«Работа с сознанием — это прагмема»
М. Мамардашвили

The Countryside As Memory

From 4 April to 5 May 2014 the V.V. Nabokov Museum mounted an exhibition — “The countryside as memory” — of works by the artist Kirill Konstantinovich Sokolov (1930—2004).

Kirill Sokolov was born in Moscow in 1930. He graduated from the Surikov Institute in 1957. In 1974 he left the USSR with his family and settled in his wife’s native country: Great Britain. Here he participated in exhibitions in the UK, Europe, and the US; from the early 1990s, he exhibited in Russia (one-man exhibitions held in Moscow, Perm and other locations).

This exhibition was dedicated to life in the Russian countryside. It comprised several cycles, one of which is from a formally un-exhibited series from the 1960s, when, together with his wife and daughter, he spent the summers in a village near Moscow on the Pakhra, and other cycles completed while staying with friends to the North of Moscow in the 1990s.

The idea to assemble these works in one exhibition was conceived at a 2013 conference in the “Russian World” centre at the School of Modern Languages at Durham University, UK.

Avril Pyman’s talk on “A Russian village funeral (1971)” was based on her recollections of life with her husband Kirill Sokolov during the years 1964—1971 when they spent the summers in the village near Moscow. She talked about the villagers with whom they came in contact, of her experience of their ways and their attitudes to life and death.

One of the most important subjects which arose from the subsequent discussions was the theme of the way in which the past is commemorated in the present. The world of the Soviet village incorporated history in the customs involved in remembering the dead. These make the past an inalienable part of the present. In this way, chronological time is suspended and history experienced as a constituent of space, which, by a collective physical effort, people have made their own.

It is this kind of experience of the countryside, of village life, which brings back our long-forgotten, common inheritance as immediate emotional experience, confronting us, as it were, with our own selves.

That is the underlying theme of Avril Pyman’s chosen title for the exhibition: “The countryside as memory”, precisely because the interplay of time and memory was so particularly important for Kirill Sokolov’s depiction of the theme.

In St. Petersburg (where the artist’s only previous one-man exhibition took place in the Blok Museum in 2004) Kirill Sokolov’s name is little known. However, his work has received wide recognition, not only in Russian galleries (including Petersburg museums) but also in Europe and the US.

Kirill Sokolov grew to maturity as an artist in the 1960s, organically combining the ideologically neutral, officially recognised art of the so-called “left wing” of the Moscow Union of Artists with exploration of the classic Russian “Avant-garde” (Larionov and post-Cezanne impressionism and expressionism) with motifs of unofficial “underground” art (the non-conformism of the 1950s and ’60s).

His departure from the Soviet Union and the isolation of the émigré scene allowed the artist to preserve this combination without losing the integrity of his lyrical vision, the structural clarity of his graphic language, the gentle figurative imagery of form. From his student days, however, Sokolov’s painting and graphics show a keen interest in and desire to experiment with abstract and surrealist art – in particular, as we have noted, the Russian Avant-garde, but also Picasso, Paul Klee, and Miro.

From the first, Sokolov worked as an illustrator, inspired by the principles of the school of Vladimir Favorsky (woodcuts, engravings on plastic, etchings etc.). This intensive work on books provides speaking evidence of that “literary orientation” which is often to be observed in the work of artists who belong to no particular “group”. Independence of all such associations, with their tendency to strict formularisation of artistic aims and doctrines, their relationships to one another and within the context of the “present day”, allowed him to retain a meditative orientation. As a result, this Russian artist living abroad was able to remain faithful to the principles which had inspired him from the outset of his professional career in the 1950s.

Throughout his life, Sokolov not only worked intensively as an artist but also collected Russian and English artifacts. He brought to Russia and gifted to the State Art Gallery of Perm, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and various other Russians galleries English and European, antique and modern, prints and engravings, helped to organise exhibitions of Russian graphic art and of paintings by the Moscow Union of Artists in Newcastle and gifted his collection of Russian clay and wooden “toys” to a Durham Museum.


Kirill Konstantinovich Sokolov

1930 Kirill Sokolov born 27th September in Moscow to an aristocratic, language teacher mother (Irina Konstantinovna Kirshbaum 1906-1981) and architect father (Konstantin Mikhailovich Sokolov 1900-1972). Soon after they moved to a flat in a house designed by his father off the Maroseika on the corner of Petroverigskii pereulok.

1941 Evacuated to Saratov with mother and nanny, later to be joined by a grandmother from the siege of Leningrad.

1942 Admitted to the Special School for Art, Moscow (MSKhSH) after return from evacuation.

1945 Kirill's father arrested and sent to the camps for five years. He was allowed to return as builder’s foreman in Karavaevo in 1950 but was not rehabilitated until after Stalin's death in 1953, after which he was appointed Chief Architect of Kostroma. Kirill witnessed his father's arrest and said that it taught him once and for all, to know fear. A family from the NKVD moved into the now communal flat.

