FAST FORWARD: David D Burliuk In New York

Few people know that the Russian Avante Garde artist David D Burliuk - a man who the great Russian poet Mayakovsky called "my real teacher," and a man who is thought of as the father of the Futurist Movement in his native country - spent substantially 25 years of his later life in New York, and was productive as an artist during that time.

But one poet in the Hamptons - on the East End of Long Island, a neighbor and friend of Burliuk for fourteen of those years, right up until the day he died does - hopes to do something about that.

Ellen DePazzi, a Hampton Bays resident, is organizing her memories and gathering information on Burliuk's Long Island years to write a memoir depicting her personal relationship with the seminal artist during his time here.

DePazzi, a talented poet and literary impresario in her own right, says that while her experience of David Burliuk's time in New York is subjective, she feels that writing the memoir will provide insight, for fans of Burliuk, into the experiences of the man during this lesser known segment of his life.

"I was the family's gofer," she explains, "I saw Burliuk right up until the day he died."

By the time Ellen DePazzi met David Burliuk, he was four decades from being the man who, in the period 1911-1914, stirred the pot of the volatile intellectual and artistic world of pre-Revolutionary Russia.

The year was 1952, and the day that she moved in, she recalls, the flamboyant Russian artist - who had moved to Hampton Bays in 1940 - was at DePazzi's doorstep with a bottle of wine. From that moment, she developed a longterm friendship with a man who "was truly the leader," she says. "Others went on to greater fame, but he is elevated in all their journals and books in Russia."

Born in Semirotovshchina village, Kharkov Province, the Ukraine, David D Burliuk (1882-1967) studied at Kazan and Odessa Colleges - as well as in Paris and Germany - before going to the Moscow Art School from the period 1910-1914. His first one man show was held in Russia in 1904; in 1909 he was associated with the German Blaue Reiter and De Sturm.

Born to a Cossack family he was destined to become a prolific painter as well as a poet, author, promoter of modern art - and a showman par excellence.

But most fundamentally, Burliuk was an artist who thrived in the political and intellectual ferment of the era.

It was the era of the Russian Avante Garde, which produced such greats as Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky and the great poet Mayakovsky; and which included a number of movements, particularly Constructivism, Rayonism, Neo-Primitivism and Suprematism , Cubism, Futurism.

Burliuk's ideas about the future of art, and promotion of new artistic ideas, which began to coalesce in 1911 when he was introduced to the intellectual Benedikt Livsht, who fostered an idea of new philosophy of art based on "a heroic-aesthetic which overthrew all the established canons of art," fit right into the time - and before long, he was a central proponent of Cubo-Futurism.

Cubo-futurism was a non-objective style which combined the fragmentation of form into cubist shapes with the futurist emphasis on motion. Characteristically the movement went from monochromaticism to the bright colors of neo-primitivism, adding vibrancy to pictures that attract attention and suggest energy and dynamism. The movement attracted such artists as Goncharova, Larionov, Popova, Tatlin, and Kazemir Malevich - who went on to a more purely abstract painting.

Also attracted to the movement was Vladimir Mayakovsky, several years Burliuk's junior and also an art student at the Moscow Institute.

Mayakovsky unflinchingly acknowledged during his lifetime that he fell under "the influence" of the avant garde-thinking Burliuk, and learned about modernist painting and poetry through him. "Nobody can deny or minimize their friendship," says DePazzi. "Mayakovsky was fed, clothed, and daily, Burliuk read poetry in many forms and languages to him."

It was Burliuk, Mayakovsky said, who saw his first poem, written after a particularly dull concert in Sept 1912, and who called him "a poetic genius."

By December of that year, Burliuk and Mayakovsky - along with Vladimir Khlebnikov and others - had published their Futurist Manifesto, entitled "A Slap In The Face of Public Taste." In it, they demanded the jettisoning of Pushkin, Tolstoy and other classic Russian literary icons for being "less intelligible than hieroglyphics."

The manifesto ordered respect for poets' right to enlarge the scope of their vocabulary through arbitrary and derivative words, to hate the language that existed before them, to push away "cheap fame" offered by contemporary literary society, and "to stand on the rock of the word 'we' amidst the seas of boos and outrage."

Importantly, the Futurist Manifesto was as outrageous a gesture as it was substantive.

True to their showmanlike instincts, the Cubo-Futurists were before long spouting futurist verse from sidewalks and street corners, roaming the streets dressed in outrageous capes and costumes. Mayakovsky, Burliuk and their friends would appear in public wearing wooden spoons or vegetables pinned to their lapels, with images of animals or airplanes painted on their faces, and otherwise did whatever they could to shock the public and attract attention to themselves.

"He was very tall and hefty, wearing a yellow jacket with a cluster of radish in the lapel and a glass eye," notes Oleh Sydor-Hibelynda, in an Art-Line article discussing a recent Burliuk exhibition in Kiev. "Khlebnikov wrote of him, 'You responded to everything with your deafening ho-ho-ho, because you knew your power...'."

In addition to his painting, David Burliuk wrote poetry throughout his artistic life, including during this period - having conceived a movement that he felt could express itself through multiple media. His poetry varied widely, but in its most modernist form, was described by Livsht as being "cubism transferred to the area of organized speech." In this form, the work resembles futurist posters like those of the Italian Futurist FT Marinetti, in which the geometric placement of words resembles graphic design and concrete poetry. Other poems, more linear, tended to include strongly confrontational polemic.

