Last November, following the unexpected death of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, the world was united in grief at the passing of a great artist and human being.
But we were also reminded of the stupidity of some politicians.
In a feigned effort to gain some publicity from Cohen’s death, the former British Tory MP Louise Mensch put both feet and her handbag in her mouth at the same time.
Ms Mensch, who now lives in New York, tweeted out her condolences: “Leonard Cohen’s death reminds us that America’s enduring greatness is as multifaceted as a diamond.”
And to make her ignorance about his nationality worse, in a crass dig at Russia, she added: “Russia has nothing. Russia is joyless.”
The former MP for Corby was immediately ridiculed by thousands of fans of the Canadian musician, who pointed out her mistake and her absurd criticism of Russia.
Thousands of Twitter users defended Russia’s contribution to history, pointing out Russian Leo Tolstoy, often referred to as one of the greatest authors of all time.
Others named: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who helped raise global awareness of the barbaric gulag system, and Mikhail Bulgakov, who penned a novel regarded as “one of the masterpieces of the 20th century”.
And I could personally add scores of names to the list of Russian cultural greatness.
The authors: Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and Boris Pasternak will do for starters.
Then there are the Great Russian composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Mussorgsky are known to anyone with a passing interest in great music.
We also have so many brilliant Russian visual artists: Ivan Shishkin, Wassily Kandinsky, Ilya Repin, Anna Parkina, Dmitry Shorin, Eric Bulatov, Marina Federovna, Olga Chernysheva and Vitaly Pushnitsky… the list goes on and on!
But, before I move on to the substantive part of this article, I must also mention the fabulous architecture of Moscow, St Petersburg and Smolensk. Architecture which more than matches anything found in Paris, Edinburgh, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, and dare I say it: New York!
Russia blooms, full of joy and rich in culture, Ms Mensch!
My late uncle Rod Pounsett, started the first western news bureau, Andersen Consulting, in Moscow in 1990, after the end of the Cold War.
He enthused about Moscow as being the greatest city on Earth – full of vitality and culture – and urged everyone he knew to visit it before they died.
And the culture of Moscow and Russia continues to bloom as a new generation unfolds its talents.
Meet Helene Vasileva, a leading light among the bright new contemporary Russian creators.
A skilled photographer and graphic artist, her two art-related Instagram accounts (one named after her pet dog Venya) already have over 60,000 followers.
And her art knows no bounds.
Her black and white photography is stunning in its subject matter and technique, while her graphic drawings and paintings draw allusions to the work of Kandinsky, Rothko and others.
Much of her work is abstract and modern, exploring the space between darkness, form and light, while her coloured impressionist work shows reflections of Van Gogh.
Her works have been featured in many international publications and magazines.
She draws inspiration for her works from everyday life as well as from the influence of other artists and musicians.
Her graphic and 3D projects are diverse, incorporating such subjects as: Ansichten eines Clowns, Unknown Germany – Old German toys, Russian Heritage, Koningsberg and its Suburbs, German architects in Russia, and the fabulous Bear Story – a Journey to the Past. This project is focused on children’s memories about life in Moscow between 1980 and 1989.
Helene described two of her German related projects/exhibitions thus: “I’d like to tell about Germany, not touching the theme of the war and politics. During some years I selected documents, information, artifacts and decided to show that as I think reflects culture and life of usual people of Germany from 20 to 30 years of the last century.
“The first and the most favourite part of the project is Old German Toys. The main heroes of my photos are real old teddy bears. The second part of the project – books, music, movies, art and others, sometimes very usual things which can help you to imagine that time,” she adds, with obvious passion for her subject matter.
Now she has added her most recent project: Venya – Stardog, a quirky and wonderful cartoon homage to her Old English Sheepdog.
Helene’s work has been widely displayed in her home city, while other paintings currently hang in galleries in Germany and Israel.
And some of her more experimental work has just been part of a seven day Contemporary Painting exhibition at the trendy Brick Lane Gallery in London’s Shoreditch.
The exhibition which pitted her works with other great international contemporary artists was both flamboyant and thought provoking.
In her series of Over-painted Photographs (three examples are featured at the top) she experiments and combines different styles to produce her own aesthetic.
These creative new works use abstraction as a window that hints of what seems somehow familiar and yet perhaps not, as a mean to invite the viewer to interact with the art and to visualize their own stories, making each work their own.
But Helene is not an archetypal artist. Her passions, besides teddy bears and Venya, include British synth rockers the Pet Shop Boys, orchids, architecture, travel and animals – she shares her life with four cats and her beloved dog.
And judging by her UK, US and European fan base, Helene Vasileva is a blooming talent to watch out for!