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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The art of Yuri Raksha, b. December 2, 1937

A look at the Soviet artist whose promise was tragically cut short when he died at age 42 in 1980.

Born December 2, 1937, Soviet artist Yuri Raksha's remarkable career in art and cinema was tragically cut short when he died of acute leukemia in Moscow in 1980 at the young age of 42.

Raksha left his working class home for Moscow when he was 16 and was fortunate enough to land a job in the film industry. While he flirted with painting during these years, he primarily was engaged in doing posters, sketches, location scouting and production design for the cinema.

He worked on several famous films, such as 1977's award-winning Ascent, but is best known for having done the production design for the classic Dersu Uzala. A Soviet-Japanese co-production it was directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

His decision to leave the cinema to focus on painting sadly ended all too quickly. He never even had a show exclusively of his own except posthumously.

Raksha's art, which has elements of both socialist and magic realism to it, is often both powerful and moving.

My Mother, arguably his best known work, shows working-class women at rest in barracks style housing. Contemporaries is both a self-portrait and a portrayal of friends and fellow artists in discussion. Born to Live hauntingly speaks to the decades of suffering of the Vietnamese people.

Among all of these and others, though, 1979's Young Swimmers is one of my favourites, conveying the energy and enthusiasm of youth amidst the contrast of an indoor swimming pool in winter.

I have included an interview style article about Raksha that was published in an English-language issue of Soviet Literature a year before his death.

In the Rear


Sotnikov - A Sketch for the film Ascent

At Home - A Series of Paintings


Kindly Creatures

Born to Live

The Donbas

My Mother

Young Swimmers

Our Drilling


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