Master painter visits Cumberland

Matt Masters • Sep 7, 2018 at 6:08 PM

World-renowned painter Igor Babailov spoke and presented work to a packed crowd at Cumberland University on Thursday where he talked about his experiences painting portraits of both world leaders and ordinary private people, all equally important in a life dedicated to the art of painting and compassion.

Babailov, who was born in 1965 in Glazov, Udmurt Republic of Russia, now lives in Brentwood, where he has a working studio.

The son of an artist and an educator, Babailov drew his first portrait at 4 years old and began his formal arts education at 9 years old. He later received his master of fine art degree from the Surikov Academy of Fine Arts at the Moscow School of Painting, and in 2012 Babailov was elected into the roster of Academicians of the prestigious Russian Academy of Arts.

Babailov’s work is rooted in classical realism where he has mastered the human figure in both drawing and painting, while also producing large-scale multi-figurative images.

“Drawing is the core of any realistic painting,” Babailov said.

Babailov described his art and dedication as way to communicate his thoughts and feelings, an expression of his spirit by way of pencil and brush.

“It’s a vehicle for me to say my message. Everyone has a certain role. We’re not accidents. We’re here for a reason. So each one of us has a certain mission in this life, and my art is my mission.”

Babailov has produced more than 2,000 portraits and other works, many of which are portraits of world leaders who sat for Babailov, including President George W. Bush, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Babailov recalled his commission to posthumously paint the portrait of Dr. J. Wayne Streilein with Harvard University by Steilein’s wife, Joan Stein-Streilein, also of Harvard.

When he asked Stein-Streilein why she had chosen Babailov to paint the portrait, she responded it was because of the lack of formula in his work, something that helps Babailov to capture the individuality of each of his subjects.

“When you’re trying to understand your sitter, when you’re trying to understand what your mission should be as a portrait painter, to capture that originality, that personality, and so all the aspects are considered and taken under consideration. You focus on just the personality, trying to catch that individuality, that it will be the characteristics of only that particular person. So that even if that person has a twin, you would capture something with that person that makes them different from their brother or sister,” Babailov said.

That individuality is not limited to the human face, as Babailov stressed the colors, tones and values of both the subject and the background are important, all elements that work together in a final piece. Babailov also emphasized another theme and area of importance in many of his paintings – the hands.

“The hands must speak,” he said.

When asked about the role of painting in the 21st century, Babailov said while the medium is not as popular today, the real role of painting in the realm of realism, especially for him as an artist, is communication – communication of the individual, of the spirit and of the struggles and triumphs of contemporary life.

“Unfortunately, we live in a time where it’s not given too much importance to painting, which has been very, very important to the past. From the educational point of view, speaking of spiritualism, that’s how people learned about the Bible, thanks to all those paintings. A lot of people couldn’t read, but a lot of paintings, and some of the paintings you saw today [Babailov’s paintings] have a message. I, as an artist, have a mission and a message, and what I’m trying to say I do it trough my paintings,” Babailov said.

“It’s like if God gave me a brush in my hand. I don’t believe I should waste that gift just painting a blue sky and a few butterflies or whatever, something pretty. I have to say message, a certain message. So I’m saying this message through realistic themes and certain things that are on everyone’s minds today, like terrorism, was the suffering of people, and what would be a better style to portray these themes through than realistic style? Because it’s something we can relate to and can understand.

“You can splash all of that paint all you want, and some people will see that and stand there scratching their heads, but they wouldn’t get the message. And I think that art and the artist have a huge responsibility for the fact that you have a gift from God. If someone can draw, what a gift? If you have a gift from God, you must have a responsibility before your viewers and before God himself.”

At the end of his presentation, Babailov presented Cumberland president Paul Stumb with a print of his portrait of President George Washington titled, “My Beloved Country!” of which the original resides in the estate of Mount Vernon, Washington’s plantation mansion in Virginia, which serves as a historical site and museum.

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