Classical music plays in the background as Valentine Ioppe is working on his latest landscape painting. Art lovers walk around the small Richmond Hill gallery as the 75-year-old artist excitedly welcomes each person that comes to see his art.
Ioppe is a Russian-Jewish artist and architect, the son of two civil engineers, who currently lives in a suburban home in the Richmond Hill, Ont. He identifies as an abstract realist, though he says he does not feel that his art can truly fit into any one artistic movement.
Ioppe was born into a Jewish family on April 19, 1941, in Odesa, Ukraine. Not many people can say they escaped the Nazis when they were two months old, but Ioppe is an exception.
Ioppe was a just an infant when the Nazis invaded Odesa. Since his father was a colonel in the Russian military, he was able to get on a train out of Odesa just a few hours before the Nazis arrived there. His family had to leave everything behind, and settle down in Russia.
“My father was the first person that introduced me to the world of art. I remember when I was just an eight-year-old child, he took me outside and showed me how he drew a landscape. It was magical to see how this blank canvas very quickly turned into a landscape of a view that was so familiar to me,” said Ioppe, who to this day, has a portrait of himself hanging in his office, that his father had painted.
For Ioppe, art was always more than just a hobby. After creating his first painting at the age of 13, he realized that not only was art very therapeutic, it was a way for him to express himself and his emotions.
“Arts exposes the thoughts, feelings and dreams of a person and portrays one’s inner world to other people,” said Ioppe, who has created hundreds of paintings throughout his career, which can be found hanging in homes all across the globe.
His work ranges from realism to very abstract, but the one thing all of his paintings have in common is that they are all very colourful and different.
“The actual process of art is fascinating, and often when I look at paintings that I’ve made decades ago, I can’t believe that I am the one who painted them,” he said.
Ioppe studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute, where he received a top-notch education in both art and architecture. There, he was introduced to a very strict and classical form of art that is still evident in some of his work today.
He was trained to work with all sorts of mediums, but the vast majority of his work is made with acrylic on canvas.
Ioppe has had art shows all around the world, including in Greece, Spain, Russia, Germany, and Bulgaria. In Canada, he has up to four shows a year, including in the annual Richmond Hill Art Tour. He was recently invited to participate and be a jury at the Pontificial Palace in Italy, from September 20-30.
“As an artist, I never wanted to fall into the trap of mass production. I was always looking for my own original way of self-expression, and I never wanted to just stick to one theme and style,” said Ioppe, whose work was influenced by artists like Kandinsky and Modigliani.
“A lot of modern artists get sucked into the business of art, and I think this takes away from their individuality. To be an artist, you need to take risks, and I find that a lot of modern artists just stick to one topic and style that they are comfortable with. They just paint primitive and stereotypical things that they know will sell, and not what they personally think is good,” he said.
Ioppe believes artists should create art that reveals their thoughts and feelings, and should not be limited in what they produce. His work is reflective of this belief, as no two of his paintings are the same, and they are all very distinct.
Ioppe moved to Canada in 1991, when he was 50-years-old. He wanted to escape the constant political uncertainty and anti-Semitism in Russia, as well as help his only son settle at McGill University. He left behind a very impressive career in Russia, where he was part of the Society of Russian Artists, which is a very prestigious group.
Though he found it difficult to have to restart his life after such a successful career, he is glad to not have to constantly worry about a corrupt government and having to fear for his life because of his Jewish roots.
“In a way, I am almost grateful for the intense anti-Semitism in Russia, because it pushed me to work extremely hard and always be top of the class, and that is what got me into the best architectural school in the country.”
For most of his life, Ioppe worked an architect and made a living by designing and renovating houses for people. It was only in his 40s that he began to really take art seriously, and focus more on developing his own artistic style.
“It is difficult to be original in a world where everyone tries to be the same. I think art is something that is very intimate and individualized, and it is not something that should be mass produced,” he said.
“A person can buy a print from Ikea to hang on their wall, and it may be a nice picture but it’s something that is not unique and millions of other people have the exact same thing hanging in their house; I think that makes it lose some of its value.”
Ioppe believes that his work is a reflection of how he has grown and changed over the years, in both his technique and his outlook on life.
“I often walk around my house, and look at all the paintings that take up all the wall space in the house. I have had some of my paintings for more than 40 years, and I still sometimes look at them with surprise and humbly think, ‘Wow, I’m a genius,’” he joked.
It is hard to believe that the two-month-old infant who narrowly escaped the clutches of the Nazis is that same 75-year-old man who just easily painted an entire landscape in under 30 minutes, all while listening to the classical radio channel.