Article for the catalogue «Others», Meir Akselrod, graphics
«Proun» gallery, Moscow, 2010
Future artist Meir Akselrod was twelve years old during the early of the First World War, when his family with other Jewish families was banished from the small jewish town Molodechno in Vilenshina. Government feared that jews would cooperate with germans by reason of linguistic affinity.
Afrter war the Akselrod family settled in Minsk.
«…Streets humped, grassed, sprawled afield. Boardwalks along the ditches creaked as lonely strangers were passing by. Every Friday night lights in a silvered candlesticks looked through the open windows. People peered out from the windows, sometimes they placed chairs on the pavement so there could sit an oldman in cap with arms across, or an oldwoman in check shawl. Small yards passed into vegetable garden. Signs occured closer to the city: boot or samovar,
blue siphon for seltzer, scissors or primus. This would be Akselrod’s artistic world.
Finally, here is greyish rickety house, which is no different from many others like it. Yellow shutters, plank roof, occasionally fleeced with moss. Front door. Mark opens the door and shows in the small room. Low ceilings in small rooms would accompany him almost all his life…», – wrote artist Filippovski, Akselrod’s friend.
Axelrod was accepted to the faculty of graphics of VKHUTEMAS, and became Professor Favorsky’s favorite pupil, but soon he gave up engraving. «I do not engrave anymore. Engraving makes me difficult to express what i feel at the sight of model. Board, chisel, stamp stand on my way. All these things need calculation, efficient use and alienation eventually», – wrote Akselrod.
Akselrod’s teachers worked upon the law of imagery. Their analytical creation was replaced by new generation of artists and their direct attitude to environment in art. The creative process itself became important. Quick life drawing allowed to create more lyrical and immediate representation.
Drawing is nearly the most important in Axelrod’s creation of 20’s.
Mostly these are temperamental and acute portraits. Severe and ascetic details’ selection helps to accent model’s character.
«As to draw the model true — one should find the proportion between eye and ear shapes», – wrote Akselrod.
Occasionally Akselrod added some details — stool, corner of a table, parts of furniture over a distance, but the background almost always remained clear. This combination of planar and spatial puts special emphasis to Akselrod’s drawings. Aspiration for simplicity produces intensity.
In 1928 Abraham Efros wrote about Akselrod’s drawings, displayed on the exhibition of «4 arts»: «I should put into words very complex sensation. By the look of it these are very plain unambitious drawings. Neither virtuosity nor subject doesn’t dazzle. They are simple and seem rather meagre.
But suddenly this simplicity one by one unfolds features of the rarest living intension of what is depicted and how.
The set of leftist art’s concepts (understood, altered, graded, fairly put in) shows through these «realistic», these «graphical» sketches. If only the idea of «revolutionary form of art» makes sense, this is one of its best displays…»
Every year Akselrod travelled through small jewish towns in Belarus. He drew on the both sides of a sheet, on the reverse side of wallpapers and old posters. The lack of determination to create a masterpiece. Daily creative work.
Artist Kastelyanski remembered:
«We came either to Smilovichi or to Logoisk. Classic shtetl. Loamy tract, rickety synagogue, greenish goats, thin steps. No place to put up. There was a hostelry, but we had our sketchbooks, canvases, fold easels…
Left our stuff at hostelry, we visited tiny houses. In the end there was one more house. «Gentlemen’s and military tailor» sign was put up over the door. There was an old jew with curved nose, sitting at the table in his white socks. Mark grasped my arm: I won’t go anywhere from here. Look, it is just a thing.» We persuaded him. Oldman was sitting willingly and gradually, suspicious, bewildered attitude was cleared up».
Judaism says, that gift of prophecy, given to mighty diviners of ancientry, did not entirely dissapear when the first temple was destroyed. It passed to artists, who can anticipate the future instinctively, unconsciously. Secret sadness and blue reverie of Akselrod’s models are more comprehensible for us, who are separated from the depicted oldsters and children by almost one hundred years.
Artist apparently forefelt the loss of shtetl, where he was born and raised.
This feeling is quite common for the whole galaxy of jewish artists of the day — Chagall, Yudovin, Altman. They all travelled to shtetls to draw. Cemetery and funeral are frequent themes of these artists in 20’s. However, the evocative fantastic character of their figurative language did not affect Axelrod. Through the portrayed characters artist conveyed the extraneity of the shtetle in Soviet Russia and the tragedy of the disappearance of his dear environ. Aspiration for literalism united with touching poetry in his drawings. These children and old folks from small jewish towns seem to divine what the future will be like.
Period of the late 20’s -early 30’s is one of the tops of Akselrod’s creativity.
Working in the darkest years of Soviet art, he stubbornly defended his way in the face of circumstances. Poverty and oblivion did not scare him. In the late 20’s drawing in pencil gave way to brushing, predetermining a further transition to painting. But Axelrod drew all his life.
He created the graphic series, which is now seen as a monument to the destroyed Jewish world.
Axelrod hardly exhibited his drawings during his life, preferring to exhibit paintings. This tendency partly remained in posthumous exhibitions. “Proun” gallery for the first time exhibits so many paintings of the artist.