By Roberto Chuter
“We artists can be happy just having freedom and being able to express ourselves…” – Ruv Nemiro
It was almost certain that every time I waited on the corner of Carlisle Street for the No. 16 tram, I would bump into Ruv Nemiro. On the tram he would grab me by the arm and laughing he would try to convince me to get involved with one of his schemes to sell or promote his artwork. This was a regular occurrence on every single tram ride.
With his chubby physique and rubbing his thinning grey hair with his hand, I would slowly help him off the tram at Barkly Street. Then he would say tome: “You understand?” In his broken English he always repeated that sentence to me smiling and laughing. Unfortunately, I didn’t or couldn’t understand, but we laughed over it anyway.
Ruv went to his studio on Barkly Street regularly and would sit and create for hours on end. He loved his art and rarely missed a day. I used to pop in briefly to chat with him when I was visiting the studio and there he would be – sculpting, drawing, painting or reading one of his many art books.
Late last year he invited me to his studio, I did go and then, quite unexpectedly, he presented me with a gift. I was surprised and delighted to acquire one of his canvases featuring a let’s say ‘Rubensque’ lady with perfect bosoms, reclining naked on an abstract chaise lounge. It was painted lovingly in various shades of vivid aqua, blue, a touch of white and some small splashes of black. It was luminous.
“I dedicate my art to my friends, those that I was fortunate to have come across and those that I yet have to meet in my life. To the friends who are with us today and to those who have gone forever remaining in my memory and heart. I dedicate it to my dear friends, with whom I have spent my best years,” he said.
Ruv was born in 1937 as Ruvim Nemirovsky in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. From 1952-1957 he studied at the Institute of Art in Uzbekistan and received his post graduate degree in Fine Art at St. Petersburg in 1961.
In the early 70’s, Ruv was selected to be in a small group of artists to fly to France to meet with the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. “My Dad told me stories about it, and he told me what he said to him: “I want to make your portrait” and Picasso replied: “I am very interested to see it,” said Ruv’s son,the artist Alex Nemirovsky. “My father created he same portrait here in Australia and this work is still with me.” Picasso was most curious about this renowned Soviet Union artist and sculptor.
Subsequently, Picasso died in 1973 but Ruv did paint a portrait and gave it to Picasso’s family foundation. Due to the strong KGB surveillance at the time, it is not known if they ever received Ruv’s work. In 1976, he worked with the British sculptor Henry Moore, in London and his artistic acquaintances included Marc Chagall amongst others.
Ruv had over 55 years of experience in monumental sculpture, for which he won many international and national awards and commissions in the former USSR having won the National Public Art Competition eight times and he was a Professor at the St. Petersburg Fine Art Academy for a number of years.
His sculptures were highly regarded and he was commissioned to create, design and build a 50 foot sculpture of Uzbek National Legendary Hero – Farhad. Ruv, with his extraordinary artistic ability, also designed palaces, restaurants and stadiums in Australia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Many of his works are to be found in Australia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkey and other countries in Europe and Asia. In addition to his sculptures Ruv was a prolific painter exploring a variety of different techniques and genres. He led an enviable life; his list of high calibre clients and commissions range from royalty right through to political leaders.
Ruv immigrated to Australia with his (ex) wife in 1990 to be with his son, the artist Alex Nemirovsky. His daughter Stella and her family followed a few years later.
Ruv set up his Barkly Street studio in 1995 with artists Maria Leonard, Heidi Knoepfli and Patricia Buck.
Maria Leonard remembers Ruv: “The Artists Studio106 was founded n 1995, that means I knew Ruv for over 23 years! The first time I met him he poked his big head into my studio saying: “Oh, I can see we have philosopher here! I will come past and talk to you!” We only had curtains on our studios in those days, so it was very easy to chat. He was certainly a force to reckon with! In those early years his English was much better and his voice was loud and he drank lots of vodka! Often he put on noisy parties in his studio with his Russian friends. All the artists at the studio were invited too!! He served salami and pickles and bread. Of course, there was plenty of vodka too!. If we did not eat or drink, he would be most offended. As I got to know him better, I could see the gentle soul behind the big bear! Both Ruv and I used the studio like our second home! Of course we started to annoy each other, that was inevitable.
