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How I Became an Artist

I called my condition:  "The unity of the world has fallen apart."  Previously, a flood of light and colors unified the world of painting and the real world.  It had been a world of Levitan everywhere.  Now everything had changed.  Of course, the changes didn't occur immediately, but somehow I experienced a catastrophic divergence between my acquired skills and my perception of the world...especially when I worked in nature.  I wanted to include in the picture not only what was in front of me, but also impressions of a passageway to a selected place.

This is how I described my condition:  "everything was visible and alive until the moment of my involvement - then what was living immediately curled up, turning into dabs of disgusting paint when I looked at the motif 'professionally.'"  This would happen from time to time.  I spent many hours and days in search of a motif and, as I began to draw, life invariably died under my glance.  I ended up rendering a motionless, depressing picture.

I began to "experiment," in order to find the means of overcoming this discrepancy.  Kibrik understood my state and didn't impede me.  I barely received my graduation diploma.  My struggle emerged from this state manifested in the search for support in the art of the early twentieth-century avant-garde.  My friends had similar experiences.  There was a need to communicate with the remaining artists of this trend, a trend that was repressed and not yet rehabilitated by Soviet official art.  We were convinced that it held knowledge, giving us the possibility of entering the "sacred realm" of art.

My friend and I were grateful for our meeting with V. A. Favorsky, R. R. Falk, and A. V. Fonvizin.  I was especially grateful to Favorsky.  In his art and philosophy, I found a base upon which I, invariably, would later rely.  In detail, and perhaps too naively and frankly, I described the significance of my conversations with Favorsky in my texts, Substitutions and Transformations - The Sequences and the Variations, 102 Sheets, 1981-1986, and my reflections, as mentioned before, were included in a two-volume work about Favorsky, published in Moscow in 1990.  Conversations with these artists, seeing their work, the endless discussions with friends, and the Tretyakov Gallery - all helped me to find my way in painting.

Before graduation from the Institute, one of my works was reproduced in the journal Youth, and was criticized as too complex and "artistic" in the press.  After graduation I made a linocut series of nine images titled Metro (linocuts printed on paper, 1960-1961), which I myself called Favorskist - as I similarly referred to my work from the late 1950s and early 1960s as Falkist, not cubist.  Cézannist Falk, but in a way foggy and shimmering, (Self-Portrait, 1960; Country, Spring (Blue), 1961; and Country, Spring (Green), 1961).

Upon examination by the Reception Committee of the MOSKh (the Moscow Department of the Artist's Union), the linocuts were referred to as too preoccupied with formal issues, so I remained a candidate for the Union for seven years.  Later, I became a member of the MOSKh as a book illustrator, together with Eric Bulatov.  At that time, Eric Bulatov and I only showed our works that were connected with children's book illustration.  I had become an illustrator with the assistance of Ilya Kabakov after a few attempts to earn a living in the graphic center "Izogiz" at the VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy).  Eric Bulatov and I worked together illustrating children's books as a team for thirty-three years.

Time not spent on book illustrating - approximately six months a year - was devoted to our personal work.  I wanted to investigate painting itself, as an instrument:  to explore its space, its relationship to surface and border, the energy flow in the picture, and the transformation of subject and space, using Favorsky's system as the basis.  Later, when I came across a transcript of Favorsky's lectures, I understood that in our discussions, he had set forth all his main ideas, although he, on principle, only spoke about things he had been directly asked about.

For the first time I saw in nature reflections of the light and understood the laws of energy in the white canvas during our trip, together with Eric Bulatov, to the North of Russia on island Anzer in the White Sea.

A House on the Island Anzer, 1965, is the first painting that I decided to sign as my own.   I consciously put aside everything and began to work on the interactions of the surfance-space in the canvas.  That was the beginning of my so-called "abstractionist period."  Five paintings, Space Compositions, 1968.  Now they are in the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (New Brunswick, NJ).  They were exhibited during the opening of the new wing of the museum in 2000.

I wrote about my understanding of the interactions between space-surface-light and depicted object in an essay that was included in a 102-page work (now it is in the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland).  The triptych, Horizontal, Vertical and Cross, 1988, illustrates interactions of an object with different kinds of spaces.  I permanently turn to the models of painting that I made in 1968 and which I continue to develop during 1970s.  It protects me from too much sentiment in my paintings and from stickiness with the object.  My dialogue with the painting is continued till now without interruption.

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