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A Conservative Russian Lion With Real Mass Influence – The Painter Ilya Glazunov

Voice Of EU



How to best view the paintings:  Many of the pictures in this article are part of a high-definition slide show of 22 images which can be activated by clicking on most of the images in this article.  This will load the images in high quality, which may take a while with a slower internet connection, (we don’t recommend doing this on your phone unless you are on wifi) but it is worth the wait, because it allows one to examine the paintings in detail, which is especially interesting for the historical “passion play” series, as the one above this text. To go to the slide show directly, click here.  (The slide show will not work on mobile devices)

Alternatively, the Glazunov museum has a very comprehensive website in English, where one can view paintings in high-def.   At the lower right-hand corner of each image there is the option “View in Full Screen”. Click on this, and then again on the image, to see it in high-definition.

There is currently much talk of a renaissance of conservatism in Europe and America.  The phenomenon of a “New Right”, “Alt Right” and other “Rights” has been widely discussed in the New Yorker, Breitbart, Buzzfeed, the Daily Beast, and elsewhere.  

Serious discussion of monarchism, skepticism of non-European cultures and immigrants, table-turning historical revisionism, and much else has burst onto the scene in a way unthinkable just a few years ago.  Such are the fruits of the age of Trump. 

Western conservatives will no doubt find it interesting that these subjects are actively discussed in Russia, and have been for 30 years, since the crumbling of the USSR. 

One of Russia’s most effective, consistent, articulate, and profoundly conservative voices happens to be a popular painter.  That his medium is visual is significant because his ideas can theoretically cross linguistic barriers, although they have yet to do so, but they connect to millions of Russian in a way that written and spoken words never can. 

A subject of debate and fascination in Russia, a profile of him and his ideas is the subject of this article.

While filling out a form, under “profession“, Glazunov, arguably the most popular artist in Russia, impishly wrote in: “A frenzied whirlwind of service“

The answer speaks volumes about the hyper-active 86 year old, who is, in fact, far more than a prominent artist.  He is a unique phenomenon, straddling the worlds of art, history, politics, art collecting, social activism, and academia, wielding remarkable influence.

Russia Insider is primarily a political publication, and what will be of most of interest to our readers is the improbable fact that since the fall of the USSR, Glazunov has consistently been one of the most articulate and influential advocates of a profound political conservatism which harks back to another century, with the influence, resources, and ability to have his ideas seriously and widely discussed in Russian society.

For years he has been warning of the negative effects of immigration on Europe, which he believes is dying.  In 2003 this issue was the subject of a major painting entitled “The Death of Europe”.

Very well-known in Russia with an active presence in the media, and heatedly discussed by his fans and detractors, little has been written about him in English.  A Google search turns up a 30 year old short and completely inadequate article about him from the NYT in 1988, and little else of quality.  Not that Glazunov isn’t well known in Europe.  The reason most likely is that he speaks fluent French and Spanish, but not English, so his reach and relationships are far better known in these worlds, than in the Anglo-saxon.

Conservative with a capital “C”

To begin with he is a monarchist, and believes that democracy is a scam which would best be done away with.  He argues that Russia’s greatest achievements in every area – geographic expansion, economic growth, military glory, architecture, literature, Christian life, painting, decorative arts, population growth, public morality, international power, and harmonious relations within a highly diverse multinational empire, and with its many neighbors – all were attained under the rule of the Tsars, and that most of what happened since then has been an unmitigated disaster.

Furthermore, he believes Russia should return to a uniquely Russian system of social organization which reached its zenith in the mid-19th century called “Soslovie”. There exists no exact European equivalent, but the closest one is the medieval “Estates of the Realm”, the orderly division of society into various functions – knights, merchants, clergy, farmers, etc. 

The soslovie system gave social status, and sometimes hereditary titles to individuals, uniting them in a sense of civic pride and unity in service to their sovereign. Not limited to upper classes and nobles, it extended well into the middle classes, the Tsarist bureaucracy, and even the peasantry. Readers of 19th century Russian literature may well have wondered at the many titles carried by its diverse characters, like “Collegiate Assessor”, or “Provincial Registrar”. For an explanation of this unique system, see the Wikipedia entries: Social Estates in the Russian Empire and Table of Ranks

The main point for Glazunov, is that this mobilized the citizenry, gave their lives noble meaning and purpose, and allowed for harmonious cooperation while lessening the emphasis on competition and personal enrichment, the driving forces in a pure meritocracy.  He stresses that this is very different from the Marxist concept of classes, which emphasizes conflict between social strata, and very different from the Indian caste systems, which are more rigid and exclusionary.

