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"Real creativity begins when you feel the power
of that merciless "tiger" inside yourself"

I remember the very first time I met an artist. I was was summer... Russian South... in a little town called Evpatoria... Black Sea splashing green waives on a pebbled beach.

A cracked, asphalt driveway, covered with crawling shiny snails, leads me to a small plywood shack. I look into the half-opened door. A man with a beard was sitting on a small chair. He was painting something on canvas.
I was amazed by his ability to paint, to make things and faces with only strokes of a brush. I liked the smell of the paint. I thought that the artist was a magician, even though he was only a poster-maker, working for the local movie-theater. But, I didn't know that. He could paint - that was the most important thing to a little boy.

The desire was awakened inside of me. I wanted to be like him - to draw, to paint, to be a magician, to make tricks with colors and lines. At that moment I learned something about myself - I am an artist too. That ordinary meeting with the local poster-maker was a very important event leading me to the future.

I spent first three years of my life living in the territory of a St'Petersburg mental institution named after Mr.Skvortsov-Stepanov. My Grandma worked there as a nurse. She was taking me to her work very often. I was small and could not understand what was really going on in there.
I remember a big fish tank with greenish water in it. Within the tank, fat striped Scalars Fish, with distorted proportions, swam silently in slow motion. Strange taciturn people were stumbling along the corridor. My mother, Grandma, Dad and I were living together in two small rooms in a big two-story building. Quite often, my memories carry me back to that house. I hear the sound of big trees rubbing against each other in the wind, and the sharp noise of black crows. I can see people in their gray hospital uniforms taking walks in the yard. The aura of an unreal world was behind it - dreams, desires, passions, and strange events.

Everything that has happened to me in life seems now to be continuation of this mental image.

My ancestors were priests, church community leaders, peasants, and Dukes Levasovs but only one of my ancestors had a hidden passion for painting. My great grand father was an icon painter (or "bogomas" as Russians would say). He was good at mural paintings and made frescos for the church of Ostashkovo village. That church was leveled in the Second World War. However, by some miraculous circumstance, people saved one icon, painted in his workshop. I have that icon hanging on the wall in my studio.

My Mom and Dad didn't have a talent for painting, but they were taking me to the Hermitage and Russian Art Museum in St'Petersburg very often. My imagination was completely taken by art works of the Russian artist Aivasovsky. I was looking at his pictures of the sea and waves for hours. I was particularly fascinated by one huge green wave. It was ready to fall on me and take me to the depth of the sea. Aivasosky's pictures reminded me of big fish-tanks. The only thing missing in them was big-striped Scalar Fish. Soon, I got my own aquarium. I was sitting in front of it, looking at the silent and flowing movements of the fish. The world of water was fascinating; pulling me closer.

It was 1974, the year of the Tiger. One day I came back from school. I didn't see my aquarium in the room. The hundred-liter vessel had fallen to the floor and was broken. It was considered as a sign of misfortune. But I didn't know that. In a couple of days my friend and I went to swim in Sunny Bay ("Solnechnoye") not very far from St'Petersburg. I remember that place very vividly. It was a children's playground with a small lake, and a castle with strange looking statues. They reminded me of those from the Easter Island. Almost thirty years passed since then, but strangely enough those statues are still there.
It was a hot sunny day. I wanted to swim, so I jumped into the water. I remember a greenish yellow turbid light coming through the thickness of water above me. I was under the water and I could not move. I was looking at the rays of light, and could hear people laughing on the shore and music playing. But all that was happening on the other side. I was observing the world from the other side. I wanted to breath, but I couldn't get up. And there was nobody to help me. I realized that it was the end. I saw the face of my Mom, Dad, and Grandma and felt such pity for them. They will learn soon that there is no more me. But surprisingly enough, I didn't feel horror or fear. The feeling of sadness was flowing.
And I died.

Then I was born. It was different life even though still mine. I woke up from hearing the shrill screams He drowned! My friend got me out of the water, to the shore, and to the island with strange looking statues. Somebody leaned me against one of the idols. The images of these statues are imbedded in my memory.
I went into oblivion.

My spinal cord was broken - complete and total paralysis. From my hospital bed I saw the faces of my doctor and nurse above me. My Mom was crying. My Dad's expression was dark and ashen from sadness. All this was like an hallucination. It was like a dream from which I could not awake. The only real thing for me was the ceiling of the room with cracks and water spots.
This ceiling was the only thing I could see. I was looking at it for hours, trying to find fairy landscapes, cities, people, and animals...anything! One pattern reminded me of the tiger trying to jump. A fantastic crystal ship was floating on the other. I wanted to get up, to go up the stairs, to swim away from this bad dream. My parents were told that there is no hope for me to survive.

But some Force Above us holds the strings of our lives. Someone from Above looked at
me. Within several months I started feeling some movement in my legs and hands. I asked for a pencil to be tied to my fingers and tried to draw. I wanted to draw the Tiger I saw on the ceiling, but could only produce a scrawl.

Many years passed and I went to West Berlin to have my personal exhibition. I saw another tiger there. I was invited to see the circus show. It was very nice. I cannot say how it happened, but suddenly I found myself very close to the tiger the real tiger with my hand in his jaws. My fingers could feel his hot palate, his rigid tongue, his fangs, his warm breath. His cold merciless eyes were staring at me, but I felt no fear whatsoever. His black eyes were telling me: Remember that I'm here, very close to you. My fangs are ready. You have to be worthy of my gifts. I let you go. And he let me go.

Real creativity begins
when you feel the power
of that merciless "tiger" inside yourself!

Anatoly Kudravcev