March 16, 2017

Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Фрески в Боровске/ Murals in Borovsk

this photograph (august 2005) by Vladimir Ovchinnikov

The mural depicted above shows a map in the form of a globe with the landmarks and historical sites of the provincial town of Borovsk in Russia, which is located some 115 kilometers south-west of Moscow.

This is one of the dozens of frescoes made by Vladimir A. Ovchinnikov, which embellish the walls of the buildings in this town.

Borovsk: the old town
this picture and the next ones by Vladimir Butenko 
(this picture made in december 2016)

Life and works

Born in 1938 Ovchinnikov had a technical education at the Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering and then got a job in that field, working with construction companies in building houses, chimneys, lighthouses and so on. He also studied economics and became a candidate of economic sciences.

During his working life he lived in Moscow, but once retired in 1998, he moved to Borovsk.

 photo made december 2016

Ovchinnikov all his life was interested in making drawings and paintings, but his busy job gave him little chance to do so. However, when retired he had time enough and as a self-taught visual artist he went to work.

Already in 2000 he had a first exposition in the local Borovskaya Picture Gallery where he presented some hundred landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

a decorated house 
(photo made march 2011)

Encouraged by a friend who had seen murals elsewhere, Ovchinnikov early 2002 decided to make an effort to create such decorations himself and he approached the mayor of the town, who verbally agreed with such an activity. 

Both the mayor and Ovchinnikov at that time probably had no idea of the scope of what was about to happen, but once Ovchinnikov had begun making murals, he proved himself a prolific artist.

In the period between 2002 and 2005, during four summers, he created some 90 murals

murals along a street
(photo made december 2016)

He continued this activity untill the present day (early 2017) and meanwhile he has provided the town with such a large number of murals that it has been said that he transformed the city into the largest open air gallery in the world.

The frescoes in particular are located in places with a public function, such as government buildings, the fire station, the library, the court and the hospital, but also in places near shops or markets,

Russian admiral Senyavin 
(picture made march 2011)

Ovchinnikov's murals, which predominantly are realised in a very meticolous way and with great attention to detail, include paintings with an illustrative character, such as landscapes.

But many murals have a narrative scope with scenes that relate to historical events and personalities, often in realation with Borovsk or Kaluga, the region where the city is located.

So there is a mural (picture above) of Dmitry Nikolayevich Senyavin (1763-1831), a famous russian admiral who originated in Borovsk. 

Another famous person depicted on a mural is Tsiolkovsky, the theoretician of Russian aerospace who lived both in Borovsk and in the Kaluga region.

Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), theoretician of 
russian aerospace (photo made december 2016)

As the picture above shows, in this mural Tsiolkovsky is depicted in an almost photographic 
way. Such a way of representation is present in a large number of Ovchinnikov's frescoes, which to my knowledge is rather unique in the field of art environments.

Above picture also shows that a text is added to the painting. This is also a feature of Ovchinnikov's artwork.

These texts, often of a poetic nature, mainly have been written by his wife Elvíra Nikolaevna Chastikova, a poet and writer, who published some fourteen books (poetry, storybooks for children).

Campaign of Napoleon (1812) in Russia 
(photo made december 2016)

Well known historical events, especially if somehow related to the history of Borovsk, are another main topic in Ovchinnikov's oeuvre.

Those murals dealing with events in the ages before the 20th century, such as Napoleon's campaign in Russia (1812) and the great fire of 1857 that destroyed half of Borovsk, in general were appreciated by the inhabitants and the local authorities.

However, when in 2005 Ovchinnikov got involved with the rescue of an abandoned church and made a critical dyptich with pictures of the mayor of Moscow and the governor of the region, he got the reproach to cause unrest.

In August 2016 a just completed artwork/monument named Gulag Archipelago, with pictures of twenty victims of political terror, was daubed with red and yellow paint, an event that became national news.

