Since I was a child, it has been predestined that I would become an artist. I was barely four years old when my grandfather, Meer Akselrod, handed me some paintbrushes, paints and some big sheets of gray-colored paper. I did not go up against that: in a little while I was proclaimed a child prodigy; personal exhibitions were organized; my works were reproduced in Soviet magazines; I won prizes, was featured in some films.
It seems to me now that as a child I received the glory allocated for my entire life.
On weekends I was painting at my grandfather’s studio at Maslovka street. The studio was situated in a huge building, its corridors jammed with stretchers and sculptures. There were hundreds of studios in there. At the same moment of time, hundreds of artists were either working or drinking in their nooks. I remember that two of them impressed me at most: Alexander Tyshler and Belopolsky. Tyshler’s studio was full of tiny wooden statuettes: one was allowed to take them down from the shelves. Belopolsky had been working on a single painting for 20 years. It was a twenty meters sized “Fighters for peace”. Its scope was striking.
A smell of paints, which was deep-seated in the walls; my grandfather standing at the easel and humming a Jewish song; a freight elevator, slowly lifting me up to my grandfather’s studio: to another world, away from the hateful school – these were the things that shaped my destiny.
My grandfather died in 1970. He had been trying to “reveal” me and had been giving me full freedom of self expression. After my sessions with him, it was hard for me to study at a Soviet art school, which fettered one with emotionless drawing of plaster casts.
But I got lucky again. I found myself at a class led by Alexander Melamid – at present, a well known “sots artist”, who works together with Vitaly Komar. Alexander Melamid taught us to think about the conceptual essence of painting and to reflect on the psychology of creative work.
However, I hardly had time for my studies: the spin of teenage self-affirmation was twirling me.
Upon finishing school, I started attending private lessons by Evgeny Dodonov, an outstanding artist and teacher who spent half of his life at Soviet prison camps: he was sentenced to that because he had studied in the same class Lev Trotsky’s son had. Dodonov trained us in strict composition, exact choice of elements, formal clarity of a concept. Those days I was aspiring for conciliation; I was preoccupied with soft harmonious landscapes. Dodonov, however, encouraged me to become more active in my creative work.
In 1974, in order to defer my military service, I went to work for the Soviet Army Theatre. It was there that I became carried away by the theatre for a long time. Having decided to be a scenic artist, I entered the Moscow Art Theatre (MHAT) School. There remained an island of the old theatre “aristocracy” at the MHAT: famous old artists were teaching crazy bohemian youngsters. It was not only the “craft” – i.e. the skill of designing a scene for theatre performances – that I obtained there. It suddenly occurred to me that, just like the Creator does, I could build up worlds (even though these were just the scenic ones) and populate them. In 12 years I designed stages for 60 theatre performances, working with thirty stage directors, in twenty cities. I used to spend half a year working at various theatres, and for another half a year I would paint. Numerous exhibitions featured my works. I joined the Painters’ Union and the Theatre Union. Then the “Perestroika” began. It suddenly turned out one was allowed to put ironical and critical works on display.
The Soviet art became fashionable in the West. We found ourselves in empty studios: the paintings were being bought up wholesale and exported out of Russia. It was at the height of this prosperity celebration that I took a great interest in religious and Zionist ideas. I started painting on the Jewish topics. I resigned from the theatre. On January, 1, 1991, I became a new immigrant. I chose Jerusalem to live in. After the opening period of euphoria, I became aware of the tension inherent in the life here: the conflict between the closeness of the sky and the weight of the everyday; the loss of the artist circle of acquaintance; the slipping of the habitual cultural ground from under of my feet.
It suddenly became clear to me that, working on the religious subjects, one enters the kitsch zone; that I have to look for myself, the new one; that the tragedy of our existence has to be expressed; that I have to depict loneliness and silence, small towns in the desert, the walls surrounding us from the three quarters, the sea as the fourth wall, our destiny…
I was trying to achieve minimalist simplicity and, simultaneously, higher expressiveness; the precision of rhythms; the clearness of colors and the depth of their sounding. A year ago, after I realized that I had become a different artist, a new one, I brought an exhibition of my works to Moscow. I saw my old paintings which I had left there prior to my emigration. And I realized – nothing had changed; I had been trying to solve the same problems of plasticity. We move in a given circle, passing through the same stations again and again and forgetting about them. Recalling on the past at each circuit to come, we enrich our palette adding some previously used colors to it.