Mikhail Yakhilievich’s “Forty Years Later” project is inherently conceptual: it is not a pure thought barely illustrated by some “objects” that has been depicted, but rather a kind of a plastic solution, paradoxical and unexpected, which merges the works by Misha, the child prodigy, painter Meir Axelrod’s grandson, and those by Mikhail, a mature artist, into a new entity.
As a child he was living in Moscow; as a mature person the artist has been living in Israel, to which he immigrated in 1990. The project thus amalgamates the two creative periods separated by a 40 year gap.
I should mention that not everybody would dare to look into that abyss – to conduct such a risky experiment upon oneself. What if it reveals that the child’s careless spontaneous intensity and freedom of expressing his or her feelings have gone irrevocably? Or what if it becomes clear that the artist as a grown up person has nothing to do whatsoever with himself as a child?
Having by chance found a file containing gouaches he painted in Moscow as a child, Mikhail Yakhilevich ventures to juxtapose two myths about himself: the spectacular one, originating in the artist’s childhood, and that of the present day – the grown wise, tragic and ironic one. Yet both cases represent a kind of a poetic generalization: it is not only the author’s life, but also that of each and every one of us they depict. Indeed, everyone used to be a child, and everyone gets in touch with his or her childhood (or does not do so, which is meaningful as well), either going on with the themes set in those years or cutting them short. Yakhilevich has chosen to go on with them, reconsidering them and integrating them into a new context.
For Spinoza, a child reminds of a lunatic: he or she either cries or laughs. He hardly understands anything. The philosopher, however, strives for understanding. And still, already the romantics appreciated the child’s state of mind, claiming its priority over the grown up’s one. Furthermore, Heine argued that the body growth is accompanied with the shrinking of the soul.
In his project, Yakhilevich’s does not bring the two “myths” – those related to the child and the grown-up – into confrontation with each other. He explores them trying to find links and dissimilarities, to detect the lost and the obtained. And I believe he does so brilliantly.
The grown up artist excitedly takes up the “existential” themes that he, as a child, intuitively discovered and implemented in playful, vivid gouaches full of sunny carelessness: the seasons of the year, illness and health, nature and human elements, the town as a dream of a new life, communication between two people. The diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs, which combine the paintings made by Yakhilevich in his childhood with those drawn up lately are held together by the artist’s memory. It is the memory that integrates the time that slips by.
I would say that the grown up artist has managed to plastically and emotionally sophisticate the “nature” theme set my himself as a child. It was not only anxiety and sadness that he added to the child’s buoyant paintings, but also dynamism, intensity, as well as the refinement of color and composition. The new “cosmic” overtones are perceived as if they were a look from the future; the space of the painting is saturated with the living, “fluid” time.
The prevailing motif of the series is that of reflection. Here it becomes a metaphor which depicts how the memory functions – reconstructing the past and tying together different periods of life. Another facet of these “reflections” is represented by the artist’s self-portraits – incredibly fanciful, “carnival” ones in his child years and always a bit ironic when painted by the grown-up.
Everything has got mixed up, interwoven, inter-reflected: the childhood and the maturity, the early blissful dreams and the bitter disappointments of the later years; the past nativity and the present understanding, the child’s spontaneous giftedness and the grown-up’s refined artistry.
The conclusions seem to make one feel good: there have been losses, but there have been attainments as well. And all of these mixed together is what the life consists of.