A Gallery Tour, Continued.

So here we are among the works by artists originally displayed as part of the Jack (or Knave) of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow. The notes for each painting are taken from the exhibition cards of the Courtauld Gallery, London.

Mikhail Larionov’s (1881-1964) work below was displayed along with Still life in a Major Key at the Golden Fleece exhibition in Moscow in 1910. The Russian avant-garde artists had an abiding interest in the union of music and painting.

Still life in a minor key, by Mikhail Larionov. (1909).

Still life in a minor key, by Mikhail Larionov. (1909).

This painting was in the first Jack of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow from December 1910 – January 1911. “The nude female bathers form a scene similar to the works of the German Expressionist group the Bruecke (Bridge). Larionov’s use of red-orange and green, opposite colours on the colour wheel, define the figures with a jarring, clashing force.”

Bathers at sunset, by Mikhail Larionov. (1909).

Bathers at sunset, by Mikhail Larionov. (1909).

Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943) returned to Moscow and painted this based on his impressions gained from his Parisian life among the French avant-garde. “The artist uses a radical style to depict a very traditional subject, giving the roses a monumental quality through his layering of petals and bright blocks of colour.”

Flowers, by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1913).

Flowers, by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1913).

Natalia Goncharova’s (1881-1962) series of harvest paintings appeared between 1908 and 1911. She imagines a scene of cypresses and pink mountains, and the women’s outfits are unlike those she usually depicted Russian paintings in. Apelsinia was a name she invented for her solo exhibition in 1913 in Moscow. “The work reveals her taste for the exotic and interest in the art of Paul Gauguin.”

Apelsinia, by Natalia Goncharova. (1909).

Apelsinia, by Natalia Goncharova. (1909).

Vladimir Burliuk (1886-1917) was influenced by Cezanne and Cubism. “He often fractured his paintings into interlocking irregular segments, as if translating the principles of stained glass onto canvas.”

Landscape, by Vladimir Burliuk. (1913).

Landscape, by Vladimir Burliuk. (1913).

Olga Rozanova’s (1886-1918) typical style of simple and energetic brushwork and bright colours is exemplified in this work, executed three years before her death. The playing cards theme was one she returned to throughout her life, “emphasising that her art was based on card games often played in streets, bars and funfairs.”

Queen of Diamonds, by Olga Rozanova. (1915).

Queen of Diamonds, by Olga Rozanova. (1915).

Innokenti Annenesky’s play Thamyris, The Cither Player (Famira Kifared) was staged at the Moscow Chamber Theatre to Alexandra Exter’s design, which incorporated traditional art of her native Ukraine and referenced ancient Greek friezes. “With their graphic clarity and arrangement of bold colours, Exter’s designs contributed to a rhythmic framework shaping the performance itself.”

Greeks (Costume design), by Alexandra Exter. (1916).

Greeks (Costume design), by Alexandra Exter. (1916).

This was a design created by Goncharova for the astronomer Magus in a ballet (Liturgie) that never saw the light of day. Here she displays her interest in Russian folk art, peasant embroidery and icon painting. She was at the same time beginning her fruitful collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.

Magus (Costume design), by Natalia Goncharova. (1915).

Magus (Costume design), by Natalia Goncharova. (1915).

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Avant-Garde Outing

The same day I saw the Popkov exhibition at Somerset House, I also nipped into the St Petersburg Gallery where there was a display of Russian avant-garde works. I took a few a pictures with my Moto G, and as you can see, the picture quality isn’t great.

The curators of this show (Russian Revolution in Art, Russian Avant-Garde: 1910 – 1932) focused on a major dichotomy of the modernist period – figurative vs non-figurative art. While artists, joined up in a multitude of movements, claimed that art was separate from the real world, they continued to investigate abstraction and rhythm, and created new colour and plastic compositions.

The exhibition has more than sixty pieces: paintings, drawings, craft and sculptures. There are suprematists and constructivists, ceramicists and non-objectivists. There is a St Petersburg circle, a Malevich circle, a Moscow circle. There even is a set of Kandinskys before that worthy legged it to Germany. The exhibition continues to September 20, 2014, so if you’re in London, do take a look.

Rayonist composition, by Alexander Bogomazov. (1914).

Rayonist composition, by Alexander Bogomazov. (1914).

Women in interior, by Sonia Delaunay. (1923).

Women in interior, by Sonia Delaunay. (1923).

Self-portrait, design for the exhibition catalogue's cover, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

Self-portrait, design for the exhibition catalogue’s cover, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

Rhythm, by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

Rhythm, by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

Rooftops, by Marie Vassilieff. (1915).

