May 21, 2018

Oļģerts Miķelsons, Latvijas Antonio Gaudi/Antonio Gaudi of Latvia

decorations at the site of the Evangelic Lutheran Church 
in Čiekurkalna, Riga, Latvia 

Some who wrote about Oļģerts Mikelsons and his creative work have called him the Latvian Gaudi, but he himself has never supported such statements, although he agreed that both found their inspiration in a similar way. 

Apart from this, with the creation of two art environments in succession, Mikelsons as a self-taught artist has done a great job, which until now has received little or no attention, especially outside Latvia.

Oļģerts Mikelsons at the premises of the church (2015)

Life and works

Mikelsons' biographical data are still far from complete. He was born in 1927, participated at age 18 as a Latvian soldier in the second world war (where he was imprisoned too), graduated in 1950 from a construction engineering school and got married in the same year. He found employment as a civil engineer.

In the 1970's, living in the Latvian town of Jürmala, he began creating his first art environment, an activity that lasted until the beginning of 1983. Then he divorced, moved to neighbouring Riga, where he remarried and began transforming the premises of a church into his second art environment.

He is a faithful Christian, who is proud of his country, who loves music and has composed songs for a choir. The last couple of years his health has deteriorated and currently he lives in a social care center. In 2017, together with members of the church, he celebrated his 90th birthday. 

The art environment in Jürmala

this picture and the next five (2011): 
screen prints from the first video in the documentation
the apartment building in Jürmala with a blue decorated wall on the right side

Mikelsons and his wife lived in Jürmala in an apartment building on Rigas Iela nr 4. They hired a small apartment on the ground floor and first floor in the left corner of the building seen from the street. On its backside the building faces the river Lielupe.

ground floor of Mikelsons' apartment 

A characteristic of Mikelsons' first art environment is the use of pebbles as decorative material. One finds these pebbles in the entrance party of the apartment at the left side of the building. It includes a richly decorated staircase that leads to the first floor, as well as a decorated entrance at the ground floor with yellow doors (as pictured above).

pebble decorated structure, part of the mooring

Another structure decorated with pebbles is a mooring with a lantern pole in the river at the backside of the apartment building (picture above).

sculpture decorated with pebble

Mikelsons also made sculptures decorated with pebbles, such as the one in the picture above, which is inlaid with mosaics and portrays a lizard or salamander. Other pebble or mosaic decorated sculptures include portrayals of seagulls, a mermaid and a human couple.

blue decorations and pebbles
the inscriptions read RA SPUTNIKS and  JÜRMALA RIGA

Another characteristic of Mikelsons' art environment in Jürmala is the use of the color blue, as can be seen in the picture that shows the blue decorated outer wall along the street or in the pictures above and below which show a combination of pebbles and blue mosaic elements.

floor of pebbles with mosaic inlays

The house has served as a backdrop for a Russian detective film recorded in 1979. An article (December 2010) in Live Journal provides more information and also has a series of images of the decorations as far as present at that time.

The art environment in Čiekurkalna (Riga)

Early 1983 Mikelsons separated from his wife (a factor may have been that she was very outspoken in her dislike of his creative activities) and he moved to the Čiekurkalna quarter of Riga.

End May he remarried with a diacones of the local Evangelic Lutheran Church, a religious community Mikelsons had joined already in the 1970's and where he had met his new partner.

The church, which doesn't have the usual appearance of a Lutheran church, was built in 1928 and also included dwellings for disabled people and members of the congregation. 

Once settled in Čiekurkalna, Mikelsons soon became available as a volunteer to help with the maintenance of the building and the garden, which led him -in line with his creative activities in Jürmala- to start making creations too.

There are no reports about the sequence of his operations. Perhaps the access party of the church (as in the picture above) with its towery pebble decorated structure on top of the stairs and its mosaic decorated front facade, belongs to one of the first works, 

Mikelsons' predilection for pebble decorated items is also clearly visible in this second art environment, as demonstrated in the decorated wall depicted above and the sculpture below, part of the base of the bell tower, which also features a variety of inscriptions and green-tinted mosaics.