He speaks out publicly again and again that Russia is fundamentally hamstrung because it lacks an elite which truly has the interests of the country at heart, as opposed to their own, and that only once that is in place, can the country truly thrive, as it did in the 19th century, for example. He believes this elite has to be titled nobility.

He looks down his nose at the United States, whom he sees as a parvenu nation of cultural bumpkins, culturally capable of nothing more profound than Mickey Mouse and held in the thrall of a crass consumerist obsession with money and commerce.

In contrast to the values of the marketplace, he calls for placing spiritual and political ideals in first place.  He believes that patriotism, service to society and its head, a monarch, are far more important than filthy lucre.

He is a pious Russian Orthodox Christian, embracing the church’s historical role as the essential partner in a ruling duopoly of temporal and spiritual power.

The eccentric musings of a man of the arts, not to be taken seriously?  

Actually no, he has an audience of millions who agree with him, and reaches people not just with his famous paintings, but in books, movies, TV appearances, and public speeches.

The head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, in a televised visit to Glazunov’s museum, at one point turned to the cameras, and explained that Mr. Glazunov deserves special praise, because “visual memory” is more powerful, emotional, and immediate than verbal or theoretical, and therefore Glazunov is worth a thousand writers and chatterboxes, because he has reminded the nation in pictures of the glory of orthodoxy, of Russia’s military and spiritual triumphs, of her greatness. 

Mr. Putin has also made a televised visit, as have dozens of other celebrities and dignitaries. Mr. Glazunov keeps a guest book for VIPs, and it contains a mind-boggling list complete with glowing compliments of famous names: prime ministers, movie stars, artists, museum directors, ecclesiastics, academics. 

Although he is known foremost as a painter, in fact the „Glazunov Phenomenon“ extends far beyond the walls of museums and exhibition halls. 

Let’s start with a partial list of the man’s achievements.

Public shows of his paintings have been far and away the most popular not only in the history of Russian art, but perhaps of any contemporary artist ever. Crowds have famously waited in lines for 8-10 hours, week after week, as visitors to his exhibit in enormous halls climbed into the millions.  These astonishing attendance rates occurred during the perestroika years, and the following decade, and were driven as much by his political message as the aesthetic appeal of his paintings.

Russians were eager for a new take on politics, and his ideas found a huge and enthusiastic response among broad masses of everyday Russians. His fans reach into the highest levels of government, which in 1997 created a large museum just to house the prodigious quantity of this work.  It stands in a grand building a block from the Kremlin across the street from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow’s equivalent of the Metropolitan in New York, or the Tate in London. 

As if this wasn’t enough, in 2014, Glazunov has been given an equally grand building for a new museum to house his mind-boggling personal collection of priceless paintings, icons, antiques, posters, books, and historical costumes.  The value of the collection is estimated in the hundreds of millions of $. He has no peer in Russia in his success as a private collector. He has christened the new museum “The Museum of ‘Soslovie’”, Soslovie being the system of nobility, social ranks and hierarchies described above, which he advocates a return too. It is a grand political statement:  “We need to bring this back.”

But we are just getting started.  

In 1996 he created a major art academy to teach ultra-conservative realism in painting.  (See below for more about his view that modern art is at best a sick joke, and most likely a satanic plot) Located in the center of Moscow in a prestigious old building, it has become an important force in the world of Russian art, churning out about 100 graduates per year whose artistic education is an exact replica of that of the Tsarist academies which were disbanded after the revolution. (See here for the academy’s website (only in Russian). If you scroll down the page you will see a photo gallery, and yes, they accept foreign students.)

The academy has published an art book featuring the works of its graduates, which are truly astonishing in their level of expertise.  Here is a link to a Russian internet store which carries it.

