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Aleksandra Ekster, "the amazon of Avant Garde"

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Aleksandra Ekster

Aleksandra Ekster was a Russian painter of Ukrainian origin, (Cubo-Futurist, Suprematist, Constructivist) and designer. She is one of most famous Russian Avant Garde female painters that gained international recognition. She was a multi talented artist - a painter, ceramist, graphic artist, clothes designer. Alexandra Ekster would also become a founder of the Art Deco.

She was born Aleksandra Aleksandrovna Grigorovich in Bialystok, Imperial Russia (now Poland). Her father, Aleksandr Grigorovich, was a wealthy businessman. Young Aleksandra received an excellent private education, she studied languages, music, art, and took private drawing lessons. After the move to Kiev, she graduated from the private grammar school and entered Kiev Art school.

There in 1903, Aleksandra Grigorovich married a successful Kiev lawyer, Nikolai Evgenyevich Ekster. While living in Kiev she opened her painting studio, which became the place where Kiev art elite gathered. There she was visited by poets and writers, such as Anna Akhmatova, Ilia Ehrenburg, and Osip Mandelstam, dancers Bronislava Nijinska and Elsa Kruger, as well as many artists Alexander Bogomazov, Wladimir Baranoff-Rossine, and students, such as Grigori Kozintsev, Sergei Yutkevich, and Aleksei Kapler among many others. In 1907, Aleksandra Ekster spent several months with her husband in Paris, and there she attended Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Montparnasse.

While staying in Paris Aleksandra Ekster personally met Pablo Picasso and made friends with Kazimir Malevich. She was inclined to the ideas of futurism, cubism, abstract and objectal art. In the middle of 1910 she took interest in experimental combining of Ukrainian embroidery with avant-garde paintings. These works were taken with delight at Salon des Independants exhibitions in Paris.

Aleksandra Ekster painting

In 1908 she participated in an exhibition together with members of the group Zveno (Link) organized by David Burliuk, Wladimir Burliuk and others in Kiev.

Aleksandra Ekster was always interested in the theatre and during different periods of her life was one of the leading names of Alexander Tairov's Chamber Theatre, a costume designer in a Ballet Studio of the dancer Bronislava Nijinska, and worked for Les Kurbas' "Berezil" theatre as a designer. Staging of "Salome)," by Oscar Wilde in 1917 in Moscow became a sensation. And this was Aleksandra Ekster who designed costumes and decor for the performance.

From the beginning of 1920 Exter was as a designer in Moscow fashion house "Moskvashveia" and designed army uniform and workwear..

In 1921 Aleksandra Ekster became a director of the elementary course Color at the Higher Artistic-Technical Workshop (VKhUTEMAS) in Moscow, a position she held until 1924. Her work was displayed alongside that of other Constructivist artists at the 5x5=25 exhibition held in Moscow in 1921.

In 1924 she managed to arrange a work trip to Italy, where she decided not to come back to Russia again. Soon after that Aleksandra moved and settled in France.

Initially she became a Professor at the Academie der Moderne in Paris. From 1926 to 1930 Ekster was a professor at Fernand Leger's Academie d'Art Contemporain. In 1933 she began creating extremely beautiful and original illuminated manuscripts (gouache on paper), which are beyond doubt the most important works of the last phase of her life. The "Callimaque" manuscript (c. 1939, the text being a French translation of a hymn by Hellenistic poet Callimachus) is widely regarded as her masterpiece. In 1936 she participated in the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art in New York and went on to have solo exhibitions in Prague and in Paris. She was a book illustrator for the publishing company Flammarion in Paris from 1936 until her death in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses.

Aleksandra Ekster did not have successors, thus right before her death she sent all her art works to her friend Simon Lissim living in New York.


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