The decorative elements in the garden of the church include a large variety of multicolored mosaic, both on different parts of the ground floor, included a mosaic at the entrance of the site, and the also a variety of mosaics applied to structures and sculptures.

This art environment now also has smaller sculptures of animals, such as a cock and a cat with a mouse.

The most important structure, also seen from an ecclesiastical perspective, is the bell tower, as in the pictures below. This about seven meters high tower, decorated with a lot of green tinted mosaic and equipped with various inscriptions, was constructed in the 1990's.

Its base rests on a foundation that initially was part of a swimming pool which meanwhile has fallen into disuse.

Mikelsons seated in front of the tower

In april 2017 the ensemble of decorations got a protected status when it was included in the national list of protected cultural monuments as an art monument of local importance.

the bell tower seen from the backside

Rīgas Evaņģēliski luteriskā Misiones baznīca on Facebook
* On Live Journal (November 2010) an introductory article by Renate with pictures of the Jürmala decorations, followed by another article with more information and more pictures
* Also on Live Journal (November 2010) two articles by Renate with a description and a series of pictures of the decorations on the Čiekurkalna site, first article and second article
* And then on Live Journal (November 2011) a summary article by Renate about the two art environments, also with a lot of pictures
* Article (June 2016) on Latvian website IINUU about the Čiekurkalna art environment, with a series of pictures
* Video about Jürmala (You Tube, 2013) by Kravstudio, with scenes of the sculptures and decorations (starts at 1'25", ends at 3'00")

* Video Schreyenbusch Gaudi (You Tube, 2014, 8'31"), produced in the context of the Riga Summer School 2014, introducing Mikelsons and his creations at the site of the church

Oļģerts Miķelsons
Creations around house in Jürmala
Rigas Iela 4
Jürmala, Latvia
can be seen from the street
Creations around church in Čiekurkalna (Riga)
Čiekurkalna straat 1. līnija 78
Riga, Latvia
can be seen from the street 

May 06, 2018

Daina Kučere, Leļļu dārzs/Doll garden

this picture and the next two (around 2016) 
courtesy of Sabile's tourist information centre

Sabile is a small town of some 3000 inhabitants, located along the Abava River in the western part of Latvia. It attracts visitors because of its beautiful surroundings, its annual wine festival and its garden with dolls, a site which in the field of art environments in Europe is rather unique.

Life and works

This site was created by Daina Kučere, inhabitant of Sabile, born in the mid 1940's, a mother of four children and a grandmother of fourteen grandchildren. She had various jobs, such as waitress in a motel, and in 2007 she got retired.

It all started in 2005. To uplift the celebration of the midsummer night, a beloved night of  festivities in Latvia, one of Daina Kučere's daughters came up with the idea to make some life size dolls. It turned out to be a success and Daina, at that time in her early sixties, felt motivated to create more of such dolls.

Creating a doll garden

It became a a project that would keep her busy until the present day (2018). Already in the first years she made dozens of dolls, which got a spot on a grassy piece of land -in private property- along a main street of the town. Currently the site has some 300 dolls.

The site is open to the public throughout the year, even on cold winter days

To construct the dolls Daina uses the format her daughter had tried out. She starts with a wooden cross-shaped frame, on which a fabric base is attached which will be filled with straw. With a wooden post attached to the bottom of the frame, the doll, once dressed, is firmly anchored in the bottom to the place it gets in the site.

Simple and cheap materials are used for the basic structure of the dolls. For example, since Daina can get the straw for free from a friend, she only has to pay the costs of transport.

 this picture and the next two (may 2012) from the
website maminuklubs.lvin agreement with the general permission
to republish content in informative weblogs as the present one

What one sees are scenes from everyday life:  postmen and other local officials in uniform, a lady in a dress in Latvian colors, another lady sitting behind a sewing machine and many, many children.... in a circle holding each other's hands, two-by-two in a row also holding hands......