Glazunov has also had a major impact in the field of political activism.  In the 1960s he started a social movement to preserve architectural landmarks in Russia, which ended up having profound influence, saving hundreds of churches from destruction, and inspiring generations of writers, filmmakers, and many others, who embraced his ideas and developed them. Dozens of leading conservative Russian thinkers, writers, and political leaders point to Glazunov as a guiding light who opened their eyes to a new understanding of Russia’s past and future.

At the time, he called for the reconstruction of the massive Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russia’s largest cathedral, famously dynamited by the Bolsheviks in the 30s, calling the demolition an affront to Russian history and patriotism. The idea seemed outlandish at the time and was roundly denounced by the Communist authorities of the day, but 35 years later, in the year 1999, this is exactly what came to pass, with Glazunov again leading the public campaign for what many admit is miraculous.  

Today, Glazunov can gaze at the golden domes of the cathedral from the windows of his museum with ironic satisfaction. He also practically single-handedly created a painting genre he calls „Passion Plays“.  These are enormous canvases occupying the whole wall of a large exhibit hall, filled with sometimes hundreds of figures representing ideas from his political and historical thinking. These are the paintings he is most famous for in Russia, where they are wildly popular. Of Glazunov’s 9 monumental canvases of this size, 5 of them are of this genre. You can see them all in high-def here: (see technical note at beginning of this article). Of particular interest are “The Market of Our Democracy” (1999), a stinging indictment of the market reforms urged on Russia by the West, and “The Great Experiment” (1990), and equally blistering critique of the Communist experience in Russia. 

Glazunov is also an accomplished author who has collected his political, religious, historical, and social ideas in two massive volumes entitled „Russia Crucified“ (available only in Russian), which tells his life story and passionately argues his case for conservatism.  It is a fascinating and compelling collection of erudition on an improbably wide range of subjects – primarily history, but also political philosophy, archeology, literature, mythology, and religion. 

Type „Илья Глазунов“ into Youtube search, and you will find several full-length documentary films (all in Russian) recounting his remarkable life story, often with him as a lively and skillful chief narrator.  Furthermore there are dozens of clips of him appearing on news and talk shows, where he expounds at length on his ideas to eager interviewers. Watch him give speeches before crowds of admirers.  He is an accomplished speaker, entertainer, witty, urbane, profound, passionate, truly remarkable. 

And finally, to top it off, he was chosen to lead the restoration of the stupendous Grand Kremlin Palace in the late 1990s, the massive Tsarist palace which is the main structure inside the Moscow Kremlin. (Wikipedia) The palace was built in the mid-nineteenth century to celebrate the greatness of Russian autocracy, a fitting assignment for Glazunov, the convinced monarchist.

So art is only a part of the man’s life, and in the art world he is highly controversial, with many detractors. Critics say he is a mediocre artist, rather a skillful networker and politician who produces "kitsch“ which appeals to the masses, who became wealthy by collecting and trading art, then used his wealth and influence to have museums given to him.  His complete and utter dismissal of any modern art hardly endears him to the chablis and cheese crackers crowd, let alone the „installation art“ types, whose work he finds frankly preposterous.  

But his admirers are many and not exactly artistic ingenues.  They include many of Russia’s most respected writers, such as Alexander Prokhanov, Valentin Rasputin, and Vladimir Soloukhin (admittedly all arch-conservatives themselves), and many, many others.  But why rely on the opinions of others – we have tried to include a wide variety of his works in high resolution in this article. Judge for yourself.

But back to his deeply conservative ideas:

  • He thinks the masonic movement destroyed Russia, culminating in the Russian civil war, the destruction of the monarchy, and the massacres of Russians right up into WW2. To Glazunov, the masonic movement, and its course through Russian history, was evil’s most successful manifestation.

  • The Decembrists (a 19th century revolt by nobles, many of them inspired by masonry, seeking a constitutional monarchy which was foiled) deserved everything they got, and then some.   Detests what they represent.  Traitors and scoundrels.

  • Ivan the Terrible was a great sovereign, completely misrepresented by Russophobic western historians, starting with the moniker “Terrible”, which he wasn’t, not in the least.

  • He is fascinated with Russian icons (paintings), of which he has a staggering collection.

