Kirill Sokolov (1930 – 2004) was born in Moscow 13 years after the revolution and 11 years before Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. He had a complex childhood, unsparingly recorded in his memoir The Return.
He was educated at the Moscow Special School for Art and went on to study at the Surikov Institute’s faculty of graphic art. Kirill graduated with the accolade Best Diploma Work for his illustrations to Elsa Triolet’s Le rendez-vous des étrangers, haunting Parisian street scenes conjured from films and antiquated photographs. A set of the diploma linocuts is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
After graduation Kirill established a reputation as a graphic artist. By 1974, he was working in his own studio which allowed him to experiment in oil painting and uncommissioned illustrations to literary works of his own choice as well as continuing to work as a published illustrator of books and journals. Many of the uncommisioned works on literary themes are now in museums commemorating the writer or poet Kirill had taken inspiration from.
On moving to England in 1974 Kirill continued to illustrate and design books, perhaps most notably wax crayon drawings to Andrei Platonov’s The Foundation Pit. He made two series of covers for the literary magazine Stand. He illustrated the poems of Jon Silkin and David Burnett, and his portrait of David Burnett is now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Kirill’s fascination with theatre and music produced series of images based on Goethe’s Faust and Hamlet and the stage set for Jon Silkin’s play Black Notes. For the premier of John Taverner’s Resurrection he painted an icon which stood in Glasgow Cathedral.
Kirill never had a constant agent or regular gallery in his lifetime. After his death Henry Dyson took on those roles and many of Kirills works were sold as a result of Henry’s inspired curating of exhibitions in Durham, Edinburgh and at his own gallery in Denmark. The beautiful blue booklet was originally made by Henry and is available here today.
Kirill’s later works show a man completely immersed in art, inspired by the landscapes and townscapes of the United Kingdom, particularly the North York Moors the Scottish Highlands and of Europe, especially Greece.
Taken out of his native environment he learnt to internalise the work of other artists past and present and develop dialog with them through his work. To grasp the alien world around him he made sculptures and learnt methods of working in bronze and fibreglass. New printing techniques including silkscreen were learnt at the Charlotte Press in Newcastle upon Tyne. Collages using found objects and graffiti copied from walls grounded his work in time and place. Kirill was fascinated with children’s art and primitive art aiming to perceive his subjects through ‘the eye of the first beholder’ rather than that of a trained professional.
His main influences in English art were, he said, pub signs, Henry Moore and Elizabethan portraits.