In the conceptualization of this art environment considerations of a historical nature have no role, neither was there apparently a need to represent certain nationally or regionally known events. It's all about activities close to home, in a nearby familiar environment

At the same time, observers have noted that the site can leave an impression of alienation or can be a bit unsettling. If so, this may have to do with the very sketchy applied facial expression and the presence of headgear on really every doll, which is probably needed to mask the effect of the internal frame.

In terms of outsider art environments, however, these elements just as well can be seen as charming aspects of the site.

* Entry in Atlas Obscura (undated)
* Interview (2007) with Daina Kučere by Zane Smildzina, published on website Delfi
* Article (sept 2016, in English) by Robert Clay on website Citypaper

Daina Kučere 
Leļļu dārzs/Doll garden 
Riga street 17
Sabile, region Talsu, Latvia
can be visited freely, all year,
a donation is welcome
streetview 2012

April 26, 2018

Diana Keys, Frescoe decorated interior

pictures are screen prints 
from the first video in the documentation

Above picture depicts Diana Keys' sitting room in her house in Hemel Hempstead, a town of some 80.000 inhabitants in the United Kingdom, just north-west of London.

Like other rooms in the house, the walls and the ceiling of this room have been decorated with frescoes she created single-handedly.

Life and works

Diana Keys began this project around 1977 as a therapy to curb mental health problems she experienced.

Using her own fingers in stead of brushes, she painted colorful, naturalistic scenes, depicting in particular many horses, but also other animals such as panthers, tigers and birds. And then she also depicted characters such as young ladies, saints and angels. A life-size mermaid is depicted on the wall of the bathroom.

On the whole, Diana Keys' frescoes decorated interior has a quiet, peace-loving appearance.

In the many decades that she was painting, she remained out of publicity, but in late 2017 she came out with her project, which led to a one-off avalanche of publicity with photographs and articles in a variety of English news media (Daily Mail, BBC, The Mirror and many more).

In interviews Diana has said that she wants to end her project now she is seventy years old.

She lives in an apartment rented from the municipal housing company and she also said that she realizes that all walls and ceilings might be whitened if she no longer lives there.

Until now, this art environment has not yet been documented in any British medium in the field of outsider art. 

As said this art environment in november 2017 got a lot of publicity in news media in the United Kingdom, all with almost the same descriptions and photographs.
So just one referral will do:
* Article (November 10, 2017) in Mail Online

* Video by Fresh News Channel (1'38", You Tube, november 10, 2017)


* Video on BBC news (1'12". Daily Motion, november 2017)

Diana Keys
Frescoe decorated interior
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
address is private, no visits

April 21, 2018

Ivan Khristenko, Музей "Край Долгоруковский"/Museum "Krai Dolgorukovsky",

this picture and the next five (2017) 
from Livejournal courtesy of Vadim Razumov 

Although the building pictured above has a pleasant appearance, at first sight there is nothing special about it, but looking at the more detailed photo below, one can see that this building is rather special, if only because of the way the façade has been decorated.

This is the façade of a museum in the village of Dolgorukovo, Russia, some 425 kilometers south of Moscow.

This museum has the rather unique feature that -apart from the hull of the building- all parts, structures and decorations have been made single-handedly by its director, Ivan Aleksandrovich Khristenko.

Life and works

Nothing initially indicated that Khristenko would become director of a museum. He was born on September 14, 1930 in the Prikhidki village in the Poltava region (currently part of Ukraine),  graduated in 1957 in law at the Moscow State University and became a successful lawyer, first practicing in Moscow, then in the Ryazan region and eventually in the Lipetsk region.

Khristenko was a convinced communist and he was actively involved in committees and organizations in Lipetsk affiliated with the communist party, like he was a correspondent of the newspaper Path to Communism and a teacher of the district committee of the CPSU.

 tower on the premises of the museum

So when in the mid 1960's the plan arose to create a museum dedicated to the history of Dolgorukovo, where Khristenko lived, he became involved. The museum was formally established on October 14, 1967.

Khristenko was appointed as its director, but since the museum initially was located in just one room of the local CPSU, this in the beginning probably was an activity as volunteer.

