Friday, March 13, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Two

Readers have suggested two possible identities for the Mysterious Dolgov. Hannes Bok is one. The other is Boris Artzybasheff.

Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965)
Once or twice a century, an artist comes along whose vision is so extraordinary that he can hardly be categorized or placed with other artists. Boris Artzybasheff was one of these artists. He was born on May 25, 1899, in Kharkov, in what is now Ukraine. I believe that birthdate was under the old calendar, as Artzybasheff gave his birthdate as June 5, 1899, in his petition for naturalization. He arrived in the United States, at the port of New York, on June 17, 1919, after having left Russia from the Black Sea port of Novorsisk more than a month before. I don't know much about the tangled and tragic history of the Russian Revolution, but I believe Novorsisk may have been a last refuge of White Russian forces in 1918-1920. There were pogroms in Ukraine at about the same time, carried out by the Green Army, but I believe Artzybasheff's family to have been Eastern Orthodox and not Jewish. Still, socialism has its depredations, and the young artist escaped from them at about the same time that so many of his countrymen and countrywomen did, including at least three tellers of weird tales, Maria Moravsky (1889-1947)Nadia Lavrova (1897-1989), and Edith M. Almedingen (1898-1973). Artzybasheff's father, Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927), also an artist, escaped not long after his son, going to Poland in 1923. Artsybashev was a fierce opponent of Bolshevism and edited a newspaper in Poland called For Liberty! According to endlessly repeated sources on the Internet, his surname became the root of a Soviet pejorative, artsybashevchina.

One of my readers has suggested that Boris Artzybasheff, who by the 1940s was a well-established and successful commercial artist and illustrator, contributed to Weird Tales under the pseudonym Boris Dolgov, effectively slumming among the pulps. I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities, but I also don't think that to be very likely. Although it's true that the Mysterious Dolgov worked in a uniquely 1940s style, his art bears little resemblance to that of the other Boris, Artzybasheff. Beyond that, Artzybasheff was famed for his advertising work, moreover for his covers for Time magazine, of which he created more than 200 from 1941 to 1966. It doesn't seem likely that he could have been induced to contribute to Weird Tales for the kind of pittances the magazine offered artists during the 1940s and '50s. I like writing about Boris Artzybasheff and showing his art. I would like to think that he could have contributed to "The Unique Magazine." But it just doesn't seem to me that he was Boris Dolgov, especially considering that there really was a person by that name and identity. We know that from the photograph shown in the previous posting (here). I'll show more evidence in the next. I would like to thank my reader, though, and invite him and others to continue to comment and offer their research, suggestions, recommendations, and so on. It's always good to explore possibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff in his studio, ca. mid 1940s. In contrast to the Mysterious Dolgov, Artzybasheff was well known and frequently photographed. He was also very successful and widely published as an artist. And we know a lot about his life, including his birthdate, May 25, 1899 (O.S.), and his death date, July 16, 1965. A dedicated artist to the end, Artzybasheff died in his studio in that artist's haven of Connecticut, in his case, in Lyme. Artzybasheff moved from New York City to Lyme in mid 1955 at his wife's behest. Tragically, she died just half a year later, on December 11, 1955. She was the former Elisabeth Southard Snyder (1904-1955), whom he had married on February 22, 1930, in Manhattan. They spent just a quarter of a century together. The image is from Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1946), page 9.

As I said, Artzybasheff was an artist of extraordinary vision. He could only have understood that about himself, as demonstrated in the cover image and title of his own book, As I See, from 1954.

Artzybasheff was the son of Mikhail Artsybashev, or Artzybasheff as in this cover. The elder Artsybashev (1878-1927) was a Polish-Russian writer, editor, artist, and journalist. Among his novels was The Savage, published in paperback in 1951 when just about any piece of literature, high or low, could be put into print as long as it had a suitably trashy and suggestive cover. The artist here was Tobey. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't the painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976), who knew Hannes Bok, but like I said, I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff was not only a painter but also a graphic artist. Here is what looks to be a scratchboard drawing from his own book, Poor Shaydullah, from 1931, reproduced in Forty Illustrators and How They Work. The Wizard of Oz-like character in the middle of that blossoming whatsit looks like George Bernard Shaw.

Artzybasheff was renowned for his personified machines. "I like machines," he said. "I would rather watch a 1,000-ton dredge dig a canal than see it done by 1,000 spent slaves lashed into submission." That quote, from The Hartford Courant, July 17, 1955, I think has hidden meaning in it, for Artzybasheff, having lived under socialism, had had personal experience with the mass slavery of the Machine Age. Another biographical note coming from this image: Artzybasheff was born in Kharkov, later site of four great battles during World War II between Nazis and Communists.

Artzybasheff's art might be called unique but it seems to me to have been a part of a distinctive look of mid-century American illustration, advertising art, and commercial art. For example, this image looks like it could have been created by the great James Flora (1914-1998) . . .

While this one bears resemblance to the crazy art of Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) . . .

And this one looks a little like drawings made by Hannes Bok (1914-1964), who of course collaborated with the Mysterious Dolgov. I'm not sure that Bok had repressed hostility, but I'm pretty sure that he had a repressed something or other.

There is still more to come in this series, including a possible death date and cause of death for Boris Dolgov.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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