“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.
“I just love red and every variation of red – they burn into me…”
Here is a Google searched definition of a Bohemian: “True modern day bohemians are people who operate from the margins. They are aware that we have inherited a world whose ideologies are depleted and can only be refreshed from outside the box. They work in co-operation with like-minded souls or in solitude, in refreshing our culture.”
This, in particular, could easily be an apt description of the St. Kilda based Italian artist Josephine A Wadelton, better known simply as Josie. Wadleton has been described by some as “The doyen of the St. Kilda arts scene”, “An idiosyncratic figure, mostly swathed in burgundy or purple or both…”and “Her impeneratable eyes and inscrutable countenance, at times, give little away. “
Bohemians like Wadelton usually do what they want, they live life their way, they value freedom and solitude, creativity and all things aesthetic. Call them ”arty-farties,” “bohos,” “free-spirits,” but basically they don’t care. Mostly, they possess a unique and individual artistry, so “artist” may be another word to describe Wadelton. Some think “artist” reeks of pretentiousness, but to me ‘artist’ is perfectly acceptable. As far as I’m aware there is no other word for ‘artist’ other than specific types like a painter or illustrator. . However, it’s still a label really and labels, as far as I am concerned, are for soup cans.
Of course Wadelton has done most of the exhibition gigs or group shows including forty five downstairs, “The Robots Are Coming” at Artists Studio 106, “Collective Momentum” at the Carlisle Street Art Space, MUFF Kunst! Violence Exhibition, St. Kilda Art Crawl and numerous others. Her work has been featured in the films “A Beautiful Request,” “The Dream Children,” “106 Artists: Follow Your Dreams” and “Golden Parrots at the Gallery.”
Wadelton says: “The major focus in my work is to express the inward significance of an art work. What’s represented on the physical level has a cryptic hidden meaning therefore my interest in text, colour, numbers and codes. A lot of my influences have been Surrealism, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. I draw inspiration from the language and structure of poetry and scientific terminology. I’ve also explored a variety of materials and techniques, like painting on canvas, collage, digital media, soft sculpture, photography and more recently the moving image.”
In August 2010, at the now defunct Guildford Lane Gallery, Wadelton created a memorable mixed media installation entitled: “Defaced: The Exhibition” which focused on books which have been banned, burned and defaced. Her artistic recreation of the books enabled some of the authors and characters to materialise amongst her works. A coterie of talented actors in appropriate costume performed short extracts from the texts. The guests were stunned, captivated, delighted and were quite taken aback when D. H. Lawrence read an extract from his book “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” about simultaneous orgasms, Patrick Bateman read the horrific rat chapter from “American Psycho”, Humbert Humbert read the famous first sentence from “Lolita” – ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Then old Radcliffe Hall followed with her classic “The Well of Loneliness” about lesbianism, a stoned William Burroughs read from “Junkie” and finally a Hitler Youth recited from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” as a prayer.
There was a long silence when the readings ended. Anyone for the bar? The guests were all dumbstruck and speechless. Applause followed sometime afterward then they did quickly head for the bar. Wadelton, smiling, was successful. The bohemian had done what art was supposed to do: communicate ideas – politically, historically, spiritually or philosophically. She created a unique aesthetic, an exploration of perception; for pleasure and to generate strong emotions.
In November 2014, a collaboration between Wadelton and St. Kilda filmmaker Katrina Mathers produced a 3 minute experimental film entitled: “The Worship.” It was screened at Venice International Experimental Film and Performance Art Festival.
“This was my first foray into working with moving image digital media. It melded several socio-religious and culture elements together. Ethiopian women, in a Greek Orthodox Christian Church in the centre of Palermo Sicily, prayed as though driven by some sacred invisible force,” says Wadelton, “Their body language acted as a fluid connection between the architecture of the once Muslim Church and its Medieval icons, mosaics and sacred images. This short has now been exported from the Old World to the New World enriching and nurturing a new audience.”
