Through March 13
The Chassidic Art Institute
375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn
“Back in Russia most of my works were dark and grey, reflecting the mood of those days and the way they taught us to paint,” says artist Eric Lubiynov. “Only when I came to Israel my vision changed and I started to paint bright.”
Born in Kalinin in 1966, Lubiynov grew up drawing with crayons like many children, but unlike his peers, he never seemed to outgrow his passion for color. His works are perhaps best viewed as “Spiritual Impressionism.”
The so-called Impressionist paintings of the late 19th century accessed a different, and perhaps deeper, reality than did previous naturalistic works. However well Rembrandt’s brush captured every blade of grass and every hair in a noble Dutchman’s moustache (and surely even Rembrandt “cheated” with his technique and ignored some hairs) he was only documenting the object or figure within the frame of a fraction of second.
The next instant, as the candlelight flickered or the sun’s rays shifted positions, the entire vision would have changed dramatically and become an entirely different world.
Essentially, then, the art that most people consider “realistic” discloses maximum information (every hair) in about next to nothing (a fragment of a second). In his serial paintings, Claude Monet captured a wider range of reality, by tracking his visions of haystacks and water lilies as they unfolded over time in different lights.
Image 1. – Eric Lubiynov. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24
Viewed in a variety of works from different seasons, moods and times of day, the lilies and haystacks take on a new identity that is no longer skin deep. By peeling away the external forms, Monet showed that the haystacks and lilies maintained their identities even as external stimuli (like light) changed.
Monet would not have referred to the souls of his haystacks and lilies, but his work did seek the immutable and essential through studying the changing and superficial.
In his work at the Chassidic Art Institute (CHAI) Lubiynov portrays Meah Shearim in a manner reminiscent of Monet’s Impressionism. Surely, Lubiynov is no Monet. After all, Monet is canonized for defining Impressionism in a wizardly fashion, anticipating modern developments way ahead of his times.
Impressionism is “old hat” in today’s art museums, galleries and schools, where Monet impersonators and followers are a dime a dozen. Yet, Lubiynov’s works on Meah Shearim represent a certain relevant and natural marriage of the Israeli cityscape and Impressionist palette.
Image 2. – Eric Lubiynov. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24
People who have visited or lived in Meah Shearim (literally “100 Gates,” although perhaps a misreading of Genesis 26:12) know that it is no “Safed.” Where Safed is a town literally painted blue, whose streets are full of colors from pedestrians’ dress to artisan shops, Meah Shearim appears monochromatic – at first. Yet, Lubiynov manages to discern every color of the spectrum in the streets and buildings.
“The colors in the paintings are very close to the actual street scenes,” Lubiynov says. “I like to paint when it’s sunny and bright, which reflects the mood of Jerusalem.”
Lubiynov also notes that his work reflects “the ordinary daily life” of Meah Shearim, which he calls “the heart of the Jewish, religious people.” He has visited Jerusalem many times since he moved to Israel from Russia in 1996 and considers it his favorite city.
“Image 1” (all of the CHAIworks are untitled, but I have numbered them for convenience’s sake) shows theKotelthat could easily be a collage of several different artists. In the space above the Wall, Lubiynov has rendered the foliage and sky in a pastel-colored palette, with soft, gently blended colors, with billowing yellow, purple and green clouds.
Image 3. – Eric Lubiynov. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24
But the paint on the Wall is boldly caked upon the canvas, applied heavily with a palette knife rather than a brush. The artist has gone back into those strokes and violently scratched out the silhouettes of the individual bricks.
But between the soft, cloudy paint strokes and the violent bold ones, the other forms that emerge in the Jews that gather beside the Wall to pray, and in the purple structure and brown hill that flank the Wall on either side, Lubiynov adopts a more abstract touch – not quite attacking the canvas in a manner that obliterates naturalistic form, but also not depicting objects in a strictly literal manner.
Lubiynov’s people don’t quite look like human representation so much as blob-like, amorphous and anonymous, which lends the otherwise peaceful, sunny scene a somewhat more dangerous atmosphere.
If “Image 1” exhibits some abstract components, “Image 2” is altogether abstract. A street scene where the viewer looks out from under an overhanging roof (perhaps through a window), the painting’s surface is thickly covered with yellows, pinks, purples, greens, blues, peaches and golds. If Jerusalem is the “City of Gold” in Jewish songs and folklore, it is the “City of Gold and Every Other Color of the Rainbow” of Lubiynov’s palette.
Image 4. – Eric Lubiynov. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24
Indeed, the traffic jam of colors in “Image 2” is so dizzying and overpowering, that viewers can easily miss the black figures walking down the street, all but engulfed by the street shadows.
“Image 3” also hides the figures in deep black shadows. In the shadows, the otherwise cheerful yellow, blue and pink forms look more sinister and threatening. Meah Shearim, in Lubiynov’s paintings, becomes a place like Monet’s haystacks and lilies. Although cities have little inherent character – they are simply made of mundane, dead materials -their atmosphere changes with the marks people make upon them and with the changing light. The same street in Meah Shearim looks inviting and beautiful in some visions, and forbidding in others.
In a fourth image, Lubiynov paints Jerusalem in earth tones of red and brown, which simultaneously evoke fire and blood, both of which plagued the Old City far too often in Jewish history.
In the press material, CHAI director, Zev Markowitz, writes: “Lubiynov has the ability to see beyond the ordinary at what is timeless when gazing at a simple motif from everyday life. At the exhibit in our gallery we display oil paintings, which reflect Jewish life in Israel. These paintings are lyrical; the color is modest and in no way detracts from the main characteristic of his work.”
Markowitz is quite right to call attention to Lubiynov’s colors, but they are anything but modest.
Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit opening March 25.