Marina Sokolova was born in 1939 to a family of well known artists. She began her artistic training at the age of fourteen at the Moscow Graphic Arts School. Upon graduation in 1957, she entered the Moscow State Film Institute. Here she completed a six-year program of post-graduate study which included general training in painting and stage design and a thesis project in animation. Her teachers included such renowned icons of the Russian art world as Pimenov and Bogorodsky, placing her in the rich and tradition of Russian scenic art; the designs of such brilliant innovators as Alexander Golovin , Natalia Goncharova, Alexander Benois, and Leon Bakst created an image for the Russian stage quite unlike anything produced elsewhere. Marina Sokolova began her professional career in 1963 at the Soviet Unions famous Animated Film Studio, where she served as chief animation artist for major animated films. Although she achieved great success in the medium, Sokolova dreamt of working for the theatre. She realized her ambition in 1964, when she was invited to design the sets and costumes for the ground-breaking production of Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire de Soldat” at the legendary Bolshoi Theatre inMoscow.
Following her prestigious debut, Sokolova worked for every major theatre in the Soviet Union. Her resume includes such esteemed companies as the Moscow Art Theatre, the Kirov (Marinisky Theatre), the Malaya Opera in St Petersburg and the Bolshoi regularly relied of her talents. Her sketches of set and costume design reside in the permanent collections of the Tretyakov State Gallery, the Bakhrushin Theater Museum, and the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture a well as many others.
1967 Brought new dimension to Sokolova’s career in that she became known internationally. That year, Walter Feslenstein, the founder and Artistic director of Berlin’s Komishe Oper, came to Moscow to stage a production of Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Stravinsky Theatre. On seeing Sokolova’s work he invited her to deign costumes for this production. Later he asked her and her husband Valery Levental, who himself became Chief Designer of the Bolshoi Theatre to collaborate on several productions at the Komishe Oper- beginning a long and productive relationship.
The first such production was Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges” which opened to enthusiastic reviews in 1968. The following production, “Fiddler on the Roof”, assured Sokolova’s international reputation. She travelled widely, designing productions in Dresden, Leipzig, Dessau, Weimar, Warsaw, Sofia, Ankara, Budapest, Rome and Tokyo. During a career that spanned over twenty-five years, Sokolova created sets and costume for more than one hundred productions worldwide. Her paintings and theatrical designs have been exhibited in Galleries and international art shows all over the world, including the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and exhibitions in Great Britain, Italy, Poland and Argentina. Sokolova’s unique quilted wall hangings, created with her own technique, have also won much admiration and recognition. These intricately crafted fabric collages represent vivid expressions of Sokolova’s folk art aesthetic, and were shown in 1992 by Henri Gallery in Washington D.
The Museum of Contemporary Russia Art of Rutgers University purchased several for it permanent collection. Whether it is her renowned theatre designs, her applique quilts or her brilliant film animation, Marina Sokolova was a multi media artist, with an extraordinary range of talent that is her legacy today.
Marina Sokolova died in Moscow on October 29 th 1992. Her theatre productions are still running in Moscow; many have been performed more than 500 times.
Katya Levantal further notes on Marina Sokolova:
My mother never stopped. She could work 25 hours a day. Every inch of her studio was filled with paints, pieces of cloth, paper, cardboard, thread and other attributes of her artistic endeavors. It was a real artistic kitchen, where all at once preparations of numerous artist miracles were cooking, simmering and broiling.
Everything happening outside her workspace – be it the constant stream of visitors, household issues, even entertainment was of little interest to her. There were two categories of guests, those that needed to be entertained – taking her away from her passion, and those that automatically went to her studio, found themselves a corner amidst the artistic chaos, and didn’t get in her way. Needless to say that the first kind were an unavoidable evil , and the second a valued ally.
Just like her guests her work itself divided into two categories. The main work, and work after work. In respect to her main occupation of theatre deisgner, she was bound and committed. The work in the theatre took up most of her time and was a constant interest. But there was another kind of work, work that required a process of creation that gave her another unending pleasure. It was a type of dessert of her artistic supper.
The quilts displayed here are the materialization of the second kind of work. In the continuous application of their creation my mother found great joy. The challenge of finding the right cloth, ribbon or lace was a big part of the pleasure. The first stop in any city of the world were the local fabric stores. From every country, pieces of cloth of all sizes and calibers found their way into her studio. All of this was sorted and organized with great intoxication by a secret system known only to her. These were sorted into baskets and chests, bags and boxes to await their hour to –with time - become a cat, feather of a firebird, or a church dome in that unending tapestry which she painted, sewed clued and drew her entire life.