Reviews and Articles

Russian Avant-Garde, Moses Feigin, Personal exhibition.

EDWARD LUCIE-SMITH, Cooling Gallery, London, September/October, 1990.

Russian destinies are often so astonishing that we in the West have difficulty in coming to terms with them. Here is an artist who is now in his ninth decade (Feigin was born in 1904), who is still learning and developing. Because of political conditions in Russia, opportunities to develop were sometimes difficult to find in the past.

Feigin was fortunate in coming to maturity as an artist in the mid-1920's, just before the Stalinist clampdown. In the I930's he found himself classified with the "formalists" and labelled anti-revolutionary.

The first, illusory signs of a cultural thaw were felt in the 1950's and 1960's, but this period was shortlived. One of the things which this epoch did to Feigin as an individual was to make him feel profoundly dissatisfied with the course his work had taken.

By the late 1960's, however, he was gaining recognition outside Russia. His paintings were widely seen in Exhibitions of Soviet painting in West Germany, USA, France, Austria and Britain.

Perestroika finally liberated his art, anct his decision has been to return to his earliest influences and preoccupations as an artist.

Feigin's work is boldly dramatic in conception. His personages are performers - acrobats, dancers, street musicians. His liking for clowns is a reminder of the success that Chaplin always enjoyed in Russia. He also, with a characteristic Russian love for the masterpieces of world literature, makes Don Quixote one of his heroes.

Another hero is more personal and infinitely touching. This is the young Jewish musician-a mere boy - who appeared on the town-square at Ust-Lubiansk during the war, just as a large group of Jews had been gathered there for execution. The boy asked permission to play the Internationale for the victims. Bringing them together with his music for one last moving moment, he of course shared their fate.

This emotive subject-matter is expressed through glowing colour - the sumptuous harmonies which have always been part of the Russian genius, and which appear in icons, in folk-art, and in the costume designs made by Leon Bakst for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The thick, richly textured impasto gives the paintings striking physicality.

The colour and rhythm of Feigin's recent work will remind western observers not only of Bakst, but of the best-known of all Russian Jewish artists, Chagall.

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