Rusian-born French Modernist Painter
"The artist must penetrate into the world, feel the fate of human beings, of peoples, with real love. There is not art for art's sake. One must be interested in the entire realm of life."
"Color is all. When color is right, form is right. Color is everything, color is vibration like music; everything is vibration."
"The habit of ignoring Nature is deeply implanted in our times. This attitude reminds me of people who never look you in the eye; I find them disturbing and always have to look away. "
"The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep."
"Changes in societal structure and in art would possess more credibility if they had their origins in the soul and spirit. If people read the words of the prophets with closer attention, they would find the keys to life."
"In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love."
"After completing my work I thought, as has been agreed, that it would be shown in public as a series of my latest things. The management will agree with me that I can find no inner peace as a painter until the ?masses? see my work etc. It turned out that the things (the murals) had been put into a ?cage?, as it were, where they can be seen at the very best by (if you will forgive me for saying so) Jews at close quarters. I like the Jews a lot (there?s enough ?proof? of that) but I like the Russians as well and some other nationalities, and I am used to painting serious things for many ?nationalities?."
"Art seems to me to be above all a state of soul. All souls are sacred, the soul of all the bipeds in every quarter of the globe."
"But it doesn?t frighten me, because I studied in France, thank God, and I know of no artist in history who was not ?literary? when it came down to it. Not a single one. And even if they don?t appear to be, I know of none and you at least don?t recall them, because there is nothing to recall.. ..Sometime or other I?d like to see a ?pure? artist, but I didn?t even find one in France. Obviously the trouble is that one approaches painting from the other side, so that the word ?sujet? conceals the point of the thing. Yet even the most beautiful and ?emptiest? sujet (an apple, a grape or any ?non-figurative painting?) doesn?t help if there are no foundations, either innate or acquired through hard work...Why don?t we say clearly: ?That is freedom, and this is commitment to the subject? and ?to each tree its berries ?, but let it be a tree and not a donkey."
"But my knowledge of Marxism was limited to knowing that Marx was a Jew, and that he had a long white beard. I said to Lunatcharsky (the political communist commissar for Education, 1918, fh) ?Whatever you do, don?t ask me why I painted in blue or green, and why you can see a calf inside the cow?s belly, etc. On the other hand you?re welcome: if Marx is so wise, let him come back to life and explain it himself?. I showed him my canvases."
"But perhaps my art is the art of a lunatic, I thought, mere glittering quicksilver, a blue soul breaking in upon my pictures."
"At present there is an extremely exaggerated formation of groups around ?trend?; there are 1. Young people following Malevich and 2. Young people following me. We both belong to the left-wing artistic movement, although we have different ideas about ends and means. Obviously it would take too long to talk about this problem now? But there is one thing I will tell you: Although I was born in Russia - and what is more: in the ?settlement territory?? ? I was trained abroad and am all the more sensitive to everything that is taking place here in the field of art (the fine arts). The memory of the splendor of the original is much to painful for me."
"Back in the days (a later reflection on his early Parish years, fh) when I was in Paris in my studio in ?La Ruche?, through the partition I heard two Jewish emigrants arguing: ?Well, what would you say? Wasn?t Antokolsky a Jewish artist? And Israel?s? And what about Liebermann?? The dim light of the lamp lit up my picture, which was upside down (that?s the way I work ? so consider yourself yourselves lucky!). As morning came, and the Parisian sky started to brighten up, I had to laugh about the futile comments of my neighbors on the fate of Jewish art: ?You two wind-backs can carry on ? but I?ve got work to do."
"I adore the theater and I am a painter. I think the two are made for a marriage of love. I will give all my soul to prove this once more."
"I am out to introduce a psychic shock into my painting, one that is always motivated by pictorial reasoning: that is to say, a fourth dimension."
"I am working in Paris. I cannot for a single day get the thought out of my head that there probably exists something essential, some immutable reality, and now that I have lost everything else (thank God, it gets lost all on its own) I am trying to preserve this and, what is more, not to be content. In a word: I am working."
