Vail International Gallery hosts painter Mikhail Turovsky, Feb. 18 |

Vail International Gallery hosts painter Mikhail Turovsky, Feb. 18

Krista Driscoll and Brenda Himelfarb
"Red Haired Standing Nude," 48 inches by 24 inches, oil on canvas, by Mikhail Turovsky.
Brent Bingham | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

What: Reception with artist Mikhail Turovsky.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.

Where: Vail International Gallery, 100 E. Meadow Drive, No. 17, Vail Village.

Cost: Admission is free; artwork is available for purchase.

More information: Visit, or call 970-476-2525.

a critic once wrote of Mikhail Turovsky’s work: “One cannot leave an encounter with Turovsky unscathed.”

His work depicts his truth, his experience. At once, the viewer sees beauty and, at times, chaos. Originally from the Ukraine, now living in New York, Turovsky’s canvases create pictures tinged with a combination of cruelty and kindness, humiliation and ennoblement — expressions of his history.

Fleeing the ‘system’

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1933, Turovksy first painted on makeshift easels, yet his talent was immediately evident. In 1941, with the advent of war, he fled the city with his mother and brother, moving from one hiding place to another. When the Bolshevik Revolution took place, Turovsky entered the Kiev Art Institute. However, the school’s iron discipline quashed any dissent or self-expression. The artists became puppets.

“Mikhail is a product of the Soviet Union’s art system, where the artists were trained the same way the gold-medal athletes and the Bolshoi dancers were trained,” said Marc LeVarn, co-owner of Vail International Gallery.

“The ‘system’ emphasized a rigorous classical art education, and you can see that in the technical foundation of his work. Turovsky had it made in the old Soviet system. He was a member of the painters’ union and had a full-time job as an artist, but he couldn’t stomach the artistic control of the Soviet system.”

Compelled to leave the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1979 during the Cold War, Turovsky and his family immigrated to New York. Three hundred of his works, confiscated by the Soviet authorities as “national treasures,” were the price of his freedom.

Serge Lenczner writes in his book “Turovsky,” “His break with the totalitarian world and a career controlled by the government provided the passkey that unlocked our understanding of the requirement for quality and authenticity that would constitute a marked characteristic of his work throughout his life.”

‘Lovely paintings’

Turovsky’s work brings together a couple of different themes that complement Vail International Gallery’s collection, LeVarn said. The first theme is Russian art, a style the gallery has worked with and sold for more than 20 years, and the second is Modernism.

“We think that Turovsky represents an important Modernist artist who began his career in Russia, classically trained like Picasso, and had to break free. All the artists who created Modernism had to break free of the control of the constrictive, conservative art world of the early 20th century,” LeVarn said.

When Turovsky came to the West, he was finally able to express himself individually, which lends an authenticity to the work, LeVarn said.

“He uses the vocabulary of Modernism: brighter colors, the less realistic approach to painting,” LeVarn said. “It’s more intuitive, it’s more emotional, and you can see the influence of artists like (Marc) Chagall, (Amedeo) Modigliani, (Bernard) Buffet, who are all classic and giants of 20th century art.

“They’re all there, but they’re not definitively there, so that when you look at a painting you might say, ‘He’s doing this or that.’ Yet it’s his own feeling, his own voice. They’re sensual, they’re beautiful, they’re optimistic and they’re just lovely, lovely paintings.”

Though Turovsky fits into the realm of Modernism, his approach is fresh and original.

“Just because you like the Grateful Dead doesn’t mean you can’t like Phish, right?” LeVarn said. “Just because you’re within that tradition, you’re still breaking new ground; you’re doing exiting things within this genre. And that’s the way I feel about Turovsky; he’s able to create authentic work, you feel it when you look at it.”

Mood and spirit

The overall feeling from Turovsky is optimism, LeVarn said. The color, and the warmth of the art, the mood of it, is sensual without being sexual; it’s human and alive.

“Thematically, it’s all about humanism, individuality, enjoying life,” he said. “Because where he came from, he couldn’t do that. … You get a lot more of the individual, a lot more subjects with figures that are less abstracted and more idealized, in a way.”

LeVarn said Turovsky is a classic of the 20th century, and he encourages people to come judge the work for themselves and meet the artist at the gallery’s reception today.

“I want people to understand that where he’s going with his career and as far as he’s gone, he’s going to be an artist who’s going to have staying power, I believe, in the 21th century canon,” he said.

“Like any type of art, you’re either going to like it and you’re going to feel it and you’re going to get it, or you’re not. We get it with him, and we have since we hung the first pieces in the summer and had immediate positive reactions. People like the work, like the mood, the spirit.”