Vasily Kamensky

Born: 1884, near Sarapul (Udmurtia)
Died: 1961, Moscow

Painter, writer, poet, playwright, aviator. Father of Alexei Kamensky. Born on the River Kama on a steamer captained by his father Gavriil Serebrennikov (1884). Grew up in the village of Borovskoe in the Ural Mountains (1884–89). Moved to Perm to live with an aunt after losing both parents (1889) and studied at parish and secondary school (1889–1900). Travelled round the country with a theatrical company (1902), but gave up acting for writing on the advice of Vsyevolod Meyerhold (1903). Worked as a railroad clerk and printed poems in local newspapers (1902–06). Sentenced to prison in Nizhnyaya Tura for organising a strike of railway workers (1905). Visited Sebastopole, Constantinople and Tehran (1906) and settled in St Petersburg (1906). Invited to edit the Spring magazine (1908), where he published Futurist poems and discovered Velimir Khlebnikov. Studied painting under David Burliuk (1908) and worked in a Pointillist style (1909). Joined the Hylæa group of Futurist writers and artists and contributed to the Trap for Judges miscellany (1910). Travelled to Paris to study aviation under Louis Blériot, returning to Russia via London, Rome, Vienna and Berlin (1911). Bought a Blériot XI monoplane, but gave up flying after crashing into a swamp near the Polish town of Czestochowa (1911). Bought a plot of land on the River Kamenka near Perm, where he designed and built his own manorhouse (1911–13). Moved to Moscow (1913) and embarked on a Futurist tour of Russia with David Burliuk and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1913–14). Published the Tango with Cows collection of ferroconcrete poems (1914) and the novel Stenka Razin (1915). Lived in Tiflis, where he read his poems on horseback in a circus (1916–17). Opened the Poets’ Café in an old laundry on Nastasinsky Lane in Moscow (1917–18) and acted in the film Not for Money Born (1918), based on Jack London’s novel Martin Eden (1909). Elected to the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Solders’ Deputies (1918) and founded the Union of Poets (1918–29). Captured by White Guards while working with the Red Army in the Crimea and imprisoned in Yalta (1919). Wrote the novel Pushkin and d’Anthès (1922), memoirs (1931), historical dramas Yemelyan Pugachev (1931) and Ivan Bolotnikov (1934) and the poem Yermak Timofeyevich (1940–47). Donated his estate to the local collective farm and moved into an empty house in the village of Troitsa in Perm Region (1932–51). Suffered the amputation of both legs (1944–45) and left paralysed after a stroke (1948). Lived in the south of Russia (1951–56) and Moscow (1956–61). Died in Moscow and buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery (1961). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1909). Contributed to Impressionists (1909), No. 4 Futurists, Rayonists, Primitive (1914), Exhibition of Pictures of Left-Wing Tendencies (1915) and 0.10 Last Futurist Exhibition (1915–16).

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