In 1979 a building belonging to the CPSU with four rooms and an outside space of 2500 m² (10890 sq ft) was allocated as a new, more spacious housing for the museum and probably this was the moment when Khristenko began to devote himself full time to the further substantive and spacial expansion of the museum.

a bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

In terms of design of the space, these developments got a distinctive signature, incomparable with those of other museums. Khristenko began to fill the outdoor space with self-made sculptures and structures, creations he built up with the aid of cement and all kinds of surplus material found on the dump. The interior got all kinds of decorations, often made from paper mache, wall paper, styrofoam and other cheap available (waste) material.

In doing so, it came to a tremendous explosion of creativity, resulting in numerous works of art being added to both the interior and the exterior which in this way together were transformed into an art environment.

left in the picture a scene with
Gorbatsjov and Jeltsin

The history of Dolgorukovo was placed in a broad context and so there were sculptures of important persons in Russian political history, such as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the founder of the USSR, Michael Gorbatsjov, the last president of the USSR and Boris Jeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation.

Prince Dolgorukovo 

The village of Dolgorukovo in former times was property of the Dolgorukovo family. When in 1896 a railway was built, the station was named after the former owners of the village and so the museum also pays attention to this particular relation, as evidenced by, among others, the sculpture above that depicts the founder of the village, Prince Yu.V. Dolgorukovo.

in memory of Russia's estates

Khristenko's interest in the Russian past is also reflected in the attention he paid to country estates. This can be seen in particular with regard to the (in Soviet times destroyed) estate of the brothers Zhemchuzhnikov.

a portrait of Kozma Prutkov
this picture and the next four (early 2018) 
courtesy of Evgenia Gorlova

The brothers Zhemchuzhnikov became especially known for the fictional personality Kozma Prutkov they created together with A.K. Tolstoj. In the middle of the 19th century Prutkov published numerous publications under this pseudonym. Especially his aphorism became well known.

One room of the museum features the brothers Zhemchuzhnikov and Prutkov's aphorisms appear on its walls. Although Prutkov did not exist, the museum just as well has a portrait of him and on the tower in the outdoor space he is -immortalized in a sculpture- looking at the spot where the estate once was located.

The interior of the museum includes 11 rooms and they all have been exuberantly decorated with pillars crowned with friezes, wall decorations, inscriptions or colorful paper mache items.

In some rooms just one specific theme is addressed, like there is room dedicated to the Great Patriotic War. Dolgorukovo was in a war zone and in the early years of the museum inhabitants of the village came donating pieces of war material, found in the area.

Another room is dedicated to the Soviet Five-Year Plans.

In July 2000, when Khrishtenko approached the age of 70, he transferred the management of the museum to his daughter Nadezhda Ivanovna Kryukova. Although over the years his health has declined, he has continued his activities for the museum as an employee and so he remained involved in its policy.

The museum has as small professional staff which is financed by the regional government. On average it is visited yearly by around 4000 people, who don't have to pay an entrance fee.

The financial situation of the museum at the moment is worrying, especially because there are no means to carry out maintenance. Khrishtenko never wanted to accept eventual contributions from funds or other private parties, because in his opinion the financial support should come from the central government. However, Moscow so far has not responded to requests on this matter.

Visitors of the museum often say that it offers surrealistic or modern art. Since the phenomenon art environment in Russia is virtually unknown, it is currently not obvious for Russian researchers to rank the museum within this conceptual framework, which elsewhere in Europe is gradually receiving more attention, accompanied by a growing appreciation for the encountered artworks.

From the perspective of the field of art environments the museum is a unique creation, comparable with some of the most important sites in France, Spain or Italy. It would be regrettable if this museum in the (near) future would cease to exist or would be "normalized".

