15.03.1934, Balakhna, Nizhny Novgorod region – 10.10.1998, Moscow
Painter, graphic artist, poet
Yakovlev was the son of an engineer and grandson of the renowned Russian artist Mikhail Yakovlev. He left secondary school after six years and went to work as a courier, photo archive keeper, retoucher and photographer at Iskusstvo publishers. He took advantage of the publishing house’s rich library collection to study art history. Because of an injury sustained while boxing, he began losing his sight. He had done drawing since he was a child, but only decided to become an artist in 1957 as a result of the impression made on him by the exhibition of young artists during the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow. He grew close to the group who were to become the Non-conformists, studying in the studio of Vasily Sitnikov and making friends with Mikhail Grobman. He sometimes signed his works with his mother’s maiden name, which was Teitelbaum. In 1959 Yakovlev had his first exhibition, which was held in the apartment of the composer and musician, Andrey Volkonsky, who was a proselytiser for the atonal music of Schoenberg. Yakovlev suffered intense pressure while working on a series dedicated to Schoenberg and this led to a nervous breakdown, which in turn led to a long spell in a clinic while he recovered.
Even though he had had no formal education, Yakovlev was well acquainted with contemporary Western art and the experiments of the Russian avant-gardists, and was very interested in the theories of the Futurist poet Velemir Khlebnikov. He experimented with styles, from Pointillism and Cubism to geometric abstraction, art informel and expressionism. His comparatively small output of work was the result of his ever-worsening eyesight, which by the mid-1970s was reduced to only a small percentage of normal vision.
He paints in broad brushstrokes using gouache, pastels or, less often, oils. His subjects are simple: trees, fish, cats holding birds in their teeth, and portraits, but most often flowers. Seen with his ‘inner vision’, they undergo a powerful plastic transformation.
In 1966 Yakovlev illustrated the poems of his friend the poet Gennady Aygi. Yakovlev’s first official exhibition (with Eduard Steinberg) was held in 1963 at the Dostoevsky Museum; it was closed down almost at once. The artist’s works, which were legendary in Non-conformist circles, were shown in the apartments of his friends, Mikhail Grobman and Alexander Vasiliev, and also in clubs and academic institutions. In 1976, after joining Moscow City Committee of Graphic Artists, Yakovlev gained the right to take part in official exhibitions. Yet works by the artist, who had come to embody the ‘other’ art, only began to be exhibited extensively during Perestroika.
Yakovlev practically lived in a psychiatric institution towards the end of his life, but still went on working. In 1992 his sight was partially restored after an operation. In 1995, while he was still alive, there was a retrospective of Yakovlev’s work at the Tretyakov gallery, but he was unable to attend it. F.B.