Alexander Aizenshtat: An artist’s way

Moscow born and bred, Alexandre Aizenshtat was occupied in arts consistently only in his childhood and youth. He apprenticed with famous aquarellist and painter S.P. Skoulskiy, he lived in the very heart of old Moscow. It is important to note, that the Skoulskiy’s creativity was linked with the big art tradition of the masters of “Jack of Diamonds” (the group founded in 1910) and with an apprenticeship with Robert Falk, representing this group. Besides, the young painter discovered the world of new and unusual for Soviet spectator art in the renowned halls of Pushkin’s Museum of Fine Arts, which he visited quite often and even copied some works, so Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, and Picasso could be called his mentors.

However, our author’s real spiritual way directed him to another sphere: he emigrated to Israel in 1974 and vow himself to service of God, changing into religious Teacher. The return to painting happened not so long ago, just a few years ago, when Aizenshtat, the founder of the Moscow Jewish Academy, took again paintbrushes and paints. A similar way, full of asceticism and spiritual searches, was carried out by many well-known masters of painting, so that their names are firmly included into the art history.

We know, that the painter’s family was far from art. The history of this
family, that went through trials of the revolution, the Civil and World War II, seems to be similar to others, but, nevertheless, is remarkable for some bright members. It is known, that one of great-grandfathers took up a prestige position of a merchant of the first guild, so he has overcome the Jewish pale and lived in Moscow. The other great-grandfather was a rabbi, one of the most outstanding expert on Talmud, famous rabbi Rabinovich (Itschak Jacob), till now the tradition keeps memory about him. The grandfather – Isaac Aizenshtat was born in Baltic region, lived and died in Moscow, although the biggest part of his biography was linked to the Eastern countries. He studied mathematics and physics in France, lived in Italy and Spain, spoke eight foreign languages, besides, was a Marxist
and a student of a Party school in Capri and even taught math to Maxim Gorkiy. Alexander’s uncle – Samuil Aizenshtat was an eminent “red professor” was well known sociologist and criminalist, he translated the work of Stalin to Hebrew, enthusiastically propagandized the Soviet Union and it’s ideology in Israel. This person has played quite important role in Russian history. He was a leader of revolutionary-socialist organization “Poale Zion” (“Zion workers”) during the years of Nikolay II reign, took an active part in October Revolution 1917. In 1919-1921 he worked in the Roumyantsev Museum (now the Russian State Library in Moscow), where the famous Schneerson library was delivered on his initiative, he was one of the first people who studied and described the rarest books and manuscripts from this collection. After the emigration to Israel in 1950 he established the publishing house “Likud” and headed up the League of Protection of The Arab’s Rights..The artist’s father – Yakov – was a lawyer and advocate, illustrious graduate of the law faculty of Moscow State University, was a front-line soldier during the Great Patriotic War and even a secretary of an army’s court. The artist’s mother – Raisa – was a linguist and philologist, a teacher of German, she was an expert in the history of Russian and foreign literature, and seemed to support the love for literature in her son.

The relation with the religious tradition in this family was lost in Soviet years, as well, however, as for millions of nationals, so the turn of young Alexander to the faith could look as real miracle that happened in the very heart of everyday routine. When Alexander was sixteen, he accidentally found an old shabby Bible and started to read it; from the Bible he understood that the Jews had played an important role in the mankind’s history, as the main part of this book was the history of Jews. This “discovery” became a real revelation for a young man from a Soviet family, and mass refusal of Jewish people from their original belief was comprehended by him as a tragedy, including even trials over the Torah, that took place in Moscow in 1929.

This conflict and historical injustice made Alexander to emigrate to Israel in 1974, when twenty-two years old young man found himself abroad. Just here, on the land of forefathers, he turns back to Faith. Not immediately, but through a range of ordeals – serving in the army, farm work in Kibuttz, living in an exotic old town Safed in the north of Israel.

Situated in the mountains, the town was covered with snow in winter, and an imposing panorama of Genisaret lake was seen from the slopes. The tradition of studying and interpreting of Kabbala was settled in the local community from ancient times. Picturesque surrounding of Safed and beautiful nature of the Kibbuttz, with it’s citron gardens urge to get back to the painting, but the local gallery owner wants to buy just vulgar “pictures”, made for general public. It seemed that there were no conditions for art, but Alexander kept on painting and did not interrupt his work in travelling and hardships.

The real turning-point occurred during one-and-a half year serving in the army, when Alexander became true religious, turned out to be in two worlds – in the world of Torah and in the world of art.

The attitude to visual art in Judaic tradition is far away from that absolute one that we got used to. Paying the priority attention to a text, the tradition doesn’t struggle with figurativeness, but denies idolatry. That’s why any Aizenshtat’s painting is intelligent, it is kind of message, parables and even homily. Avoiding excessive narration, his painting is notable for it’s plastic strength, for it’s powerful artistic message, and, paradoxically enough for a modern secular person, exclusive modesty of the author, who is avoiding enthusiastic opinion manifestations to the works created by him. An artist, who praises his creations and sees some higher sense in them, seems strange to Alexander. For our master there are other values – first of all, a person, a family, apprentices and that community work, which improves the world around.