Mathers created a visual biography about Wadelton entitled “In Her Silence” in 2018. Within a background of Wadelton’s work she talks of her love for the mystery and fragility of colour. The biography also explores a trance-like, meditative and pensive monologue which transcends and challenges the mainstream. Wadelton speaks of her love of silence, of her enduring attachment to art and aesthetics and of the legacy she hopes to pass onto her four adored grandchildren.
“Josie’s incredibly unique, there’s no-one else on the planet like her. She embodies a wonderful strength, she’s inspiring, enigmatic, perceptive and always able to find beauty in the things around her. I feel so honoured to know and be able to work with her. A truly generous and creative spirit.,” comments Mathers.
Both Mathers and Wadelton also created two other video arts, one entitled “Delirious” – A d-word abstract experimental piece created by using the apps “Glitché” & “KinoGlitch which explores the power of words beginning with the letter D. and the second piece “Klunk Memorial” also created by using an app. “This one is my interpretation of “Fallen Leaves” a sculptural installation created by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman,” said Wadelton.
Chatting over cafe latte and English Breakfast tea (with Almond milk) I was curious to know how and why Wadelton came to live in Australia…
“The Simeonis’ – my family, emigrated to Australia in 1950. They were originally from Udine in Northern Italy. After the Second World War,my father heard and read wonderful stories about the “lucky country.” So after he finished working for the Italian Navy in Venice, off we sailed to Australia and settled in Clifton Hill leaving behind aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents and also the beauty of Italian Art, History and Architecture.”
Other questions came to mind, so I asked.
What did you do before you became an artist?
“I was always an artist. I knew that at 4. I remember while at primary school in Italy being shown the wonderful works of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Raphael. The nuns asked us to draw like Leonardo! So I was quite shocked when I first went to school in Australia that all the kids were drawing stick figures. I made up my mind then and there that I would be an artist and return to Italy and revisit those Florentine, Renaissance, and Roman cities. Then after finishing high school I studied FIne Arts at the University of Melbourne and went on to art school at RMIT. I ended up teaching art in various high schools in Melbourne and teaching art in high school was not taken seriously back in the 60’s. It was a time for playing up. I was quite relieved to stay at home with my mother and not venture back into the school room. Discipline was not my forte and still isn’t.”
Why do you do the work that you do?
“Because there is a strong creative impulse that drives me.”
Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts?
“Being totally surrounded by the creative community here in St. Kilda, the artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers and the rest.”
What do you think are some of the negatives in your work?
“Struggling with large scale compositions!”
What’s been some of the positives in your work do you think?
“A burning desire to research a subject which will lead to a convincing and informative exhibition or installation.”
If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path would have followed Josie?
Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts?
“Peggy Guggenheim. What a wonderful legacy she has left to the world. This year I was lucky enough to see an exhibition by Jean Arp at the Guggenheim Museum. Peggy’s permanent collection includes works by Max Ernst, Picasso, Braque, Calder, Mondrian, Magritte, Jackson Pollock and Kandinsky. I was also fortunate to see Gilbert and George at a live interview at the NGV. They are both known for their distinctive and notably formal appearance and manner in performance art and also for their brightly coloured graphic-style photo-based artworks.”
What are you currently working on?
“I have been greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement of the early 20th century. The Bauhaus was one of these movements that gave design a unique place in history: a discipline that fused art and craftsmanship with a philosophical approach. In German, Bauhaus literally means “construction house.” Some of the most notable Bauhaus artists and designers included Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Mies Van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, and László Moholy-Nagy. It was also the first school to admit female students to its institution! Though the women were relegated mostly to the crafts department, they nevertheless designed avantgarde furniture, tableware, carpets, textile crafts, woven wall hangings and tapestries. The weaving loom design is mostly limited because of its bold verticals and horizontals. So this is how I developed my latest project based on the Grid. Also, wonderfully, I have discovered the power of apps! They have changed the way I create my art work. Using apps I am able to transform and change the scale of my art into various shapes and sizes.”In recent years, Wadelton has suffered with the incurable and mysterious disorder Fibromyalgia. But with her usual bohemian bravado, Wadelton manages the condition like the execution of one of her artworks – carefully, calmly and with much patience.
