Archive for September, 2006

Old Arbat

Posted by Arlo on Sep 18, 2006 under Postcard Valet, Travel, Videos

Arbat PortraitOn our last day in Moscow – but still three days from home, because, you know, Moscow is, like, on the other side of the planet – Oksana and I returned to Arbat to have our portraits painted.

Earlier on the trip we had walked the length of both streets known as Arbat – Old and New.  New Arbat was a four-lane highway bordered by loud neon, bright casinos, and TGI Friday’s.  Old Arbat was pleasantly pedestrian with souvenir stalls, outdoor restaurants, musicians with hat-pushing assistants, and dozens of portrait and caricature artists.  It was these artists’ work, photo-realistic and painted while you wait, that captured my attention and imagination.

While Oksana put her Russian to good use comparison shopping for prices, I wandered among the painters.  I stopped behind one woman who was painting a portrait of a young boy.  To my eye, the monochrome image was almost photorealistic.  Watching her perfectly recreate his eyes, I decided that if the price was right, she would be the one to paint us.

It seemed as though most of the artists on Arbat had agreed to set their prices uniformly: 700 rubles for one person, 1500 for two; doubled again for color.  You could either leave a favorite photograph and pick up your portrait later, or sit still for an hour while they painted from the source.  It seemed incredible to me that anyone could paint so well, so quickly, but on this street in Moscow, that particular talent was in abundance.

Oksana’s cousin, Vanya, was with us that day and because he was planning to wait around with us, I convinced her to ask our painter if it would be alright if we videotaped her process.  I could tell that our selected artist, Lena, thought it a rather strange request, but she was polite enough to rearrange her easel for the camera, anyway.  I set the camera on the ground, against a wall and out of the way of Arbat’s foot traffic, and started recording in LP mode.

We sat down and began our suspenseful hour-and-a-half wait.

(Don’t want to wade through more prose?  Here’s a link straight to the video.)

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