cravat.
“Never stop working, that is your force” SP
Les Amis, Les Artistes, Les Collectinneaurs, Les Marchands de tableaux
My grandfather always walked with his friends, he traveled always with his friends and his family, all his tribe. That’s Denise René, she was one of the first to expose Poliakoff.
“Regard your friend as if he were all of humanity” SP
They made a robe Poliakoff but at the same time that they made a robe Mondrian but it is never talked about because people are ignorant. There were two or three different models.
(The home of Charles Estienne)
“It’s bad, a painter without heart” SP
(Live with Poliakoff)
That’s an interior of Helena Rubenstein with a tableau on her ceiling. It’s a good idea, I think!
(Cooking Recipes of Diédouchka)
It was very important for him, cooking. He had his own recipes; he was very precise about them. He was very demanding. He was really an aesthete in the Art de vivre.
(The Addressbook of Serge Poliakoff)
That’s the iconography that was in his studio. When he died he was in the process of doing a tableau. He would put the layers and layers of color. So this tableau it was not supposed to be in this color but it was actually the same color as the icon. And I put the two texts from my grandmother because she thought it was a sign.
This photo is perfect for me at the end. That’s to say, he continues, the original photo goes in the other sense but I put it backwards so that he leaves the book and continues that.
For me it’s rather important because in life each thing leads us elsewhere. And I am sure that if we go there we can perhaps miss something very important or then if I say I will not pass there, there will be something that will happen that will be a detour…whatever arrives, we go where we need to go. Even if we make a detour, we go, whatever happens we go on.
Can you please recount an anecdote?
One day, the telephone rang. My grandmother responds and hears: “It’s Greta Garbo!” She thought evidently that it was a joke. The Hollywood icon wanted a pink painting to go with her pink room. My grandmother explained nicely over a cup of tea that…if one day…he does a pink painting, he would think of her. He had already had an experience with a Belgian collector who found that her Poliakoff didn’t go with her canapé. My grandfather just counseled her to change her canapé.