Monday, December 13, 2010


6 x Mishka Ziganoff
4.25" x 5.5" each
marker on colored paper, 2010

The photo of Mishka Ziganoff, apparently the only one in existence, appears on Google Images either cropped at the top or cropped at the bottom, none showed the full photo. The character of Ziganoff in the images of which the chin was cut off appeared more sympathetic than those in which the forehead was cut off. In these images Ziganoff also appears leaner than with the reverse crop. Intrigued and puzzled by why I interpreted the same image so differently I did a little experiment: I drew the face several times, starting with one or the other cropped variety, and investigate how it would influence my act of drawing it. I would investigate the physiognomy of Ziganoff's face. I soon found out that beside the different croppings that influence the interpretation of his face several other elements contribute to the assessment of the character Mishka Ziganoff as well. Some interpretations are subjective, some objective, others are plain old stereotypes. Knowing a bit about the cultural history of Mishka Ziganoff certainly influences how I depicted the person. This is what I know: He was Russian, born in the late 19th Century in Odessa, Ukraine. Immigrated to the United States (possibly via Italy) in the early 20th Century, recorded his Koilen in New York City in 1919. His heritage is either Gypsy or Jewish, or both. Now, at the risk of being a biased jackass:

  • The person appears heavier in the pictures in which his full chin is shown. It changes the smile into a full laugh. In Russia heavy means healthy, in America the opposite. In my native Holland a big person epitomizes the (hard to translate) term 'gezellig' (joyous, cozy). The drawing center right looks like a 'gezellige dikkert'.
  • I noticed that when I had either "Jewish" or "Gypsy" in my mind when I was drawing, I indeed managed to bring out the stereotypical characteristics of each. (I wouldn't be able to tell you what these are exactly save for the "Jewish nose".)
  • Seeing all six quick little drawings in a row the differences are obvious while at the time of drawing them I thought each time I was drawing the proportions right and captured Zigonoff's likeness. Even in the first one, the most awkward portrait drawing, center left, appeared fine to me at the moment I drew it...
Apparently the awkwardness lies in its relationship with its neighbor...
That's a good enough assessment in a discussion on character interpretation for right now...

    1 comment:

    1. mr van boekel. your description of my grandfather is about 95 percent dean on. my father didn't tell me alot about my grandfather. my grandpa died before i was born.and my father died three years ago. but you are right he was part Jewish and Russian(Gypsy). and you are not the only who uses
      Physiognomy . it something that was passed down to me. he was a kind giving person with a big heart. who loved music and family. thank you for the great description, and your generous details it made me feel better to a little more about my grandfather (poppo). Paulina Tsiganoff. i am verklempt. shalom.