Artists often choose to use the natural beauty of their surroundings to inspire their work. But hidden among the collected works of one notable Tooele County painter is a series of 15 paintings all set in Russia.
The series, which Tooele artist Ferrell Bailey calls “The Forgotten Ones,” depicts the people of Russia as captured by photographs Bailey’s sister sent him while serving a humanitarian mission in Russia for The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.
In particular, he said he chose to paint pictures of the elderly — many of them widows — who had lived through the repressive Stalin era spanning 1918–1956, because of their expressive faces.
“You can see the distress, the lonesomeness, in their faces,” Bailey said. “It’s robbed them of their individualism.”
He gave a presentation on his series of paintings during a meeting of the Stansbury Art and Literary Society at Tooele Applied Technology College Tuesday evening.
In addition to his sister’s photographs, Bailey said he was inspired by the writings of Nobel prizewinning author Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, whose historical work exposed the truth of the atrocities committed by the Russian government against its own people during the post-WW II era.
According to Solzhenitsyn, nearly 66 million Russians were killed by their own government during the last years of this period.
Bailey said he was so horrified by Solzhenitsyn’s revelatory writing that he chose to render his sister’s photographs of elderly Russians in his signature artistic style — a blend of traditional, impressionist and surrealist techniques that uses bold, dramatic colors to highlight the emotion of the scene.
“My reason to do these paintings was because I didn’t know [about the suffering of the Russian people], and I should have,” he said. “They’re not happy things. They’re very depressing. But they’re true.”
Bailey also created several paintings in the series based on images from Solzhenitsyn’s book, including a portrait of Solzhenitsyn after he spent several years in a Russian prison, and a photograph depicting the discovery of a secret mass grave in a Russian orchard. The people buried there had evidently been executed in prison, Bailey said, and secretly shipped out and buried at night.
Bailey worked on his series in the late 90s, and after its completion, had it featured at the Springville Museum of Art in 2001.
“I want you to appreciate the freedom you have,” he told those in attendance. “I know my paintings won’t make much of a dent — but we’re so lucky to be in America. We don’t even appreciate it unless we go down to Russia to be among them.”
The struggle of the Russian people remains unknown, Bailey said, and repression by the Russian government continues.
“These are real people,” he said. “This is really happening now, when [Putin] is going into Ukraine.”