Rooftops, by Marie Vassilieff. (1915).

The Night Rider, by David Burliuk. (1911).

The Night Rider, by David Burliuk. (1911).

Design for cover of Exhibition Catalogue 5x5=25, by Liubov Popova. (1921).

Design for cover of Exhibition Catalogue 5×5=25, by Liubov Popova. (1921).

Construction ordinate according to different points of view, by Alexandra Exter. (1922-23).

Construction ordinate according to different points of view, by Alexandra Ekster. (1922-23).

Circles in a suprematist cross, by Ilya Chashnik. (1926).

Circles in a suprematist cross, by Ilya Chashnik. (1926).

Colour lines in vertical motion, by Ilya Chashnik. (1923-25)

Colour lines in vertical motion, by Ilya Chashnik. (1923-25)

Art Roundup – February 2014

Girl in football jersey, by A. N. Samokhvalov. (1932).

This month, there is news of  Russian art to appear in the Czech Republic. The National Gallery, Prague, plans to start a large exhibition titled ”Russian avant-garde, 1915-2015”. Advance notice, folks – it begins on April 24, 2015. A whole year to plan a trip!

Minsk has an exhibition of Russian portraiture at the Belarusian National Art Museum: “Witnesses to Time: The Portrait in Russian Art and Graphics of the 17th-20th Centuries”. Eighty-seven works from the museum’s collection will be on display; the exhibition runs till March 2, 2014.

In Tyumen, an exhibition of Russian religious art started in January at the Museum of Fine Art. Dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Romanov dynasty, ”Path of the Cross” displays over 350 works by Russian artists. There are icons, traditional pieces from the old Church, and paintings. The exhibition runs till February 28, 2014, after which it moves to Tobolsk.

And, in connection with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, there is an exhibition titled “Sport in Russian Art“. It is a virtual gallery, so you can view it from the comfort of your favourite browser with a glass of your favourite blood orange juice close at hand. There are 950 works to gawk at, so make sure you have a bit of time set aside.

Till next month’s round up!

The Bridge II

Continuing our theme of bridges, I must point out that there were several in that series of posts on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Please do take a look when time permits and the gestalt is here. Heh.

Fyodor Vasilyev (1850-1873), one of the Wanderers, is first up:

At the Sink, by Fyodor Vasilyev.

Here’s Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910) in Venice.

Bridge of sighs, Venice, by Mikhail Vrubel. (1894).

The Ukrainian artist Alexander Bogomazov’s (1880-1930) Impressionistic view of a bridge.

Bridge, by Oleksandr Bogomazov. (1908).

Some symbolism from the Lithuanian Mikalojus Čiurlionis (1875-1911):

Allegro (Sonata of the Serpent), by Mikalojus Čiurlionis. (1908).

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955) is inspired by the canals and bridges of Amsterdam:

Amsterdam: the market of iron, by Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva. (1913).

Symbolism once again with Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957):

Bridge in Kėdainiai, by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. (1933).

And to round this post off,  Alexandra Ekster (1882-1949):

Bridge, Sevres, by Alexandra Ekster. (1912).

Prams in Art!

Goodness gracious me. Parashutov’s yen for classification reaches surreal limits with a bunch of art works incorporating pushchairs and prams. I scavenge shamelessly.

Summer, by Lev Aronov.

Summer, by Lev Aronov.

Indian Summer, by Viktor Varlamov. (1970).

Indian Summer, by Viktor Varlamov. (1970).

Nikitsky gates, by Sergey Volkov. (1986).

Nikitsky gates, by Sergey Volkov. (1986).

Rusanovka, by Sergey Shishko. (1966).

Rusanovka, by Sergey Shishko. (1966).

Untitled, by Vasily Grigoryev.

Untitled, by Vasily Grigoryev.

Frida with pram: at the dacha, by Lev Zevin. (1935).

Frida with pram: at the dacha, by Lev Zevin. (1935).

On a walk, by Vladimir Boldyrev.

On a walk, by Vladimir Boldyrev.

Pokrov boulevard, by Aminodav Kanevsky. (1925).

Pokrov boulevard, by Aminodav Kanevsky. (1925).