“The one big luxury I have is to live alone, to be on my own. Which is amazing. Just love being on my own. I never get lonely, that’s one gift I have, I never get lonely. I just like to be alone.“
Now in her early 70’s, Wadelton with her stylish dress sense, crop of silvery hair, still possesses a beauty and aesthetic that emanates originality. Josie Wadelton – the artist and bohemian, lives by the Gilbert and George quote: “To be with Art is all I ask…”. And she is.
St Kilda seems to have it all, spectacular sunsets and beach side boardwalks. A rich history of vice and crime, art and culture. Trams that connect to the four corners of Melbourne and beyond. Palm trees, parks, lots of heritage buildings, three outstanding theatres as well as eateries, pubs and bars that play live music to a reasonable hour.
Why has the centre of Fitzroy Street turned into a tumbleweed zone? No one seems to be able to pinpoint the answer to that.
Legend has it that when the artists colony that was Chronicles Bookshop was unceremoniously closed down due to relentless external pressure for dubious and nebulous reasons Fitzroy’s street’s soul had been ripped out.
Or when the toilet block was demolished in what was nationally known by the indigenous community as Koori Park a spookily vacuous and resonating effect was left on the street. Who knows for sure?
What we do know is that the culmination of many quickly imposed plans devised to reinvigorate Fitzroy St. have predominantly failed.
Sadly, despite heavy investiture the area still has issues. Many people including local and state governments are looking to local Arts & Culture as a potential remedy..
I asked local St Kilda resident, mentor, writer and visual artist, Emily Humphries to comment on how the area and local Art and Artists might be able to lend a hand, and if she has any insight into a problem that many wealthy residents and investors have failed to solve. This is what she said.
…“ When Dolores San Miguel opened the doors of the Crystal Ballroom in 1978 it dragged St Kilda groaning and kicking from its post war malaise as Melbourne youth awoke with a yelp. What had once been the terrain of wealthy seaside residents, the area that spans from the juncture of Barkley St and Alma Rd. was held high with grand mansions, which scattered like in any European seaside town, over the hill and down to the sea.
The Ballroom was a cultural incarnation of what had been a once vibrant area, yet with quite another face and sadly Melbourne failed to truly celebrate the relevance or recognize quite the qualities of the
power house of talent destined to largely desert not just St Kilda, but our shores. Thus there is no real mystery to its decline.
A failure to support or invest in the arts and artists is deadly. There is the organic folding process of any place or thing as it reshapes into another, as a fairly natural phenomenon. St Kilda has never really reformed since the late 80’s and since the large flight of junkies and drug culture to the North of the river there has been a slow process to rocked St Kilda’s heart.
St Kilda is loaded with potential however sometimes the grander enterprises spit people back onto the street with their exclusivity and frosted windows. The general public walk by with nothing much to grasp onto. Where is the soul in this?
The recent rise of the St Kilda Art Crawl in the city of Port Phillip was a really exciting thing. Despite our craft run along the Esplanade there is a chance here to bring back some of the vitality St Kilda now lacks. Why, because it brings a focus back to the expressive, the ‘street tongue’. If you want the street to resound you need to give it a voice and how better to do it than to support and invest in those who make the area their dialogue not just their economy. I really believe it is in the interest of the local businesses to invest in those who make a kind of “noise” about and around them.
There is a reflective quality to the neglect we have given our artists being played out in our deadly streetscape. We have Rowland Howard Lane but where is Rowland Howard? Despite being one of our precious jewels of cultural input Rowland died way too young and although some point the finger at a kind of lifestyle, artists very often have little choice in how they live as they medicate to navigate a culture which undervalues and fails to support them financially or even expressively.
Often our greatest talents end up in housing commissions on disability pensions or are forced to be educators. Without the support or security to simply weave their magic alight and contribute en force, artists in this country are robbed of their esteem by a culture which puts too much emphasis on convention and economic prowess.
I believe, with all my heart, that local business would benefit by investing in local Art & Culture artists that live in every St Kilda block, our heritage alive yet buried,
If we bring in some respect, some heart back into the heart beat of our culture of our area the vigor will return and our street and geography will not be left desolate and reflecting a kind of grief that no end of designer shops or fancy restaurants can stuff”…