* Article (march 2018) by Evgenia Gorlova with a series of photographs on her website
* Article (dec 2017) by Vadim Razumov, also with a series of photographs on LiveInternet
* Article (june 2012) in regional website Lipetskmedia
* Article (oct 2010) by AAUUMM on LiveInternet with information about and pictures of the site as it was in 2010
* The museum as listed in a website about museums in Russia

* Video (jan 2013) by regional television NTV (can not be embedded here)
* Video (june 2015) by Evgeny Sokolsky (You Tube, 9'53"), with Ivan Khristenko presenting the site

Ivan Khristenko
Museum "Krai Dolgorukovsky"
Lihachova Street 24
Dolgorukovo, Lipetsk region, Russia
can be visited, no entrance fee (closed on Mondays)
the museum is located in the center of the village, not far from the station

April 13, 2018

Valery Ermakov, Скульпту а саду та інтер'єру з картинами та скульптурами/Sculpture garden and interior with paintings and sculptures

pictures and video screenshots published here 
with permission of the website

In the field of art environments, it happens occasionally that for years a site is only known to the nearest neighbors and remains unnoticed by the general public. And then it can happen that at some moment a creation comes in the range of the radar, as with this art environment in Ukraine.

ensemble with Vakula, a character in a story by Gogol

Life and works

Valery Ermakov, the creator of this art environment, was born in 1938. Already as a youngster he was interested in creative activities, like he -after some instructions of his mother- at age five already decorated bird whistles made from clay. 

However, there was no professional artistic career ahead of him. All his life he has been working as a design engineer. He got married in the 1980's and the couple settled in Poltava, a town of some 300.000 inhabitants in the north-east of Ukraine, located some 340 km east of Kiev.

Greek God Pan

In addition to his job, Ermakov in his free time developed into a self-taught artist, this with the support and encouragement of his wife. He made paintings and sculptures, but, perhaps too impatient to keep up, he attended just a few meetings of a course for amateurs. Eventually he got his information about art from magazines and tutorials.

Ermakov participated in the fair in Sorochinskyi, a famous market in his region and one of the largest in Ukraine with a lot of attention for cultural matters, but he was not inclined to sell his work at a price which, in his opinion, was too low. On the other hand, he would donate his creations to local schools and churches.

In 2007, after Ermakov retired, he and his wife moved to the  community of Panasivka, a very small village with just a couple of houses and without shops.

a goddess (?) with blue hair

Here Ermakov had space and time to create sculptures and paintings and his wife could enjoy her hobby of gardening.

To make sculptures, Ermakov glues small pieces of styrofoam together and processes the raw material just with a knife. He finds his inspiration in the works of the author Nikolai Gogol (who by the way was born in a village in the Poltava region) and also in Greek and Roman mythology. 

Artworks outdoors

The outdoor artworks are partly grouped in a modest sculpture garden on the side of the house (picture above). 

As the other pictures above show, this part includes a sculpture that represents Vakula, a character from a story by Gogol, another one that depicts the Greek mythological character Pan and a third one that depicts a female nude with blue hair, kind of a Greek goddess or a nymph, about whom Ermakov says that he doesn't know who she is....  

Another part of the outdoor creations includes decorations on the front wall of the living house, especially a radiant yellow sun and a half moon (as in the first picture of this post). There is also a sculpture of a female nude sitting on a pedestal, placed just close to an outside wall of the house.

Artworks indoors

 Above picture gives a impression of the artworks in the living room, a mixture of paintings and sculptures, set up amidst a large number of green plants, which keep alive the memory of his wife who tragically died in 2015.

The character with the bow and the arrow in the corner of the room as in above picture probably is a Cupido, as well as the one in the picture below.

A rather interesting feature of the indoor collection is the sculpture of a lady dressed in a red robe.

Life-size depicted, the woman is at ease in front of a window, in such a way that it seems as if she is part of the household. To my knowledge, in the field of art environments there is only one other self-taught artist with a similar connotation, namely Bogdan Ziętek from Poland.

The Ukraïner project and the trip to Greece

As said, the art environment created by Ermakov from 2007 would have remained unknown if not a specific event had occurred. In his case, it concerned the activities of Ukraïner, a media project by a group of young Ukrainians led by Bogdan Logyvenko to share curious stories about the most distant corners, people, art, and food of Ukraine in order to offer information to the general public to get to know their country better.

