"NYC 6th Street" by Grigori Stepanyants, 1977
When I met with Grigori Stepanyants to discuss my portrait, he was accompanied by his American wife, Barbara. She interpreted for him because his English was not the greatest. To say the least.
Grigori liked to work from photos. For the photos, Tim and I showed up at the appointed location, one of the beautiful oceanside island hotels, dressed in our best clothes, me in a dress and high heels, and Tim in a suit and clip-on tie. Grigori decided that he wanted us to pose on the beach. It was a blistering hot August day so off went the tie and heels and we walked to the beach. Grigori took a huge number of photos, so many that seven-year-old Tim started to get very cranky, and I didn't feel so good myself.
When Grigori studied the photos back at his studio, he decided he wasn’t really liking the beach theme. Instead, he wanted to photograph us at the previously mentioned hotel, with lush tropical foliage behind us. We dressed up again and went to the hotel where, again, he photographed us numerous times. He was so engrossed with his photography that at one point, he backed up into a row of shrubbery and tumbled backward head over heels. Fortunately, he was okay, and quickly scrambled to his feet. I covered Tim's mouth with my hand to stifle any laughter that was about to happen.
When Grigori looked at the photos back in his studio, he reconsidered and asked us to come to his studio to pose indoors, in a more contained setting. This time, I sat in a chair and Tim sat on the floor beside me. Grigori agonized over creating exactly the right pose, turning my head slightly, moving Tim's fingers a fraction of an inch. This took forever, and of course, we had to sit very still and smile the entire time. Finally, Grigori said he was satisfied with one of the photos he had taken and announced that now, finally, he would begin painting.
After waiting a few weeks, I called to see how the painting was coming along. Barbara answered the phone, which was a good thing, since, as I mentioned, I had great difficulty understanding Grigori when he spoke. Barbara assured me that things were going well. Okay, good to know. After a month or two, however, I started to get a little anxious, and I called again. Could I just see some sketches or something? A painting in progress? No, that wasn’t possible. I started to wonder and began to think that he had given me the single mother price, which was great, but maybe he was working harder on the higher-priced commissions. After a few more weeks, I resigned myself to the fact that our portrait wasn't going to appear any time soon. However, I continued to call every once in a while. Barbara got tired of hearing from me and started to put Grigori on the phone to explain his progress. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand a word he said. Since it seemed futile, I stopped calling but didn't ever forget about our portrait. After all, I had paid a $1000 deposit, not easy for me back then.
One day while visiting the frame store, Grigori’s friend told me that Grigori and Barbara had moved to Iowa! What?! But I was determined to get my hands on that portrait, even though it had been about two, almost three, years since Tim and I had first posed on the beach.
Next: I'll talk about how many years it took to finally get the portrait and will show you the long-awaited result.
Meanwhile, Google Grigori and check out his art. Despite being unorganized and slightly ditsy, he was a fabulous artist, and I admire his work very much.