"I do not believe that scientific aims serve the cause of art well. Impressionism and Cubism are alien to me. It seems to me that art is first and foremost a condition of the soul."
"I set to work. I pointed a mural for the main wall: Introduction to the New National Theatre. The other interior walls, the ceiling and the friezes depicted the forerunners of the contemporary actor ? a popular musician, a wedding jester, a good woman dancing, a copyist of the Torah, the first poet dreamer, and finally a modern couple flying over the stage. The friezes were decorated with dishes and food, bagels and fruits spread out on well-laid tables. I looked forward to meeting the actors who passed me: ?Let us agree. Let?s join forces and throw out all this old rubbish. Let?s work a miracle!"
"I sometimes have the impression that I have been born, between heaven and earth... the more I work the more I tried to align these paintings with a distant dream."
"If a symbol should be discovered in a painting of mine, it was not my intention. It is a result I did not seek. It is something that may be found afterwards, and which can be interpreted according to taste."
"If I weren?t a Jew (in the sense in which I use the word) then I wouldn?t be an artist, or at least not the one I am now."
"If Russian painters were condemned to become the pupils of the West they were, I think, rather unfaithful ones by their very nature. The best Russian realist conflicts with the realism of Courbet. The most authentic Russian Impressionism leaves on perplexed if one compares it with Monet and Pisarro. Here, in the Louvre, before the canvases of Manet, Millet and others, I understood why my alliance with Russia and Russian art did not take root. Why my language itself is foreign to them. Why people do not place confidence in me. Why the artistic circles fail to recognize me. Why in Russia I am entirely useless... In Paris, it seemed to me that I was discovering everything, above all a mastery of technique? It was not in technique alone that I sought the meaning of art then. It was as if the gods had stood before me? I had the impression that we are still only roaming on the surface of matter, that we are afraid to plunge into chaos, to shatter and overthrow beneath our feet the familiar surface."
"In exasperation, I furiously attacked the floors and walls of the Moscow Theatre. My mural paintings sight there, in obscurity. Have you seen them? Rant and rave, my contemporaries! In one way or another, my first theatrical alphabet gave you a belly-ache. Not modest? I?ll leave that to my grandmother: it bores me. Despise me, if you like."
"In response I am sending you some pictures which I painted in Paris out of homesickness for Russia. They are not very typical of me; I have selected the most modest ones for the Russian exhibition."
"In spite of everything, there is still no more wonderful vocation than to continue to tolerate events and to work on in the name of our mission, in the name of that spirit which lives on in our teaching and in our vision of humanity and art, the spirit which can lead us Jews down the true and just path. But along the way, peoples will spill our blood, and that of others."
"It?s only my town (Vitebsk), mine, which I have rediscovered. I come back to it with emotion. It was at that time that I painted my Vitebsk series of 1914. I painted everything that met my eyes. I painted at my window; I never walked down the street without my box of paint."
"Listen what happened to me when I was in the fifth form, in the drawing lesson. An old-timer in the front row, the one who pinched me the most often, suddenly showed me a sketch on tissue paper, copied from the magazine ?Niva?: The Smoker. In this pandemonium! Leave me alone. I don?t remember very well but this drawing, done not by me but by that fathead, immediately threw me into a rage. It roused a hyena in me. I ran to the library, grabbed that big volume of ?Niva? and began to copy the portrait of the composer Rubinstein, fascinated by his crow?s-feet and his wrinkles, or by a Greek woman and other illustrations; maybe I improvised some too, I hung them all up in my bedroom.."
"My grandfather, a teacher of religion, could think of nothing better than to place my father ? his eldest son, still a child ? as a clerk with a firm of herring wholesalers, and his youngest son with a barber. No, my father was not a clerk, but, for thirty-two years, a plain. He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands? Sometimes my father?s clothes would glisten with herring brine. The light played above him, besides him. But his face, now yellow, now clear, would sometimes break into a wan smile."
"My hands were too soft.. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars that would allow me to discover the meaning of life."