  • Slavs were a great civilization predating any European analogs.  Says it is complete nonsense that the Slavs „invited“ the Vikings to rule over them – more western lies.

  • Absolutely and completely thrilled that Crimea is again Russian.  He produces vast quantities of historical data and arguments proving that Crimea has been inhabited by Russians since the dawn of time, that the Ottoman occupation was a brief interlude, and that Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin rightly gave them the boot.

  • Obsessed with history, which is the subject of most of his paintings.  He emphasizes the importance of knowing and honoring your country’s history and accomplishments.  Tries to convey this knowledge in his paintings.  He likes to paraphrase Disraeli: “History is not the battle of classes – it is the clash of races and religions.”, and again “Ideological positions are always based on religious and ethnic foundations.”

  • The Bolsheviks were a murderous thugs who committed genocide against the Russian people on a scale without historical parallel.

  • He is very concerned about the demographic crisis in Russia – insists that this be corrected soon before it goes too far.  He recommends supporting traditional family values and encouraging families to have as many children as possible, 3-4 at the least.

  • Fascinated with old things, the beauty of old things.  An incessant collector.  Dismayed at the lack of respect for old beautiful buildings, churches, etc.  Believes they carry the soul of the nation.

  • The experience of Russia in the 90s was a genocide similar to the tragedy of the 1917 revolution. A complete disaster and atrocity.

  • In 2003 he warned that immigrants are descending on Europe and will destroy her unless they are stopped. Believes Europe is dying, that all hopes lies with Russia.

Glazunov’s views on this last point are fascinating and have clear historical and political origins. He begins by giving his definition of art, which he explains must consist of three things: 1.) It must contain an understanding of the battle of good and evil in this world, 2.) It must be devoted to showing the beauty of this world and the love which underlies it, and 3.) It must be aware of the beauty and mystery of the spiritual world. He quotes one of his favorite Russian artists, Vaznetsov who explained: “My art is a candle before the face of God”, and another of his favorites, Vrubel, who argued that the goal of art is to awaken the great possibilities of the human spirit.

Further he explains that the first practitioners of modern art were Communist revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century, many of them from Russia – Malevich, Kandinsky, etc.  After the revolution, these artists thought of themselves as the “Avangard of Communist Art”, as “Commissars”, whose historical role was to smash the old art, just as their counterparts in the political world were massacring the upper classes, and blowing up the churches, attrocities of which these Commissars of the art world undoubtedly approved. 

Glazunov argues that the art they produced can not be described as art at all, rather as anti-art, an effort to destroy real art. He states flatly: “The black square is not art”. He says that evidence that the new, communism-inspired art cannot be art is that it does not have a national character, claiming, as communism claimed, to be international, universal. Glazunov insists that all art has to be national, which accurately reflects the reality of the world, and it also is by nature, aristocratic, but that it should at the same time be democratic, reflecting the thoughts and values of the people.

He points out that it is a great irony that although the Communist Comissars of the political world have been relegated to the ash-heap of history, they still reign supreme in the museums and university art departments of the West, something he finds an abomination, because he equates them with the blood-thirsty killers of Communist Russia.

When asked who he considers examples of the last true practitioners of art, he names Mikhail Nesterov (Russia – d. 1942), Arnold Boecklin (Germany – d. 1901),  James Whistler (USA – d. 1903), and John Sargent (US/UK – d. 1925).   The impressionists – no, they don’t cut it because they do not reflect the reality of the world, which he stresses, does not mean that art has to be realistic. But the impressionists reflect the world not as it is, which is already moving away from art.  Van Gogh?  A madman, not an artist.

Glazunov argues that art existing separately from the real world is essentially a Satanic fantasy.

In person, Glazunov is animated, jovial, jowly, warm and generous, plying his guests with delicious Russian veggie pies, sweets, and gallons of tea, eyes twinkling, sometimes pounding his fist for emphasis, eyes flashing.

He starts the discussion with the announcement that we live in an age of stark battle between Good and Evil, and that if you don”t understand this, you understand nothing.

He give the impression of a man in a hurry, as if he urgently wants to warn the world of the error of its ways, a voice in the wilderness.

