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Boris Karafelov


Interview in “NOVOYE RUSSLOE SLOVO”, 1994

On the occasion of an exhibition in the Glimmer and Gasfield Gallery in Northbrook (Chicago).

According to Karafelov’s own estimation, his immigration to Israel, was not only forced, but also due to his “inner convictions”. This can be sensed, when looking at his pictures: Karafelov is a Jewish painter both by the prevailing subjects, and the general idea. What is more, he is an Israeli painter by coloring, using the colorful gamut of painting.The questions I asked him in a marvelous little town, Maaleh-Adumim, in the suburbs of Jerusalem where he lives, concerned the beginning of his creative work, his colorful manner, his genera l idea of the world of painting.

Every kind of art, every creative work in the world, is a continuation. What painter had the greatest influence on the formation of your artistic taste and individual manner?

This is a hard question. I cannot give you only one name. Rembrandt is the closest to me, though, I think this cannot be easily traced in my painting. One can rather single out a certain kind of tradition in the history of art, which I am trying to continue. It originates from the Mediterranean culture and follows along two roads – through Bysantium and Venice, on the one hand, and through the art of Greece with its plasticity, on the other hand, then flows into the art of the 17th century, which does not include baroque and classicism, but remains sort of extra stylish – Velasquez, Surbaran, Ribera, Rembrandt, Jan van der Meer van Delft…

You missed El Greco…

I have mentioned the painters who formed my attitude to a picture as such. There were icons, frescos… but what I mean is a specific colorful integrity with its place in audience’s perception, human use, even with a physical place it may occupy and change. Perception of a colorful painting is determined by its location and is different in a temple, in a palace or in an ordinary dwelling house.
In the 17th century a painting singled out as something independent, capable of determining audience’s reflection, aspiring to its own place in a human life, and not merely as an accessory of a divine service or property in a rich interior. Reverting to El Greco who by legend was Titian’s pupil, it is worth mentioning that I am interested in the plastic aspect of his works. The thing is that in painting there are image-bearing elements stimulating in audience tactile, visual or motor processes. Renaissance brought back the classical sense of space, thereby having intensified a deep long respiratory process in audience. As for El Greco, he tends to the Orient in his painting, and in the East, in India, in particular, an ecstatic state is caused, on the contrary, by holding a breath. El Greco makes his spatial grounds so flat, and is so attached to two dimensional picture rather than to three-dimensional, that spectators hold their breath against their will, releasing their inner spiritual strength.
El Greco’s experience is of high interest to me. It is interesting, that the space in paintings of a lot of Jewish painters, originating from the so-called “kleine Shtetl”, is, as though, compressed, tightened – like their social environment, like their morals and manners. From here is the way they design their image-bearing world, both inner and outward; movement in their pictures goes down and not across. From here is the same “held breath” as in El Greco’s paintings (Sutin, Shagal and Modigliani).

Do you mean that the impression of a compressed space stays forever and is not changed in a different milieu?

There may be changes, of course, but the basis is laid in childhood, adolescence, when spatial and subject thinking is formed. I myself spent my youth in a small town, however, the pressure of the milieu at that time was absolutely different, it was of a universal Soviet nature. I realized this only when I became a professional.

Has your immigration to Israel made any influence on you as a painter?

Of course. Every new environment kind of changes the vision. If you live in a forest – a green light may enter a picture independently, or, on the contrary, you will try to get rid of it. As Petrov-Vodkin said, Russians are so fond of red, for only green is surrounding them…
In Moscow behind my window there were “khrutschoby” (ugly inconvenient dwelling houses erected during Khrutschev’s period – translator’s comment), a narrow yard with dirty snow for half a year, and here – endless hills of the Judean desert, a different space. You do not feel indifferent to it, as in Moscow, this space is not empty: you may be moving for hours, with a continuous sense of its fullness. It is time that is compressed here, and not space.
When you are reading on this land the Pentateuch – you feel that its characters perceived space unlike inhabitants of “kleine shtetl” or of any other ghettos, and unlike Russian Jewish painters. They had a different attitude to infinity… to the distance between a Man and the Universe. I wish my pictures to arouse the like sensation. But for the time being, I am only endeavoring.
You see, there is a different light here – as though it whitens everything, deprives space and objects of color, ruins their visibility, and they start losing their boundaries and contours… But at the same time – mighty rhythms of the land, of the hills, of the distances, heavy rhythms like ocean billows. Such a strange combination of unsteadiness, unreality with maximum compactness and weight…
I was also struck here by unusual sunsets: they are absolutely different from sunsets in Koktebel, for instance. Sunsets there paint the surroundings with multi-color shades: rosy, purple, yellowish. Here, from behind the hills a kind of shining appears – golden or devoid of color at all: something celestial.
Many things are unexplainable here. This land is said to be the closest to the sky! But there are much higher mountains… Everything reverberates in everything: the sky in the land, the land in the sky, an effect of an unbelievable community, indissolubility appears, and you aspire to become its part, to adapt your palette to the surroundings, but I do not force it deliberately…

Can it be a deliberate process?

Yes, and at the same time – a subconscious process. I never started working at once at a new place. In Koktebel, for instance, first, I satiated myself with impressions, so that they could be absorbed, laid together, summarized. But there my stay was not longer than a month, and after all, I had to speed up my work. I came here for good, I hope, – and therefore I can afford myself not to rush.
Not long ago I had a personal exhibition in Jerusalem. I rather wanted to see my present works through somebody else’s eyes than to expose them. …and I noticed some changes in myself.

It seems to me, that when I am looking at your works, I can guess immediately which of them were painted here and which i n Moscow.

Well, I work every day, something is acquired and accumulated. But I would like to experience a festive feeling from work, the same as I had once, when I was looking at the mosaics of the Sofia of Kiev, and the mosaics of Ravenna many years after. That was really a joy of art. Discreteness, intermittency of the picture, consisting of separate small stones, of pieces, as a clown’s costume, made the mosaics look like a joyful carnival.
In this sense Ruo was an important example to me. The same way as you feel it in mosaics, all the diversity of the world and color in his works kind of remembers, that it originates from a single spot. Such painters as Ruo always have a sort of matrix, a certain gene with a code, which later transforms into a colorful surface of a picture.

Did you take from Ruo that distinctive coloring of yours with the yellowness, exuding through diversity of colors, with a crumbling spectrum of green, blue, purple, red, with figures sometimes vague, sometimes heavily outlined?

I don’t think so. Before that, I had the so-called “dull period” But when I was deprived of my big studio at the Pioneers’ Palace, where I ran a circle, I started working at home, in a small room, crammed with canvases, and painted a series of pictures about life in a small town of my youth. First, it came as a vision of a light medium, then figures appeared and transformed into concrete characters in a small solitary world… Probably, that was the time when my coloring you are talking about, was born.

My last question is – are you a happy man?

This is the most difficult question. Can people be happy, in general? Everyone’s life is so complicated, even the life of lucky people. As for me, I am an old working horse!

Svetlana Svetlova
“NOVOYE RUSSKOYE SLOVO”
New York, 21.04.94

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