Alexander Anufriev has traveled a long way―both geographically and artistically. The Moscow native’s creative life started at age 4 when the local newspaper published his charcoal drawing of a stuffed eagle.
Since then, the Kentlands resident has evolved into a highly skilled painter. In the intervening years, Anufriev studied at Moscow’s art school for gifted children. “I had been expelled from there a few times for being a formalist in my art, but each time they would reinstate me for my talent,” he recalled.
An international art festival in Moscow in 1957 introduced Anufriev to contemporary American and Western European artists. As a result, he said, “I became a real formalist in the eyes of the officials. My works from that period were expressionistic in nature. Then there was a period of the fantastic realism and then surrealism.”
Despite his talent, “My works were not appropriate for the official exhibits in the U.S.S.R. I was under the watchful eye of the KGB and was arrested and questioned a few times. In 1980, I was banned from the U.S.S.R. and was not even allowed to take my artwork with me.”
Anufriev chose to live in Boston because, according to his wife, cellist Tanya Anisimova, “in his mind, it was the most European city in the United States. Plus, he had known some like-minded people there who had left before him and wanted to reconnect with them.”
Boston was a fortuitous choice since Anisimova lived there, too. “In 1994, I decided to learn painting. I went to him for instruction. Since that day, we are together,” she said.
After Anisimova completed her doctoral studies at the Yale School of Music, the couple accepted artist in residence positions at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artist colony in Central Virginia. They moved to Maryland in 2013, and to Kentlands in 2017.
The focus of Anufriev’s art has not changed since 1966. “I started painting angels after surviving an earthquake in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). I was saved by my angel when he carried me away from my bed to escape being crushed by a falling ceiling,” he said. “This subject still does not let me go.”
Anisimova introduced Anufriev’s work to Steve Caldwell of Framer’s Choice Gallery, where his work is on view through June 30. “I was intrigued by his story and after viewing his art online and then in person, I was very interested (in showing his paintings),” the gallery owner said. “About his art, first of all, you can tell he is a talented artist. His use of colors and technique are what immediately draw you to his pieces,” CaIdwell observed. The painter’s heritage was also a positive factor. “Since we live in such a diverse area, a lot of our artists are from different parts of the world. This brings a variety of art and cultures to our mix, which I find fascinating.”
Caldwell acknowledged being “a little apprehensive about showing his art when Tanya mentioned that all the paintings were images of angels. I didn’t want to promote any particular religious outlook.” Realizing that “these angels are more spiritual than religious and can appeal to a variety of beliefs and cultures,” his reservations diminished.
The nature of his art, explained Anufriev, “depends on who is looking. For a religious person, it would be religious, for a spiritual one, spiritual. For an atheist, it could simply be a masterfully executed piece of art.”
“Alexander does have many pieces on Biblical subjects―(for example) Moses’s angel, Jacob wrestling with an angel, Virgin Mary,” Anisimova said. “However, none of those works are executed in a canonic style. They are not bound by any particular religious tradition, even though they may bear multiple influences, such as Byzantine iconography (and) High Renaissance.”
Still, she maintained, “Alexander has had his personal spiritual experience, which wouldn’t fit into any religious tradition.”
The angels are here to stay for Anufriev. “I think I will continue with this theme until the end,” he said.
Alexander Anufriev’s work is on view through June 30 at Framer’s Choice Gallery, 402 Main St. Drop by to meet the artist at a reception on June 8, 3 to 6 p.m. Call 301.987.8711.
Editor’s Note: Alexander Anufriev does not speak English, so his wife, Tanya Anisimova, translated his answers to the reporter’s questions.