The talented couple’s artistic quest started way back, in Soviet Russia when two young, professionally trained artists, Victor and Ekaterina, chose to explore their own creative impulses rather than submit to the dictates of the Socialist Realist dogma imposed by the state ideological apparatus. The two met when Ekaterina was a student at an arts high school. Her teacher asked her to model as a Young Pioneer holding a banner in front of a huge mural sketch on board. When the 12-foot Communist mural began to fall threatening to squish the girl, a quietly handsome young man emerged from behind the racks with canvases and rescued her. It was Victor. They met again in 6 years at an artist retreat and were together ever since. Victor was a trained art conservator and a member of the Soviet Artists Union, the single official organization that controlled artistic production in the USSR. Ekaterina was a book illustrator. Victor painted his imaginative works, exhibiting at unofficial shows of nonconformist art. His exhibition held in Berlin in 1985 put him in a difficult position within the Union: Union artists were not supposed to exhibit their work uncensored, outside the country. A period of harassment followed: the young family moved from the city to a small village to stay out of trouble and keep working freely on what they believed was worth working on. Gorbachev’s reforms irrevocably changed the Soviet art establishment creating freedoms and opportunities to exhibit. Between 1985 and 1990, Victor showed his work at the exhibition From Unofficial Art to Perestroika in his native Leningrad, as well as Zurich, Paris, New York (Zimmerly Art Museum), Latvia and Estonia

In 1990, Victor received an invitation to come to New York City to show his work at a gallery. Full of hopes, Victor and Ekaterina arrived in New York only to find the Gallery broke and closed within a few days of their arrival! Paid for with a few dollars they had, an ad in a NYC newspaper brought art conservation jobs, a pittance at first; however, the vast world of antiques kept them going. Nourished by challenges and obstacles, the artistic team’s creativity bloomed. In 1996, Victor’s paintings became part of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art at Rutgers University.

A life’s journey took the couple halfway across the globe to pursue their creative impulses and freedoms. In the New World, they faced a different trap, a trap nonetheless: adapting their art to the requirements of the art market or giving it up altogether. They succumbed to neither, opting out of the tight grip of the first generation immigrant predicament. Victor and Ekaterina acquired studio space in upstate New York, in a remote part of the Catskills, and later in Miami. Victor and Ekaterina continued the development of the unique technique for creating 3D casts for oil paintings and hand made paper relief. Informed by the vast experience as an art conservators of Russian icons and paintings, the artists developed a relining technique to transfer the reliefs to canvas. The use of a heat/pressure table that Victor built himself in his upstate NY studio was critical in developing his innovative approach to art-making.

One family, two artistic visions
The artistic styles of Victor and Ekaterina Khromin may seem similar, but their individual visions are worlds apart. Victor painted on sculpted surfaces, bas-reliefs of sorts, made from fragments of found objects such as buckles, belts, bags, wheels, wire and so on. He was a gloomy genius, a loner, diving head first into a void of obsession with his painting process, inventing new, increasingly unconventional ways to make art. His push to create from scratch, to re-invent not only the painted image but also the painting surface, was Victor’s masculine dominion, colored by a certain degree of anxiety. The ready-mades in his works are re-coded and overwhelmed by the master’s will. They are not present as corporeal objects: the viewer sees their tangled imprints that look like maps. Relaxed and playful, Ekaterina’s work could not be more different. Ekaterina’s canvases draw on the heritage of Russian avant-garde. They incorporate fonts, words, and textures, they investigate the geometry of color, they are remembrances of family events – a Khromin chronicle of sorts. Her fluid all-embracing works are at ease with influences, visual quotes, and incorporated designs, playing with them but never overwhelmed or intimidated by gifts of others. Her canvases are also inhabited by borrowed meanings: like flavorful dishes of many ingredients or exquisite quilts made from old dresses, jackets, and skirts, they present a world of warmth and inclusion where everyone and everything are welcome.

Maria Zavialova, Phd, Curator