Shelter-in-place Russians become artists, make masterpieces from the mundane

When you’re stuck at home long enough, you can see art in anything. At least, that’s the idea behind a Russian Facebook group that’s picked up nearly 600,000 members in less than 10 weeks. The premise: make a pastiche of a well-known artwork using only the items you find around you as you “shelter in place.”

Russia has been one of countries worst hit by the coronavirus, trailing only the United States and Brazil in terms of the number of confirmed cases. From late March to June 9, people were living under shelter-in-place orders. But the restrictions and isolation fostered a burst of creativity that caught the nation’s imagination.

Ivan Kramskoy masterpiece and Helen Yushkova pastiche

The work above left is often called “the Mona Lisa of Russia.” It’s an oil painting titled “Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” by Ivan Kramskoy. Above right is a recreation by Helen Yushkova that has picked up more than 6,000 “likes”.

Lyudmila Kudryashova’s husband and children get arty in a forest.

The Kudryashova family wanted to avoid being cooped up at home, so they headed to their country home 100 kilometers from Moscow where they found the inspiration to recreate “Morning in a Pine Forest” by Ivan Shishkin, a painting that hangs in Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery.

Hokusai artwork re-created with laundry

Photographer Tatiana Khodova made her version of Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” using her laundry, a few pegs and some shaving foam.
Khodova says she usually has a lot of work around this time of the year, photographing students for graduation albums, but that work has vanished this year. So she’s focusing instead on this new creative outlet. “I’m now thinking about my next work,” she says. “I’ve bought a new macro lens to try a new way of shooting.”

It began with a parody

Katerina Chelyadinova got her husband to pose as Vincent Van Gogh.

It all began when Katerina Chelyadinova, stuck at home in Moscow, decided to paint her husband’s beard orange to make him look like Vincent Van Gogh’s self portrait. She shared it with her friends on Facebook, got an avalanche of “likes”, and decided to make the group public.

Katerina Chelyadinova

A taste for art at times of trouble

About 60 percent of the group’s members are living in Russia, but people in Ukraine and other former Soviet nations are joining in, as well as Russian expats.

Sergey Zagraevsky of the Russian Academy of Arts

Sergey Zagraevsky, a painter and an expert on Russian art history, says Russians have traditionally engaged more with art in difficult times. “In 2014, for example, when the economy was in recession due to a plunge in oil prices, people lined up outside museums every night,” he says.
The shelter-in-place orders have eased a little in Russia, but museums are staying closed for now, so people are still enjoying the golden age of homemade masterpieces.