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Sonny Barger, founder of Hells Angels, dies at 83 | USA

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Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.
Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.Janet Fries (Getty Images)

Sonny Barger, the founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died on Thursday in California at the age of 83. Barger was the face of the biker gang that became one of the main counterculture movements in the United States in the 1960s. Barger’s family confirmed his death in a message on Facebook. “Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” the message stated.

Sonny Barger – whose real name was Ralph Hubert Barger – was born in northern California, and taught himself to ride a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It was an American-made Cushman scooter. From that moment on, he tried to only assemble motorbikes with parts made in the US, a task that became increasingly difficult as the world became more open to international trade.

In 1957, he founded the Hells Angels chapter in Oakland, California. This chapter was founded nine years after the first one opened in Fontana, in the same state. Barger was the national president of the Hells Angels, a group that became notorious for its links to violent and organized crime. Barger was arrested more than 20 times and spent 13 years of his life in prison for different crimes. In November 1992, for example, he was released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars for organizing to kill members of the rival Outlaws Motorcycle Club. When his parole came to an end in 1994, 700 bikers came out to celebrate the news.

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.
Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.

But the darkest chapter of the Hells Angels took place on December 6, 1969. That night, the biker members were hired as security guards at the Altamont Free Concert in California, where the Rolling Stones performed. Representatives of the band reportedly offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer in exchange for providing security. Members of the biker gang had worked without incident as security at concerts for bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But at the Altamont Free Concert, which brought together 300,000 people, the situation became violent. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, fights broke out in the audience. Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old concertgoer, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels after approaching the stage. The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, in which Barger admitted the bikers did not have the training to do security work. A few days after the concert, in a call to a local radio station, he said: “I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin.’”

The incident stained the image of the Hells Angels and Barger – who had the name Hell’s Angels Oakland tattooed on his right shoulder – struggled for several years to change the gang’s violent reputation. “Catholics probably commit more crimes than we ever thought of,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 after being released from prison on parole. “Probably politicians commit more crimes.”

Writer Hunter S. Thompson compared the biker gang to the student protesters of the 1960s, who paved the way for civil rights in America. “The difference between the student radicals and the Hells Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo,” he wrote in his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

The Hells Angels were one of America’s most striking subcultures, and their influence can be seen in many areas of society. In one of his books, Barger claims that Harley-Davidson – the motorcycle brand favored by the group – adopted the gang’s ideas into its models. Barger played himself in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, where he appeared alongside Jack Nicholson. He also had a small role in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.

Barger was a difficult character to define. He got up at 4.30am to feed his dogs and horses, then worked out for three hours, doing weights and going jogging. By 8am, he was on his motorcycle and driving down an off-beaten track. Unlike the stereotypical biker, he wore a helmet that covered his entire face. This was due to the fact that he had his vocal cords removed in 1982 after suffering from throat cancer.

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Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture

Voice Of EU



While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.

Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.

De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.

FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.
FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.Willie J. Allen Jr. (AP)

“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.

The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.

“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.

Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.
Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.John Raoux (AP)

The mystery of the cardboard box

But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.

Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.

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Ramón Estévez regrets his name change to Martin Sheen | Culture

Voice Of EU



At the beginning of the sixties, Ramón Estévez was desperate. His first steps as a television actor had gone well, but he felt stuck in that medium and wanted to get into theater and film. However, at the time, his name held him back: there were few successful Latinos in the United States. “Whenever I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, they answered me hesitantly when I gave my name, and when I arrived, I found the position already filled.” He said in 2003. And so, Ramón decided to create an artistic name by merging the name of Robert Dale Martin, the CBS network’s casting director, who had helped him in those essential appearances on the small screen, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estévez’s little sister Carmen recalls, “regularly appeared on TV.”

This is how Martin Sheen came about, and owing to his great talent, he triumphed first in theater and, later as an actor in the movies, notably: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and Wall Street. However, the identity of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez did not disappear: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage license)… and in the actor’s soul. Last week, in an interview with Closer magazine, he confessed that one of the great regrets of his life was his change of name. He speaks with pride of the obstinacy of his son Emilio, who kept it despite “his agent’s advice to change it”. In relation to his own decision, he reflects: “Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.”

