Emerging from Peter's Shadow, Igor Ustinov Breaks the Mold as a Rising Young Sculptor

updated 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

He shows great originality, which must be curbed at all cost." So said a teacher of Peter Ustinov when he was a lad at London's Westminster School. Fortunately, Ustinov remained unfettered and went on to become the protean man he is at 61—a star of stage (including three Broadway productions) and screen (some 40 films) as well as author of 21 plays, two novels and an autobiography (1977's Dear Me). Now another uncurbed Ustinov is emerging: At 26, Peter's Paris-based son Igor has sung an opera duet with his dad for a TV special aired in Europe, written and illustrated a children's book, and launched a New York video art firm. But these are sidelines. His forte: bronze sculpture.

Bronze is an expressive but expensive medium in which an artist's financial success can literally be measured in the size of his work. In three years the slim, faceless human figures that are Igor's trademark have grown from eight-inch statuettes fetching $1,000 or so to four-footers commanding as much as $11,000. He has been shown in 10 North American and European exhibitions, among them a one-man affair in Geneva last fall at which nearly all the 40 pieces were sold.

Peter is delighted. "I'm never surprised by anything artistic that Igor does," he says. "If he had decided to become a financial wizard, I would have wondered where he got it from." For his part, Igor won't even guess how much his patronymic has to do with his success. Having the Ustinov name, he quips, is "like having a large nose. You live with it and don't know how it would be if you didn't have it."

Igor is Peter's son by his second wife, French-Canadian actress Suzanne Cloutier. (The year after their 1971 divorce, he wed his Paris-born current wife, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans.) Igor's paternal grandmother was a painter; his paternal grandfather was a journalist. Two sisters (one by Peter's first marriage) are actresses; the third is studying jewelry design. Says he: "We're all artists because we don't like to work—which means we have to work harder not to work."

Born in London and raised in Los Angeles, Paris and Switzerland, Igor attended "about 20 schools and a few universities in four countries." Because he moved around so much, his adolescence was "rough, no fun" and lonely, he recalls. "I existed through drawing," he says. "It distinguished me from my classmates, like being a good athlete when you are shy."

Certainly, Igor was no bookworm. "He had the same lassitude about school that I did," says Peter. But Igor was determined to graduate, as his father hadn't. Having run away from Switzerland's elite Le Rosey at 13 and subsequently dropped out of another school, Igor finally got the equivalent of a high school degree by a correspondence course. He then entered Paris' École des Beaux-Arts, where the famed sculptor César became his mentor. Ustinov started with massive plastic figures, but turned to bronze. He says it is "noble" and "offers endless possibilities."

Though his father paid for the casting of some of his early works, Igor wanted to make it on his own. In 1975 the struggling artist arranged to trade lessons in English (one of his five languages) for dinner with a 26-year-old Parisienne named Clementine Belen. A romance ensued, and so did the birth two years ago of their child, Clara Ustinov. "She's got a lot of character," says the delighted grandpère.

Little Clara's parents remain unwed. "What does it matter?" shrugs Igor. Clara commands the bedroom of their small Paris flat; Igor and Clementine bunk in the living room. Though he's by no means threadbare financially, he owns only one suit and says he'd never trade his active life in art and Paris' café society for salary. "I used to tell people I wanted to be president of GM," says Igor, "but now that they're having trouble, I'm glad to be a sculptor."

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