Vitebsk, of course, is part of the heartland of the Russian avant-garde, given the large number of artists who came from there. Think of Chagall and Malevich – both Vitebsk types – and big rivals of each other. Yeremei Shkolnik (who grew up in Vitebsk during the time their visions of art were competing) remembers seeing their exhibitions. At the time (1918-1923), he was only a child but already training at Yuri Moisevich Pen’s studio. Pen had been Chagall’s teacher as well.
Especially of interest in the institute among us kids was the display of the works of the students from Malevich’s studio. It used to be that the students would bring out a big white canvas on which would be painted a red or black square. They would stand or hang the canvas in one or a second or a third location; the students with serious mien would then gaze at the square and argue under which circumstance that square looked better or suggested a great sense of movement.
The viewing of works by the students of Chagall’s studio was very interesting. I particularly remember one display. On large canvases, almost life-size, were shown the same nude woman with a guitar. What amazed us was that the nude, the guitar and the background were all painted green. It was as though everyone was looking at nature through green glass. (Much later, I understood what was the problem of colour that was being addressed by the display.) I also recall that the drawing of the nude model with the guitar was accomplished realistically.
Translated excerpt from Yeremei Shkolnik, ‘Vitebsk of my youth‘, Our Heritage, № 75-76, 2005.