In the summer of 2016 Ovchinnikov incidentally also made a twenty meters long frescoe on a wall along Lenin street, in which he portrays twenty artists who worked in Borovsk in the 20th century.

on the wall of the city library: writers and poets together
march 2011

A fragile oeuvre

Ovchinnikov probably painted his murals directly on unprepared surfaces of bare brick or plaster. Especially in the case of brick this gives a specific expression to the painting, as can be seen in the picture of admiral Senyavin in this post, but the unprepared base may also result in fragility of the paintings. 

The artist himself is aware of this. He is quoted as saying about the life span of his artworks: "alas, not for centuries, under sunlight and atmospheric precipitation they retain color for a maximum of five to ten years."


March 08, 2017

Nikolai Panferova, Дом волшебника/The house of the magician

Naro-Fominsk is a city in Russia, located some 80 kilometers south-west of Moscow. In this area between october 1941 and january 1942 the advance of the German army was stopped, one of the decisive moments in World War II. Dozens of monuments in the town and the surrrounding area still bear witness to this.

In the outskirts of the city, near the monastery of the Holy Trinitage in Zosimova Pustyn', there is an art environment, locally known as the house of the magician

the sign at the entrance road 
reads "Здесь живет волшебник" (Here lives a magician)

The house of the magician

This art evironment was created by Nikolai Panferova, who currently still takes care of the site. 

The main feature of the site is the abundance of toy dolls which are used in various ways as decorative elements. They are attached to the exterior walls and the roofs of the various buildings, sometimes they hang from a beam, but they also sit together in a tree or on a fence.

There isn't much biographical information available about Panferova, except that he lived in Moscow and that he in 2009 moved to this house in Zosimova Pustyn' which he already owned as a summer house.

Probably around that time he began embellishing the site in order to find -as has been reported- a special atmosphere, relaxation and happiness.

He just began with a couple of dolls and when he gradually expanded the site, at some moment it got fame and subsequently people from the area and tourists came bringing him dolls.

Except toy dolls the decorations also include other elements. So the facade of the living house, pictured above, has decorated window shutters and large color pictures.

Similar arrangements can be seen on above picture of a side wall of the living house.

The house of the magician is located along a country road that surrounds a walled convent, founded in 1826. The picture above provides a glimpse on a tower of that monastery,
* Article (april 28, 2016) on website Novaya Moskva (New Moscow), 
* Entry on Live Journal (august 28, 2011), with pictures
* Entry on touristic website rus-trip
* Video by Alex NF (2'15", Youtube, downloaded november 2010)

Nikolai Panferova
Дом волшебника (The house of the magician)
Zosimova Pustyn', Naro-Fominsk, Russia

March 04, 2017

Huub Maas, Wonderen in specie/Miracles in mortar

As often happens, this art environment in the south of the Netherlands was demolished after its author died and his house was sold.

Life and works

Huub Maas (1934-2000) was a contractor and a mason living in Lierop, a village of some 2200 inhabitants in the province of Noord Brabant in the south of the Netherlands. 

His house, located in a wooded outer area of the village named Oeijenbraak, had a rather large garden which he in 1983 began to transform into an art environment.

As a building contractor he mainly had to do unimaginative straight masonry, but now he could create fanciful shaped masonry. which is not so much reflected in the little church he builded, but especially in the miniature mountain range with cascades, a Lourdes grotto and holy figures.

The site also had various structures decorated with mosaic, a large sculpture of a gilded lion on top of a boulder and trees with dozens of wooden clogs hang therein.

Maas has been active in decorating his garden for some sixteen years, untill he died in 2000.

After his death the house was sold. The new owners wanted a garden to their own taste, so in the summer of 2001 the site was cleaned up.

Some smaller builded structures were saved by family members and people living around were allowed to take away small sculptures and other easy to transport items.

The large structures however were demolished. except what once was the Lourdes grotto, which was kept as kind of a covered terrace.

