A Feeling of Ascension. A Monologue about Aaron April

Dmitry Zhilinsky

Article: 
ARTISTS ON ARTISTS
Magazine issue: 
#2 2008 (19)

The solo exhibition of Aaron April at the Tretyakov Gallery coincided with the 60 th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, where the artist has been living and working for nearly 40 years.

A superb painter and graphic artist and an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, April presented works highlighting the complex evolution of his art. His oil and acrylic paintings and watercolours are a key part of the artist’s biography, “self-portraits” of sorts, witness to the conflicts he has experienced in his lifetime, to his states of mind and reflections. It documents an uphill path to be ascended to reach the “Promised Land”, and the heights of spirit and craftsmanship.

20 years ago Ilya Kabakov in his distinctive style imaginatively and aptly summarized the essence of April’s art: “...Complex, profound pictures with many layers of meaning ... That which is at the depth lives long and that which is on the surface has been created instantaneously and this is the reason why the strange and painful link forms itself between the two varieties of time, the one that is forever and the one that is today...”

Aaron April’s art, which in a comprehensive philosophical fashion synthesizes present-day realities in the context of the historical development of our civilization, presents to the viewer a complex narrative of the birth of the artistic image. His paintings and watercolours trace paths that unite one with the mysteries of the universe, and the spiritual, moral and aesthetic values of humankind. They are luciferous and multicoloured, symbolical and realistic at once. The brush touching a canvas or paper turns the traces, the clots of paint into a living, fluid fabric sparkling with colours, into an energy of feelings and meaning, into a full-voiced and selfcontradictory picture of the time and human passions. April’s works sometimes resemble commandments and parables, at other times, metaphors and grotesques; they reflect the artist’s inner world, his philosophy of life, his credo.

I feel a closeness to Aaron April because he found his “image”. I feel a closeness not to the painter even, but to the creator. He creates things! Although, had we not known each other personally, I would probably think differently about his works.

I remember when we talked Aaron mentioned (that was back when he lived in my studio) that he didn’t like to be pressured. He didn’t want to listen to anybody, to look up to anybody, to take a leaf from anybody’s book. He himself is the creator. I, for one, used to listen to the advice of my teacher Vladimir Favorsky, to his words of wisdom. The judgment of a master whom you respect both “uplifts” and disheartens.

Aaron was reluctant to take a leaf from anybody’s book. And he didn’t! He could get along without looking up to anyone. He is a very clever person, and there is no denying that. His art is free of guile. Both his sculptures and paintings have “images” which, to be honest, are absent from today’s art. Image is either present or absent. There are people for whom a whole life is not enough to understand, while some others grasp a lot at 20.

The thing is that Aaron’s works “have images”. I figured out for myself how you should treat this modern art, this “image-lessness”. This is art “without image” — that is the translation of the word. The worst thing that can happen is that image is absent. But Aaron has image in all his works! Now they have coined a very convenient word, “art”. And forgot the [Russian] word “iskusstvo” (art). They never say it. They are ashamed to. For “iskusstvo” is like religion, like faith. If a state loses faith, it falls apart. We lost a lot with this “devolution”. We lost tradition.

Aaron likes aestheticism. Whatever you say, aestheticism means a picture marked by some incompleteness. His “Reflection” is a good work. Lots of superb watercolours. He often traveled to Paris and made many watercolours there.

Surikov is said to once have said, “Even a dog can be taught to paint, but the art of painting is something quite different”. But he said that in a dispute, whereas we pick it up as a slogan, which is utterly wrong. Drawing is the basis of the study of art and ancient history. Drawing is very important. Whereas the art of painting is relative. As in the case of April, it emerges by itself.

April has many paintings focused on Biblical subjects. These are big pieces. He still sticks to image thinking. Many people, especially people of our generation, visited April’s show. They came to seek out and to see this image. April has often exhibited in Europe, but this does not mean much for our audience.

I like Aaron’s “Siberian” pieces, his portraits. Everything in his art is charged with meaning; there is nothing accidental. A stranger whose sole idea about art is that “art must be comprehensible” will have difficulty giving Aaron’s art its due. His art is for people who think! For people educated in religion. For people who like “the present”. Take, for instance, the “Allegory of Dissociation.” A powerful piece.

I have known Aaron for 50 years. We studied together, and traveled as interns together. His parents lived in Pushkino. He loved them a lot. When he was young still, he was sent to India by the Union of Artists. That was a time when it was possible already to dream of leaving Russia. And I remember him saying, “I swear I will come to the Promised Land!”

In Russia he learned Hebrew. The state of Israel was only newly formed then. And no sooner had the first wave of immigration appeared than he left for Israel. He took his father with him. His mother had died by then, here in Pushkino. Over there, it was quite difficult at the beginning. Aaron did university teaching. His father lived in Jerusalem. And when Aaron left the house, his father, already an old man, would stay at the door waiting for him.

His native country, Russia, treated him very harshly. He was descended from Baltic Jews. After the liberation of the Baltic states, he was exiled to Yakutia as a non-reliable individual. Later his family lived in Tomsk. He made many sketches and drafts there. We were friends. When he had nowhere to live, he lived in my studio in the Yugo-Zapadny district in Moscow. He painted a lot. For instance, “Execution” (1960) was created in my studio. This is a very powerful piece, a very good one. No naturalism, pure tragedy. I respect Aaron. Of course I argue with him sometimes. I do not have the faculty he has — that of dwelling on things accidental. He can do that. In the 1960s he produced realist pictures, which, stylistically, are something I feel closer to. But aesthetically, I believe, his recent works are the best.

It is hard for me to understand his works stylistically. I have a materialistic set of mind in life as in art. But some of Aaron’s works, especially those focused on the history and life of the Jewish people — you want to look and look at them, to feel, to get to know and to understand them.

Interview by Maria Fedorova

Illustrations

The Last Flight. 1982
The Last Flight. 1982
Oil on canvas. 94×120 cm
The Rape of Europa. 1978–1987
The Rape of Europa. 1978–1987
Oil on canvas. 94×120 cm
Women Listening to David Singing. 2006
Women Listening to David Singing. 2006
Watercolour on paper. 23×34 cm
The Appearance of the Bride. 2004–2005
The Appearance of the Bride. 2004–2005
Watercolour on paper. 70×90 cm
Lot and His Daughters, IV. 1993
Lot and His Daughters, IV. 1993
Watercolour on paper. 25×36 cm

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