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Anatoly Basin

Gideon Efrat on Anatoly Basin

ANATOLY BASIN – FEARS (translation from Hebrew)

The world of shades and introvert melancholy

I like painters of the darkness in Jerusalem. Yosseff Hirsh, Raanan Levy, Eli Shamir, Assaff Ben Menachem, Anatoly Basin. They are for me a huge well where I draw up my feeling of the misery of the world. It is not that they have not enough their own private feeling of the misery of the world. Thank`s God, they have it. But for me they are, not intentionally, traps of chaos, endless well, where I fall down very deeply. And for my own pleasure for some reason. Their sorrow is my benefit. Today I fall down into the well of Anatoly Basin.

At first it was in the Debel Gallery where I have been touched by Basin`s paintings. Here, in a good sieve of “Russian born” paintings I found deep personality Artist whose brown colour would disappear into a black one and black into a brown. There, on the subtly border between shades of earth and coal I have found women of Basin. At the angle, connected or alone. One or two women, no more. And a chair. It is quiet and peaceful here in shades, very static and dark substance. Still life and people like still life. Black drawing on a brown surface. Minimalist Art, with a very few details and a lot of lyricism. And so beautiful that it hurts. Here is the thinnest border between the meaning and the meaningless. Here, from the dark greatness shines the image of a woman. Hidden sensuality and erotica. And possibly a man with a beard watching on the surface. Basin, I thought to myself than, in the Debel Gallery.

Depression, I have added to myself, because when I see darkness I say depression. Such a cliché we have. And another cliché: when I see in Israel brown and black colours I say “earth and coal”. It does not matter that a spanish Artist Zurbaran expressed by brown another world and a french one Corot had it as another, completely different story. Cliché. That is why – and you would understand me – I have had a tendency to think, than, a year ago, that those Basin`s nudes with a watching man and this heaviness of depression – that all this is a very heavy, very restrained and hidden erotica. Longing for a woman and hidden desires. So I said. And so I still thought I understand Basin.

A year has past, and now, before I go to see Anatoly Basin`s exhibition at the Allon Gallery I am reading a beautiful review by Assaff Ben Menachem about the shades world of Basin as a world of fears and luck of hope. He says as well about Matisse influence on Basin`s drawing and I feel that I have nothing to add to those words. I simply agree with every one of it. Later on, after seeing the exhibition I feel convinced more then ever in Basin`s artistic quality and in his introvert melancholy. His – I still think. And when I impose myself on his apartment on Ben Yehuda street, I do it hoping to find some additional material so I could add something to whatever was already written. Because the decision to write in me is now complete. Here, in the room of canvas I finally learn about Basin and everything that has been written about him.

I have never experienced such a phenomenon: I ask Basin about Basin, and Basin answers about Ossip Sydlin. Sydlin was the Teacher. Jewish Maestro who was born in Ribinsk and died of heart attack in 1972. Not till he burned almost all his paintings. About ten works survived, and the three of them are here, in this apartment on Ben Yehuda street. Basin talks about Sydlin with an admiration of a pupil talking about his Rabbi, love of a friend or even a relative. He shows me some photographs of Sydlin`s works and I see heavy, dark, tragic naturalism, and a painting of head. Only later on I hear that Sydlin has had serious eye problems, as a result of a heart disease. 15 years Basin has been a pupil of Sydlin in Leningrad, till 1972, till Sydlin`s death. Afterwards he replaced him as a teacher at the same studio. “The best in me I have learned from him”, – says Basin in the mixture of Hebrew and Russian. “His strong colour, his dark monumentalizm”. And when he shows me two paintings of Sydlin, vase with flowers in green, fairly abstract figurative, not especially dark, he explains that those were two works that Sydlin did not finish because death took him away.

I am starting to define Basin and to pull out my own sorrow from the whole story. To understand Basin means to understand Sydlin first. This is one of the lessons I am learning today. Because the connection Sydlin-Basin takes us to the Spanish painting, and this is another lesson about Basin I am learning: “I have heard a lot about Spain from Sydlin – about Velasquez, about Goya. Sydlin`s approach was close to Velasquez, I feel myself rather close to Goya”. Brown colours of the Spanish Artists is a different story, I remind to myself: this is a realism of a very specific Catholicism, looking in the 19-th century after simplicity and mildness unlike the catholic painting of the Italian baroque. This is a dark brown which has been born between the shades of the catholic belief and the poor that worked up the earth. To be close to this dark brown, the Spanish one, means to be close to these two poles: the sacred and the dust… Maybe this explains the other lessons that I learn here, in Basin`s studio. Because it does not settles with Matisse, meaning – with his strong influence on the Basin`s black drawing. And here I learn another lesson in my profession: not every Matisse alike is Matisse. “Matisse? No. Russians have Andrey Rublyov from the 15-th century. Matisse told once to the group of russian young artists that wanted to learn from him: this is me who should go to Russia to study Art from the paintings of Andrey Rublyov. Rublyov influenced me, not Matisse, – says Basin. My friends in Russia used to make laugh of me, they said I was born from the knee of Rublyov. Once I have been using a lot of dark, closed, tight green, closed to brown. This green is from Rublyov paintings”.

