David Burliuk, one of the most exuberant figures of the Russian Avant-garde, came from a large creative family of artists and poets. David and his brother Vladimir belonged to a group of daring young artists who launched the Avant-garde movement in Russia. He collaborated with the artists Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Vassily Kandinsky and Mikhail Matiushin and the poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksey Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov. David's contribution to Russian literary Futurism as organiser and polemicist led to his appelation 'the father of Russian Futurism'. Whether marching down the street with his fellow Futurists in absurd clothes, his face painted with primitive symbols, or participating in the scandalous shows of the 'Jack of Diamonds' group (1910-1917), Burliuk was always at the very source of creative development of the Russian Avant-garde.
Burliuk actively promoted Russian Futurism in Europe. He participated in Munich's 'Der Blaue Reiter' (1911, 1912) and exhibited at Der Sturm gallery in Berlin (1913) and at the Parisian 'Salon des Independants' (1914). His articles 'A slap in the face of public taste' (1912) and 'Wild Russians' (Die Wilden Russlands, 1912) brought the iconoclastic ideas of the Russian Futurists to the attention of a wider circle of Western artists and critics. As a painter Burliuk was influenced by Western modernism, but his original painterly manner developed alongside the oeuvre of the most eminent figures of the Russian Avant-garde - Kandinsky and Larionov. Burliuk applied his creative talent to various artistic fields including performance art, interior design, publishing and book illustration.
During the tumult caused by the First World War, the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War, Burliuk travelled extensively in Central Russia, organising exhibitions and lectures promoting Avant-garde art. Following his recovery from a serious bout of rheumatic fever in Vladivostok, Burliuk travelled further east and arrived in Japan in 1920.
Newly equipped with artist's materials that had been in scant supply in Siberia, Burliuk experienced a prolific creative period and found Japan receptive to his talents. His arrival and subsequent collaborations with peers including Victor Palmov (1888-1929), had a profound influence on Japanese Futurism. 'The First Exhibition of Russian Painting in Japan', organised by Burliuk, showcased Futurist works by artists including Tatlin and Malevich, and was shown in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
During the winter of 1920-1921, Burliuk and his family travelled to the Ogasawara Islands, approximately 1,000 km. south of Tokyo, where he painted his series of South Sea Islanders including the well-known 1921 composition 'South Sea Fishermen', gifted by the Société Anonyme to Yale University Art Gallery. It is likely that the present picture, Saipan Kiss, was painted during this trip.
The exoticism of the location, heightened by Burliuk's use of warm and vibrant hues in Saipan Kiss, is tempered by the tenderness of the lovers whose voluptuous curved contours are framed by the draping corregated leaves. Reminiscient of Gauguin's Tahitian scenes (fig. 1), the lovers here are almost like a modern Adam and Eve in a tropical Garden of Eden.
Following his return to Kobe in 1921, Burliuk exhibited his recent work which was feted in the press and admired by the public; the proceeds from some 200 works enabled Burliuk to buy passage on the SS Empress of Russia for his family to New York where he settled in 1922 and was to embark on yet another chapter in his artistic career.
Swiftly establishing himself as a leading figure in the artistic circles of New York, Burliuk's work was admired by many of the most influential patrons of the day including Katherine Dreier and Dr Christian Brinton. The brothers Max and Arthur Granick were avid art connoisseurs who, over the years, acquired a significant collection of works by Burliuk; the present oeuvre was one of the highlight's of Max Granick's collection.
We are grateful to Kyoji Takizawa, Curator at Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, Tokyo, for his assistance in cataloguing the present work.