Pushkin House presents

The Master, Margarita and the Artist

a solo exhibition from Laura Footes

2nd Nov - 1st December 2018

Curator: Clem Cecil


Pushkin House is proud to present an exhibition of new works by British artist Laura Footes - illustrations and interpretations of scenes from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The works explore the artist’s personal connection to the novel, having read it for the first time at the beginning of an ongoing battle with Crohn’s Disease. By immersing herself in Russian literature, Footes was able to transcend the physical and psychological constraints of chronic pain, escaping into Bulgakov’s imaginary parallel universe.

One of the best-loved literary classics of Russia, The Master and Margarita has been a popular subject for illustrators and artists since its publication in the late 1960s. Laura Footes’ contribution to this canon is both personal and masterly. Footes was trained at the Royal Drawing School and specialises in creating large narrative compositions. Her artistic passion, combined with an outstanding technical ability to capture the architectural landscape and atmosphere of Moscow, means that she has been able to tackle some of the most ambitious scenes in the book, including Margarita’s Flight over Moscow and Satan’s Ball.

Footes was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 13 and told by doctors it was unlikely that she would ever be able to travel or be in regular employment. The Master and Margarita provided an alternative fantasy world and was formative for Footes as she lay in her hospital bed. She writes:  ‘I remember the hallucinogenic text coming to life on the morphine: the warped realities, the fragmented time, the visions, and the underlying tension between lucidity and insanity. The dark, twisted, magical realist tone of the novel has influenced my artistic style ever since.’

Footes was first exposed to Russian through her father, William Footes – who was brought up in the 1950s Birmingham Irish slums. In spite of his impoverished childhood and lack of mainstream education, he was fascinated by Soviet culture at the time, and sought to challenge the prevailing xenophobic attitudes by teaching himself Russian. When she was a teenager, Footes’ father gave her the battered old cassette that he had attempted to learn Russian on. She picked up the challenge to learn languages and was the first in her family to go to university. From language she moved into art, having been drawing and painting from a young age but not having the opportunity to pursue it.

In the course of creating these works for Pushkin House, Footes has found herself particularly interested in the portrayal of Margarita and used it to reflect on her role and position in society as a female artist. She writes: ‘Margarita is the product of a brilliant but unstable, flawed male mind. At the time he created an outrageous heroine, who broke the mould of what was expected of soviet women: a mistress and spirited muse, in league with Satan. Yet today she is viewed as a martyr and a caged bird who submits her energies to the driving force of the male artist. I want to use the opportunity of the exhibition to explore the flaws, the madness and rework my interpretation to the benefit of my Margarita who is the product of my female gaze, my flaws, my dreams.’

For the show, Footes has created 10 paintings and drawings based on The Master and Margarita. It will be accompanied by a series of related events including a talk from leading Moscow historian Dmitry Oparin, and an evening of performance from ART-VIC Anglo-Russian Theatre. For more details see below.

Pushkin House Director Clem Cecil writes: ‘Laura is an important emerging artist and one of many who have been drawn to Russian culture by this novel, that continues to fascinate and baffle. Despite the frailty caused by the Crohn’s disease, Laura is a powerful artist, who is able to tackle, head on, the major scenes of this book, undaunted by the many who have gone before her. I believe her work is some of the best to have been inspired by the book and we are delighted that she agreed to make these pieces for this show at Pushkin House.’

Footes writes: ‘Fundamentally, I hope the audience who come to our show do not feel they have to know me or The Master and Margarita to enjoy the works, I would hope they can see fragments of themselves in the compositions - in the architecture, the starry skies and moonlit streets – that might offer a visual reprieve, even for a millisecond, from the often challenging reality of London life to a place reminiscent of childhood, a magical non-space just like in the novel.’