Martin Sheen in 'The West Wing' reunion, last October.
Martin Sheen in ‘The West Wing’ reunion, last October.

Over time, Sheen recovered his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estévez Martínez, was born. His father was an immigrant who left Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916. He left with no Spanish, a language he learned on the Caribbean Island. In the early 1930s, he emigrated to the United States to a modest Irish neighborhood in Dayton (Ohio), where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.

Martin Sheen’s life has been profoundly marked by his childhood. His father worked at NCR Corporation, an industrial conglomerate that began manufacturing cash registers. Shortly after his marriage, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands where his first children were born. Sheen was the seventh of ten children (nine boys and one girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the family moved to the US. His left arm was clasped by forceps during birth, leaving it three inches shorter than his right arm. As a result of this, the character that Sheen interprets in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, puts on his jacket with a strange twist of the body. As a child, he suffered from polio which kept him bedridden for a year, and at the age of 11 his mother died. Thanks to the support of a catholic charity and his own father’s efforts, the family remained united against the distribition of children to orphanages or foster homes, a common practice at the time.

Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of 'Apocalypse Now'.
Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of ‘Apocalypse Now’.

He was the eccentric of the family: he decided to go into acting. Against his father’s objections, Ramón, the most reserved son only enjoyed the theater and decided to study acting. “You don’t know how to sing or dance!”, his father told him, to which his son replied: “You love westerns and in those nobody sings or dances”. “But you don’t ride a horse either!” was his father’s comeback. Despite this discouragement, he moved to New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean.

In the mythical episode Two Cathedrals of The West Wing, he explains how the character President Bartlet reflects the experiences of his own childhood and adolescence. Estévez/Sheen: a practicing Catholic and relentless campaigner against global warming, a man in favor of civil and immigrant rights, he was arrested several times during demonstrations outside the White House. His activism began when he was just 14 years old in a golf club where he worked. He led a strike of caddies, protesting against the club members’ use of bad language in front of children.

Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a "Fire Drill Fridays" protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a “Fire Drill Fridays” protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in WashingtonJOSHUA ROBERTS (Reuters)

And then there’s the Spanish context. Francisco Estévez did not teach his children Spanish, but the Estévez family went back to their roots. Francisco was able to return to his hometown in Galicia in 1967 (just as Sheen landed his first big role in In the Custody of Strangers), where he began building a house, while making regular trips back to Dayton. He would never see this house finished. He died in Dayton in 1974, and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who had died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up working as an English teacher at a school in Madrid, where she married. For years people in Madrid have bumped into Sheen during his visits to his sister. Carmen finished building her father’s house and inaugurated a river promenade dedicated to his memory. Indeed, she has kept the memory of the Estévez alive in Salceda de Caselas.

The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true

In the early years of the 2000s, Sheen, his son Emilio Estévez and his grandson, Taylor, walked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the walk he decided not to return to Los Angeles, but to remain in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by that experience, Sheen and Estévez made the film El camino (2010), in which both co-starred and the latter directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of El camino, a great success, and a faithful portrayal of his spirituality. During filming, at a lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos cathedral, Sheen explained: “I am a Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this movie. I have had an extremely happy life, with the normal highs and lows of a career. I have survived disease and my family is wonderful [his four children, including Charlie Sheen, are actors]… I believe in a church that does incredible work in the Third World. Other things, like some of the pronouncements from the Pope [at that time, Benedict XVI], are more difficult for me. I live my faith, and it is between God and I.” A few meters from Sheen and the journalist, at the long tables, was a strange group that didn’t not look like actors: “That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that my best childhood friend… I’ve invited them to come and have a good time with Emilio, Taylor [who worked as an assistant] and me”. Taylor Estévez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.

Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009.
Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009. Andres Fraga

Carmen Estévez says that for decades the family did not understand their father’s deeply Galician sense of humor, until they realized that for much of the time he was not being serious. This sarcasm was inherited by his son Ramón/Martin, and he made a display of this in Burgos. In response to a question about his career, he said: “With my resume full of bad movie titles, what can I say. I’m an actor and that’s how I’ve supported my family. But I’ve been in about 10 films that I can be proud of…” at which point he dropped his cup of coffee and blurted out: “See? For gloating over my career. Divine punishment”.

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