* Entry of july 28, 2001 on website slaponline
* Entry (undated) on website Tallsay

Huub Maas
Wonderen in specie (Miracles in mortar)
Lierop, Noord Brabant, Netherlands

February 22, 2017

Aleksey Ivanovich Shuvalov, С игрушками украшенной сад/Garden decorated with toys

click on pictures to enlarge

In Nizhny Novgorod, the fifth largest city in Russia, an art environment can be found that is characterised by the many toys and dolls used to decorate the site. This is Aleksey Ivanovich Shuvalov's project.

Life and works

Shuvalov was born in 1942 or 1943 in the Russian community of Bol'shogo Boldina (Great Boldina), which is known from the family estate where Pushkin stayed in the 1830's. He first worked at a farm and later went into forestry, where he was involved in the extraction of resin from pine and other conifers.

When retired, Shuvalov wanted to avoid boredom, so around 2002 he began to embellish the garden around his house, mainly using toys and dolls as decorative material ¹.


He obtained this material from his family (he has two daughters and two granddaughters), but he also finds it in the garbage or gets it offered by friends or people who know about his activities.

In an interview with a local newspaper he said that he refers to his collection as the museum of the national disgrace of household waste.

Shuvalov's embellished garden is located at the end of a street in a relatively idyllic, wooded area of the old town, where one can enjoy views of the river Oka. The site is endowed with trees and shrubs that are used to attach toy animals, dolls and other decorations.

Apart from the toys the garden also has a lot of typical decorative elements -as shown left in below picture- consisting of circular discs from wood or other material, strung together and interspersed with oblong narrow strips. The items with the strips are made of aluminum (beer) cans of which the top is removed after which the cylindrical middle piece is cut into strips which are folded outwardly.

It;s a simpe but effective way of making decorations. These items can be seen everywhere in the garden and around the house.

The interior of the house is also packed with objects and the walls inside are completely filled with pictures and decorations.

Although one of the articles in the documentation describes the site and its author in disapproving terms and says that some neighbours had complained about the site, the other articles portray the author as a friendly person who likes to show visitors around and who will even share some time at the gazebo which offers views of the river Oka.

* Entry and large series of pictures by Станислав Казнов (june 1, 2014) on Live Journal 

¹ This weblog has two other examples of sites decorated with toys: the one by Cyril Roussel and the one by Francis Barale; both sites do not exist anymore

Aleksey Ivanovich Shuvalov
Bolshaya Perekrestnaya Ul
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
can be seen from the street

February 19, 2017

Ismaël and Guy Villéger, La maison de la gaieté/The house of gaiety

restaurant la Gaieté in 1960

La maison de la gaieté was a restaurant in the small community of Chérac in the Poitou-Charentes region in the south west of France. It has become known by its voluminous mosaic decorations.

The decorations

Decorating the property was a project undertaken between 1937 and 1952 by its owner Ismaël Villéger and his son Guy, who both currently have passed away and about whom the internet has no further biographical information. 

this picture and the next ones are screenprints from the video
by Marie-Laure Bourbon, published here in agreement with the author

In publications the decorations of the exterior. which are the largest in size, get most attention, but the garden and the interior also have adornments with mosaic.

The pictorial representations were generally applied to small square or rectangular tiles, which subsequently were attached to the wall. Grapes are a recurrent motif, but one also sees depictions of flowers or arrangements of colored pieces of broken crockery with a flowery appearance.

click on pictures to enlarge

This art environment has a specific feature: the blind side wall along the street has been decorated with two trompe-l'oeil windows, as shown in the picture below. 

The property, where in the course of time not only a restaurant was located, but which in some periods housed a bar-dancing or a cabaret/theatre, indoor has -apart from smaller living spaces- a large room which was a dining room. And then, outdoor there is a rather large garden. 

To a greater or lesser extent, all spaces have been decorated with mosaic artwork.