Here's a poem from 1910, translated from the Russian by David's son Nicholas, and provided by DePazzi:

Everyone Is Young

Everyone is young, young, young,
A hell-of-a-hunger in his stomach,
So follow me!
Behind my back!
I cry a proud shout!
A short speech!
We will eat stones, grass,
Sweets, acids, poisons!
We will devour emptiness,
Depth and height,
Birds, fish, animals, monsters,
Winds, clays, salt, the swell of the sea!
Everyone is young, young, young,
A hell-of-a-hunger in his stomach!
Everything we meet on the road is a feast,
Prepared for us!
And we will eat it!

All the while that he was castigating the status quo, however, some other radicals of the era noticed that Burliuk was also quietly studying the classics. Again Sydor-Hibelynda: "Contemporary critics did not like him. One wrote acidly that Burliuk 'spent days on end at the archaic section of the hermitage...having mastered pencil drawings copying academic paintings with photographic precision, a style he so viciously attacked himself."

But before coming to America, where this disciplined study bore fruit, there were pre-revolutionary Russian adventures to be had.

In 1912/13, the Burliuk/Mayakovsky/Khlebnikov Futurist clique went on a tour of seventeen cities, outraging audiences wherever they went with their hijinks. The group even created a movie about the events of their everyday lives.

The Russian Revolution put an end to these heady days - while Mayakovsky remained in Russia, many of the fervent intellectuals left the country, including David Burliuk. In fact he escaped Moscow in a box car headed east - and caught a freighter to Japan, where he taught for a while utilizing techniques that eschewed the traditional delicate Japanese styles in favor of a vigorous, powerful technique.

By the early 1920s, Burliuk had found his way to New York City. Settling into the Manhattan environment, he supported his family as a typesetter on the lower East side, working for the Russian language publications.

It was during this time that Burliuk hosted Mayakovsky in New York - an experience, said the brash poet, which he said later was frustrating and awkward. "Just consider my situation in America," he wrote, in From His Life. "A poet's been invited. They've been told he's a genius. A genius - that's even better than being well known. I arrive and right off I say, 'Gif me pliz sam tee'...the ladies move away...the gentlemen distribute themselves in the corners of the room laughing at my expense. So I shout to Burliuk: "...tell them that if they knew Russian I could, without even dirtying my shirtfront, nail them with my tongue to the cross of their own suspenders, that I could roast this whole collection of insects on the sharp turnspit of my tongue." And the honest Burliuk translates, 'My eminent friend Vladimir Vladimirovich would like some more tea."."

Burliuk had found himself a new home. In New York, he would issue from his Long Island home a 1926 Radio-Manifesto, declaring radio transmission of poetry "the one and only style of our epoch," and America "earth's greatest country."

"I am sitting now in a domicile on a wrecked bark," he wrote in "The Universal Camp of Radio-Modernists, in the section entitled "An Old Bark At Long Island. (Burliuk lived many years in Hampton Bays, though later in life he would leave every Christmas Day by train for Florida, where he had a home on a causeway near Bradenton.) "The tiny crystals of the Atlantic fill the air and inspire one with dreams of immortality...Time has arrived for the richest country in the world, America, to lavish part of its gold on the creation of unheard of beauty."

As for Burliuk, he was already 44 years old and time was passing quickly for showmanlike Futurist stagemanship. By 1930 he was writing his autobiography for the historians in Kharkov, and turning increasingly to the painting of fanciful peasant scenes from his native land, combining naive representation with a surrealism that carried with it energy, charm and an engaging distortion.

However, it was during this time that Burliuk's classical skills as a portraitist - and more personal devotion to traditional national themes, such as images of Cossack horses, peasant households - were to become increasingly important in his later work in America.

This latter stage in his artistic life has been dismissed by some critics, though it frequently contains a distinct blend of both contemporary artistic styles such as Surrealism and Expressionism and more traditional portraiture and folk scenes. In fact during his later years Burliuk was capable of expression through a number of styles, with neo-primitivism a major element of his informal sketching and drawings; and an expressionist painterly quality with a hint of surrealism found in his portraiture and more formal works.

"As an artist, Burliuk was extremely aware of his audience and adjusted his style to meet the demands of the viewer," noted a Fairleigh Dickinson review of his work. "Burliuk toured Australia in 1962 and is quoted in a newspaper article, 'these are the paintings people buy, so I do plenty of them." "In America he became known as the American van Gogh," adds Sydor-Hibelynda, "The nihilism in his works was somehow very cheerful. Pink American landscapes of the 1940s are truly idyllic. Naturally they loved him in the United States."

As for DePazzi, while she is interested in the aesthetic legacy of David Burliuk's later production on Long Island, her primary interest is to create a memoir which reveals details about the man and his relationships. "I am writing from the perspective of one who knew him," she says.

As one, in fact, who was there the day he died. DePazzi recalls how s had gone over for lunch to the Burliuk residence that day. "A show of his work was opening that day in Manhattan," she remembers. "His son framed the work and was delivering it to the city, and Poppa Burliuk said he didn't feel that he could go. He asked if I could take the train and go represent him."

DePazzi agreed. "I went in his place," she said. "When we got to the gallery, we went up the flight of stairs, and just as we reached the top the director of the gallery screamed, 'No, Not Poppa Burliuk!'"

In Ellen DePazzi's view, incidents like these which she may recollect are contributions to an understanding of the Russian Avante Garde artist's life and times. "Artists come and go," she says. "Some of them don't become all that famous. But Burliuk - and Mayakovsky? the voice of the Revolution owes much to them. Today, both are to be found in museums, libraries, in books around the world - and where else, but on the internet!

If Ellen DePazzi has her way, her memoirs of David Burliuk's New York years will be part of that legacy.

Ellen DePazzi is inviting old friends David D Burliuk, and collectors of his art, to share any recollections or personal encounters, as well as photos and examples of his work. She can be contacted by mail at