Lives of the Artists VIII

In La Ruche, that beehive of the avant-garde in Paris, Marc Chagall was neighbour to the eccentric Chaim Soutine (Хаим Соломонович Сутин) (1893-1943). Chagall thought Soutine was pitiful, tormented, ‘a morbid expressionist’, and avoided his as much as he could. Soutine did little to endear himself to his colleagues: he never bathed, and even had a nest of bedbugs in his ear. Back in Vilna, he had beaten by the sons of a rabbi because he painted, Soutine once said. In La Ruche, he painted carcasses that he obtained from a local slaughterhouse, and spent so much time over them that they rotted in his room and blood drained out onto the corridors outside. It’s a legend of the time that Chagall once saw the blood, ran out of the studio and screamed, ‘Someone’s killed Soutine.’

In 1914, when Chagall was permitted to return to Russia, Soutine offered to sublet his room. Chagall refused, tied a rope across the front door and left for home. Nine years later when he came back, the rope was no longer there, the room had been ransacked, and the paintings he had left behind were all gone, as were most of his old avant-garde colleagues. And despite having sold nearly a hundred of his own canvases to a wealthy American, Soutine alone remained at La Ruche.

From Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.

Lives of the Artists VII

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.

Lives of the Artists III

In 1910, Marc Chagall was desperate. He wanted to go to Paris but couldn’t afford it. He was biding his time in Vitebsk, his birth place, and painting furiously. His girlfriend Bella was in town as well and posing in the nude for him. For their Orthodox Jewish families, this was unspeakably shocking. Chagall’s mother saw one of his paintings of Bella hanging on the wall. He wrote in his memoirs:

“What’s that?”

A naked woman, breasts, dark spots.

I’m embarrassed; so is she.

“Take that girl away!” she says.

“Dear little Mama! I love you very much. But … haven’t you ever seen yourself in the nude? As for me, I only look and sketch her, that’s all.”

However, I obeyed my mother. I put away the canvas and, in place of that nude, I painted another picture, a procession.

(From Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.)

Russian Artists on Israeli Soil – Iosif Kapelyan, Part 1.

Those who have been in Israel know that in this tiny country it is possible to encounter a large number of paradoxes, both natural and climatic, despite its location in what appears to be a monotype desert zone. Equally, it is possible to encounter people of the widest variety of spheres of life. That is to say, here dwell masters of the brush and chisel, as different from each other as the desert and the oasis. Among them too are the emigrants from the Soviet Union to the Promised Land who arrived here more than 30 years ago.

Now I want to introduce the readers of this journal, ‘The Seven Arts’ to several Israeli artists of Russian origin, and to investigate how much moving from one country to another impacted their art and understanding of the world.

I held conversations with them several times over different years. Even today they are active in their chosen genres. My conversations with them are purely journalistic, but when assessing the creativity of these artists, I refer to the famous sayings of the late Dr Gregory Ostrowski, universal art critic, graduate of Leningrad University, student of N. N. Punin and V. F. Levinson-Lessing, I. Ioffe and M. S. Kagan.

Iosif Kapelyan – Sublime constructs of thought and feeling

The artist Iosif Kapelyan was for two years a refusenik. During that period, until 1980, when he was allowed to emigrate to Israel from Minsk, Iosif was expelled from the Union of Soviet artists which he had been once so keen to join, and he was refused any employment. His colleagues denounced him, called him a Zionist, a traitor to the enlightened ideals of Communism. He also had family troubles. Still, these struggles didn’t frighten Iosif: he took his fate in his own hands and moved to Israel. Thirty years have gone by since then.

Iosif, what drove you towards Israel ten years before the mass emigration of the 1990s? Was it antisemitism? After all, you had the coveted membership of the Unions, which allowed you to freelance; before your emigration, you even had three solo exhibitions of your work. You were despatched on creative assignments, showered with awards…

Portrait of Tanya Kapelyan.

Belarus landscape.

– Imagine to yourself – despite the benefits you listed, I always felt like a second class person, as though my owners were throwing me a bone after having fed everybody else they deemed necessary. But more importantly, I wanted a creative and cultural freedom.

And you found it here?

– Not immediately, but eventually I did. I arrived in Israel as a realist-artist. My professional training stemming from my country of origin provided only directions towards socialist realism. And I hadn’t done badly in that genre. Here, though, it was completely rejected.

Where had you trained?

From the series ‘Ancient Portraits’: Big Family

From the series ‘Mystica’.

From the series ‘Mystica’.

