Like everyone, Oleg Vassilievich has some quirks to his character.
On the one hand, he is one of the gentlest people I know. For example, the other day we were discussing how to draw hands. The sketch I had done looked less like a hand than a bouquet of hot dogs, and he was trying to help me understand why.
“Now in drawing a finger,” Oleg Vassilievich said, “remember that it is a cylinder.” He sketches a few lines on the paper. “If you were to cut it -” he pauses, and looks at me earnestly, “a plaster finger of course, so we can cut it - if you were to cut it, the cylinder is not round, it looks like this.”
I’m marvelling that he can’t even talk about cutting a finger unless we establish that it’s actually plaster first, but I’m not so distracted that I fail to notice that the little tubes I drew have become living fingers, just by his addition of a few lines.
Later that day, someone new stops by the studio. He is tall, cavernously handsome, Russian: a friend of Oleg Vassilievich’s from student days. At first he seems shy and very polite, but when introductions are over and I start sketching again, he and Oleg Vassilievich subject me to a round of good old fashioned Soviet art-school hazing:
“That’s not too bad,”
“You should have seen how she drew before I started teaching her. No, better not to have seen it.”
“With some help, that could still be saved.”
“Well,” a long sigh, “there’s no rest for a teacher,”
Through all of this, though, I catch Oleg Vassilievich watching me out of the corner of his eye, a little anxious, to make sure I’m not upset. When I leave the studio he presses my hand in both of his, and walks me out to the front door, carrying my sketches for me.
Oleg Vassilievich has a little of the rocker in him. The other day I came into the studio and felt immediately that was in a rumbustious mood. I was tired from work, but quickly got charged up by all the energy in the studio. We hardly stopped for tea before diving into a still life (featuring a ceramic goat, a matchbox, and a teacup).
The work went quickly, with Oleg Vassilievich reaching over my shoulder to point, correct or erase. We moved right from the sketch to watercolor. I wanted to go slowly, but he carped at me to be bolder, use a wider brush, and jump right in.
He watched me for a while, then took over, using a ruler to steady his brush as he made clean lines with a three-inch brush and a radioactive daub of blue paint. I watched in admiration as he laid down big squares of color, like a house painter.
He was busy painting with the ruler when a Metallica song came on the radio. With a smooth movement, he extended the ruler towards the windowsill and used it to nudge the volume on the radio higher. I looked carefully, but there is no break in the line showing where he did that. I wish I had hands that steady.
When I walked out the door that evening - grinning, half an hour late, my hair standing on end - the night watch lady looked me over skeptically. No doubt wondering what we’d been up to in there. I showed her the picture, but she didn’t seem impressed. I suppose you need some good old fashioned American rock music to appreciate how cool a ceramic goat can be...