By Nick Pelling 

Seaside towns in the rain can be forlorn places, but when I ducked into Kino on Sunday lunch time
I was stunned by the sense of simmering fun in the place. A combination of the Sunday concerts and the brilliant new brasserie Parlour, is proving very popular and demonstrates – if we didn’t already know it – that Kino-Teatr remains the off-beat heart of downtown St Leonards. 

The Kino has been offering its remarkable combo of art, food, music, film and more since 2014, but now, post pandemic, it is back with even more. The brains behind this operation is husband and wife team, Russell Baker and Olga Mamonova. Russell is an acclaimed print maker and painter (his haunting paintings can be seen in the gallery) but it is Olga who gives the place its distinctive Russian flavour. 

Her life story is intriguing. Educated in the late days of the Soviet Union, including the vertiginous years of Glasnost, she studied Philosophy and History at Moscow State University. She met a young Russell in Moscow (wearing his one and only smart suit) and they came to England to make their way as artists, art collectors and exhibitors. For a while they ran a gallery in London, but on discovering the old Curzon cinema site in Norman Road they took a leap of faith. Olga started a second degree at the University of Sussex in Russian and East European studies and began to collect Russian art – and the Kino is now home to much of that extraordinary impressionist collection. 

CREDIT: Rod Webb

In her book, 20th Century Russian Art, Olga wrote that Russian impressionism is a “secret garden” in the art kingdom of which most people have barely heard. If people associate modern Russian art with the angular awkwardness of the revolutionary aesthetic, impressionism is seen as the preserve of bearded French men in floppy hats. But Olga has done a lot to show that Russia had its own tradition of outdoor painters in search of sunlight and, with Russell, helped people re-think their notions of Soviet art and propaganda. 

They are very excited about the coming programme for the Kino in September. The quietly explosive comedian Stewart Lee is coming to take part in a Q and A session about one of his favourite films, Andrew Kotting’s Gallivant – apparently a road movie like no other. Then the Kino becomes the hub for the Hastings Literary Festival, which includes a discursive open forum with the writer Monique Roffey, whose book, The Mermaid of Black Conch, won the Costa Book award in 2020. At the end of the month it hosts the virtuoso Irish pianist, Fiachra Garvey, who will be playing Nocturnes by the great Russian composer Rachmaninov. On top of that, the Barvard Bar continues to provide a platform for anyone with a passion for, well, just about anything. 

It is hard to imagine anywhere with so many different experiences to offer, not the least of which is a lovely setting for just a glass of wine and a chat. Olga and Russell have undoubtedly created a unique space for the arts – even the art of just sitting around. The Kino offers a wonderful peculiarity and yet it seems utterly perfect for St Leonards. Even in the rain. 

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