ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.12 - MARCH 2001
There Once Was A Man Called Pjotr Sapegin
by Chris Robinson
Art, the eternal expression of the soul, key to life's mysteries.
The dark chaos beneath the shimmering sheath of banausic sobriety.
That's what generations of poets, painters, writers and charlatans would have you believe. Humans all of them and all of them lie, equivocate and spin.
Security, stability and comfort sheltered behind
the facade of currency,
the roots of these gestures of the grandeur.
Once upon a time there was a man named Pjotr Sapegin. He came from the far away Eastern or Western, depending on your point of view, country of Russia before moving to the Nordic regions where he became an internationally successful maker of animation films (Mons the Cat, One Day a Man Bought a House, The Saltmill). He evolved out of generations of circus acrobats, poets, painters and writers. As a child, he lived in a big court of brick buildings, which belonged to the art union. The courtyard provided a world of discovery for young Pjotr. The enormous backyard contained hips, heads and noses of revolutionary heroes, which lay scattered beside moulds for marble statues. The landscape continually changed as the severed limbs of marble were transformed one by one into gigantic odes to Lenin.
Pjotr Sapegin. All images courtesy of and © Norsk filminstitutt.
Childhood Among Body Parts
Pjotr was born in Moscow. Moscow was dirty. Sure it was green, there were trees and parks and even grass, but it was dirty and ugly. But for Pjotr, the ugliness smelled good. The aroma of dust, snow, marble was the stuff of dreams. "The landscape is one of the strongest memories from my childhood. My parents did not participate in the production of Lenin's head, so they were as poor as rats." Pjotr's parents were painters, but this was no Bohemian Mecca. "Art was work and it was nothing much to talk about; just do it." While they may not have spoken of art, Sapegin and his young mates did indeed talk. "We definitely were talking too much. We all were in the conspiracy against the stupidity of the state, and that was deliciously dangerous." During long vodka sessions at the kitchen table, politics, flying saucers, urban legends, adventures in the dark and the mysterious mountains of Tibet were all topics of conversation. "I knew at least five people who personally saw the abominable snowman. One lady was even carrying his child."
Sapegin enjoyed his years as a young man in the Soviet Union and what life of youth is complete without physical yearnings. While never the most athletically gifted of beings, he did embrace the sports passion of the 1970s: slalom skiing. Of course there were no hills in Moscow, but there were deep valleys. "It was absolutely breathtaking and just imagine most of our equipment was self-made, and often self-constructed." Karate replaced slalom in the '80s. "It was like in Japan in 1800, we had rival schools and secret societies." Oh and of course there was that other youthful pleasure: sex. Erotic games were the bane of Sapegin and his friends' existence; flirting, looking for adventures in odd circumstances and generally dreaming of conquering the milky bosom of any girl acknowledging them.
Time passed. Scents, secrets and desires lay scattered among the cluttered compartments of conspicuous memories. Privileged Pjotr grew and grew and not surprisingly he became an artist. First, he studied with a painter and then he attended a school of theatre. Five years passed and one day Pjotr awoke a state theatre designer. "I got my first artistic job as a theatre designer at the age of 18. It was great to build a world, which is different and live there separated from the rest of life by the parameter of the stage." A beautiful island paradise nestled within the walls of a dirty, hostile sea.
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