05.09.1933, Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg)
Painter, children’s book illustrator

Bulatov’s father, Vladimir Bulatov, was a communist party worker from Saratov. He was killed at the front in 1944. His mother, Raisa, from Białystok in Poland, was a stenographer. Erik, their only son, was born in Sverdlovsk in the Urals, where the family happened to be temporarily in connection with his father’s work. From the age of six, Bulatov studied drawing. In 1947 he enrolled in Moscow Arts secondary school, and in 1952, the painting faculty of the Surikov Institute in Moscow. As a student he already showed exceptional artistic talent. He had received strict Socialist Realist training, and now the wide path into official art was open. However, meeting Robert Falk (1953) and, slightly later, Vladimir Favorsky (1956), opened up other horizons for Bulatov. His conversations with them were primarily about professional matters, but their stoical existence under a harsh totalitarian regime demonstrated an ethical position worthy of emulation. Falk had a marked influence, particularly on Bulatov’s early portraits and still lifes of the mid-1950s. Through these he was able to come in touch directly with the sophisticated European culture of painting. Very quickly, though, he abandoned figurative painting and, in the 1960s, was painting abstract pictures. He began a very serious study of the problems of space in a picture, the problems of a picture’s construction and composition. In this regard, Bulatov was greatly he lped by his acquaintanceship with Favorsky and the latter’s theories about space.

1971 can, without doubt, be seen as the turning point in Bulatov’s work. In that year he painted Horizon, the picture which not only marked a new phase in Bulatov’s work, but the beginning of a new direction for all Russian unofficial art. This new direction was dubbed 'Sots Art' by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, and Horizon was its harbinger. If critical reflection by unofficial artists had hitherto either ignored Soviet reality, or mirrored its existential realia, the Sots Art artists, and particularly Bulatov, turned this reflection on Soviet ideological signs, symbols and icons. This was a real, purifying revolution! Over several years Bulatov created a number of pictures that were momentous for all the latest Russian art: Danger (1972-1973), Welcome (1973-1974), Skier (1971-1974), I'm Going (1975), Glory to the Soviet Communist Party (1975) and Brezhnev in the Crimea (1981-1985).

At the same time there is another strand in Bulatov’s work which is existential and deeply personal, related to the people closest to him. These are portraits of his mother, his wife Natasha, the poet Vsevolod Nekrasov and, of course, his closest friend, the artist Oleg Vassiliev, with whom he worked on illustrations for children’s books. This strand, especially in recent years, is closely interwoven with a landscape theme, with lyrical experience of the condition of nature, the seasons and times of day, light and darkness, the fragility and elusiveness of the moment. Since 1991 Bulatov has lived and worked in Paris. His profound seriousness and high professionalism have won him universal respect and acknowledgement both in Russia and abroad. F.B.

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