The future of the site is uncertain

The maison de la gaieté was a popular place for entertainment and going out untill the 1970's. Later the attention of the public became lesser. Sources on the internet are not clear about what happened in 1980's and 1990's, but anyhow at a given moment the community became the owner of the empty property and in the early years 2010 there were talks about transforming the site into a museum. The then mayor of the community apparently backed these plans.

However, after local elections a new council and a new mayor took office and in august 2014 the council decided to demolish the Maison de la Gaieté and ask Bâtiments de France (the french national building authority) an advice about this.

This decision generated public discussion and in november 2014 an association of friends was founded, which organized a petition to save and renew the Maison de la Gaieté

Also because of this action the Maison de la Gaieté on august 8, 2015 was added to the Inventaire des Monuments Historiques (Historical Monuments Inventory), since it is "un témoignage d’art brut comme l’est à Nantillé le Jardin de Gabriel Albert en cours de restauration" ("a testimony of art brut as is the garden of Gabriel Albert in Nantillé ¹, which is being restored").

In april 2015 the Association pour le renouveau de la Maison de la Gaieté opened a page on Facebook.

Untill now (february 2017) no further developments have been reported on this FB page.

* Article in regional newspaper Sud Ouest (august 2014)
* Article in weblog le Poignard Subtil (september 2014)
* Denis Montebello, La maison de la Gaieté, Bazas (Eds Le temps qu'il fait), 2017. -88p
* Facebook page of the Association pour le renouveau de la Maison de Gaieté
* Series of pictures in a video (2015) by Marie-Laure Bourbon (6'14", Youtube, downloaded june 2015) 

¹ Gabriel Albert's sculpture garden is located in Nantillé, some 26 kms north of Chérac. Some 17 kms north of Chérac, in Brizambourg, one could see Franck Vriet's art environment (no longer extant)

Ismaël and Guy Villéger
La Maison de la Gaieté
Chérac, Poitou-Charentes region, France
can be seen from the road, the garden is locked

February 02, 2017

Bartolomeo Mereu, Sculpture garden

pictures courtesy of Pavel Konečný

Located in the south of Sardinia, Italy, this art environment only recently became known by a larger public.

Life and works

Born in 1935 in Dorgali, Sardinia, Bartolomeo Merau had some three years of primary education and then left school to help his parents at the farm.

At age 19, in the early 1950's, he left his family to find employment as a worker in coal mines in Belgium and Germany. 

After ten years, in the early 1960's, Mereu returned to his native region, where he bought a bar in the harbour town of Cala Gonone. He rebuilded the bar and re-opened it as a gelateria (an ice cream shop), which he would operate for some 40 years.

In 2005 Mereu became retired. This allowed him to further develop a hobby of wood processing he already had as a youngster.

So he went roaming the adjacent woods to collect stumps of mainly juniper which he transformed into multicolored sculptures.

In the course of the following years he brought about a substantial collection of some 80 wooden sculptures which he displayed in his backyard, along the fence at the entrance or on top of the posts of the entrance gate.

The sculptures vary in size, the smaller ones often depict small animals, such as litlle dogs and birds, the larger ones portray all kinds of personalities, such as people living around and characters from mythology, religious life, history and contemporary politics.

Manufacturing sculptures Mereu makes use of the shapes which from origin are present in his material and thus for example arms of a person can consist of laterally grown branches in the base material.

Some of the larger sculptures of persons are arranged in a line, as if they form the public of a passing parade. Many of Mereu's creations have a humorous undertone.

Mereu's artwork only recently was made known to a wider public by Pavel Konečný, a collector of outsider art from the Czech Republic who travelled a number of times through Italy, where he also visited sites in Sardinia where he came across Mereu's art environment.


Mereu's sculptures got a first exposition in 2015 in Cala Gonone and thanks to Konečný, photographs of his artwork, together with those of other Italian outsider artists, were presented on an exhibition in the Italian Institute of Cuture in Prague (january/february 2017).

