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Vladimir Konstantinov, the artist

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
Vladimir Konstantinov at work on a piece.

ROYAL OAK, MI – Vladimir Konstantinov’s career as a professional hockey player may have been abruptly ended over thirteen years ago, but his career as a professional artist is just getting started.

As a light snow fell in downtown Royal Oak last night, fans, artists, collectors and curious passers-by tucked into the cozy space of Gallery U and Boutique for a chance to see the former Detroit Red Wing’s debut exhibition of his artwork.

Forty-two framed and signed pieces—paintings, colored drawings, torn-paper constructions and other multi-media amalgamations—adorned the brightly-lit walls of the gallery. Many of the pieces featured curiously watchful animals—a bird on a branch amidst falling snow; a dog assembled from torn bits of paper; a penguin at sunset; a stark, lone fox staring up from the canvas—and all of the pieces seemed to speak to the simple wonders of life.

Any artist would have been thrilled by such a reception. Within a half hour of the doors opening to a line of people stretched down 4th Street, nearly all of the pieces had sold. The scene at the front desk resembled Sotheby’s more than a local gallery, and, although it wasn’t an auction—pieces were reasonably priced between $150 and $250—patrons hurried to claim the artwork that they wanted.

For Linda and Kathy Quin, a mother and daughter from White Lake, it was one of Vladi’s colorful fish that caught their eye. The longtime Wings fans found out about the show through the Wings’ Facebook page and acted quickly when they arrived at the gallery to take home a piece of art and get a picture with the former defenseman.

All proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, a non-profit organization that provides education, advocacy, research opportunities, and support groups to brain injury victims, their families and the people who assist them.

One of Konstantinov's featured paintings.

For guests who hadn’t been aware of Gallery U before, Konstantinov’s show was an eye-opener to the mission and creative enterprises of Universal Institute in Troy, a program that offers rehabilitation and living services for individuals affected by traumatic brain injuries.

As part of its focus on creative art-therapy rehabilitation, Universal Institute operates Gallery U, where clients not only have the opportunity to showcase and sell their creations to the public, but also to manage the storefront on a daily basis. 

Universal’s President, Adam Steinberg, made the trip from New Jersey to attend the show.

“As an organization, we try to create opportunities for people with disabilities, to expand the reach that society might have put up and allow people like Vladimir and so many people like him to reengage with the community,” Steinberg said of Universal, which has serviced the brain injury community since its inception in New Jersey in 1989.

A born-and bred New Yorker who knows East Coast team allegiances firsthand, Steinberg was amazed to witness the support that the community has for Konstantinov so long after his injury and retirement from the Wings.

“It’s very touching to see the connection that the people of Michigan have with the Red Wings—it’s amazing,” he said.

As the crowds that had swelled the gallery cleared out, only a few pieces of art were left without a small sticker indicating the piece had been sold.
In one corner, a lone burnt-red and yellow hedgehog waited to find an owner. The hedgehog was a favorite of Jen Shagena, who had come with her brother to see Vladi’s artistic prowess.

“I think this is absolutely amazing,” Shagena said. “The detail that he sees in the smallest things—it’s really, really cool.”

Before the siblings had moved on to the next wall full of Vladi’s art, a bright red sticker had been placed next to the piece. Sold.

Another piece of Vladi—forever in the hearts and minds of Wings fans—would make its way out into the world.
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