The artist is close to art and at the same time far from it, the painting is only a part of his big work, that’s why a painting can’t become something that is higher than the absolute idea of the Faith. The tragic story of Bible master Hiram, who decorated the Jerusalem temple and became proud of his creation – is an evidence of a specific attitude of Judaism to an art that never raise a creator “to the heavens”. The Aizenshtat’s painting “The Blind Musicians” tells us about it, it’s characters don’t hear anything besides music, they are not only blind, but seem to be deaf as well, reserved inside themselves (although at the first sight it could seem to be a Bruegel’s interpretation of a famous Bible parable). A powerful expression of ochreous tones, an expressive, almost relief molding of the surface, a monotonous, simple rhythm, the disposition of figures – all this gives the plastic arrangement to the idea, stated by the artist.

The Aizenshtat’s paintings are the triumph of Rembrandt’s coloration, changed by a metaphysical light, descending to an elusive reality of the world. This is a monochrome poetry of subdued autumn shadings and an intense burst of blue, red, green, yellow – indicating only verges of being. A stained-glass shining of bright hues make us to recall about special vision of their creator, the servant of God, mentor and philosopher (the veil hiding the mystery of being is not transparent for everybody). The Aizenshtat’s cycles of paintings are like flashes of light in the cinema – they reveal the narration, the thought about a man, his place in the Universe, showing us the mysticism of everyday life – the signs of predestination of the being. These cycles, sometimes up to couple of dozen pictures each, turn into some kind of text, “stone words”, which form the Teacher’s parables: “The Hands”, “The Pictures from Childhood”, “The Carnival”, “The Dolls”, “The Zodiac Signs”, “The Flowers”, “The Spectrum of Life”, “Urban Traffic”.

Our artist is similar to the chaplain from F. Kafka’s novel “The Trial”, who preaches in an empty cathedral for only one man. That was a preach about some Gates of Knowledge, “Gates of Law”, which are hidden with a rough covering of reality. Kafka is a literary favor of Aizenshtat. The evidences of his interest in Kafka are numerous sketches of favorite writer’s book covers and drawings – masterly graphics, made by a pen and ink in a delicate Rembrandt’s manner. The small drawings, which artist always did, in the days of hardship and travelling, and of spiritual ascending, long time before his return to the paintings. Same as Kafka, formulating “The Law of Life” in words, our artist shows it by plastic means.

The Russian literature is important for the artist, especially F. Dostoyevsky, picturing the image of a city and being imprisoned in it’s depths man as full of contradictions and conflicts drama, presenting a man as miserable outcome of the city and his victim. Among poets he marks out O. Mandelstam, many painter‘s creations are dedicated to him. The artist is especially touched by his last poems, mirroring vagabond life and tragic anticipation of death – the Old Testament drama of prodigal son, who keeps on looking for something, longing for godsend…

The series of paintings “The Flowers”, as the seasons, as the steps of a man’s life, the steps of raising, brings us to another cycle of paintings – “The Spectrum of Life” (2009), where the color, transformed by an idea, change them into brightly shining stained glasses of imaginary, non-material home of soul, which each of us built during his life. The poems – parables often accompany the paintings, they grow from seemingly stable everyday routine they show beauty, burdens and illusoriness of reality in front of the One, who created this world.

“The Pictures from Childhood” (2010) – there we can guess vain engagements of adults, wasting time to no purpose and neglecting their mind. “The Dolls” (2009, 2011)? No, not child’s toys, but rather marionettes, manipulated by some dodgers and puppeteers. “The Masquerade” (2010, 2011)? No, not historical Venetian feast, but a hypocritical one, when the face turns into a guise, the real soul is masked. “The Tramps” (2012)? No, Not a social problem, the sociology is foreign to our artist. But the idea of a metaphysical loneliness of a man, wandering not in the world, but in life, searching for God – as the Bible parable about the prodigal son, known to us, for example, from the famous Rembrandt’s painting.

The series of paintings “Urban Traffic” presents modern city as a natural force, where a single person is diffused, there are just colored whirlwinds, waves, dynamic vertigoes of strokes, large divisionist panneaus, where a chaos of modern megalopolis opposes the world of nature, full of harmony and order. In tense tones of local spots of color are similar to the flows of lava in the chaos of the city labyrinth.

The complicated philosophical text, offered by the painter, has a considerable artistic power. His perfect composition skills, strong coloring, powerful drawing, often tending to simplification – by specific expression of a line, which conveys a character with a single stroke, for instance, in the series of paintings “The Hands”, where unique plasticity of a gesture tells you more about a person, then his face.

The easel painting was a pariah for a long time, but now it’s coming back triumphantly into the course of the artistic process, confidently proving it’s urgency and importance in the way, that the development of the modern culture without an easel paintings seem just impossible. In the era of installations and performances, brave and impetuous pursuits of conceptual artists seem end up with the colorful world of artistic individualists. Alexander Aizenshtat’s way in the art is not marked by that straightforwardness and unambiguity, proper to the standard artist’s biographies. This is a way of life, it shows us all it’s turning points, it’s highlights and downfalls, the true milestones of destiny and faith.

translated by M. Shmeleva

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