Soviet Postcard Art —
Vladimir Zarubin (Владимир Иванович Зарубин)
ZARUBIN, Vladimir Ivanovich (1925–1996) Animator, Illustrator.
Vladimir Zarubin is among the artists of this period who seems most comfortable maintaining a simple, exhuberant message of the childhood pleasures of specifically Soviet life. But as with so many artists working under the Soviet regime, this uncomplicated style was a front for a life lived on much more serious terms.
Vladimir Zarubin was born in 1925. His parents encouraged his passion and talent for drawing. As a child, he start collecting postcards. In a world where radio, newspaper journals and letters were among the only means of communication, receiving a beautiful picture with a short message from loved ones was a treasured event. The Zarubin family's postcard collection grew to over five thousand colourful cards, and were not just a collection, but also served the young artist as a visual reference library.
During WWII, Zarubin's village, Andriyanovka, in Russia's Oryol region, was occupied by the Germans. Vladimir, the family's youngest son, was transported to a labor camp in Ruhr, Germany. He was not yet 16. Liberated at the war's end by U.S. troops, he managed (unlike many other Russians and Ukrainians who were stranded in Germany, designated men and women "without nation") to return home. Following the war, Zarubin served for four years as a gunner in the Soviet army, then worked in the Ministry of Coal Industry. From 1950 to 1958 he worked in a factory, pursuing his intentions of becoming an artist in his off-work hours. In 1958 he graduated from the Moscow evening secondary school, and moved to full-time work in the animation business for Soyuzmultfilm studio.
Zarubin started drawing postcards in 1962. In the era of the state-approved Socialist Realism form of art, strict rules were laid down, regulating any type of creative work, and especially anything for mass consumption. Every new picture had to be approved by the bureaucrats of the artistic council. Zarubin’s drawings of hedgehogs and rabbits at first perplexed those in judgement – was this a new direction in Soviet art or a symptom of capitalist decadence?
Even in the face of these challenges, Zarubin's postcard work was successful and beloved. In 1973 he was awarded top prize at the socialist animators competition, but, sadly, artistic skill was only one side of the competition. Zarubin's honesty and openness ran served him poorly in the atmosphere of cronyism and intrigue of the day. It was only in the late 1970s that Zarubin was admitted to the USSR Union of Cinematographers--despite the reality that he was often called the best animator in the country (and was certainly among the most prolific!).
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s had a catastrophic impact on Soviet Animation Studios, and the 1990s, for numerous reasons, saw a decline in the popularity of postcards and postcard collecting. Zarubin's work was reduced to that of a single printing house, and the artist himself died of a heart attack the day he learned that that printing house had declared itself bankrupt. After 30 years of work and more than 1.5 billion of postcards and envelopes with his drawings reproduced, he died without the knowledge that his work, routinely reproduced to this day, would become one of the most popular and beloved of Soviet collectables.