1949 Graduated from the MSKhSH.

1950 Enrolled at the Surikov Institute, Moscow, Faculty of Graphic Art where he followed the programme of the Institute and became particularly interested in an engraving. At the same time, he was privately studying and exploring Picasso’s work, Abstract Expressionism and 20th Century Russian Avant-garde.

1952 Married Ariadna Avseenko (divorced in1963).

1957 Graduated from the Surikov Institute. At the International Festival Exhibition in Moscow, Kirill exhibited a series of linocuts illustrating Elsa Triolet’s novels.

1958 Birth of son Fedor (later adopted by Ariadna’s second husband as Dubrovin).

1960 Met Avril Pyman, a British research student who was in Russia on a British Council Scholarship to study Alexander Blok.

1963 Married Avril Pyman “Dicky”.

1964 Exhibited at the Literature Museum, Moscow a series of lino cuts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

1965 Birth of daughter Irina.

1964-74 Illustrated some 50 books, mainly by contemporary authors, including Iurii Trifonov, Bulat Okudzhave, and Fazil Iskander although his work on this author was intended for an English translation which was never published. Painted constantly but did not show or sell his work as a painter.

1974 Left Russia to live in England.

1975 onwards began to work on sculpture and oil painting in North Northumberland. 

1976 Became co-editor of the International Art Journal “Leonardo” where he later published a series of pieces on XX century Russian art. The first exhibition in England at the Gulbenkian Gallery at the “People’s Theatre”, Newcastle upon Tyne: paintings and sculpture.

1977 Continued to exhibit at various venues in Great Britain, see “Exhibitions”.

1978 Designed catalogue “Russian Graphic Art 18th - 20th Centuries” contributing images and texts. The exhibition originated at the Hatton Gallery Newcastle University under the aegis of Dr. John Milner and subsequently went on tour in 1979.

1979 First one-man exhibition in London at the Senate House, London University: oil paintings, prints, and sculptures.

1980 During exhibitions of portraits at Dunelm house, Durham University and of paintings at the Hellmann Gallery, West Germany, a fire at his house in Berwick upon-Tweed devastated almost all his life’s work and destroyed over four hundred pictures. In the same year, he became a member of the Society of Fine Art Graphic Artists. He begins work on “House without a Master” series.

1981 Produces “The life of Christ. Miracles” series of silkscreen prints.

1983 Travels in Northern Italy and produced a series of silkscreens of Florence and Venice.

From 1985 exhibits with the “Charlotte Press”, later “Northern Print” group, at Washington Arts Centre, Tyne and Wear and elsewhere in North of England and Scotland. Solo Exhibition of Prints and Collages at the Bishopsgate Foundation, “London 1984”. Contributes to a group exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival. Work included in the publication to commemorate 10 years of Northern Printmakers: and, so, gradually, the isolation of his first years as a Russian artist in England begins to wear off.

1986 A new passions for Greece and Greek culture results in a series of prints and collages of Greece and Mount Athos exhibited at Grey’s Gallery, Gosforth Newcastle upon-Tyne, and in

1987 an exhibition on the same theme in the Bishopsgate Foundation, London.

1988 The “torrent” of works in various techniques to Goethe’s Faust finds a responsive audience at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London, where they are staging a centenary production of both parts of the play, and in

1989 at the Faust Society and Museum in Knittlingen, West Germany, supposedly the birthplace of the legendary hero. On his way home, Kirill visits Dachau, the subject of the new silkscreen series, and produces watercolours and sketches of German towns and museums.

1990 Exhibition of graphic works at the Academy of Arts, Riga, Latvia. First return to USSR since 1974. After this, he came back annually to his native land.

1992 An important exhibition of graphic art takes place at the House of the Artist, Krymskaya Naberezhnaya, Moscow. “X Year’s Work”, and goes on to the State Art Gallery, Perm, Russia.

From 1993 he exhibits regularly in Russia and England at various venues, see “Exhibitions”.

1988 Diagnosed with lung cancer and undergoes a pneumoectomy of the left lung at Newcastle Freeman Hospital. At chemotherapy sessions before the operation in hospital and afterward worked on the series of drawings (later flat-bed prints) “Case History”.     

1999 An exhibition at Manchester Cathedral of new prints in the Faust series and of sculpture serves to dissipate the gloom of the operation as does a tour of places of artistic interest in France.

2002-to his death in 2004 he continues to exhibit in Russia and England and to experiment enthusiastically at studio in Goswick.

2004 Kirill Sokolov died in Wansbeck Hospital, Ashington on the 22nd May. At his own request, his ashes were   buried next to his mother and grandmother at Peredelkino near Moscow in June of the same year.