Valentina Kisseleva was never well-suited for propaganda.
"It did not go well with my style," she said, laughing.
That style, a curious merging of cubism and realism, is far too subtle to rally the masses and often too gently hopeful to arouse anything other than quiet reflection or a smile. Instead, after graduating from the Belorussian State Academy of Art in Minsk in 1977—a time, Kisseleva told me, when "the government controlled everything, including art"—she began creating posters for state-run radio and television stations, as well as murals for public buildings (more than 50 in all, she said). Some of her works were reprinted as postcards, which were distributed by the tens of thousands across the USSR.
Romantic Posters of the Brezhnev Era
Russian Cultural Center
2337 Bissonnet St.
"Some of the individual works were actually published or reprinted 100,000 times for state distribution," said the artist, who was born in Moscow and now lives in Houston. "I am still surprised by where they showed up."
Kisseleva noted that her art was produced during the USSR's so-called "Era of Stagnation," a period marked by economic depression and social disunity during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, who served as General Secretary from 1964 until his death in 1982.
"There were not very many opportunities for artists at this time in Russia," Kisseleva said. "So being able to produce posters was very competitive and this was very good money at the time when most people were struggling."
Many of Kisseleva's original hand-painted works are now on display at the Russian Cultural Center in conjunction with the center's current exhibition, Posters of the Gorbachev Era: The Sunset of Soviet Power.
Despite being subject to Soviet oversight at the time, Kisseleva said she remains proud of her posters, and that many were ahead of their time.
"This one reminds people of Banksy," she told me during a recent tour of the exhibition, pointing to a poster of a brick wall with a graffiti tank scrawled across it (see below). "The funny thing is he was probably not even born yet."