In my childhood, at the Palace of Pioneers at Babruysk. I had a wonderful teacher, Boris Fedorovich Belyayev who had turned an ordinary drawing circle into a children’s art school. More than a hundred and fifty of his students became professional artists. After that I studied at the Leningrad Art School. Following my military service, I went to the Minsk Theatre and Art Institute in the Faculty of Graphics, where I studied another six years. My professional foundations, as you can see, are solid. Prior to leaving for Israel, I worked at a publisher as a graphic artist. I created several series: ‘War and Children’, ‘Cosmos’, ‘Partisans’, ‘Heroes of Sholem Aleichem’, a series of etchings ‘Ghetto’, ‘Proverbs’, and others.

– In what direction did you start to move having obtained the coveted freedom of creativity?

– It’s impossible to transform oneself overnight. Everything happens gradually. One can live in a free world and remain a slave. And to achieve inner freedom, one needs to grow up to understand this and to overcome oneself. I went to Italy, France, Spain. In truth, my new era began after 1987, when I travelled with my solo exhibition to Los Angeles. Until that point, I had created in Israel some fifty works in my series ‘Ancient Portraits’. In the USA, I visited museums of modern art, which made an indelible impression on me. After America, I wanted to wander among colours, and I began to try myself out in the decorative genre.

– And was this sufficient to provide you with an inner emancipation?

– No, it was not enough. I began to study religious and philosophical literature and my outlook began to expand. This can be compared to the changing view of a panorama as seen from the roof of a house as compared to that seen from an airplane. The view and visibility to the horizon are completely different. I constantly try out different, new things. My advantage is that I am not dependent on buyers, do not need hawk my work in the market. In fact, since my arrival here, I’ve been working for years as a graphic artist at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. So I am able to work on art and not worry about sales.

I experimented, creating collages and paintings based on them, then became interested in esoteric works. Esoterica – it is a detachment from the earth and a capture of cosmic space. I was engaged in purely abstract works, constantly seeking colour. I have works that emanate from the mind as well as those that emanate from the heart.

From the mind, perhaps various geometric constructions?

– Yes, but even in them is a particular merit. In art, as in life, there is a need for a sharp change of tack, just as one wants to follow up something savoury with something sweet. After geometric abstractions, I moved to the style of abstract impressionism.

And what would be your next step?

– I think I may have a new period of creativity. This would be realist works with a cosmic sensibility, a special sonority. You understand – a human being is a particle of space in which everything is interconnected. It is necessary to recognise the wider world that is intangible. Our dreams, visions, thoughts – these are not in the physical world, but they affect the physical environment, because the mind is spiritual energy that cannot disappear without a trace.

In the world there exists a balance of power, but unrighteous minds can disrupt this balance and cause an explosion, elicit catastrophes and earthquakes. The artist is answerable for a lot of things. What he sows around himself and how he sees the world – he answerable for this. Art is the bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds.

– Do you think your art carries such a positive charge?

– I don’t want to say anything about myself. The works of an artist, like those of an actor or musician or writer, are his life and inner world. You can’t hide anything in them and you can’t fool anyone with them. Everything is open to view. Let the viewers judge for themselves. I believe that I continue to realise those abilities that are given to me by nature.

I had this dialogue with Iosif Kapelyan after the opening of his solo exhibition in September 1999 at the Beit-Bialik Museum in Tel Aviv. At the same time was a released a lavish illustrated book titled ‘Iosif Kapelyan. Art, Reality and Mysticism’. The author of the book was the Israeli art critic Miriam Or. In the book were 115 beautifully executed colour reproductions as well as 1469 black-and-white illustrations. This book, in fact, is the chronicle of life and oeuvre of Iosif Kapelyan.

Miriam Or, an author of twenty books and monographs, had become acquainted with the works of Kapelyan, and was enraptured by their diversity and depth of content, sensuality and openness, realism and dreaminess. She wrote: ‘Kapelyan’s paintings are poetic, like songs: in them, lines and colours are used like rhymes and verse… In his art, Kapelyan demonstrates how volatile the images of the material life are, how they have no defined boundaries, while the process of mapping them requires the expansion of the horizons that contain the human experience’.

And this is what Dr Grigory Ostrovsky had written in the introduction of his monograph on the creative artist: ‘… This is an enormous world, absorbing into itself the prosaic quotidian life and the striving for astral heights, the materiality of the subjective environment and the magic of cosmogonic abstraction, the universality of spiritual values and the polychrome of living Nature. The artist combines the possible with the impossible, the manifest with the secret, and unifies them all with the power of vivid and original talent, sealed by the high culture of colour and drawing.’

[This is the first excerpt in a loose translation of Yevgeniya Laskina’s article ‘Russian Artists on Israeli Soil‘, Seven Arts, Number 4 (17), April 2011.]