casm of a croupier asked to accept a betrnafter the ball had dropped, said that herrnfloor was not dirty, it was just covered inrnpaint.rn”Painting in art schools is more or lessrnout now,” writes the English criticrnMatthew Collings in his intentionally irreverent,rnand often unintentionally revealing,rnencyclopedia of contemporaryrnart. “You could easily go through your artrnschool years today without doing one.rnBut it’s not true that you would actuallyrnbe encouraged to never [sic] do one, orrnpunished if you secretly did one.” Everyrnhour that Gusov and I sat for Sophie, Irnhad the growing sense that the iconic silhouetternof the inside of that bent elbow,rnjust below the roll of the work-shirtrnsleeve, set in a luminous outline againstrnthe window frame, the sprawling blackrntree branches, and the streaming darkrnclouds of a foul London afternoon, belongedrnto the spiritual musculature of thernlast artist in Europe. Remember ThernLast Man in Europe, Orwell’s original titlernof Nineteen Eighty-Four? Well, inrnthat ultimate, desperate sense.rnShe let me look at some of her familyrnpapers, kept in what I remember as arnpaint-splattered biscuit tin, or maybe itrnwas a paint-splattered velvet box. Baronrnde S —, her grandfather, fled Russia afterrn1917, and as the connechon establishedrnitself in the snaking copperplate of WinterrnPalace invitations and the old orthographyrnof yellowed deeds and long-brokenrncovenants, my already seething brainrngrew all the more inflamed. She was thernLast Artist in Europe, and of course I wasrndesperately curious to know what shernthought of the mafia of her contempo-rnLIBERAL ARTSrnYOU DESERVE ArnBREAK TODAYrn”An 11-year old Detroit boy filed a $1rnmillion lawsuit against fast food giantrnMcDonald’s Corp on Monday after hernallegedly ate part of a cheeseburger thatrnwas infested with maggots, his lawyerrnsaid.rn”The boy, Vincent Ingram, discoveredrnthe maggots after chomping intorntlie cheeseburger at home on June 19…rn”McDonald’s . . . called the allegationsrn’questionable,’ and said it had notrnreceived any facts to back up thernclaims.”rn—from “McDonald’s Sued forrnMaggot-Infested Cheeseburger”rn(Reuters, July 3, 2001)rnraries, most of whom I had left behind inrnVenice the week before. Her hesitantrnreplies reminded me of my first meetingrnwith the English poet Charles Causley,rnwhen, as a young angry contributor to thernvarious books pages, I had tried to goadrnhim into agreeing with the thousandrnnasty things I had to say, in print and inrnprivate, about the literary figures then relevant.rnWell, Causley kept saying, yournknow, it’s difficult, writing.rnBut now, as my eloquent loathing andrnmy stammering ftiry broke in their turnrnon the granite detachment of Sophie’srnmildest ellipses, slowly I began to catchrnon to what it was that I always believedrnwas so banal, and so evil, about contemporaryrnartists. One day, after leaving herrnstudio, I bought a copy of the Collingsrnencyclopedia. Blimey!, and was gratifiedrnto find that my recent intiution was whollyrnsupported by fact. Blimey indeed, Irnsaid to myself. The truth is so simple.rnWhat is banal and evil about contemporaryrnartists is that they don’t paint. Just asrncontemporary architects don’t buildrnbuildings, contemporary musicians don’trnplay instruments, contemporary generalsrndon’t win wars, contemporary lawyersrndon’t defend the innocent, and contemporaryrndoctors don’t kill their patients onlyrnbecause contemporary lawyers wouldrntake them to the cleaners if they did:rnArt wasn’t about being in a studiorncreating. It was about being in arnstudio creating and then being in arnsmart white gallery and having arncatalogue and reviews in art magazinesrnand flying to different internationalrnart spots and having curatorsrnand professional uptight zombies ofrnthe artworld suck up to you briefly.rnPerhaps Causley was not entirely justifiedrnin his quietist, elastic, almost orientalrnforbearance with respect to the monstersrnI was hoping to slay with my pen, but thernfact remains that the writers whom I tookrnturns describing as banal and evil were atrnleast writing books. Here, by contrast, it isrnas though some wicked and slothftd gardenerrnraised on Thoreau—whom Westernrncivilization, like a dowager empressrnbreathing her dying wish, has at last permittedrnto let a thousand flowers bloom —rnhas gleefully turned, instead of to rakes,rntrellises, and pesticides, to the stack ofrnpenny dreadfuls in the potting shed. Thernanalogy is not haphazard, because thernWalden that the artists in question havernbeen exploiting, ever since the mustachernwas stiick on the Mona Lisa, is literature.rnIn short, their mafia is actually on myrnturf, and for this I have all the more reasonrnto hate them.rnLiterature enters the picture with therntide. That Francis Bacon, for instance, isrnto my mind among the finest painters thernworld has ever produced is neither herernnor there; what is objectively true is thatrnhe painted, and every existing photographrnof the interior of his studio bearsrnwitness to the fact that he painted often;rnso it is par for the course that the workrnthat eventually won him recognition wasrnentitled Three Studies for Figures at thernBase of a Crucifixion (1945). Now,rnwhere is the literature in that? Conversely,rnit hardly matters that, in my view, anrnart mafioso like Damien Hirst has thernsoul of a crooked accoimtant trapped inrnthe heart of a talentiess clown; what is objectivelyrntrue is that he never spent anyrntime painting, and hence it is not surprisingrnthat the work that made him famous,rna tank of formaldehyde containing arnshark, was entitled The Physical Impossibilityrnof Death in the Mind of SomeonernLmng(1991).rnThe shameless separation of modernrnart from painting, drawing, and sculpture,rnand their concomitant substitutionrnwith literature, philosophy, and politics,rnhas produced a kind of Hollywood ofrnartistic expression, where the intellectualrncliches of the past hundred years arc collected,rnregurgitated, produced, directed,rnacted, made into pictures, and launchedrnglobally. Like Hollywood, this cinema ofrnbanal ideas is entirely in the hands of arnruthless mafia, concerned solely with thernperpetuation of its prestige and the augmentationrnof its influence. Hence, anrnartist like Sophie, with bills to pay for herrnturpentine and her chrome yellow, is asrnalien to the whole business as Chekhovrnwould be to Paramoimt.rnSo, perhaps, we had better not think ofrnthe attic in Ladbroke Grove as an art installationrnentitied Far From the Venice Biennale.rnAnd perhaps Gusov and I shouldrnback off and stop pestering Sophie aboutrngiving our portrait a provocative, entertaining,rnliterary title like RussianrnRoulette. And next time I sit for her, ifrnthere is a next time, perhaps I should entertainrnthe last painter in Europe withrnsome rough tales from Palermo, insteadrnof explaining to her how the mafia worksrnin her hometown.rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’rnEuropean correspondent.rn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn