Friendship of talents – Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Friendship of talents – Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Vladimir Vysotsky dedicated to Mikhail Shemyakin his songs, who, in turn, drew illustrations for the works of Vladimir Semenovich, and after his death created a monument to the poet, set in Samara. Vladimir and Mikhail met in Paris, their acquaintance arranged Mikhail Baryshnikov. It happened in 1974, in a wonderful old mansion of actress Odile Versois – sister of Marina Vlady. “Our friendship was born really suddenly, but it was clear that it would be forever. Our Angels, creative and loving light, beauty and justice, had to know each other, and the spirits of recklessness, riotous revelry and merriment desperately living in each of us, had to know each other well” – from interview of Shemyakin.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“Our friendship was born really suddenly, but it was clear that it would be forever. Our Angels, creative and loving light, beauty and justice, had to know each other, and the spirits of recklessness, riotous revelry and merriment desperately lived in each of us, had to know each other well”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“In the 70s I learned many of the sixties, who emigrated from Russia. Among them such writers as Maximov, Nekrasov, Galich, Sinyavskiy, and theater people – Nureyev, Baryshnikov. But only with Vysotsky we stayed friends forever”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“I was bound to Volodya with deep and lasting friendship. We had a lot in common both in the biography, and in attitude. Our fathers went through the war, both served in Germany, where our childhood passed separately, both fathers were colonels. Both of us have absorbed the horror of the ruins of the defeated great country. Then there was a communal home, where we personally faced monstrous regime of the Land of Soviets. Similarity was in characters – aspirations in the field of art, and most importantly – the desire to find the truth, even intransigence and radicalism in the search for justice”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“Sometimes Volodya came to me straight from the airport to sing his new songs. We were united with passionate desire for beauty and justice and we were eager to provoke this feeling in people. Both were beaten by destiny, our form of protest often became alcohol. It sharpens the senses and perception of the world, which becomes brighter, more figurative, affecting probably Volodya in songs and me in my graphics”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“Marina Vlady was jealous of Vysotsky, and prevented our meetings. Not by chance in her stupid book “Vladimir, or Interrupted Flight” she wrote, “Your relationship with Misha was covered with mystery. You are locked in his studio and sit there for hours. He is a believer, even mystic, but for you I did not notice the propensity to religion. He is thoughtful, fanatic and secretive, you – the complete opposite of him. Your only point of contact, except for talent – is the love for alcohol”

Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“Some new layers of spirituality revealed in both of us. In my schedule in the second half of the 70s was, perhaps, more dynamics, expression, improvisation, feel the pulse of shortness of breath. Volodya’s theme songs somehow become deeper in the sense of philosophical understanding of life and death, the theme of nothingness, so beloved by me”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“He dedicated to me about a dozen songs. He was very sympathetic to the experience applied to my stories on the life I led in my youth. Generally we tried to protect each other. One of the most serious of his songs was “I was weak and vulnerable … “. In one of his last letters, he thanked me for the idea”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“The strongest impression I got from the song “Wolf Hunt”, I heard it from Galich and was shocked. The song had not a single false note, it had everything – rhythm, color, composition, harmony. And what spiritual power! It was about the raid on our generation of rebels, dissenters. Brilliant thing!”

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“I’ve been claustrophobic – I hate small enclosed spaces, but he could not stand large spaces, so when he stayed, he was given a tiny room of my daughter (Dorothea moved to the room of her mom). He surrounded himself by the books that I had for him, took out glasses and sat buried in a page – I gave him all that was banned in Russia, he became acquainted with artists that were not known”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Vladimir Vysotsky and Mikhail Shemyakin in the Paris studio of the artist. Photo by Pierre Bernard. 1977

“We did the recording in my studio. I bought studio equipment and we worked together for several months. And so were recorded seven records of his songs. They were then replicated in America in 1988, after his death. Copies thereof, pirate, walk around the world, especially in Russia, in the form of discs. Also were published four volumes of poetry of Vladimir Vysotsky, which I have illustrated”.

Funny death of the clown. Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Funny death of the clown. Illustrations for the book ‘Two Lives’

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Letter of Vysotsky to Shemyakin inspired by a series of ‘Womb’. Paris, 1977

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Letter of Vysotsky to Shemyakin. Paris November 1, 1978

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Mikhail Shemyakin

“The last time I saw him shortly before his death, in 1980. I flew to Greece, and he – back to Moscow. Volodya knew it was our last meeting, more clearly than I: he stopped to say goodbye to me, was very sad … I would go somewhere, and he was sitting in my studio at my desk, sorting through some of my drawings … Then we went out into the street, the rue de Rivoli – I just lived there in the loft. In Paris there was a nice cool weather. funny clouds floated across the sky and on the Seine – small boats. This landscape reminded me very Petersburg of 1960s.

He was wearing light blue jeans, a yellow leather jacket … He kept asking me to draw a performances suit for him, but I still could not understand what he has to sing. For many years we have been pondering over this, Volodya then bought one jacket, then the second, and here he stood, his face was sad, sad … I went to Volodya and said: “We will try to live despite of anything!” “I’ll try,” – he said. Approached the taxi taking him nowhere. In the yellow leather jacket, he sat in the yellow Parisian taxi, waved to me – that’s all …

When I returned home and began to look through the paper of my drawings I found a funny self-portrait – Volodya liked to do such a single stroke, and it was a poem in which he said goodbye to me. There were these lines: “As good as fresh were poppies, from which doctors made death”. Poppies – symbol for addicts: he knew well from what he would die and ended his verses as follows:

Mishka! Dear! My Brother Mishka!
Let us swear! –
Let’s live, brother,
Let’s live
Po-ji-viom!

(“Mishka” derived from Mikhail – All Russia)

So he knew who and what would lead him out of this life. On the right side of the sheet was written: “To Mikhail Shemyakin, whose friend was lucky to be me!”

“With Marina Vlady I always had a strained relationship. And her book, “Vladimir, or Interrupted Flight” in which there are many false moments, forced me to turn away from her, not only me, but also many other people. Although if not Marina, Volodya would have left earlier. She did everything she could to save him from alcoholism and the drugs, when it two years before death he was “sat on a needle”, as he confessed to me later. Then she, and we all knew it was the beginning of the end. And he knew it”.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Cover Illustration for the book ‘Two Lives’

“In 2010, I finished a six-year labor – 42 illustrations for the book, called “Two Lives”. It includes 12 songs and poems, which he dedicated to me, but one thing – the dedication and quite another – when he wrote about my life or about our drinking, so I had to decipher these songs, something to show on what Vysotsky sang. Basically, he just gave them to me – we never thought it would ever be published.

Vysotsky and Shemyakin

Photo for the record of Vladimir Vysotsky, released in France in 1977

The name of Shemyakin is known among fans of Vysotsky also because Mikhail is the proud owner of a unique collection of records of the bard. According to many connoisseurs, none of the existing lists of Vysotsky’s songs even come close to matching with a collection of Shemyakin. In many ways, the incredible power of this collection can be explained by the fact that these songs recorded Vladimir are not for sale and not for general circulation – he sang for his best friend. Recordings made ​​in Paris in the years 1975-1980 in the studio of Mikhail Shemyakin. Vysotsky was accompanied by the second guitar of Konstantin Kazansky. Entries were published only in 1987, after Michael Lieberman processed them in New York. The series includes seven plates. Vladimir Vysotsky still occupies an important place in the life of Mikhail Shemyakin.

Monument to Vladimir Vysotsky in Samara on the project of Mikhail Shemyakin. 2008

Monument to Vladimir Vysotsky in Samara on the project of Mikhail Shemyakin. 2008

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