Innocence lost

Richard Limber captures the effect of war in a portrait of a young Ukrainian girl.

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The image may be one that you’re familiar with. Four lifeless bodies lie facedown in the street, the aftermath of a Russian mortar blast on the streets of Kyiv, Ukraine. The shocking image, taken by a Pulitzer prizewinning photographer, was posted on Twitter and eventually found its way onto the cover of the New York Times. What makes the image even more heartbreaking is that, of the four victims, three were the wife and children of a man who only learned of their deaths when spotting the photo on Twitter.

One of those who was touched by the iconic photo is Island artist Richard Limber, who was equally moved by a photo of one of the victims in life. The image that accompanied the NYT story shows 9-year-old Alisa Perebyinis in a pink ski cap, with a look that suggests both the innocence of childhood and a seriousness and sadness that one would not expect in a child so young.

Limber was inspired by the story and images to paint a portrait that he hoped would communicate his thoughts on the ongoing war and the Russian attacks on civilians.

He has created a huge (7 feet by 3½ feet) image showing Alisa as a proud, beautiful young woman, imagining a future for the little girl lost to senseless violence.

“Like many artists I know, I was paralyzed artistically watching the news,” says Limber. “I didn’t know how to express myself. I was looking for a way to internalize this very depressing situation. Because I mostly do portraits, the images struck me really strongly.”

Limber, whose work often focuses on civil rights or political issues, hoped to find a way to create an image that would serve as a symbol of sorts, express a point of view, and evoke a reaction. “I wanted to create a simple image,” he says. “The tricky part is, How do you condense the narrative? The question was, How do you get people’s attention, and get them to think about all those futures that have been lost?”

Limber has managed his goal spectacularly. The resulting painting is a very powerful comment on the current situation without being overly dark or frightening. The colorful portrait (head and half-torso) takes up the entire canvas, while the black silhouettes of a series of mortars are superimposed over the figure’s costume, below her face. A ghost image, based on the photo of the 9-year-old Alisa, is placed in the lower right-hand corner. The poster-sized painting is a beautiful, haunting image, and a wonderful tribute to the loss of a young life.

In his artist statement, Limber writes of his efforts at “drawing the future viewer with a dramatic image that isn’t afraid of telling a difficult story, like listening to an engrossing argument, both engaging and dissonant.”

Limber tends to have strong opinions on the issues of the day. In front of his home studio on Upper Circuit Ave., he often hangs posters of portraits he has created of various subjects in the news, such as the late civil rights leader John Lewis and victim of police violence George Floyd. He invites people to visit his studio anytime, where one can view his portraiture, which runs the full spectrum from social issue subjects to ordinary people he has met throughout his life. His style is very contemporary, and he likes to experiment with different media as well as with interactivity and other interesting effects.

Limber plans to make posters of his latest portrait, and hopes to find ways to disseminate the image more broadly. He wants to use the painting as a way of reminding people of the human loss of the current war. “We’re having an internal debate in this country,” he says, referring to the blame game that seems to be a distraction from the actual tragedy unfolding. “Eventually everything is politicized,” he says. “Let’s rise above that.”

Limber’s studio is located on the grounds of his home at 184R Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, 200 feet down the driveway. The artist welcomes people to stop by anytime. You can arrange a visit by contacting him through his website, richardlimber.com/index.php, or just drop in. The painting will be on display in the front window of MV Salads for the next few weeks. 55 Circuit Ave, Oak Bluffs

1 COMMENT

  1. Are there any artists who would be interested in participating in a possible art show that would be oriented conceptually with the plight of Ukraine?

    The time is now.
    Richard Limber

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