He loved to call his friends and family after his lunch. Our telephone was situated right next to my studio! So it happened most days. I often only had 3 hours to do my work, and I found it very annoying and I couldn’t work, listening to all the Russians bellowing! It always sounded like he was fighting with someone? I was not the only one angry, some artists actually left because of Ruv, I am sorry to say! I begged him and I pleaded with him to make his telephone calls at home! But nothing really helped, he just smiled and laughed at me trying to explain why it was important. Often he called his sister in New York! and after one particular longish call, I had enough so cut the telephone cord! He still responded with smiles and laughter. At least he had a good sense of humour! Thankfully, the telephone calls became less frequent, or maybe I just became used to it,” laughs Maria.
‘Ruv loved all the other artists, he said we are his family! Two of our founding artists at the studio left after a few years. And Ruv made sure he would stay in contact, calling them up and asked how they are going? One dear friend, the sculptor Robert Giannini, moved to Tasmania. They both stayed in contact for many years. Sadly, Robert now suffers with Alzheimer’s disease and I haven’t told him about Ruv.
Heidi Knoepfli, smiling, recalls: “I met a vibrant handsome, with a twinkle in his eye, Ruv over 20 years ago at Artists Studio 106. He occupied an upstairs studio and I was in the downstairs sculpture studio. After several invitations he finally turned up for a visit to my huge basement studio. His eyes lit up when he saw this tucked away cavernous space. He said sotto voce: “You could make Vodka here!” with his cheeky laugh. Well Ruv, that never really occurred to me! Though I knew where he was coming from. I had read a smidgen of Tolstoy and Pasternak in my late teens which gave me a glimpse into the Russian culture and with it I knew he was dead serious. Sure enough on our next encounter, laughing loudly, he produced a recipe for making vodka written out of an old exercise book paper page with lines which I suspected was a treasured family heirloom. The recipe required huge quantities of ingredients, equipment and 50kg of potatoes. And it was just a trial run. Ruv, ever the consummate entrepreneur was thinking big. Very big! Needless to say our creative collaboration never took off.”
In 1993, he created and designed “The Lady of St. Kilda” together with his son Alex which was installed on the old Carlisle Street bridge in Balaclava. The sculpture, made of steel and enamel paint, features an impression of the ship (known to have given St. Kilda its name), flanked by mermaids and sea creatures floating on ocean waves. “That was a collaboration of the Painter and Sculptor, and this is why it was unique, the successful part of this project was the idea of painting the form on the flat metal collages,“ said Alex.
“I created full size drawings of it and my Dad created metal forms from it and the structure. And after I made a painting of it. They were four different stages and it took over a year to make. We were a great team and had a great understanding. The work was created on a very small budget and in the end we had to pay people from our pockets to complete it. Since then, unfortunately the mural has been vandalized and the council has just ignored that. It could have been easily saved 26 years ago. As a result it has never looked even 30% from its original look. We did it for people of St. Kilda on a rusted and ugly bridge not for vandals!”
Ruv was a real character with a sharp eye for a pretty girl, some good vodka and a beloved art book. He was a true artist, a father, a human, a friend and a teacher.
Today, his evocative gift hangs on my wall, in odd moments it catches my eye and makes me smile. Then suddenly for a fleeting moment it has a life of its own as I hear Ruv’s voice saying:
”You understand?” But now I do understand. I understand that I was lucky and most fortunate to have had our paths cross.
Ruv Nemiro passed away on 27 September 2019, his presence and laughter is solely missed by many.
“Everyman’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived, what he did and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Fortunately, Ruv’s legacy remains – his extraordinary catalogue of artworks.