* Article (january 25, 2017) on website Italia Praga One Way about Pavel Konečný's photo exposition Il monde degli outsider (Istituto Italiano di Culture di Praga, jan,febr 2017)
* Article (june 25, 2015) in regional newspaper La Nuova referring to Mereu's participation in an exposition in Cala Gonone
* Series of pictures of Mereu's artwork by Pavel Konečný on Facebook (may 2015)
* Video by Pavel Konečný (published on Facebook, oct 2014)

Bartolomeo Mereu
Sculpture garden
Viale Bue Marino
Cala Gonone, Sardinia, Italy
can partly be seen from the road

January 31, 2017

Tamara Litvin, Decorated house and garden

pictures courtesy of Jelena Bobrusova-Davies from the 
ArtNaive Gallery (Moscow) which exclusively represents the artist

Located in the north-west of Belarus, Liozno is a small town of some 6700 inhabitants close to the country's border with Russia. One can find here a modest art environment, made by a currently elderly lady who during a large part of her life was a self-taught artist.

Life and works

Tamara Litvin was born in 1932 in the Pskov region in the west of Russia, near the border with Latvia. When she still was at a young age her parents moved to Belarus. She would spend her childhood and school years in the town of Verkhnyadzvinsk, the administrative centre of the region with the same name  in the north of the country. 

After her school days she lived for some time in Ukraine, where she met her future husband, Anatoly Fomichev, who like she was from Belarus, but was conscripted in the military in Ukraine . 

The couple returned to Belarus and settled in Verkhnyadzvinsk. In 1956 they got a son and later three daughters were born.

In 1983 the family went to live in Liozno, a community in the Vitebsk region, not far from the border with Russia. Their eldest son died in the early 1980's and one by one the daughters got married and left the parental home. After her husband had become ill and died, Tamara Litvin lived alone.

Throughout all the years as a self-taught artist she was engaged in making paintings, mostly in a naive style, an activity she continued after her husband had passed away.

Moreover, she embellished the interior walls with visual art and murals, decorated the exterior walls of the house with colorful motives and added two-dimensional wooden sculptures to the garden around the house, in this way transforming house and garden into an art environment.

The small wooden sculptures in the garden mainly depict animals, such as a deer, a cock or a fox.

The exterior walls of the house are embellished with paintings of flowers arranged in bouquets and with painted diamond-shaped motives comparable to those one finds on traditional Russian and East-European houses and farms.

The interior walls of the house are almost completely covered with Tamara Litvin's paintings, included some rather large murals.

Although creating art environments in particular appears to be a male activity, fortunately Europe also has examples of female involvement.

Tamara Litvin belongs to a range of women who became known by the creative way they embellished in- and exterior of their house. Although Tamar Litvin's art environment may be modest in size, conceptually it correspondents to the sites created by Polina Rayko (Ukraine), Danielle Jacqui (France), Bonaria Manca (Italy) and Enni Id (Finland).

For a long time her visual art was only known to a small circle of family and friends. She would just give away her paintings. However, in recent years the situation changed.

In 2012 Tamara Litvin, together with artists from Belarus, Russia and Latvia, participated in the exposition of naive art Insita 2012 in Vitebsk, which was organised by local museums in cooperation with the Museum of Naive Art in Moscow (This exposition was also organised in honor of Marc Chagall who 125 years earlier was born in Vitebsk and who spent his early years in Liozno).

In 2016 she had her first solo exposition in the ArtNaive Gallery in Moscow and in the same year the gallery presented three of her paintings at the Outsider Art Fair in Paris.

* Entry about Tamara Litvin on the website of the ArtNaive Gallery in Moscow 
* Article by Julia Poholkina (nov 201) in local newspaper Liozno News

Tamara Litvin
Decorated house and garden
Liozno, Vitebsk region, Belarus