When you talk about someone, it is better to start with his grandparents, parents, with his kind of growing and childhood. In Michele’s case, his story is so romantic that it may even appear to have been romanticized. Zina, young and matronly, loves painting, she attended an Art school in Moscow and then, following the advice of her Academy teacher, leaves to go to Italy were she aims to follow the lessons of a famous Master in Rome. So she departs with eight trunks and her lady companion. She takes some days holiday and Portofino is recommended to be a place of great beauty. As she was waiting for an interpreter in the hotel hall, she meets a journalist who was actually supposed to be in London for an international political meeting. A telephone call from the secret services had exonerated him from attending, because of a too dangerous situation and so he had departed from Switzerland by car, an Isotta Fraschini and had arrived in Portofino. And here starts the idyll between the young Russian and Zina, an union that produces the three magnificent brothers.
One of them is Ivan, Michele’s father. He decides to become a pilot in order to see and paint the Earth from the sky and so follow his mother’s passion for paintings. That is why, starting from his childhood, his father takes him around different museums in Italy and in Europe to meet personally some of the most famous artists. In this way he sharpens his taste and his sensitivity and whenever he shares his impressions with his father Ivan, his father is surprised by the sharpness of his gaze.
So he starts expressing himself passionately through the use of colours and he starts drawing on every kind of material he can finds, on wood, on an exercise book, on a pieces of paper. He will carry on doing this all his life, continuing once he starts working as a graphic designer, too.His childhood was marked by the discovery of ruins of the second world war in the historic centre of Milan, which were still standing after so many years. Since he was living close to them, he often tried to run away from home to wander between the rubbles and collect small finds. Also the antagonism between him and the elder brother, his mother’s, aunt’s and grandmother’s favourite, leads him to close himself in his own world, that gets richer and richer, deeper and passionate. Anyhow a melancholy world that is very well depicted by his father in the two portraits he dedicates him in those years. As a child, Michele used to create rather cubists clothes made of paper and fabrics for his sister’s dolls, his playmate. Growing up he keeps on being reflective and meditative and spends whole days rowing on the Lake Como, fishing and then throwing the fishes back into the lake.
Ritratto dipinto dal padre Ivan Ketoff
Once he completed secondary school his life radically changed and he entered the world of work as Iliprandi’s graphic assistant (one of the major Italians Art directors in the sixties). Soon after, he was called by Vogue not only to be a graphic designer, but also for the creation of Vogue Man. In the middle of the sixties he lived a very socialite life and had a lot of success among the aristocratic women in Milan because he was considered being pretty unprejudiced. Nevertheless, he still remains true to himself always reserving himself a space of silence and loneliness taking a glider flying licence and in this way used to spend as many hours in the sky, as soon as he could. He left Vogue because he could not follow its Russian rhythms, working during the night and sleeping in the day. Since he was very keen of Jazz, he then left for New York following his heroes Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and other young jazz musicians. He travelled coast to coast via different means of transport. In San Francisco in a public place at the end of a lively evening, suddenly, he improvised playing the piano, which he had not played before. The owner, seeing the success he obtained, offered him wages to play in the late evening. Michele, quite astonished and incredulous accepts. For some time he follows the exciting life of the American “beat generation”, but his travel period ends in the East when he goes to Vietnam. Here he gets fascinated by the lifestyle, by the Eastern serenity, even during difficult historical periods. He discovered, even if only superficially the Taoism Philosophy and the teachings of “effortless actions” (Chinese Wu-wei) light up an interest he will go deeper into later on. These theories stoke his conception of life, which was already somewhere between the typical western and the Eastern one, having Russian origins.
In the seventies he goes back to Italy, opens up his own atelier and starts several interesting partnerships with Agnona, Missoni, Rinascente, Omsa and others. In those years he worked as Art Director for Popular Photography, the first gallery and magazine of Photography only. In the nineties, at the age of 45, he decided to leave his brilliant career as creative designer in order to start a new work phase that he defined as “self-therapy”: daily painting in the form of a diary on notebooks.
In the nineties he started a completely different life, a constant and daily work of self-analysis getting denser and denser, by means of writing through images on books that he called diaries or small books where he couldn’t and didn’t want to tear off any page. Any line he drew had its reason to be. He created hundred books more or less between the end of the eighties and the year 2000. The production is reach in themes and contents: many characters, half animals and half human beings. Lots of self portraits, that are so entitled are landscapes instead, animals or emblematic figures for his own world. Some are intense images as devils for example, but also angelic abstract forms that he entitles “il y a aussi des Anges”. The titles of the diaries are always surprising and are always important and meaningful as the drawings and paintings itself; full of humor, poetry and without being conditioned.
At the same time during those years he decides to spend his life together with the person he had been loving since he was sixteen years old, even if there had been other beloved during his life, that had been incredibly satisfying and serene.It is his partner who spurs him to beat the laziness of staying in the same place and to leave the town for many months. This radical change in the environment activates a real transformation and so, at the beginning of the 20ties, he starts his contemplative phase, leaving definitely the diaries and the paintings.The quantum physician Carlo Rovelli’s states that art is about opening ourselves to the world with new eyes and hence the aims of all 3 sciences, also for his “Science of Nature”. In Michele’s opinion it is :to enter into Nature. He did so by living like mystics do, even though he didn’t like to be appointed as one, as a hermit and he didn’t like this definition either, since they were living isolated in woods, in a natural park, at the seaside. Eating every other day, reading hundreds of books, lighting fire with woods he used to collect and cut. Hours and hours of silence, listening to the sea with devotion and breathing the salinity.As a matter of fact, Eckart Tolle, who has a physical education but is mainly a famous spreader/ popularizer says: “When you listen to the sound of the ocean and you become conscious (of the awareness ) where that sound is happening, we can talk about a spiritual practice. Looking at a tree in quietness, to agree with anything that is more than just a simple practice, is an exemplar way of living, is a freed way of living.” By putting into place the Taoism teachings of “effortless actions”, that doesn’t mean passivity, and the “surrender theory” which doesn’t mean weakness but spiritual strength, gave him the chance to jump to a higher level of his existence. For Michele it seemed to be easy to say Yes to that kind of life, simple and essential and at the same time also privileged.To say Yes in the hospital after various months spend in “white coma” is to say a profound yes to Life but also to Death…
During these exhibitions nothing was on sale, they took place in FAI’s (National Trust of Italy) fascinating locations, as installation in the Church of the Torba Convent or as books exhibition in the Winds Tower of the Masino Castel.
Many paintings were donated to charity auction sales, as Sotheby’s is used to do for different donations events (together with well known artists).
He worked with different techniques, from acrylics to oils colors, pencils and nails polishes.