A story from Moscow

by Pierre-Jacques Ober

One revelation associated with this project has been my encounter with Instagram. The concept of a network of people interacting through the images in the ether simply because they “like” something in common.

I have always believed that interesting human exchange could only start by meeting someone in  the flesh, by the first impression of a handshake, an eye to eye contact. I have to admit that within may be 6 months on Instagram I found myself having profound, sincere and interesting exchanges, discussions with people I had never met.

This is how I met  Junona Balash who is now part of the team. As most true creative people she is better at doing than at talking about it so it took me a while to realise the extent of her talent. I discovered that in Russia drawing is taught with the same intensity and expectation that ballet dancing, classical music or gymnastic.

I like the story of how she was accepted in the exclusive and prestigious VGIK Institute ( All Russian State Institute of Cinematography ).

VGIK is an elite institute, the best school for artists in Russia. Students have to participate in a competitive entrance exam in order to be accepted. To succeed at the exam does not guarantee that the student will be accepted and despite having succeeded at the exam it might take a long time before the student is allowed into the Institute. That is except if the student is the son or daughter of a famous film director or comes from a famous old cinema or artistic family…

Basically a very elitist and difficult school to get in.

When she was 20 Junona taught herself to draw and within a year built herself an artist portfolio.

She went to Moscow to apply to a normal university but that day decided to first go and have a look at the famous VGIK on its open day. She obviously had no intent to apply. Before leaving she went to the school’s restaurant. While in the queue at the cafeteria she started chatting with the lady next to her and they ended up having lunch together. At the end the lady asked to have a look at her portfolio and told her that she had to study in her group !

The lady was Lidia Yuryevna Novi the famous cinema costume designer, a teacher at the Institute. There was no vacant place for students, they had all been taken. But Lidia Novi arranged with the Institute director to have one extra student accepted into her study group.

Junona became a graduate from the VGIK Institute after studying 6 years under the strict guidance of her master.

A story that makes one believe in destiny !

The drawings attached to this post will feature in Book 2. In this story we introduce Paul who will be one of the main characters of Book 3. An artist-soldier who writes an illustrated letter every day to his wife, regardless of the conditions he finds himself in. It is an homage to a real life soldier-artist,  Mathurin Maheut.  Junona Balash is creating original drawings for these stories “a la maniere de” Mathurin Maheut.