So, there is no Matisse in Basin. My cultural journey goes not only to Spain, but also to Russia. Matisse has been an another illusion in the chain of illusions regarding Basin`s Art. Meaning – illusions in the written materials about him. We write about ourselves. We carry on our own backgrounds and apply it on the paintings that we meet on the way. Go slowly Efrat, I advise to myself.

When we survived the Matisse catch, everything settles down well. Spanish Catholicism interlace with Byzantines which has influenced Rublyov paintings. But where are leading to all these sacred ways in the body and the jewish soul of Anatoly Basin? And now I learn about Basin`s approach to Art as to Creation and deliverance from the darkness of the chaos. Apparently he wrote an article about it. (I recall now that I have an article about it too). Basin: the birth of the Art as the birth of human consciousness or the human language is the birth of an order from the chaos. Biblical and artistic creations are similar. Two different languages, no more, – says Basin. This is how he meets his God. We have a language of a prayer he has a language of a painting. The starting point – darkness, chaos. In the beginning God makes chaos. From here and only from here will be born creation. From the dark will be born light glimmer. Layer on layer. The first one would be a meeting with life: Basin will paint a portrait or still life, he will present the reality. On the second layer he will turn it into a chaos. He must to turn it into a darkness in order to create light. Before God says “Let there to be light!” he must say “Let there to be darkness!” Here, on the second layer the Artist puts to an end life from the first one. And only afterwards, on the third layer, will be born a new order. Now it is, not like on the first one – the order of painting, lyricism of the painting, light of the painting. And yes, light is shining from the painting, not from life. This is essential to understand the Art of Basin.

And I was thinking he makes it dark. No, he makes it shine. It is correct that he paints only in his studio, never outside. But always during the hours of a sunshine from outside. Only in the mornings. He must finish his work before 14.00. His wife says he is far from being depressed. And I say to myself: is there anybody who is far from being depressed? His fights against chaos – does not it says something about his fears of shadows and chaos? And what about this need in order, in language and consciousness, if not this is a need to contact the world, the will to come out of the prison of the loneliness? But his wife says that he paints in the most peaceful and happy times. And I say to myself: who`s depression it is: mine or Basin`s? Still, something in me continuous to think that if the painter paints the darkness something in him is attracted to the darkness, something from the inner dark. Look at that: when Basin shows me his oil-painting from 1960 – an image with an abstract anatomy, rich with shades of dark brown and ochre, I do know that for most of his years being an Artist (he is now 48 years old) he drowns in the darkness. Sydlin, Spain, chaos – Basin has chosen shadow, and shadow has chosen Basin. Of course, he prefers not to talk about it, certainly not with me. He will speak about the wholeness of the painting that gives birth to the light, and about darkness-light as non-artistic obstacles. As if the dark colours are being only an artistic reason for the painting process. Not the state of mind, but the light research: “I want to do something according to one logic, logic of bright colours is different from the logic of dark colours. I am interested in the logic of light. Dark colours make it easier for me to understand the logic of light.” And I say to myself: light is not mood? Shades are not feelings? What is the colour of the sub consciousness?

We do not know much about Russian Painting. We analyze and appreciate the Artists that are coming from Soviet Union using the standards of the West. I think we are not being fair to them. What do we know, for example, about non-conformist Art in the USSR of the 70-th? Basin that participated in those non-conformist exhibitions in Leningrad, wrote a book about this phenomenon. This is correct that Russian painting is not closed before the western one, on the contrary – one is very well aware of the other. I am sure that the key to understanding Russian Art is Soviet Art. We, who writes the reviews and makes the analysis, we do not have this key. So, after we miss the basics, we impose ourselves on the painting. This was also the case of Basin. This text is one more prove of what I have said: did I write about Basin or did I write about myself? Do I understand Basin looking at his paintings or do I understand myself? I think that the challenge of the Art review is to get out of the narcissism catch and to do the homework. Maybe once I will succeed.

Gideon Efrat

Kol Hayir, October 1984

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