A team of Ukraïner visited Ermakov and reported about him in January 2018. Recognizing his great interest in Greece, they started a crowd funding action to offer him a trip to that country. The campaign was successful and in March 2018 the trip took place.

Later in 2018 a video reporting about the trip will be published.

* Article Without models (January 20, 2018, in english) on website Ukrainer
* Article How Valery from Panasivka arrived in Greece (March 24, 2018) on website Ukraïner
* Video by Ukraïner (You Tube, 4'52", december 2017), subtitled in english)

Valery Ermakov
Sculpture garden and interior with paintings and sculptures
Panasivka, Poltava region, Ukraine
sculpture garden can be seen from the road

April 08, 2018

Josué Virgili, La cittá fiorita/The flowered city

Now that in march 2018 the Lille Art Museum, France, has published it's website Habitants Paysagistes, illustrative material has become available with the effect that some new entries may be added to this blog. Like the following note about a by now disappeared art environment in Kremlin-Bicêtre, a community south of Paris, France

Life and works

Josué Virgili (1901-1999) ¹, who created this site, migrated in 1922 from Italy to France where he worked as a marble mason, first in Monaco and later -from 1932 on- in the Paris region.

He liked to write poetry and other texts in Italian and he somehow considered himself a messenger of god with the mission to spread love and brotherhood.

When retired, around 1970 he began transforming exterior and interior of his house in Kremlin-Bicêtre into an art environment.


His artistic production in particular consists of a large variety of colorful small-scale objects that almost completely cover floors and walls, such as self-made dolls, vases, small sculptures and other objects, often displayed on a variety of equally self-made pedestals and small tables.

For some creations cement was used and these are often inlaid with pieces of mirror glass, marble or faience, like most exterior and interior floors were also decorated with mosaic in various patterns.

A rather special and characteristic part of Virgili's art includes a series of all kinds of circular creations, often decorated with mosaics or colorfully painted, which evoke associations with or symbolize the sun.

The exterior had various totems, poles with doves or weather vanes on top and other structures such as a towery one as in above picture that is reminiscent of the Eiffel tower.

Some of Virgili's creations in detail

Francis David's pictures of the site as shown above, mainly provide an overview of the site. But it is interesting to look at some details of Virgili's creations,

The picture below, from the website of the ABCD-art brut collection, showing a pedestal/table made by Virgili, gives a good impression of the way Virgili decorated his creations with mosaic and small concrete structures.

Sculpted heads similar to the one that can be seen in the table leg, return in various other table legs and totems that are part of this art environment, as can be seen in the photo by Bruno Montpied below.

picture (1984) by Bruno Montpied, from his weblog

Also rather interesting is the story around Virgili's creation pictured below, a shining sun that has an accompanying inscription, saying LA RACINE fait pousser (the root makes grow).

This creation became the emblem of the french association l'Aracine, presided by Madeleine Lommel, which brought together an important collection of art brut artworks (currently in the Lille Art Museum)

Madeleine Lommel explains in an interview ² with Jeanine Rivais that this emblem was chosen because of the expressiveness of the image and its title (for Virgili faire pousser also meant faire brisquer, which in english is something like to beak, to enrage or to make jealous)

The site has been partially lost, partly preserved

Virgili's art environment doesn't exist anymore. The small items generally are preserved, and have ended up at art dealers, in the collection of l'Aracine or other private collections.

The mosaics and similar decorations on walls and floors probably have gone lost.

* Entry about Virgili in website Habitants paysagistes
* Article in Wikipedia
* In his weblog (October 2010) Bruno Montpied reports about a visit he paid in 1984 to Virgili

¹ The date of birth mentioned here is the one as stated in the article in the website Habitants Paysagistes and in the website ABCD-art brut; Wikipedia; mentions 1907 as birth year
² In this interview Madeleine Lommel also explains that l'Aracine means: Les Amis Réunis Autour d'une Création Intemporelle, Novatrice, Essentielle (The Friends Gathered around a Timeless Creation, Innovative, Essential)

Josué Virgili
La cittá fiorita
avenue Charles Gide
Kremlin-Bicêtre, région Île-de-France, France
site doesn't exist anymore